Zola: A Life by Frederick Brown
Anatole France gave the eulogy at Emile Zola’s graveside in 1902. “Let us envy him,” France said. “He has honored his country and the world with an immense body of work and one great act.” The body of work consisted primarily of the twenty “Rougon-Macquart” novels—including Germinal, L’Assommoir, Nana, and La Bête Humaine—which survey 19th-century France through the eyes of one devious and degenerate extended family. The great act was Zola’s dramatic intervention in the Dreyfus affair with “J’accuse,” the most important journalistic polemic in European history.
Zola’s political virtue has been seen by some as a product of his artistic inspiration; to others, his literary value is a function of his political commitments. It is one of Frederick Brown’s achievements in Zola that he disentangles these categories, allowing a more multifaceted picture of the man to emerge.
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