How was your first introduction to Émile Zola? We'd love to hear your stories!
It was at a business event about twelve years ago, which I attended as representative of my boss who couldn't make it. As I have anticipated that I would be bored (it's a sort of celebration of the our client's company anniversary), I brought my new copy of Thérèse Raquin. I didn't know then who Émile Zola was - I even thought him as a she! And the cover of my edition indicated the book as a literary romance. OK, perfect book to read at the back seat, while now and then I will clap my hands with the others, I thought. But, alas, I was wrong! And then I was so thoroughly absorbed into this wonderful psychological thriller, that I almost finished it during the whole event (breaking only during lunch). I must have given a queer sight to the other guests, absorbed in a book at a business event! At that point I knew that I have fallen in love with Zola - imagine, to be able to write like that! The rest is history.
Do you read Zola's randomly, or do you follow a certain, or even your own order?
I started the Rougon-Macquart from L'Assommoir, then continued randomly to several other titles, before I read the first one: The Fortune of the Rougons. It was years later that I realized I should have read the cycle chronologically.
What do you like and/or dislike from Zola? It can be his works, views, or personalities.
What I like most from Zola is his writing style. It often has the quality of a painting - picturesque and eloquent. Then, there's this brutal honesty in his narrative; the powerful intensity in his description that often send blows to one's mind.
As a human being, I admire Zola's persistent love of truth, which is reflected on his involvement in the Dreyfus Affair. And, though I disagree with his attachment to his mistress Jeanne Rozerot, at least he still respected and cared about his wife Alexandrine.
If you must spend a day with one character from Zola's books, who would you rather be with? And what both of you would do?
Denise Baudu from The Ladies' Paradise. I've just re-read this book, and realized how amiable and clever Denise was! Hanging out with her would make my morning delightful! I would love to take a stroll with her in the Jardin des Tuileries, while listening to her smart business ideas. Then after an impromptu picnic (my treat!), we would visit the Ladies' Paradise, where she could show me their lovely displays with splendid color plays. What a feast it would have been! 😉
Name one of Zola's books you would recommend others to read! Or if you haven't read him, which book do you like to start with?
Germinal. Always! It's such a perfect book in many aspects.
You were invited in Zola's soirée (Zola's famous literary dinners of Naturalism writers) at Médan tonight. You may listen to all the conversation/discussion, but you're only allowed to suggest one topic - what would that be?
I would LOVE to be in one of Zola's soirées! The topic of my choice would be: Free will. I would throw this question to them: "What do you think about free will? You guys write much about determinism, that our action is determined/dictated by our hereditary flaws. Don't you believe that with efforts, we could fight against those flaws?" - that would be a discussion I'll never forget! Do you think they will invite me again after this? LOL
What is your least favorite book from Zola?
Every writer must have a flop, right? Nobody is perfect. My least favorite from Zola is His Excellency Eugene Rougon. Politics is never my cup of tea, and Eugene Rougon is perhaps the most 'soulless' character from all the descendants of Tante Dide!!
Have you read any book/work by other authors about Zola? Biography, companion book, essay, historical fiction, etc. Share them, please! (It may inspire others). If you haven't, would you like to?
Here's the list, with links to my reviews.
🔹️The Life and Times of Émile Zola by F.W.J. Hemmings
🔹️A Biography of Emile Zola by Alan Schom
🔹️The Disappearance of Émile Zola by Michael Rosen
🔹️Zola: Photographer by Francois Emile Zola
🔹️An Officer and A Spy by Robert Harris (historical fiction of the Dreyfus Affair, Zola appeared, but not much)
I have also in my TBR:
- Brian Nelson's The Cambridge Companion to Émile Zola.
Still on my wishlist:
- Ernest Alfred Vizetelly's With Zola in England - the story of Zola's exile during Dreyfus Affair.
- Eileen Horne's Zola and the Victorians: Censorship in the Age of Hypocrisy
Of the Rougons, the Macquarts, and the Mourets, which family do you like best? Why?
This is a bit difficult. Coming from middle class background myself, I feel more related to the Mourets; they are mostly quite pleasant, respectable people. However, the Macquarts had mostly been depicted in Zola's best stories (and my favorites): L'Assommoir with Gervaise, Germinal with Etiènne, La Bête Humaine with Jacques, etc. They always brought the most compelling dramas, so... I'd go with the Macquarts!
My favourite Zola's quote(s):
"Now the April sun, in the open sky, was shining in its glory, warming the earth as it went into labour. From its fertile flanks life was leaping forth, buds were bursting into green leaves, and the fields were quivering with the growth of the grass. On every side seeds were swelling, stretching out, cracking the plain, filled by the need of heat and light. An overflow of sap flowed with whispering voices, the sound of the germs expanded in a great kiss. Again and again, more and more distinctly, as though they had come right up to the soil, the comrades were hammering. In the fiery rays of the sun, on this youthful morning, the country was pregnant with this rumbling. Men were springing forth, a black avenging army, germinating slowly in the furrows, growing up for the harvests of the next century, and their germination would soon overturn the earth." ~ the ending of Germinal.