The thought that some mental catastrophe would occur overnight and estrange him from his enterprise haunted Emile Zola throughout his life. As prolific as he was, he often began the day feeling a novice whom the ten or fifteen published volumes of the Rougon-Macquart offered no assurance that he could write another. Until language flowed again, those volumes were witnesses not to the genius he had at his command but to a power as wanton and ironical as the hereditary flaw that sabotages the Moi his heroes strive vainly to preserve. Few people knew about this Zola, who, despite his aversion to religious superstition, inhabited a world fraught with omens and signs, with hostile spirits the fear of which drove him to seek comfort in magical ceremonies. And those who did know were incredulous. “Life is skillfully arranged so as to make no one happy,” noted Edmond de Goncourt in December...


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