Born: 2 April 1840
Died: 29 September 1902 (carbon monoxide poisoning )
Birthplace: Paris, France
Best known as: The author of "J'Accuse"
Emile Zola was a French journalist and novelist known for his series of 20 novels known collectively as Les Rougon-Macquart (1871-93). Zola's style was called literary naturalism; his novels were attacked and even banned for their frankness and sordid detail, and caused quite a bit of controversy in their day. The same traits made him a best-selling author and a star of French literature in his day. In 1898 he then further incurred the wrath of French officials when he published the open letter "J'Accuse," in defense of Alfred Dreyfus, an Army officer who had been convicted of treason. Zola was sentenced to prison for libel, fled to England, and was granted amnesty a few months later. He died in Paris from carbon monoxide poisoning -- the victim of a stopped-up chimney -- a few months before Dreyfus was officially exonerated.
Zola’s death is listed as September 28th by some sources, September 29th by others. He died overnight when the chimney on a bedroom stove stopped working, asphyxiating him and nearly killing his wife as well. We accept the 29th, based on a New York Times account in which Madame Zola says both were still alive in the early morning of that day.
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