Saturday, 2 April 2011

Emile Zola born 2 April 1840.

Emile Zola, looking
 very French.
Born in Paris, Emile Zola moved to Aix-en-Provence with his family when he was three years old. There he went to school and became best friends with the artist Paul Cezanne. Zola wrote many classic novels, such as Therese Raquin, the story of a married woman's passionate affair.

He also wrote a series of twenty novels, les Rougon-Macquart, centred around two families, getting his inspiration for a large series from Balzac's la Comedie Humaine.  Zola was fascinated with how a person's fate in life was determined by the influences of their environment and their genetic make up. He explored these ideas through the two families, the Rougon, - drive for power, money and success - and the Macquart, - alcoholism, prostitution and general bad luck.  Entertaining and enjoyable books, especially Nana, Germinal and L'Assommoir, a dramatic story of poverty and alcoholism in working class districts of 19th century Paris.

 At the drinking place or watering hole.

L'Assommoir was a slang term for a shop selling cheap liquor which was distilled on the premises. There is no direct English translation, but the word comes from the verb assommer, meaning to stun, bludgeon or knock senseless, so the nearest meaning in English would be to get hammered! There are tales in the book of absinthe and the drinking of almost pure alcohol.

Emile and Paul frequented  Les Deux Garcons a bar on the elegant tree lined boulevard le Cours Mirabeau, the main artery and place to be seen in Aix-en-Provence. A meeting place for artists, writers and thinkers in the past, les Deux Garcons now attracts the rich and famous, and tourists.

Zola's bold letter to the French president
was published in a newspaper.
Sadly Zola died in rather suspicious circumstances at the age of 62. A blocked chimney caused him to die of carbon monoxide poisoning and rumours abounded that his enemies had finally got to him. Enemies he had made when he wrote a daring open letter to the French Government - entitled J'Accuse! - accusing them of anti-semitism when a Jewish French army officer, Alfred Dreyfus, was wrongly convicted of treason and sent to Devil's Island in the 1890s. The officer was finally freed, but the Dreyfus Affair, as it was known, haunted Zola for the rest of his life, and death.

He looks hammered at l'Assommoir.

1 comment:

  1. Great article Debbie. Looking forward to the next one :)

    Claire xx