Z is for Zola

Today is the last letter of the A-Z Challenge. I really hope you’ve enjoyed reading about all these great writers, and have taken some inspiration from at least one of them, I know I have πŸ™‚

Emile Francois Zola was born in Paris in 1840. His father died when he was 3 leaving his mother on a small pension. She wanted Zola to have a law career but he failed his Baccalaureate exam.

Zola started writing in his teens and whilst working in the sales department of a publisher his autobiographical novel ‘La Confession de Claude’ was published (1865). This resulted in getting him sacked due to the police interest in the novel.

At the age of only 28 he began planning a series of novels which he described as “I want to portray, at the outset of a century of liberty and truth, a family that cannot restrain itself in its rush to possess all the good things that progress is making available and is derailed by its own momentum, the fatal convulsions that accompany the birth of a new world.” These 20 novels (known as the Rougon-Macquart novels) contain over 300 major characters.

With the publication of his 9th novel in 1877 he became wealthy, and a figurehead amongst the literary bourgeoisie of Paris. He socialized with other writers at his luxurious home and famously criticised the French Government over their handling of The Dreyfus affair.

He died at the age of 62 from carbon dioxide poisoning (blamed on a chimney at his home) in 1902, leaving behind 27 novels, 3 plays and various short stories. Years later a Parisian roofer claimed that he had closed the chimney for political reasons.

Critics have accused Zola of not having the power to create lifelike and memorable characters, but it was important to him that his characters did not appear larger than life. He had an unshakeable belief in human progress, science and optimism. All of which are prevalent in his work.

Zola Quotes:

β€œIf I cannot overwhelm with my quality, I will overwhelm with my quantity.”

β€œIf you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I am here to live out loud.”

β€œFrom the moment I start a new novel, life’s just one endless torture. The first few chapters may go fairly well and I may feel there’s still a chance to prove my worth, but that feeling soon disappears and every day I feel less and less satisfied. I begin to say the book’s no good, far inferior to my earlier ones, until I’ve wrung torture out of every page, every sentence, every word, and the very commas begin to look excruciatingly ugly. Then, when it’s finished, what a relief! Not the blissful delight of the gentleman who goes into ecstasies over his own production, but the resentful relief of a porter dropping a burden that’s nearly broken his back . . . Then it starts all over again, and it’ll go on starting all over again till it grinds the life out of me, and I shall end my days furious with myself for lacking talent, for not leaving behind a more finished work, a bigger pile of books, and lie on my death-bed filled with awful doubts about the task I’ve done, wondering whether it was as it ought to have been, whether I ought not to have done this or that, expressing my last dying breath the wish that I might do it all over again!”

β€œNothing is more irritating than to hear honest writers protest about depravity when one is quite certain that they make these noises without knowing what they are protesting about.”

Trailer for the 1937 film on Zola

I’m ashamed to say that the only novel I’d heard of that was written by Zola was ‘Germinal’ until I researched him for the challenge. I didn’t realise he had written so many novels!

I love the fact that Zola, even after all his success, 29 published novels, and critical acclaim, still felt that his writing was crap! I can really relate to that…Can you?

41 thoughts on “Z is for Zola

  1. He sounds like a visionary! I find it amazing how he still found that his writing was crap. We can take comfort in that, I think! It must be a writer thing to judge our own work so harshly.

    I am going to go through all of your authors that you highlighted and then make my next to-read list!


  2. I don’t write novels but can definitely relate to that. Fascinating stuff! I’ve read one Zola novel but I’ve forgotten the title. How sad how he died.


  3. It’s been great reading your A-Z challenge posts. Your posts were so wonderful and I loved that they had a theme. This was my first year doing it so I was happy just to complete the challenge, maybe next year I’ll do a theme


    • Awwwww, thank you so much! πŸ™‚

      I hope you enjoyed your first year? I did a theme last year too, but, I really like the idea of being random, so next year, perhaps, I’ll go the other way πŸ˜‰



  4. I also take comfort in the fact he was so dissatisfied with his own work. Probably would have been a great candidate for the Insecure Writers Group.

    But Vikki–bravo to you! Take a bow. These author sketches have been such a pleasure to read. I’m going to miss them, maybe you should run through the alphabet again πŸ˜‰


    • It just goes to show doesn’t it Karen, that even the greatest writers were Insecure πŸ˜‰

      Awwww, thank you honey. It’s been hard work but great fun!

      Ha ha ha! NO WAY! Lol πŸ˜‰



  5. Vikki, I am combining “Y” and “Z” … and what a combo … Yates and Zola. While I’ve read Yates, I am sorry to say I have never read Zola and know very little about him. The challenge is official over. I wonder if you’re going to have withdrawals tomorrow πŸ™‚ Which is actually my today.


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  7. What was truly amazing about Zola was that late in life, at the height of his fame and wealth, when everything was comfortable, he wrote one of the most powerful political diatribes ever composed because he realised that institutionalized racism was at the heart of the French government. he didn’t have to – the Dreyfus case didn’t touch him, he wasn’t Jewish, but he couldn’t keep silent. He had to flee the country as a result otherwise he would have been put in prison….he ended up at Victoria Station and spent 11 months in Upper Norwood, a nice part of London but def. not glamorous.
    It’s as if J.K. Rowlings was prosecuted for speaking out about the Stephen Lawrence case.
    And there is still controversy about his death…..did he die in a bizarre accident or was he killed because what he wrote was important, it shook governments.
    One of the good guys….a writer-hero!! (You can see I like him, also love his books. A French Dickens…)


    • Thanks Bridget πŸ™‚

      It was so hard to decide what to put into these mini biogs, and I tended to leave out the stuff I wasn’t that knowledgeable about, that would take LOTS of research, so thank you for filling in the gaps πŸ™‚

      So what do you think? Was he murdered?



      • I don’t know….people do die from gas fumes at home (although I imagine that 19th century houses had more ventilation than moderns ones…ie they were draughty!) but on whole I prefer the cock-up theory of history to the conspiracy theory, but I do admire him for speaking out when it was so easy to remain silent and he knew what it would cost him….


  8. Congratulations for finishing the challenge Vikki! It’s been a fantastic month of authors and I’ve really enjoyed it. Thank you for reseaching and summarising all of this history of writing so I didn’t have to πŸ˜‰ Hard work, well worth it. Make sure you allow yourself a reward for completing it!
    *hugs* Cat x


  9. Well done on completing the challenge, Vikki! I only came across your blog when you were half way through, but I really enjoyed the posts I did read. Thank you for so much information – I particularly enjoyed the quotes. I’ll go back and check out the earlier ones when I have a chance.


  10. The only time I think my writing is crap is when I’m not being true to myself and trying too hard to squeeze it into a particular market. l don’t believe in declaring my work crap, but instead asking myself can I make this any better? My philosophy now is to write something so original I can’t compare it to anyone else’s novel, as there isn’t another one like it out there. No need for an inferiority complex then πŸ˜‰


  11. Whether or not I think my writing is crap is quite the topic, because if I think it is crap, then why am I writing it?
    I tend to break down the crappiness into categories, to help me understand what I need to make better. Like, okay, the dialogue is fine, but the characters aren’t described, and the pacing is good, but the plot is undefined. Stuff like that.
    Anyway, great job on A to Z (did I say that already?) You and few other A-Z champs have inspired me to give it a shot next year. I already have a topic picked out!


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  14. I’m visiting on the A to Z Road trip, and have really enjoyed your take on A to Z! Interesting to read more about all these writers, I especially like how you added quotes, videos and other links, there is a lot to come back to here. Congrats to an enjoyable A to Z!


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