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- A Zola Dictionary - 6/54 -
In this novel Aristide Saccard, who followed his brother Eugene to Paris in the hope of sharing the spoils of the Second Empire (/La Fortune des Rougon/), was successful in amassing a vast fortune by speculation in building-sites. His first wife having died, he married Renee Beraud du Chatel, a lady of good family, whose dowry first enabled him to throw himself into the struggle of financial life. In a magnificent mansion which he built in the Parc Monceau a life of inconceivable extravagance began. The mushroom society of Paris was at this period the most corrupt in Europe, and the Saccards soon came to be regarded as leaders in every form of pleasure. Vast though their fortune was, their expenses were greater, and a catastrophe was frequently imminent. Renee, satisfied with prodigality of every kind, entered on an infamous liaison with her husband's son, a liaison which Aristide condoned in order to extract money from his wife. Rene ultimately died, leaving her husband immersed in his feverish speculations.
The novel gives a powerful though unpleasant picture of Parisian society in the period which followed the restoration of the Empire in 1851.
After a disastrous speculation, Aristide Saccard (/La Fortune des Rougon/ and /La Curee/) was forced to sell his mansion in the Parc Monceau and to cast about for means of creating a fresh fortune. Chance made him acquainted with Hamelin, an engineer whose residence in the East had suggested to him financial schemes which at once attracted the attention of Saccard. With a view to financing these schemes the Universal Bank was formed, and by force of advertising became immediately successful. Emboldened by success, Saccard launched into wild speculation, involving the bank, which ultimately became insolvent, and so caused the ruin of thousands of depositors. The scandal was so serious that Saccard was forced to disappear from France and to take refuge in Belgium.
The book was intended to show the terrible effects of speculation and fraudulent company promotion, the culpable negligence of directors, and the impotency of the existing laws. It deals with the shady underwoods of the financial world.
Mr. E. A. Vizetelly, in his preface to the English translation (/Money/. London: Chatto & Windus), suggests that Zola in sketching Saccard, that daring and unscrupulous financier, "must have bethought himself of Mires, whose name is so closely linked to the history of Second Empire finance. Mires, however, was a Jew, whereas Saccard was a Jew-hater, and outwardly, at all events, a zealous Roman Catholic. In this respect he reminds one of Bontoux, of Union General notoriety, just as Hamelin the engineer reminds one of Feder, Bontoux's associate. Indeed, the history of M. Zola's Universal Bank is much the history of the Union General. The latter was solemnly blessed by the Pope, and in a like way Zola shows us the Universal receiving the Papal benediction. Moreover, the second object of the Union General was to undermine the financial power of the Jews, and in the novel we find a similar purpose ascribed to Saccard's Bank. The union, we know, was eventually crushed by the great Israelite financiers, and this again is the fate which overtakes the institution whose meteor-like career is traced in the pages of /L'Argent/."
Written as a "passport to the Academy," this novel stands alone among the Rougon-Macquart series for its pure, idyllic grace. Angelique, a daughter of Sidonie Rougon (/Le Curee/), had been deserted by her mother, and was adopted by a maker of ecclesiastical embroideries, who with his wife lived and worked under the shadow of an ancient cathedral. In this atmosphere the child grew to womanhood, and as she fashioned the rich embroideries of the sacred vestments she had a vision of love and happiness which was ultimately realized, though the realization proved too much for her frail strength, and she died in its supreme moment. The vast cathedral with its solemn ritual dominates the book and colours the lives of its characters.
La Conquete de Plassans.
The heroine of this book is Marthe Rougon, the youngest daughter of Pierre and Felicite Rougon (/La Fortune des Rougon/), who had inherited much of the neurasthenic nature of her grandmother Adelaide Fouque. She married her cousin, Francois Mouret. Plassans, where the Mourets lived, was becoming a stronghold of the clerical party, when Abbe Faujas, a wily and arrogant priest, was sent to win it back for the Government. This powerful and unscrupulous ecclesiastic ruthlessly set aside every obstacle to his purpose, and in the course of his operations wrecked the home of the Mourets. Marthe having become infatuated with the priest, ruined her family for him and died neglected. Francois Mouret, her husband, who by the machinations of Faujas was confined in an asylum as a lunatic, became insane in fact, and having escaped, brought about a conflagration in which he perished along with the disturber of his domestic peace.
The book contains a vivid picture of the petty jealousies and intrigues of a country town, and of the political movements which followed the /Coup d'Etat/ of 1851.
A study of middle-class life in Paris. Octave, the elder son of Francois Mouret, has come to the city, where he has got a situation in "The Ladies' Paradise," a draper's shop carried on by Madame Hedouin, a lady whom he ultimately marries. The interest of the book centres in a house in Rue de Choiseul which is let in flats to various tenants, the Vabres, Duvreyiers, and Josserands among others. The inner lives of these people, their struggles, their jealousies and their sins, are shown with an unsparing hand. Under the thin skin of an intense respectability there is a seething mass of depravity, and with ruthless art Zola has laid his subjects upon the dissecting-table. Of plot there is little, but as a terrible study in realism the book is a masterpiece.
An Bonheur des Dames.
Octave Mouret, after his marriage with Madame Hedouin, greatly increased the business of "The Ladies' Paradise," which he hoped would ultimately rival the /Bon Marche/ and other great drapery establishments in Paris. While an addition to the shop was in progress Madame Mouret met with an accident which resulted in her death, and her husband remained a widower for a number of years. During this time his business grew to such an extent that his employees numbered many hundreds, among whom was Denise Baudu, a young girl who had come from the provinces. Mouret fell in love with her, and she, after resisting his advances for some time, ultimately married him. The book deals chiefly with life among the assistants in a great drapery establishment, their petty rivalries and their struggles; it contains some pathetic studies of the small shopkeepers of the district, crushed out of existence under the wheels of Mouret's moneymaking machine.
La Faute de l'Abbe Mouret.
Serge Mouret, the younger son of Francois Mouret (see /La Conquete de Plassans/), was ordained to the priesthood and appointed cure of Les Artaud, a squalid village in Provence, to whose degenerate inhabitants he ministered with small encouragement. He had inherited the family taint of the Rougon-Macquarts, which in him took the same form as in the case of his mother--a morbid religious enthusiasm bordering on hysteria. Brain fever followed, and bodily recovery left the priest without a mental past. Dr. Pascal Rougon, his uncle, hoping to save his reason, removed him from his accustomed surroundings and left him at the Paradou, the neglected demesne of a ruined mansion-house near Les Artaud, where he was nursed by Albine, niece of the caretaker. The Abbe fell in love with Albine, and, oblivious of his vows, broke them. A meeting with Archangias, a Christian Brother with whom he had been associated, and a chance glimpse of the world beyond the Paradou, served to restore his memory, and, filled with horror at himself, he fled from that enchanted garden. A long mental struggle followed, but in the end the Church was victorious, and the Abbe returned to her service with even more feverish devotion than before. Albine, broken- hearted, died among her loved flowers in the Paradou.
The tale is to some extend an indictment of the celibacy of the priesthood, though it has to be admitted that the issue is not put quite fairly, inasmuch as the Abbe was, at the time of his lapse, in entire forgetfulness of his sacred office. As a whole, the book contains some of Zola's best work, and is both poetical and convincing.
Une Page d'Amour.
A tale of Parisian life, in which the principal character is Helene Mouret, daughter of Mouret the hatter, and sister of Silvere Mouret (/La Fortune des Rougon/) and Francois Mouret (/La Conquete de Plassans/). Helene married M. Grandjean, son of a wealthy sugar- refiner of Marseilles, whose family opposed the marriage on the ground of her poverty. The marriage was a secret one, and some years of hardship had followed, when an uncle of M. Grandjean died, leaving his nephew a substantial income. The couple then moved to Paris with their young daughter Jeanne, but the day after their arrival Grandjean was seized with illness from which he died. Helene remained in Paris, though she had at first no friends there except Abbe Jouve and his half-brother M. Rambaud. Jeanne had inherited much of the family neurosis, along with a consumptive tendency derived from her father, and one of her sudden illnesses caused her mother to make the acquaintance of Doctor Deberle. An intimacy between the two families followed, which ripened into love between the doctor and Helene. Events were precipitated by an attempt on the part of Helene to save Madame Deberle from the consequences of an indiscretion in arranging an assignation with M. Malignon, with the result that she was herself seriously compromised in the eyes of Doctor Deberle and for the first and only time fell from virtue. Jeanne, whose jealous affection for her mother amounted to mania, was so affected by the belief that she was not longer the sole object of her mother's love that she became dangerously ill and died soon afterwards. This bitter punishment for her brief lapse killed Helene's love for Doctor Deberle, and two years later she married M. Rambaud. As Mr. Andrew Lang has observed, Helene was a good and pure woman, upon whom the fate of her family fell.
In writing the book Zola announced that his intention was to make all Paris weep, and there is no doubt that, though a study in realism, it contains much that is truly pathetic. The descriptions of Paris under varying atmospheric aspects, with which each section of the book closes, are wholly admirable.
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