Émile Zola (1840 - 1902)

Émile Zola


Journalists & intellectuals

With I Accuse!, the first Dreyfusard manifesto published on a wide scale, Emile Zola, who was born in Paris on 2 April 1840, launched the Affair and stirred up emotions.

The son of an Italian engineer, Zola adopted French citizenship in 1862 and became an art critic and naturalistic novelist. He became famous with his twenty-volume Rougon-Macquart; the "natural and social history of a family under the Second Empire." It was published between 1870 and 1893, and won Zola the favor of a large international public, in particular the volumes L'Assommoir, Nana and Germinal.

As president of the Société des Gens de Lettres from 1891 to 1896, he received Bernard Lazare on 6 November 1897 and lunched with Senator Scheurer-Kestner a week later. Following this, he wrote three articles for Le Figaro and published two leaflets, A Letter to the Youth (14 December 1897) and A Letter to France (7 January 1898). On 13 January 1898, two days after the acquittal of Esterhazy, his letter to the President of the Republic took up the entire front page and most of page 2 of L'Aurore, just prior to the publication of the first list of intellectuals calling for the review of the Dreyfus trial.

Convicted by the Seine Court of Assize in February, he managed to get his trial overturned, but was reconvicted in Versailles. He then left France until June 1899. He was upset by the Rennes trial and then by the amnesty law, and collected his Dreyfusard writings in February 1901 in La Vérité en Marche.

On 30 September 1899, Alfred Dreyfus thanked him for I Accuse!, a "heroic act (…) whose greatness will remain incomparable when the dust from the struggle has settled, when history shall have recorded it." He died on 29 September 1902 from carbon monoxide poisoning that was possibly criminal in origin. Four years later, in the wake of Dreyfus's rehabilitation, Parliament voted to transfer his remains to the Pantheon. During the ceremony, on 4 June 1908, Dreyfus was wounded by an anti-Dreyfusard demanding "a review of the review."

On the hundredth anniversary of I Accuse!, President Chirac paid homage to Zola, "a great literary and moral figure (…) [who, in] the tradition of Voltaire, incarnates the best of the intellectual tradition."