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(Images generously made available by the Internet Archive.)







_"If, upon your side, you have the testimony
of your conscience, and, against you, that of
the multitude, take comfort, rest assured
that time will do justice." - _DIDEROT


This book is an attempt to chronicle the chief incidents in the life
of the late Émile Zola, and to set out the various aims he had in view
at different periods of a career which was one of the most strenuous
the modern world has known. Virtually all his work is enumerated in
the following pages, which, though some are given to argument and
criticism, will be found crowded with facts. The result may not be very
artistic, but it has been partially my object to show what a tremendous
worker Zola was, how incessantly, how stubbornly, he practised the
gospel which he preached. An attempt has been made also to show the
growth of humanitarian and reforming passions in his heart and mind,
passions which became so powerful at last that the "novelist" in Zola
seemed as nothing. Yet I do not think I can be charged with having
neglected the literary side of his career. It is that which bulks most
largely in the present volume, and that I think is as it should be, for
while Zola was certainly, and in some respects essentially, a Reformer,
the pen was the weapon with which he strove to effect his purposes.

Designed more particularly for British and American readers, the
book contains some passages which I should have abbreviated - omitted
perhaps - if I had been addressing a French audience. And some subjects,
which, in that case, I might have treated more fully, have here
been dealt with briefly. For instance, though I have enumerated all
the plays that Zola wrote, and most of those founded by others on
his works, I have not entered into any real discussion of his views
respecting the stage, or of his indirect influence on it in France.
I have thought it sufficient to indicate that such influence was
exercised. A full examination of Zola's relations with the stage would
have materially increased the length of a work which is long already,
and which I have been anxious to keep within the scope of one volume - a
desire which has made my task more difficult than it would have been
had I used my materials in all their fulness. But I am distinctly of
opinion that biographies in several volumes have nowadays little chance
of surviving, even for a moderate number of years.

With respect to Zola's share in the Dreyfus case everybody will
recognise, I think, how difficult it is to narrate the doings of
any one individual in such an intricate _mêlée_ without constant
reference to the other combatants and explanation of the many points
at issue. Nevertheless, though I fully recognise that the deliverance
of Captain Dreyfus was not effected by Zola only, that many other able
and whole-hearted men co-operated in that great achievement, I have
endeavoured to disentangle Zola's share in the battle from that of the
others, saying of them only what has seemed to me strictly necessary
to explain his actions. I mention this in order that none may think me
unjust towards Zola's fellow-fighters. And though in some introductory
pages I have endeavoured to indicate the primary causes of the Affair,
such as I think them to have been, in the hope that the reader may be
better able to understand the fury of the fray, I have not plunged
into a discussion of the Affair itself. Besides, M. Dreyfus's case is
now once more before the Cour de Cassation, and reserve on a variety
of matters has therefore become advisable. Further, for some years
already, a far abler pen than mine, wielded by one of far greater
authority, M. Joseph Reinach, has been retracing the many episodes
of the Affair, and one may take it, I think, that "L'Histoire de
l'Affaire Dreyfus" will not end without casting light even on matters
which may still seem obscure.

In one of my chapters I mention an episode in Zola's private life,
which is already known to so many people that it would have been
ridiculous on my part to have attempted to conceal it, even if it had
been right to do so. I will not enlarge on the subject here, for it is
discussed in its proper place, I will merely reiterate my conviction
that if a biographer may well be kind to the virtues and a little blind
to the errors of a man he has loved it is nevertheless his duty to his
readers to omit nothing that may be essential for a right understanding
of the man's life.

Further, in another section of the book, I have recounted the incidents
of the prosecution instituted against my father with respect to
certain translations of Zola's novels. And in this connection I have
had occasion to say something about certain fanatics, and also about
the attitude of the majority of the British newspaper press before
it realised that Zola was not so black as it had painted him. Even
after the lapse of long years, such matters and their consequences
cannot be recalled by one who suffered by them without some feeling of
resentment. It is true that in my preface to the English version of
Zola's last book I expressed my acknowledgments to the press generally
for the leniency, patience, and even favour that had been shown to
me from the time I began to re-introduce Zola's works to the British
public. Those acknowledgments I am quite ready to reiterate, in despite
of the matters with which I deal in a chapter of the present book, for
those matters belong to an earlier period. But a sense of duty and
justice to my father, to my brothers and other relatives, to myself as
well, has made it impossible for me to overlook the period in question,
and what I regard largely as its aberrations. Besides, in a book
intended for English readers, it is only fit that the attitude of the
English public towards Zola should be dealt with.

Most of the illustrations accompanying my text are from photographs,
several of them taken specially for this book; but I have to express my
acknowledgments to the proprietors of the _Illustrated London News_ for
their kind permission to reproduce various views of the rooms in which
much of Zola's life was spent.

E. A. V.

MERTON, SURREY March, 1904



II EARLY YEARS: 1840-1860















A. - Declaration of Zola's birth

B. - Declaration of his death

C. - Note on some English translations of his novels



I Émile Zola in his Last Days _Frontispiece_

II The Birthplace of Émile Zola _To face page_

III Dam and Reservoir of the Zola Canal

IV Zola's Home, Impasse Sylvacanne, Aix

V The Boulevard Zola and the Banks of the Arc, Aix

VI Émile Zola, 1876-1880

VII Zola's Home at Médan

VIII Zola in his Study

IX Émile Zola, 1888-1890

X Aix-in-Provence, the Plassans of his Books

XI Fac-simile Letter from Zola to E. A. Vizetelly

XII Denise and Jacques

XIII Maître Labori

XIV Zola writing "Fécondité" at Walton

XV Penn, and Summerfield, Surrey

XVI Penn from the Garden, and Fac-simile Card from Zola to Vizetelly

XVII Émile Zola, September, 1898

XVIII Zola's Dining-room

XIX Mme. Zola at the Queen's Hotel, Norwood

XX Zola's Bedroom

XXI M. Anatole France speaking at Zola's Funeral






The meaning of "Zola" - Localities of that name - The Zola family of
Brescia and Venice - Giovanni Battista Zola, saint and martyr - The
Abate Giuseppe Zola and his chequered career - The military Zolas of
Venice - Benedetta Kiariaki and her offspring - Francesco, father of
Émile Zola - His military training - He becomes an engineer and plans
one of the first "railways" in Europe - His service in the French
Foreign Legion and its strange ending - He plans new docks for the port
of Marseilles - His schemes for fortifying Paris and providing Aix in
Provence with water - He meets Françoise Émilie Aubert - His romantic
courtship and marriage - His home in the Rue St. Joseph, Paris - Birth
of Émile Zola - Literature in England, America, and France in 1840 - The
birth of Émile Zola followed by that of Alphonse Daudet - Contrasting
characteristics of those writers.

It has been contended, with some plausibility, that the Italian word
_zola_ is simply a variant of _zolla_, which means, in a restricted
sense, a clod or lump of earth, and, in a broader one, the glebe or
soil This circumstance has suggested to certain detractors of Émile
Zola and his writings the scornful remark that he was at least well
named, having been, indeed, of the earth earthy. Others have retorted,
however, that he may well have taken pride in such association, for,
far from disowning his Mother Earth, he acknowledged and proclaimed
her beneficence, showed himself her worthy son, and a true and zealous
brother to all compounded of her clay. In the course of the present
memoir it will become necessary to examine the blame and praise so
freely showered upon Zola by his enemies and his admirers; but
this can be done irrespective of any such fanciful consideration as
the alleged meaning of his name. All discussion of that meaning may
be left to philologists and those who are superstitiously inclined
to detect predestination in nomenclature. At the same time, it may
be as well to point out that the name of Zola is borne by several
localities in Northern Italy. For instance, there are two villages so
called in Lombardy, - one near Palestro in the province of Pavia, and
another in the Valle di sotto, province of Sondrio. In the Emilia,
moreover, towards Bologna, there is the small but ancient township of
Zola-Predosa, which takes its name from two castellanies united early
in the fourteenth century. And as far south as Tuscany, in the province
of Florence, one finds a village called Zola incorporated in the Comune
di Terra del Sole, and yet another which is named Zola di Modigliana.
If, as is possible, the family to which Émile Zola belonged derived its
patronymic from some specific locality, this may well have been one
of the Lombardian Zolas; for though all the published accounts of the
great novelist's progenitors associate them chiefly with Venice, it is
certain that they were long connected with Brescia, Lombardy's fairest
city, and one which passed for a time under Venetian rule.

The first notable Zola of whom some account has been preserved was
a certain Giovanni Battista, born at Brescia between 1570 and 1580.
Educated for the Church, he joined the Society of Jesus, and, in or
about 1600, proceeded to Goa as a missionary. From India he made his
way to Japan, whither St. Francis Xavier and others, following Mendez
Pinto, had carried the cross half a century earlier. Remarkable success
attended the first endeavours of the Jesuit missionaries among the
Japanese, but their principles were incompatible with tolerance.
Throwing caution to the winds, they dictated when they should have
been content to teach and persuade, destroyed native shrines, and
plotted with disaffected nobles, in such wise that Christianity, after
recruiting, it is said, some two hundred thousand adherents in the
realm of the Rising Sun, was placed under interdict by the Emperor.
Terrible slaughter ensued, and among those who perished at the hands of
the Shintoists and Buddhists was the zealous Giovanni Battista Zola. In
our own times, under the pontificate of Pius IX, he was placed, like
the other holy martyrs of Japan, among the saints of the Roman Catholic

At the confluence of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, another
Zola, likewise a Churchman, rose to a position of some eminence. This
was the Abate Giuseppe Zola, born in 1739 at Concesio, near Brescia, in
which city he became successively librarian, professor of morals, and
rector of the university. But he was a man of broad views, one whose
dream was to reform and rejuvenate the Church - even like Abbé Pierre
Froment in Émile Zola's "Lourdes" and "Rome." In 1771 the theological
views professed by Giuseppe Zola brought him into conflict with his
Bishop and the Jesuits. He was forced to quit the university; a
three-volume work which he had written on the early Christians prior to
Constantine and two volumes of his theological lectures were denounced
to the Congregation of the "Index expurgatorius"; and - in this instance
also like Abbé Pierre Froment - he journeyed to Rome in the hope of
justifying himself. In the end - once more anticipating Abbé Pierre - he
had to make his submission. Then, for three years, he remained at
Rome, teaching morals; but the influence of his enemies, the Jesuits,
was waning, and not long after the promulgation of Ganganelli's
historic brief suppressing Loyola's Order, Zola obtained an appointment
as rector and professor of ecclesiastical history at a seminary for
Hungarian students, established at Pavia by the Emperor Joseph II.

He proved a zealous partisan of that monarch's reforms; he imagined,
too, that the suppression of the Jesuits meant the dawn of a new era
for the Church. Thus he indulged fearlessly in advanced religious
and political views, his persuasive eloquence carrying most of the
professors of Pavia with him. The Church then again treated him as a
rebel; he was accused of infecting his seminary with heresy; and not
only was he deprived of his rectorship, but the institution itself was
closed. At last came the French Revolution; and the victories of the
Republican arms in Italy brought Zola the professorships of history,
jurisprudence, and diplomacy at the Pavian University. During the brief
revival of Austrian rule (1799-1800) he was once more cast out, to be
reinstated, however, immediately after Marengo. The last important
incident of his life was a journey to Lyons as one of the Lombardian
deputies whom Napoleon summoned thither when he constituted his Kingdom
of Italy. A year later, 1806, Giuseppe Zola passed away at his native
place. He was a man of considerable erudition, broad sympathies,
and untiring energy. Besides writing a dozen volumes on theological
and historical subjects, he edited and annotated numerous books,[1]
invariably turning to literature for consolation amid the vicissitudes
of his career, which has been recounted here at some little length
because it is of a suggestive nature when one remembers that the Abate
Giuseppe was a kinsman of the progenitors of Émile Zola.

Those progenitors belonged to a branch of the family which had
established itself at Venice, and which became noted for its men of the
sword, even as the Brescian branch was noted for its Churchmen. The
Zolas of Venice held military rank under the last Doges, then under the
Cisalpine Republic, and eventually under Napoleon as King of Italy. Two
of them fell in the great conqueror's service, one then holding the
rank of colonel, the other that of major. A third, who became a colonel
of engineers and inspector of military buildings, married a young girl
of the island of Corfu, which had been subject to Venice since the
close of the fourteenth century. Her name was Benedetta Kiariaki, and
she introduced a Greek element into the Zola blood. It seems probable
that she had several children, among whom were certainly two sons. The
elder, called Marco, became a civil engineer, and rose to the highest
rank in the State roads-and-bridges service. He had three children,
two daughters named respectively Benedetta and Catarina, and a son,
Carlo. Benedetta died unmarried, while Catarina was wedded to Cavaliere
Antonio Petrapoli of Venice; but their only offspring, a daughter, was
snatched from them in her childhood.

Carlo Zola, meantime, followed the profession of the law, and, after
the foundation of the present Kingdom of Italy (1866), was appointed a
judge of the Appeal Court of Brescia. He died comparatively few years
ago. Contemporary with him there were other Venetian and Brescian
Zolas, cousins, presumably, of various degrees. In family letters of
the first half of the last century, one reads of a Lorenzo, a Giuseppa,
a Marius, and a Dorina Zola, but all these have passed away, and at
the present time (1903) the only representative of the family in Italy
would seem to be the Signora Emma Fratta, _née_ Zola, a widow lady with
four children.

But, besides Marco Zola, Benedetta Kiariaki, the Corfiote, had a son
called Francesco in his earlier years, and François after he took up
his residence in France. As a matter of fact he bore four Christian
names, Francesco Antonio Giuseppe Maria - which may be taken as some
indication of the family's gentle status. In the present narrative, in
which it is necessary to speak of him at some little length, for he
became the father of Émile Zola, it may be best to call him François.
He was born at Venice on August 8, 1795, and entered the Royal Military
School of Pavia in October, 1810. A corporal-cadet in March, 1811,
a serjeant two months later, he obtained his first commission, as a
sub-lieutenant in the Fourth Light Infantry, in April, 1812. In July
of the same year he was transferred to the Royal Italian Artillery,
with the rank of lieutenant. He was then only seventeen. Until the
collapse of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy in 1814 he served under the
viceroy Prince Eugène Beauharnais, and his regiment being afterwards
incorporated in the Austro-Italian forces, he remained with it till

But the exile of Napoleon to St. Helena had brought Europe a period
of peace, and some leisure fell to the lot even of military men in
active service. In all probability the "First Light Battery," to which
François Zola belonged, was stationed at Padua; in any case, while
still in the army, the young man perfected his studies at the Paduan
University and secured the degree of doctor in mathematics. In 1818 he
published a treatise on levelling ground,[3] which was adopted by the
authorities at Milan (the capital of the Austrian dominions in Italy)
as a text-book for the engineers of their roads-and-bridges service,
and which procured for the young author, then three and twenty, the
title of Associate of the Academy of Sciences, Letters, and Arts of

If in 1820 he withdrew from military service, it was, as shown by a
document in his own handwriting, preserved at the French War Office,
because the Austrian Emperor "had been graciously pleased to order the
introduction of the bastinado into his Italian regiments"; but although
François Zola denounced this as a barbarous proceeding, he does not
appear to have entertained any hatred of the Austrians generally. From
a speech delivered at his funeral, one gathers that on quitting the
army he worked under his brother Marco, then chief inspector of roads
and bridges, became a properly qualified engineer, and was eventually
sent to Upper Austria on some official surveying business. While there,
he became acquainted with the Ritter von Gerstner and an engineer named
Bergauer, in conjunction with whom he constructed the first tramway
line laid down on the continent of Europe.[5]

It has been called a railway, and such it undoubtedly was, though not
in the sense usually given to the word "railway" nowadays; for relays
of horses were employed for traction. The line extended from Linz on
the Danube to Budweis in Bohemia, a distance of seventy-eight miles;
and though it seems to have been largely devised for the transport of
timber from the Bohemian forests to the great waterway, there was also
a passenger service, which still existed in our time.[6]

While constructing this line, Zola, in June, 1823, obtained personally
the imperial authorisation to make another one, connecting Linz with
Gmunden and the Salzkammergut - the so-called "Austrian Switzerland,"
industrially important for its extensive salt-works. But he became
disappointed with the financial results of the Budweis line, and,
accordingly, in September, 1830, he sold the Gmunden concession. It
seems likely that he had then already quitted Austria. There are
indications that he may have visited England with Ritter von Gerstner,
and have sojourned for a time in Holland; but before the end of 1830
he was certainly in France, writing to King Louis Philippe respecting
a scheme he had devised for the fortification of Paris. In the spring
of 1831 he was in communication with the French War Office on this same
subject, whilst also soliciting an appointment in the Foreign Legion,
in Algeria, with the rank of captain.[7] The fortification scheme was
shelved, but the appointment was granted, excepting in one respect: it
was as a lieutenant, not as a captain, that François Zola entered the
Foreign Legion in July, 1831.

His career in that corps proved very brief, and ended strangely. Many
years afterwards an unprincipled journalist, anxious to discredit Émile
Zola's championship of Captain Dreyfus, raked up the episode in order
to denounce the novelist as the son of a thief. But it is certain that
some documents cited at the time were entirely forged, that others
were falsified in part, and that others, again, were suppressed.
This can occasion no surprise when it is remembered that one of the
_dossiers_ concerning François Zola, preserved at the French War
Office, passed for a time into the possession of the notorious forger,
Colonel Henry;[8] and that an unscrupulous Minister, General Billot,
by asserting authoritatively that certain papers did not exist,[9]
contrived to delay their discovery. Those matters will require notice
hereafter; at this stage one need only mention that the attack on
François Zola's memory was answered first in a work called "Le Père
d'Émile Zola" by a Socialist journalist, writing under the name of
"Jacques Dhur," and secondly by Émile Zola himself in a series of
newspaper articles, which he reprinted in a volume entitled "La Vérité
en Marche."

After studying those books and the documents they quote, nobody of
impartial mind can entertain the graver charges preferred against
the novelist's father. In his time (1831-1832) great confusion
prevailed in the Algerian army of occupation. Commanders and officers
were constantly being changed, and Zola himself, after serving at
first as a company officer, was temporarily entrusted with wardrobe
matters, in his management of which some irregularities appear to have
arisen, in consequence, perhaps, of the aforesaid confusion, or of
Zola's inexperience of such duties, or even neglect of them. In this
connection, it is asserted that he became involved in an intrigue with
a married woman, the wife of an ex-non-commissioned officer, of German
origin, named Fischer. It is alleged that in May, 1832, when this
woman and her husband were on the point of sailing for France, Zola
disappeared from his quarters; and that, some garments belonging to him
having been found on the seashore near Algiers, it was at first thought
he had committed suicide, or had been drowned while bathing. Somebody
suggested, however, that he might be with the Fischers, and accordingly
the vessel on which they had taken passage was searched. Zola was not
there, but the Fischers acknowledged that a sum of fifteen hundred
francs, out of four thousand found in their possession, belonged to
him. This seemed a matter for investigation, particularly as a deficit
in the wardrobe accounts had now been discovered. The Fischers,
therefore, were arrested and brought on shore.

But Zola, from some unknown retreat, - unknown, that is, at the present
time, - wrote to the Commander-in-Chief, General the Duke of Rovigo,
offering to come forward, make up his accounts, and pay whatever

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