Émile Zola

(1840 – 1902)

Émile ZolaBiographical Sketch

Émile François Zola (Paris, France, April 2, 1840 – Paris, France, September 29, 1902) was a French writer, the most important exemplar of the literary school of naturalism and an important contributor to the development of theatrical naturalism. He was a major figure in the political liberalization of France and in the exoneration of the falsely accused and convicted army officer Alfred Dreyfus, which is encapsulated in the renowned newspaper headline J’accuse.

More than half of Zola’s novels were part of this set of 20 collectively known as Les Rougon-Macquart. Unlike Balzac, who in the midst of his literary career resynthesized his work into La Comédie Humaine, Zola from the start at the age of 28 had thought of the complete layout of the series. A panoramic account of France’s Second Empire, the series traces the “environmental” influences of violence, alcohol and prostitution which became more prevalent during the second wave of the Industrial Revolution. It examines, over five generations and a period of time spanning principally from 1851 to 1871, two branches of a family: the respectable (that is, legitimate) Rougons and the disreputable (illegitimate) Macquarts. In all, the 20 novels contain over 300 major characters, who descend from the two family lines of the Rougons and Macquarts, and who are related.

From 1877 with the publication of L’Assommoir, émile Zola became wealthy; he was better paid than Victor Hugo, for example. He became a figurehead among the literary bourgeoisie and organized cultural dinners with Guy de Maupassant, Joris-Karl Huysmans and other writers at his luxurious villa in Medan near Paris after 1880. Germinal in 1885, then the three ‘cities’, Lourdes in 1894, Rome in 1896 and Paris in 1897, established Zola as a successful author.

The self-proclaimed leader of French naturalism, Zola’s works inspired operas such as those of Gustave Charpentier, notably Louise in the 1890s. His works, inspired by the concepts of heredity (i.e., the passing of traits to offspring from its parent or ancestors), social Manicheanism (the struggle between a good, spiritual world of light, and an evil, material world of darkness) and idealistic socialism, resonate with those of noted photographer Nadar (Gaspard-Félix Tournachon), impressionist painter Édouard Manet, and notably also fellow author Gustave Flaubert.

Read more about Emile Zola on Wikipedia.



Les Rougon-Macquart/The Rougon-Macquart Cycle
  • La Fortune des Rougon (1871)
    (The Fortune of the Rougons)
  • La Curée (1872)
    (The Rush for the Spoil; The Kill; In the Swim)
  • Le Ventre de Paris (1873)
    (The Belly of Paris)
  • La Conquête de Plassans (1874)
    (The Conquest of Plassans)
  • La Faute de L’Abbé Mouret (1875)
    (The Sin of Father Mouret)
  • Son Excellence Eugène Rougon (1876)
    (His Excellency Eugène Rougon)
  • L’Assommoir (1877)
    (Drunkard; The Dram Shop; The Gin Palace)
  • Une Page d’Amour (1878)
    (Love Affair; A Love Episode)
  • Nana (1880)
  • Pot-Bouille (1882)
    (Restless House; Pot Luck)
  • Au Bonheur des Dames (1883)
    (The Ladies’ Paradise; The Ladies’ Delight)
  • La Joie de Vivre (1884)
    (How Jolly Life Is; Zest for Life)
  • Germinal (1885)
  • L’Oeuvre (1886)
    (The Masterpiece; His Masterpiece)
  • La Terre (1887)
    (The Soil)
  • Le Rêve (1888)
    (The Dream)
  • La Bête Humaine (1890)
    (The Beast in Man; The Human Beast; Monomaniac)
  • L’Argent (1891)
  • La Débâcle (1892)
    (The Downfall; The Debacle)
  • Le Docteur Pascal (1893)
    (Doctor Pascal)
  • Les Rougon-Macquart: Histoire naturelle et sociale d’une Famille sous le Second Empire (1960-1967)
  • Les Rougon-Macquart; Dictionnaire d’Émile Zola (2002)
Les Trois Villes
  • Lourdes (1894)
  • Rome (1896)
  • Paris (1898)
Les Quatre Évangiles
  • Fécondité (1899)
  • Travail (1901)
  • Vérité (1903)
    – Posthumously published.
  • Justice (1903)
    – Posthumously published based on notes left at Zola’s 1902 death.
Other Novels
  • Un Épisode sous les Croisades (1854)
  • La Confession de Claude (1865)
    (Claude’s Confession)
  • Thérèse Raquin (1867)
  • Les Mystères de Marseille (1867)
    (The Mysteries of Marseilles)
  • Madeleine Férat (1868)
  • Collected Works of Émile Zola (1901)
  • Oeuvres Complètes (1927-1929)
  • Madame Sourdis (1929)
  • Oeuvres Complètes d’Émile Zola (1966-1969)
Short Stories and Novellas
  • Contes à Ninon (1864)
    (Stories for Ninon)
  • Esquisses Parisiennes (1866)
  • Nouveaux Contes à Ninon (1874)
  • Les Soirées de Médan (1880)
    – Includes L’Attaque du Moulin (The Attack on the Mill; The Miller’s Daughter)
  • Le Capitaine Burle (1882)
    (Captain Burle)
  • Naïs Micoulin (1884)
    – Includes La Mort d’Olivier Bécaille (The Death of Olivier Becaille)
  • La Fête à Coqueville (1890)
  • Contes Choisis (1974)
  • Contes et Nouvelles (1976)
  • The Attack on the Mill and Other Stories (2000)
  • For a Night of Love (2003)
  • Les Héritiers Rabourdin (1874)
  • L’Assommoir (1879)
  • Germinal (1888)
Treatises, Essays, Articles, Correspondence, Memoirs
  • Mon Salon (1866)
  • Mes Haines (1866)
    (My Hatreds)
  • LA République Française à la Littérature (1879)
  • Le Roman Expérimental (1880)
  • Les Romanciers Naturalistes (1881)
  • Le Naturalisme au Théâtre (1881)
  • Nos Auteurs Dramatiques (1881)
  • Documents Littéraires (1881)
  • L’Affaire Dreyfus: Lettre à la Jeunesse (1887)
  • Une Campagne (1882)
  • J’Accuse (1898)
    (I Accuse)
  • La Vérité en Marche (1901)
  • The Experimental Novel and Other Essays (1970)
  • Le Bon Combat (1974)
  • Correspondance d’Émile Zola (1978 – 1997)
  • Correspondance 1858 – 1877 (1980)
  • Correspondance: Juin 1880 – 1883 (1983)
  • Écrits sur l’Art (1991)
  • Lettres d’un Enthousiaste (1997)
  • Entretiens avec Zola (1998)
    – Collection of interviews given between 1886 and 1902.
  • The Dreyfus Affair: ‘J’Accuse’ and Other Writings (1998)
  • Écrits sur le Roman Naturaliste (1999)
  • Face aux Romantiques (1999)
  • Les Combats pour la Vérité (2002)
  • Notes from Exile (2003)
  • L’Affaire Dreyfus: Lettres et Entretiens Inédits
Online editions of Émile Zola’s works:


A Favorite Quote

The Masterpiece

“From the moment I start a new novel, life’s just one endless torture. The first few chapters may go fairly well and I may feel there’s still a chance to prove my worth, but that feeling soon disappears and every day I feel less and less satisfied. I begin to say the book’s no good, far inferior to my earlier ones, until I’ve wrung torture out of every page, every sentence, every word, and the very commas begin to look excruciatingly ugly. Then, when it’s finished, what a relief! Not the blissful delight of the gentleman who goes into ecstasies over his own production, but the resentful relief of a porter dropping a burden that’s nearly broken his back … Then it starts all over again, and it’ll go on starting all over again till it grinds the life out of me, and I shall end my days furious with myself for lacking talent, for not leaving behind a more finished work, a bigger pile of books, and lie on my death-bed filled with awful doubts about the task I’ve done, wondering whether it was as it ought to have been, whether I ought not to have done this or that, expressing my last dying breath the wish that I might do it all over again!”

Find more quotes by Émile Zola on Wikiquote and Goodreads.