But it ends—as its title, Germinal , suggests—recalling the name of the 7th, springtime month of the Republican Calendar—with a hint of better times to come. Zola the writer and his sense of duty to record reality. Zola believed that the job of the novelist, like that of the scientist, was to observe and record reality with the sole aim of demonstrating truth. He had no use for literature based on fictitious characters symbolic of this or that human vice or virtue.
He sought, instead, to describe characters that, like humans themselves, were products of their genetic predisposition and the milieu in which they lived.
Zola ; ou, La conscience humaine
Au Bonheur des Dames gives us a snapshot of middle-class Parisian life under the emperor; while Nana examines the realities of sexual exploitation at that time; and Germinal transports us to the dark underbelly of life in the coalmines. Each novel stands as testimony to the reality of an age and for this reason, the Rougon-Macquart cycle is held up as a monument of the French Naturalist Movement in theatre and literature.
As a Naturalist writer, Zola believed that ugly social problems could not be solved as long as they remained hidden from view, unexamined and undiscussed. This was no less true for Zola the person as well. In , a young artillery officer of Alsatian Jewish descent named Alfred Dreyfus was brought up on charges of allegedly passing French military secrets to the German Embassy in Paris.
Two years later, new evidence revealed that Major Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy, a known scoundrel with no real affection for France — or any nation for that matter—was the truly guilty party. But high-ranking French military officials, not wanting to cast doubt on their judgment in general, suppressed the facts. The succeeding political scandal divided French society well into the s, but truth finally won out.
Just as Zola had attempted in fiction, so had he achieved in life itself. Though Esterhazy received little more than a slap on the wrist, after which he fled to Brussels to live out his life on a French military pension, Dreyfus was ultimately exonerated in , all accusations against him having been proved baseless. Zola, unfortunately, would not live to see the result of his valor.
Following the Affair, he was both lionized and vilified; a hero to some, he was a traitor to others. In standing up for Alfred Dreyfus and for social justice, Zola had also proven the power of the intellectual to shape public opinion. To avoid prison, he fled, arriving in London with only the clothes on his back. In September he died at home from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a blocked chimney.
Though his enemies were suspected of foul play, this being one of several attempts on his life since the Dreyfus Affair, nothing was ever proven. He was only 62 years old. A tombstone still marks the one-time grave.
Bonjour, Monsieur Zola
But on 4 June , Zola, too, would be exonerated in the eyes of the French people. All venerated 19th century authors, ardent Republicans who spoke out for social justice and reform, there can be no doubt that Monsieur Zola would agree that in death he shares fine company indeed. Learn more about her groundbreaking StoryApp tours. Sarah also maintains a weekly blog about French history and culture and what it means to build an App.
Bonjour Monsieur Zola - AbeBooks
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