Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Emile Zola

French Writer, Critic and contributor to the development of Theatrical Realism

"If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, I will answer you: "I am here to live out loud.""

"I am an artist... I am here to live out loud. "

"I am little concerned with beauty or perfection. I don't care for the great centuries. All I care about is life, struggle, intensity. "

"The thought is a deed. Of all deeds she fertilizes the world most. "

"A court martial, under orders, has just dared to acquit a certain Esterhazy, a supreme insult to all truth and justice. And now the image of France is sullied by this filth, and history shall record that it was under your presidency that this crime against society was committed. As they have dared, so shall I dare. Dare to tell the truth, as I have pledged to tell it, in full, since the normal channels of justice have failed to do so. My duty is to speak out; I do not wish to be an accomplice in this travesty. My nights would otherwise be haunted by the spectre of the innocent man, far away, suffering the most horrible of tortures for a crime he did not commit."

"A god of kindness would be charitable to all. Your god of wrath and punishment is but a monstrous phantasy... It is not necessary that one should humble oneself to deserve assistance, it is sufficient that one should suffer."

"A new dynasty is never founded without a struggle. Blood makes good manure. It will be a good thing for the Rougon family to be founded on a massacre, like many illustrious families."

"A silence fell at the mention of Gavard. They all looked at each other cautiously. As they were all rather short of breath by this time, it was the camembert they could smell. This cheese, with its gamy odour, had overpowered the milder smells of the marolles and the limbourg; its power was remarkable. Every now and then, however, a slight whiff, a flute-like note, came from the parmesan, while the bries came into play with their soft, musty smell, the gentle sound, so to speak, of a damp tambourine. The livarot launched into an overwhelming reprise, and the géromé kept up the symphony with a sustained high note."

"A work of art is a corner of nature seen through a temperament."

"Ah, what a cesspool of folly and foolishness, what preposterous fantasies, what corrupt police tactics, what inquisitorial, tyrannical practices! What petty whims of a few higher-ups trampling the nation under their boots, ramming back down their throats the people's cries for truth and justice, with the travesty of state security as a pretext."

"All of a sudden, in the good-natured child, the woman stood revealed, a disturbing woman with all the impulsive madness of her sex, opening the gates of the unknown world of desire. Nana was still smiling, but with the deadly smile of a man-eater."

"Albine now yielded to him, and Serge possessed her."

"All round there was a rising tide of beer, widow Désir's barrels had all been broached, beer had rounded all paunches and was overflowing in all directions, from noses, eyes - and elsewhere. People were so blown out and higgledy-piggledy, that everybody's elbows or knees were sticking into his neighbor and everybody thought it great fun to feel his neighbor's elbows. All mouths were grinning from ear to ear in continuous laughter."

"And now we come to the Esterhazy case. Three years have passed, many consciences remain profoundly troubled, become anxious, investigate, and wind up convinced that Dreyfus is innocent."

"An entire lifetime would not be long enough for you to exhaust the glance of the young harvest-girl."

"Angelique, with both hands open, lying limply on her knees, was giving herself. And Felicien remembered the evening on which she had run barefoot through the grass, so adorable that he had pursued her, and whispered in her ear, I love you. And he understood full well that only now had she replied, with the same cry, I love you. And he understood full well that only now had she replied, with the same cry, I love you, the eternal cry that had finally emerged from her wide-open heart. I love you... Take me, carry me away, I am yours."

"And then there are always clever people about to promise you that everything will be all right if only you put yourself out a bit... And you get carried away, you suffer so much from the things that exist that you ask for what can't ever exist. Now look at me, I was well away dreaming like a fool and seeing visions of a nice friendly life on good terms with everybody, and off I went, up into the clouds. And when you fall back into the mud it hurts a lot. No! None of it was true, none of those things we thought we could see existed at all. All that was really there was still more misery-- oh yes! as much of that as you like-- and bullets into the bargain!"

"And the whole garden was engulfed together with the couple in one last cry of love's passion. The tree-trunks bent as under a powerful wind. The blades of grass emitted sobs of intoxication. The flowers, fainting, lips half-open, breathed out their souls. The sky itself, aflame with the setting of the great star, held its clouds motionless, faint with love, whence superhuman rapture fell. And it was the victory of all the wild creatures, all plants and all things natural, which willed the entry of these two children into the eternity of life."

"And that wretched creature without hands or feet, who had to be put to bed and fed like a child, that pitiable remnant of a man, whose almost vanished life was nothing more than one scream of pain, cried out in furious indignation: 'What a fool one must be to go and kill oneself!' - 'Joy of Life"

"And then there was pain and blood and tears, all those things that cause suffering and revolt, the killing of Françoise, the killing of Fouan, vice triumphing, and the stinking, bloodthirsty peasants, vermin who disgrace and exploit the earth. But can you really know? Just as the frost that burns the crops, the hail that chops them down, the thunderstorms which batter them are all perhaps necessary, maybe blood and tears are needed to keep the world going. And how important is human misery when weighed against the mighty mechanism of the stars and the sun? What does God care for us? We earn our bread only by dint of a cruel struggle, day in, day out. And only the earth is immortal, the Great Mother from whom we spring and to whom we return, love of whom can drive us to crime and through whom life is perpetually preserved for her own inscrutable ends, in which even our wretched degraded nature has its part to play."

"Art is a corner of creation seen through a temperament."

"At the street corner, a one-storey house built of freestone, but repulsively decrepit and filthy, seemed to command the entrance, like a gaol. And here, indeed, lived La Méchain, like a vigilant proprietess, ever on the watch, exploiting in person her little population of starving tenants."

"At first, tried to seize opportunities, to faith in good housewife: then, was swayed by the coquetry: in the end, ate her alive."

"As for the people I am accusing, I do not know them, I have never seen them, and I bear them neither ill will nor hatred. To me they are mere entities, agents of harm to society. The action I am taking is no more than a radical measure to hasten the explosion of truth and justice. I have but one passion: to enlighten those who have been kept in the dark, in the name of humanity which has suffered so much and is entitled to happiness. My fiery protest is simply the cry of my very soul. Let them dare, then, to bring me before a court of law and let the enquiry take place in broad daylight! I am waiting."

"As they have dared, so shall I dare. Dare to tell the truth, as I have pledged to tell it, in full, since the normal channels of justice have failed to do so."

"Boredom was at the root of Lazare's unhappiness, an oppressive, unremitting boredom, exuding from everything like the muddy water of a poisoned spring. He was bored with leisure, with work, with himself even more than with others. Meanwhile he blamed his own idleness for it, he ended by being ashamed of it."

"At the top of the street Guénégaud, coming from the road along the Seine, is the passage of the New Bridge, a kind of dark and narrow corridor that runs from the street of the Seine by Mazarin. That passage has, at most, thirty feet long and two wide, is paved with yellowish stones, worn, rough, always un'acre oozing moisture, the glass that covers it, cut at right angles, is black with dirt."

"But this letter is long, Sir, and it is time to conclude it. I accuse Lt. Col. du Paty de Clam of being the diabolical creator of this miscarriage of justice — unwittingly, I would like to believe — and of defending this sorry deed, over the last three years, by all manner of ludricrous and evil machinations. I accuse General Mercier of complicity, at least by mental weakness, in one of the greatest inequities of the century. I accuse General Billot of having held in his hands absolute proof of Dreyfus’s innocence and covering it up, and making himself guilty of this crime against mankind and justice, as a political expedient and a way for the compromised General Staff to save face. I accuse Gen. de Boisdeffre and Gen. Gonse of complicity in the same crime, the former, no doubt, out of religious prejudice, the latter perhaps out of that esprit de corps that has transformed the War Office into an unassailable holy ark. I accuse Gen. de Pellieux and Major Ravary of conducting a villainous enquiry, by which I mean a monstrously biased one, as attested by the latter in a report that is an imperishable monument to naïve impudence. I accuse the three handwriting experts, Messrs. Belhomme, Varinard and Couard, of submitting reports that were deceitful and fraudulent, unless a medical examination finds them to be suffering from a condition that impairs their eyesight and judgement. I accuse the War Office of using the press, particularly L’Eclair and L’Echo de Paris, to conduct an abominable campaign to mislead the general public and cover up their own wrongdoing. Finally, I accuse the first court martial of violating the law by convicting the accused on the basis of a document that was kept secret, and I accuse the second court martial of covering up this illegality, on orders, thus committing the judicial crime of knowingly acquitting a guilty man."

"But you said so yourself, the poor lass will die of it...Do you really want her to die?"

"Blow the candle out, I don't need to see what my thoughts look like."

"Denise came to the foot of the Saint-Lazare, where a train of Cherbourg had landed with his two brothers station after a night on the hard seat of a third-class carriage. She held him by the hand Pepe and John followed her every three broken the trip, bewildered and lost in the middle of the vast Paris, nose up on houses, asking every corner of the street Michodière in which their uncle Baudu remained. But as she finally uncorked the Gaillon up, the girl stopped short of surprise."

"Civilization will not attain to its perfection until the last stone from the last church falls on the last priest."

"Death had to take her little by little, bit by bit, dragging her along to the bitter end of the miserable existence she'd made for herself. They never even knew what she did die of. Some spoke of a chill. But the truth was that she died from poverty, from the filth and the weariness of her wretched life."

"Don't go looking at me like that because you'll wear your eyes out."

"Did not one spend the first half of one's days in dreams of happiness and the second half in regrets and terrors?"

"Élodie, who was rising fifteen, lifted her anaemic, puffy, virginal face with its wispy hair; she was so thin-blooded that good country air seemed only to make her more sickly."

"Feelings were running high, for the conviction of Esterhazy would inevitably lead to a retrial of Dreyfus, an eventuality that the General Staff wanted at all cost to avoid."

"Dreyfus is innocent. I swear it! I stake my life on it — my honor! At this solemn moment, in the presence of this tribunal which is the representative of human justice, before you, gentlemen of the jury, who are the very incarnation of the country, before the whole of France, before the whole world, I swear that Dreyfus is innocent. By my forty years of work, by the authority that this toil may have given me, I swear that Dreyfus is innocent. By all I have now, by the name I have made for myself, by my works which have helped for the expansion of French literature, I swear that Dreyfus is innocent. May all that melt away, may my works perish if Dreyfus be not innocent! He is innocent. All seems against me — the two Chambers, the civil authority, the most widely-circulated journals, the public opinion which they have poisoned. And I have for me only an ideal of truth and justice. But I am quite calm; I shall conquer. I was determined that my country should not remain the victim of lies and injustice. I may be condemned here. The day will come when France will thank me for having helped to save her honor."

"Every wave is a watersprite who swims in the current, each current is a path which snakes towards my palace, and my palace is fluidly built at the bottom of the lake, in the triangle of earth, fire and water."

"Everything is only a dream."

"General Billot directed the judges in his preliminary remarks, and they proceeded to judgment as they would to battle, unquestioningly. The preconceived opinion they brought to the bench was obviously the following: Dreyfus was found guilty for the crime of treason by a court martial; he therefore is guilty and we, a court martial, cannot declare him innocent. On the other hand, we know that acknowledging Esterhazy's guilt would be tantamount to proclaiming Dreyfus innocent. There was no way for them to escape this rationale."

"Have you ever reflected that posterity may not be the faultless dispenser of justice that we dream of? One consoles oneself for being insulted and denied, by reyling on the equity of the centuries to come; just as the faithful endure all the abominations of this earth in the firm belief of another life, in which each will be rewarded according to his deserts. But suppose Paradise exists no more for the artist than it does for the Catholic, suppose that future generations prolong the misunderstanding and prefer amiable little trifles to vigorous works! Ah! What a sell it would be, eh? To have led a convict's life - to have screwed oneself down to one's work - all for a mere delusion! Bah! What does it matter? Well, there's nothing hereafter. We are even madder than the fools who kill themselves for a woman. When the earth splits to pieces in space like a dry walnut, our works won't add one atom to its dust."

"From the moment I start a new novel, life’s just one endless torture. The first few chapters may go fairly well and I may feel there’s still a chance to prove my worth, but that feeling soon disappears and every day I feel less and less satisfied. I begin to say the book’s no good, far inferior to my earlier ones, until I’ve wrung torture out of every page, every sentence, every word, and the very commas begin to look excruciatingly ugly. Then, when it’s finished, what a relief! Not the blissful delight of the gentleman who goes into ecstasies over his own production, but the resentful relief of a porter dropping a burden that’s nearly broken his back . . . Then it starts all over again, and it’ll go on starting all over again till it grinds the life out of me, and I shall end my days furious with myself for lacking talent, for not leaving behind a more finished work, a bigger pile of books, and lie on my death-bed filled with awful doubts about the task I’ve done, wondering whether it was as it ought to have been, whether I ought not to have done this or that, expressing my last dying breath the wish that I might do it all over again!"

"For a moment he [Doctor Pascal] thought he could see, in a flash, the future of the Rougon-Macquart family, a pack of wild, satiated appetites in the midst of a blaze of gold and blood."

"For a few moments, raising his arms desperately, the Reverend Mouret implored Heaven. His shoulder-blades cracked, with such fantastic force did he pray. But soon enough his arms fell to his sides, his hopes abashed. From heaven came one of those silences utterly void of hope known to the devout."

"He [Maxime] was twenty, and already there was nothing left to surprise or disgust him. He had certainly dreamt of the most extreme forms of debauchery. Vice with him was not an abyss, as with certain old men, but a natural, external growth."

"He [Eugène Rougon] believed exclusively in himself; where another saw reasons, Rougon possessed convictions; he subordinated everything to the incessant aggrandisement of his own ego. Despite being utterly devoid of real self-indulgence, he nevertheless indulged in secret orgies of supreme power."

"He was possessed now with that obsession for the cross in which so many lips have worn themselves away on crucifixes."

"He mused on this village of his, which had sprung up in this place, amid the stones, like the gnarled undergrowth of the valley. All Artaud's inhabitants were inter-related, all bearing the same surname to such an extent that they used double-barrelled names from the cradle up, to distinguish one from another. At some antecedent date an ancestral Artaud had come like an outcast, to establish himself in this waste land. His family had grown with the savage vitality of the vegetation, drawing nourishment from this stone till it had become a tribe, then the tribe turned to a community, till they could not sort out their cousinage, going back for generations. They inter-married with unblushing promiscuity."

"He loved her body so far. Now head began to love."