Zola: A Biography

Frederick Brown, Author
Frederick Brown, Author Farrar Straus Giroux $37.5 (0p) ISBN 978-0-374-29742-8
Paperback - 888 pages - 978-0-8018-5463-7
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French novelist Emile Zola (1840-1902), who believed the fiction writer should observe reality dispassionately, like a scientist, led a messy emotional life. Obsessed with death ever since the death of his father when he was seven, the fanatically orderly novelist relied on superstitious rituals to avert danger. At 48, Zola, a married man, took as his mistress his 21-year-old ex-chambermaid, Jeanne Rozerot, setting her up in a flat near his own and secretly having two children with her. His clandestine double life, which his wife, Gabrielle Mely, discovered only through an anonymous letter, brought Zola ecstasy and torment. He saw every novel he wrote as a victory over impotence, over death and over guilt, according to Brown, professor of French and French literature at the State University of New York. This shrewd, arresting, monumental biography, with discussions of all the novels set against the seamy politics of the Second Empire, makes one appreciate Zola's greatness and originality anew. The Dreyfus Affair, Brown maintains, was a natural elixir for Zola, who had championed the victim and the outcast in many novels, and his heroic articles defending Alsatian Jewish army captain Alfred Dreyfus against false charges of espionage helped revive his waning creativity. Photos. (May)
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