Friday, April 02, 2010


Ok, so a diet of salad, and pickles (lots of pickles), and fortifying myself with ONE (that is right ONE) Jaffa cake, has given me the strength (barely), to continue our hero parade today. The fellow above is one Emile Zola, born this day 1840 in Paris, France. His father, an Italian engineer, died when he was only seven years old, and he and his mother moved back to Paris. His mother had planned for him to pursue a law degree (again another failed lawyer), but Zola failed the entrance exam. After that lucky escape, and before his breakthrough as a writer, Zola worked as a shipping clerk, and then as a sales clerk for a publisher. While there he published his first novel La Confession de Claude in 1865, which got Zola some unwanted police attention, and promptly fired from his job. He then went on to publish his first major novel. That novel Thérèse Raquin, was the first in what he planned (in advance, at the age of 28) to be a 20 novel cycle. This cycle, named Les Rougon-Macquart, was to take a long, hard, look at life in Second Empire France. All levels of society, and all types of jobs, events, and people were to be examined. The series was planned to follow two branches of the same family, the Rougon (the high class group), and the Macquarts (the illegitimate group) for five generations. One of these books (as I have mentioned before) cost him the friendship of his childhood friend, Paul Cezanne. However the publication of these books, made Zola famous, he would eventually become better paid than Victor Hugo. It was the Dreyfus affair, that probably gave Zola his biggest claim to fame. Writing on behalf of Alfred Dreyfus, and being an long time critic of Napoleon II's regime, his letter J'Accuse was front page news at the time. The letter, a master class of political writing, accused the French government of anti-Semitism, and eventually would get Zola prosecuted and found guilty of libel. Rather than go to jail for libel, Zola skipped town, and fled to England, arriving there with only the clothes on his back. After close to a year in exile, he was allowed to return to France in late 1899. He died of carbon monoxide poisoning, caused by a stopped chimney, in 1902. There are those conspiracy theory type fellows that claim (because of previous attempts on his life) that it was a government plot, and that Zola was murdered. Either way, a leading light of French literature was snuffed out all too soon, and that is a tragedy. However, for writing all those novels taking such a in depth look at life in France under the Second Empire, and for having the courage to accuse the government of what it was guilty of, Emile Zola (April 2nd 1840-September 29th, 1902, at the age of 62), you are my (22oth) hero of the day.

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