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Struggling writer Emile Zola and painter Paul Cezanne share a drafty garret. Zola's mother gets him a job with a publisher enabling him to marry Alexandrine, but the couple are still very poor. When Zola's book The Confessions of Claude is published, its criticisms of city officials attract the attention of the police and cost him his job. Zola continues to write about corruption and the hard lives of the people, but there is not much interest in his books until he meets a prostitute, Nana, and writes her story. The publication of Nana makes Zola a success at last and each new book adds to his fame. Finally, it is announced that Zola is to receive the Legion of Honor. Cezanne visits the Zolas before he leaves for the South and warns Zola not to become fat and complacent in his work. Meanwhile, French army secrets have been passed to the Germans, and Alfred Dreyfus, a Jew, has been accused of the crime. Although he protests his innocence and evidence points to Count Walsin-Esterházy, Dreyfus is convicted and sentenced to Devil's Island. Dreyfus' wife Lucie vows to clear her husband's name. She visits Zola to beg him to help her, but he sends her away, saying that his fighting days are over. However, he starts to read the evidence that Lucie has left behind and, remembering Cezanne's words, decides to come to Dreyfus' aid. He writes the famous "I Accuse" and is tried for libel. With public approval, Zola is found guilty and sentenced to prison, but he flees the country for England where he continues to speak out. Finally, the Dreyfus case is reopened and Zola comes home. As he sits up late one night writing, he inhales carbon monoxide gas from a faulty stove and dies before he has the pleasure of seeing Dreyfus reinstated with his full rank.