Born in Paris on April 2, 1840, Emile Zola was raised in Aix-en-Provence, where his father, an Italian engineer, had been hired by the municipality to build its waterworks. François Zola died just as construction began and the prospect of wealth turned into a nightmare of litigation from which his widow emerged penniless. This loss had lifelong effects on Emile. Another loss occurred when Madame Zola took her seventeen-year-old son north to Paris. Torn from his bosom friends, Paul Cezanne and Jean-Baptistin Baille, he drifted unhappily through late adolescence, failing the baccalaureate examination, vainly seeking employment, and discovering the squalid side of bohemia.

In 1862, fortune smiled at last. He was given a clerkship by Hachette and Company, and soon became the firm’s publicity director. In that position he established a network of contacts throughout the newspaper world. He also produced a novel entitled La...


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