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Author Information: Émile Zola

 
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1840-1902

Along with Balzac, Stendhal, and Flaubert, Zola was one of the four major French founders of the modern realist novel. He was the chief founder and theorist of Naturalism, the most extreme form of literary realism, represented in America by, among others, Frank Norris and Theodore Dreiser. In his theoretical writings, Zola holds that, in our modern scientific age, a novelist should be primarily a scientist conducting experiments on fictional human beings endowed with certain hereditary traits and placed in a certain environments. In his actual novels, however, Zola is as much a lyrical and epical poet and religious mystic and reformer as he is a scientific observer of modern society.

Although the raw realism, anticlericalism, and political liberalism of his best novels (e.g., L’Assommoir or Germinal) deeply shocked the most fashionable French (as well as English and American) critics of his day and his defense of Captain Dreyfus, a Jewish French army officer wrongly condemned of spying for the Germans, made him many enemies in France, he is generally considered today one of the greatest of all French novelists, and his remains are conserved in the French Pantheon, in Paris, alongside Victor Hugo’s.

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