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- A Zola Dictionary - 1/54 -

Etext prepared by Dagny, and John Bickers,




With a Biographical and Critical Introduction, Synopses of the Plots, Bibliographical Note, Map, Genealogy, etc.




In the preparation of my Introduction I have, of course, relied for information on the recognized Biographies of Zola, namely /Notes d'un Ami/, by Paul Alexis (Paris, Charpentier); /Emile Zola, A biographical and Critical Study/, by R. H. Sherrard (London, Chatto & Windus, 1893); /Emile Zola, Novelist and Reformer/: An account of his Life and Work, by Ernest Alfred Vizetelly (London, John Lane, 1904). Reference has also been made to Mr. Arthur Symons' /Studies in Prose and Verse/, and to articles in the /Fortnightly Review/ by Mr. Andrew Lang, in the /Atlantic Monthly/ by Mr. Henry James, and in the /Contemporary Review/ by M. Edouard Rod, as well as to articles in the /Encyclopaedia Britannica/ and in the /Dictionnaire Universel des Contemporains/.

By kind permission of Messrs. Chatto & Windus it has been possible to include the diagram of the Rougon-Macquart Genealogical Tree, which appears in the Preface to their edition of /Doctor Pascal/, and to make use of their translations in the preparation of the Dictionary. In compiling the latter, Zola's own words have been adopted so far as possible, though usually they have required such condensation as to make direct quotation difficult. This difficulty was increased by the fact that occasional use was made of different translations of the same book, and that frequent references to the original were found necessary.

The Synopses of the Plots of the novels are arranged in the order in which the books should be read, as indicated by their Author in /Le Docteur Pascal/, and confirmed by his biographer, Mr. E. A. Vizetelly.

EDINBURGH, May, 1912. J. G. P.


Emile Zola was born at Paris on 2nd April, 1840. His father, Francois Zola, was a man whose career up to that time had not been a success, though this was not due to any lack of energy or ability. Zola /pere/ was of mixed nationality, his father being an Italian and his mother a Greek, and it is not unlikely that his unrest and want of concentration were due to the accident of his parentage. When quite a young man, Francois fought under the great Napoleon, after whose fall he became a civil engineer. He spent some time in Germany, where he was engaged in the construction of the first tramway line in Europe, afterwards visiting Holland and possibly England. Failure seems to have accompanied him, for in 1831 he applied for and obtained an appointment, as lieutenant in the Foreign Legion in Algeria. His career in Africa was, however, of short duration; some irregularities were discovered, and he disappeared for a time, though ultimately he came forward and made up his accounts, paying the balance that was due. No prosecution took place, and resignation of his commission was accepted. Nothing more was heard of the matter till 1898, when his son Emile identified himself with the cause of Dreyfus, and in the campaign of calumny that followed had to submit to the vilest charges against the memory of his father. The old dossier was produced by the French Ministry of War, the officials of which did not hesitate to strengthen their case by the forgery of some documents and the suppression of others. In view of these proved facts, and of the circumstance that Francois Zola, immediately after his resignation from the Foreign Legion, established himself as a civil engineer at Marseilles and prepared a scheme for new maritime docks there, and that in connection with this scheme he visited Paris repeatedly, obtaining private audiences with the King and interviewing statesmen, it must be held that the charges against him were of a venial nature, in no way warranting the accusations brought forward by the War Office nearly seventy years later to cast discredit on his son. Nothing came of the Marseilles harbour scheme, and the same fate attended subsequent plans for the fortification of Paris. Zola /pere/, who by this time had married, then turned his attention to a proposal to supply water to the town of Aix, in Provence, by means of a reservoir and canal. He removed thither with his wife and child, and after many delays and disappointments ultimately signed an agreement for the construction of the works. Even then further delays took place, and it was not till three years later that the work could be commenced. But the engineer's ill fortune still attended him, for one morning while he was superintending his workmen the treacherous mistral began to blow, and he took a chill, from the effects of which he died a few days afterwards.

The young widow, with her son Emile, then a child of seven, was left in poor circumstances, her only fortune being a claim against the municipality of Aix. Fortunately her parents had some means, and came to her assistance during the years of fruitless struggle to establish the rights of her dead husband. Emile had up to this time been allowed to run wild, and he had spent most of his time out of doors, where he acquired a love of the country which he retained in later years. Even when he was sent to school he was backward, only learning his letters with difficulty and showing little inclination for study. It was not till 1852, when he was twelve years sold, that his education really began. By this time he was able to realize his mother's financial position, and to see the sacrifices which were being made to send him as a boarder to the /lycee/ at Aix. His progress then became rapid, and during the next five years he gained many prizes. Throughout all these years the struggle between Madame Zola and the municipality had gone on, each year diminishing her chance of success. In the end her position became desperate, and finding it impossible to continue to reside at Aix, the little family removed to Paris in 1858. Fortunately Emile was enabled by the intervention of certain friends of his late father to continue his studies, and became a day pupil at the Lycee St. Louis, on the Boulevard St. Michael. For some reason he made little progress there, and when he presented himself for his /baccalaureat/ degree he failed to pass the examination. A later attempt at the University of Marseilles had the same result. As this examination is in France the passport to all the learned professions, Zola's failure to pass it placed him in a serious position. His mother's resources were by this time entirely exhausted, and some means of support had to be sought without delay. After many attempts, he got a place as clerk in a business house at a salary of twenty-six pounds a year, but the work proved so distasteful that after two months of drudgery he threw it up. Then followed a period of deep misery, but a period which must have greatly influenced the work of the future novelist. Wandering the streets by day and, when he could find money to buy a candle, writing poems and short stories by night, he was gaining that experience in the school of life of which he was later to make such splendid use. Meantime his wretchedness was deep. A miserable lodging in a garret, insufficient food, inadequate clothing, and complete absence of fire may be an incentive to high endeavour, but do not render easy the pathway of fame. The position had become all but untenable when Zola received an appointment in the publishing house of M. Hachette, of Paris, at a salary beginning at a pound a week, but soon afterwards increased. During the next two years he wrote a number of short stories which were published later under the title /Contes a Ninon/. The book did not prove a great success, though its undoubted ability attracted attention to the writer and opened the way to some journalistic work. About this time he appears to have been studying Balzac, and the recently published /Madame Bovary/ of Flaubert, which was opening up a new world not only in French fiction, but in the literature of Europe. He had also read the /Germinie Lacerteux/ of Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, on which he wrote an appreciative article, and this remarkable book cannot have been without its influence on his work. The effect was indeed immediate, for in 1865 he published his next book, /La Confession de Claud/, which showed strong traces of that departure from conventional fiction which he was afterwards to make more pronounced. The book was not a financial success, though it attracted attention, and produced many reviews, some favourable, others merciless. Influenced by the latter, the Public Prosecutor caused inquiries regarding the author to be made at Hachette's, but nothing more was done, and it is indeed doubtful if any successful prosecution could have been raised, even at a period when it was thought necessary to indict the author of /Madame Bovary/.

Zola's employers had, however, begun to look askance at his literary work; they may have considered that it was occupying too much of the time for which they paid, or, more probably, they were becoming alarmed at their clerk's advanced views both on politics and literary art. As Zola afterwards explained the matter, one of the partners said to him, "You are earning two hundred francs a month here, which is ridiculous. You have plenty of talent, and would do better to take up literature altogether. You would find glory and profit there." The hint was a direct one, and it was taken. The young author was again thrown upon his own resources, but was no longer entirely unknown, for the not unfavourable reception of his first book and the violent attacks on his second had given him a certain position, even though it may to some extent have partaken of the nature of a /succes de scandale/. As he wrote at the time, he did not mean to pander to the likes or the dislikes of the crowd; he intended to force the public to caress or insult him.

Journalism was the avenue which now appeared most open, and Zola got an appointment on the staff of a newspaper called /L'Evenement/, in which he wrote articles on literary and artistic subjects. His views were not tempered by moderation, and when he depreciated the members of the /Salon/ in order to exalt Manet, afterwards an artist of distinction, but then regarded as a dangerous revolutionary, the public outcry was such that he was forced to discontinue publication of the articles. He then began a second story called /Le Vaeu d'une Morte/ in the same newspaper. It was intended to please the readers of

A Zola Dictionary - 1/54

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