Something else I did not realize about French history with freedom of speech: Emile Zola was actually tried and convicted in absentia of libel (scroll down) for his J'accuse defence of the wrongfully persecuted Captain Alfred Dreyfus. So was Georges Clemenceau, future French premier, who owned the newspaper that ran the article.
So the only ones out of that whole sordid business to be prosecuted for libel were Zola and his publisher. Dreyfus' accusers - people like Edouard Drumont - faced no such lawsuits.
And yes, it seems Zola was a very controversial figure, and had been long before he got mixed up in the Dreyfus affair. His writings were frequently vulgar and offensive, he criticized the authorities at every turn, and he was the second most caricatured public figure of his time, after the actress Sarah Bernhardt. In short, another very interesting individual. More proof that the interesting people are the ones who have the most to worry about when censorship gets out of hand.