“If you ask me what I came into this life to do, I will tell you: I came to live out loud.”
– Emile Zola
Émile Zola (1840 – 1902) was a French journalist, novelist and activist. He was, in fact, the most prominent and controversial novelist of his time (late 19th century France). He wrote a 20-volume series of interconnected novels, called Les Rougon-Macquart (1871-93), following the lineage of a family during the reign of Napoleon III. His writing style was called literary naturalism and much of his work reflected the miseries endured by the poor – a cause that he championed throughout his life. His novels, which were frank and very graphic, were attacked and even banned at the time.
In 1898, fueled by his outrage at what he believed was the wrongful conviction of Alfred Dreyfus (an army officer who had been convicted of treason), he wrote an open letter “J’Accuse” to the newspaper. Incurring the wrath of French officials, Zola was sentenced to prison for libel, but fled to England – only to be granted amnesty a few months later. He died in 1902, from carbon monoxide poisoning, due to a blocked chimney. It is still uncertain as to whether or not his death was accidental or the heinous work of those who wanted him to suffer the consequences of his words and activism during the Dreyfus Affair.
Since his death, there have been many books written about him. Most recently published is The Disappearance of Emile Zola: Love, Literature and the Dreyfus Case, by Michael Rosen (Faber & Faber; 302 pages). If you are interested in late 19th century French intellectual history and literature, this is an excellent new book to check out.
“If you shut up truth, and bury it underground, it will but grow.”
– Emile Zola
Photo Credit: Émile Zola [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons