Of his many novels, those considered most important are among the 20 that constitute the series Les Rougon-Macquart (1871–93), an account of the decay of a family as the result of heredity and environment, with special emphasis on alcoholism, disease, and degeneracy. Perhaps the best known of these are L'Assommoir (1877, tr. The Dram-Shop), on lower-class life in Paris; Nana (1880); and Germinal (1885, tr. 1901), a
proletarian novel involving coal mining in N France. He also began the socialistic Quatre Évangiles [four gospels], of which he finished Fécondité (1899, tr. Fruitfulness, 1900), Travail (1901, tr. Labor, 1901), and Vérité (1903, tr. Truth, 1903).
Zola had an ardent zeal for social reform. He was anti-Catholic and wrote many diatribes against the clergy and the Church. His part in the Dreyfus Affair (notably his article,
J'accuse, 1898) was his most conspicuous public action, and he became the special object of the hatred of the anti-Dreyfus party. Prosecuted for libel (1898), he escaped to England, where he remained a few months until an amnesty enabled his return to France. He was accidentally asphyxiated in his bedroom after inhaling fumes from a blocked chimney.
See biographies by A. Schom (1988) and F. Brown (1995); studies by F. W. J. Hemmings (2d ed. 1966), A. Wilson (1952, repr. 1973), and D. Baguley (1986).
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