Emile Zola

Zola, Émile

Émile Zola (āmēl´ zôlä´), 1840–1902, French novelist, b. Paris. He was a professional writer, earning his living through journalism and his novels. About 1870 he became the apologist for and most significant exponent of French naturalism, a literary school that maintained that the novel should be scientific in a strict sense. Inspired by his readings in social history and medicine, Zola decided to apply scientific techniques and observations to the depiction of French society under the Second Empire. He composed a vast series of novels in which the characters and their social milieus are impartially observed and presented in minute and often sordid detail.

Of his many novels, those considered most important are among the 20 that constitute the series Les Rougon-Macquart (1871–93), an account of the decay of a family as the result of heredity and environment, with special emphasis on alcoholism, disease, and degeneracy. Perhaps the best known of these are L'Assommoir (1877, tr. The Dram-Shop), on lower-class life in Paris; Nana (1880); and Germinal (1885, tr. 1901), a "proletarian" novel involving coal mining in N France. He also began the socialistic Quatre Évangiles [four gospels], of which he finished Fécondité (1899, tr. Fruitfulness, 1900), Travail (1901, tr. Labor, 1901), and Vérité (1903, tr. Truth, 1903).

Zola had an ardent zeal for social reform. He was anti-Catholic and wrote many diatribes against the clergy and the Church. His part in the Dreyfus Affair (notably his article, "J'accuse," 1898) was his most conspicuous public action, and he became the special object of the hatred of the anti-Dreyfus party. Prosecuted for libel (1898), he escaped to England, where he remained a few months until an amnesty enabled his return to France. He was accidentally asphyxiated in his bedroom after inhaling fumes from a blocked chimney.

See biographies by A. Schom (1988) and F. Brown (1995); studies by F. W. J. Hemmings (2d ed. 1966), A. Wilson (1952, repr. 1973), and D. Baguley (1986).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Emile Zola: Selected full-text books and articles

Emile Zola By F. W. J. Hemmings Clarendon Press, 1953
Notes on Novelists: With Some Other Notes By Henry James Biblo and Tannen, 1969
Librarian’s tip: "Emile Zola" begins on p. 26
American Literary Naturalism: A Divided Stream By Charles Child Walcutt Greenwood Press, 1956
Librarian’s tip: "Zola: The Fountainhead of Naturalistic Theory and Practice" begins on p. 30
Documents of American Realism and Naturalism By Donald Pizer Southern Illinois University Press, 1988
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Thirty-One "From Document to Symbol: Zola and American Naturalism"
The Art of French Fiction: Prevost, Stendahl, Zola, Maupassant, Gide, Mauriac, Proust By Martin Turnell New Directions, 1959
Librarian’s tip: "Zola" begins on p. 91
L'Assommoir By Émile Zola; Margaret R. Mauldon Oxford University Press, 1995
The Victorian Conscience By Clarence R. Decker Twayne Publishers, 1952
Librarian’s tip: Chap. V "'The Maiden Tribute': The Naturalists in England"
FREE! Fruitfulness By Émile Zola; Ernest Alfred Vizetelly Chatto and Windus, 1900
The Masterpiece By Emile Zola; Thomas Walton Oxford University Press, 1993
La Debacle By Émile Zola; Elinor Dorday Oxford University Press, 2000
The Erotic Imagination: French Histories of Perversity By Vernon A. Rosario Oxford University Press, 1997
Librarian’s tip: Discussion of Emile Zola begins on p. 89
The Dreyfus Affair in French Society and Politics By Eric Cahm Longman, 1996
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "J'Accuse...! The Affair as National Crisis"
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