Emile Zola was born in 1840 in Paris. He arrives in Aix en Provence at the age of three His father, an Italian engineer decided to settle there because the city had planned a large project consisting in a dam and a canal to supply it with water. His father dies in 1847 and leaves his family penniless. Emile attends Bourbon high-school where he meets Cezanne with whom he will develop a lasting friendship.
Zola, often together with Cezanne will spend fifteen years wandering through the alleys of Aix en Provence and its surroundings. But in 1858 he decides to leave for Paris to do his final exams and not to be a burden for his mother any longer. But he maintains his relationship with Cezanne through regular letters, and whenever he comes to Provence. Following two failures at his finals because of French he starts working as warehouseman for M. Hachette the publisher. He soon becomes head of advertising and befriends numerous painters and writers. In 1866 Emile Zola begins a series of twenty novels, “Les Rougon-Macquart” which the saga of two families living during the Second Empire. This gigantic undertaking will be finished in 1893 and will make a renowned and celebrated writer of Zola.In this work he describes all aspects of all levels of the society. In one of these novels, “L’ Oeuvre” he writes about a failed painter and his writer friend. This will end his friendship with Cezanne who, rightly so” will recognize himself in this novel published in 1886. Never mind, he has befriended Gustave Flaubert and Alphonse Daudet; and he goes on writing having started a trilogy: Lourdes, Rome and Paris.
But Emile Zola also is a reminder of the Dreyfus case. He did not come forward on the arrest of the Captain, but was indignant at every anti-Semitic campaign. In 1896 he publishes an article in Le Figaro reacting to the imprisonment and the numerous public dishonorable discharges Dreyfus is subjected. Dreyfus supporters come to see him to obtain a heavyweight’s support. On the 13th of January 1898 he publishes an open letter to the Prime Minister. This article bears enough weight to give a new dimension to the case. But it brings a libel action against him and a condemnation to one year in prison and a heavy fine. He goes into exile in London to avoid the sentence.
Emile Zola dies of suffocation in his home on the 29th September 1902 officially because of a clogged chimney duct. But many people still believe it was not an accident because of his stand in the Dreyfus case. Today, the name Emile Zola remains strongly related to the Sainte Victoire mountain and his childhood friend Cézanne.
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