Zola, Émile°

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ZOLA, ÉMILE ° (1840–1902), French novelist and champion of Alfred *Dreyfus. In Zola's 20-volume Rougon-Macquart novel cycle (1871–93), a naturalistic portrayal of French social decay under the Second Empire of Napoleon iii, there are Jewish characters who often appear in an unfavorable light. However, as with Gundermann in L'argent (1891), the Jewish financier invariably has equally unattractive gentile counterparts. Zola's humanitarian socialism, allied to a deep suspicion of clerical politics, determined his stand in the Dreyfus Affair. One of the earliest opponents of Édouard *Drumont, Zola wrote a series of essays defending the Jews, which were published in the daily Le Figaro (1896–97) and which stung antisemites to insinuate that his pen had been hired. "The Jews such as they are today are our work," Zola wrote, "the work of our 1,800 years of idiotic persecution" (Nouvelle campagne, 1897). He also contrasted the advanced Hebrew concept of the unity of mankind with the racist's primitive insistence on interracial conflict and hatred. Zola's involvement in the Dreyfus Affair reached a climax when he published an open letter to President Félix Faure on the front page of George Clemenceau's radical daily L'Aurore, headlined "J'accuse…!" (Jan. 13, 1898). He charged the French government and army with conspiring to suppress the true facts and with committing "high treason against humanity" by diverting popular anger from their own reactionary intrigues to the fabricated crime of a hapless, insignificant Jew. Zola's widely publicized accusation gave new heart to the supporters of Dreyfus and led to a prison sentence which the writer avoided by taking refuge in England. It also led many more to suspect that there had been a miscarriage of justice, and resulted in Dreyfus' retrial and eventual vindication.

Zola returned to the case in L'affaire Dreyfus (Lettre à la jeunesse, 1897; La vérité en marche, 1901), where he reiterated his belief in a conspiracy of army officers and clericalists aimed at overthrowing the Republic, and declared: "Truth is on the march; nothing can stop it now." His somewhat oversimplified approach to the problem of antisemitism – which would, he believed, vanish forever with the overthrow of ignorance and superstition – reappears in Vérité, the third part of his unfinished novel cycle, Les Quatre Evangiles (1899–1903). Here the anti-Dreyfusard thesis propounded by Maurice *Barrès is mercilessly lampooned. Anticipating the final outcome of the affair, which he was not destined to witness, Zola brings his fictionalized account of the case to a successful and morally satisfying conclusion with the vindication of his Jewish hero, Simon, a victim of the *blood libel, and the downfall of the reactionary intriguers.

Zola apparently intended to visit Palestine to gather material for a novel about Zionism, but his plan was never realized. His sudden death, resulting from carbon monoxide poisoning due to a blocked chimney, was allegedly contrived by a reactionary fanatic who gained access to the writer's apartment in the guise of a workman.


Le procès Zola, 2 vols. (1898); M. Josephson, Zola and his Time (1928, 1929); J. Romains, Zola et son exemple (1935); J. Kaplan, Témoignages sur Israël (19492), index; H. Guillemin, Zola, légende ou vérité (1960); C. Lehrmann, L'élément juif dans la littérature française, 2 (1961), 86–89; R. Ternois, Zola et son temps (1961); A. Wilson, Emile Zola, an Introductory Study (19642); B. Dinur, Ha-"Ani Ma'ashim" u-Mashma'uto ha-Historit (1949).