Émile Zola

   Émile Zola (1840-1902) was the most famous French novelist of his time. He was a leading naturalist writer—one who describes both the good and the bad sides of human life.
   Zola was born in Paris on April 2, 1840, the only child of an Italian engineer and his French wife. He spent his boyhood in Aix-en-Provence, where his closest friend was Paul Cézanne, who became a famous painter. Émile's father died in 1847, and his mother struggled to pay for her son's schooling.
   When he was 17, Zola moved to Paris. He lived in great poverty for several years until he found a job in the publishing firm of Hachette. His first book was a collection of fairy stories called Tales for Ninon (1864).
   Around 1868, Zola got the idea of writing a series of novels that would deal with different members of the same large family, called Rougon-Macquart. At first these books were not very successful. But in 1877 one of them, L'Assommoir (The Dram-Shop), became a best-seller. This is the story of the hard life of
a laundress in Paris. The best novels of the series include Germinal, which centers on a strike of coal miners; La terre (The Earth), which describes the lives of farm laborers; and La béte humaine (The Beast in Man), whose hero is a locomotive engineer.
   In 1898, Zola was put on trial for writing in defense of a Jewish army officer, Alfred Dreyfus, who had been falsely accused of spying and sentenced to prison. Zola had written a letter to the president of the republic, under the title "J'accuse" ("I Accuse"), which eventually resulted in Dreyfus release. But Zola was convicted of libel after the let­ter was published, and he fled to England for a year. He died on September 29, 1902, before Dreyfus was completely cleared.