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Zola: A Life by Frederick Brown

Zola: A Life

by Frederick Brown

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851215,913 (4.18)2
"Few writers have been - simultaneously - political hero, intellectual master, and literary giant. But Emile Zola (1840-1902) was: his monumental cycle of twenty novels extended the reach of fiction for all subsequent generations; he gave new meaning to the cause of brave progressivism; and his work sparked into life what we think of as the modern intelligentsia. This magisterial biography of a great but strangely private and unknown man is also a superb history of the social, political, and intellectual world through which Zola traveled so unforgettably." "Fifteen years in the making, Zola draws on the new edition of Zola's letters, with its hundreds of new documents, to offer unprecedented detail and nuance about Zola's life."--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved… (more)


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An exhaustive and exhausting biography, this is an incredible source of information on Zola and his works. This book came out just before Oxford University Press started issuing its (now almost-complete) masterful series of modern translations, so the plot summaries are immensely helpful, although the one area I wish Brown had gone into was English translation of the work. (That subject is covered very strongly in Graham King's older, more plebeian "The Garden of Zola".)

Of course, there's a fine line between erudition and pretention, and I'm not sure Brown always comes down on the right side of it. I could use a few less instances of the word 'ultramontane', and perhaps a bit more translation. When Brown notes Zola's early series of columns, "Mes Haines", he remarks on how the title is inherently aggressive, but he neglects to translate it into "My Hates", so anyone who doesn't have French will be at a loss in that moment.

Nevertheless, a powerful biography written from an admirably objective point-of-view. Situating Zola firmly in his time, Brown finds a strong balance between the author's life and career emanating from his own persona, and from the cultural elements that formed him. ( )
  therebelprince | Aug 4, 2019 |
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