ÉMILE ZOLA, born in Paris in 1840, was brought up at Aix-en-Provence in an atmosphere of struggling poverty after the death of his father in 1847. He was educated at the Collège Bourbon at Aix and then at the Lycée Saint-Louis in Paris. He was obliged to exist in poorly paid clerical jobs after failing his baccalauréat in 1859, but early in 1865 he decided to support himself by literature alone. Despite his scientific pretensions Zola was really an emotional writer with rare gifts for evoking vast crowd scenes and for giving life to such great symbols of modern civilization as factories and mines. When not overloaded with detail, his work has tragic grandeur, but he is also capable of a coarse, ‘Cockney’ type of humour. From his earliest days Zola had contributed critical articles to various newspapers, but his first important novel, Thérèse Raquin, was published in 1867, and Madeleine Férat in the following year. That same year he began work on a series of novels intended to follow out scientifically the effects of heredity and environment on one family: Les Rougon-Macquart. The work contains twenty novels which appeared between 1871 and 1893, and is the chief monument of the French Naturalist Movement. On completion of this series he began a new cycle of novels, Les Trois Villes: Lourdes, Rome, Paris (1894–6–8), a violent attack on the Church of Rome, which led to another cycle, Les Quatre Évengiles. He died in 1902 while working on the fourth of these.

LEONARD TANCOCK spent most of his life in or near London, apart from a year as a student in Paris, most of the Second World War in Wales and three periods in American universities as visiting professor. Until his death in 1986, he was a Fellow of University College, London, and was formerly Reader in French at the University. He prepared his first Penguin Classic in 1949 and, from that time, was extremely interested in the problems of translation, about which he wrote, lectured and gave broadcasts. His numerous translations for the Penguin Classics include Zola’s Germinal, Thérèse Raquin, L’Assommoir and La Bête Humaine; Diderot’s The Nun, Rameau’s Nephew and D’Alembert’s Dream; Maupassant’s Pierre and Jean; Marivaux’s Up from the Country; Constant’s Adolphe; La Rochefoucauld’s Maxims; Voltaire’s Letters on England; Prévost’s Manon Lescaut; and Madame de Sévigné’s Selected Letters.