Rougon-Macquart Reading Order per Vizetelly

In his book Émile Zola Novelist and Reformer, An Account of His Life and Work (1904), Ernest Alfred Vizetelly, a long-time acquaintance of Zola’s, devoted fifteen pages to explaining a recommended reading order for the twenty Rougon-Macquart novels which differed from the publication order. We have this order shown on our Recommended Reading Order Page. Thank you to Joao for bringing this source to our attention.

Vizetelly says this order was indicated by Zola in Le Docteur Pascal (1893) although I am unclear if it is in the novel itself or in an Introduction. My edition, translated by Mary J. Serrano has no Introduction. Further information is welcome if anyone has an edition with an Introduction addressing this or information from a different source. Le Docteur Pascal was the last of the Rougon-Macquart novels to be published. It should be read last even if you don’t follow a specific reading pattern since it involves the history of many of the characters. Vizetelly further states that the order was confirmed to him personally by Zola.

It has been too long since I read Le Docteur Pascal for me to remember how it was laid out but going by Vizetelly’s book, the order seems logical. La Fortune des Rougon (1871) is first as it sets out the beginnings of the Rougon and Macquart families. The next nine novels detail all of the Rougon side of the family, including the Mourets, with the exception of Doctor Pascal himself. Beginning with Le Ventre de Paris (1873), the next nine novels focus on the illegitimate side of the family, the Macquarts. Finally, the 20th book, Le Docteur Pascal, features Pascal Rougon who has kept a family history to aid his research into heredity.

Depending on their taste, this order would probably work well for readers committed to reading all twenty novels. What I dislike about it is that it might not work for readers who have not yet discovered Zola and are trying a novel or two before deciding to read the entire series. We can assume there is a reason some of the novels are better known and more popular than others. Justified or not, these novels would appear to be of the most interest to the general reading public. Most of these are listed even later in the recommended reading order than in the chronological order. In either case, it is to be feared that the new reader would not be drawn into Zola’s world and would give up before reading one which would encourage them to read the entire series.

6 comments on “Rougon-Macquart Reading Order per Vizetelly

  1. Jonathan says:

    Thanks for the info, I wasn’t aware of where Zola’s reading order came from.

    I think your last paragraph is significant because someone who wants to try Zola is best starting off with one of the biggies and they shouldn’t be too concerned with the order. In the end they could be read in a totally random order without too much problem.


    • Yes, I agree they could be. Anyone who doesn’t like spoilers should hold Dr Pascal until last. I didn’t read them in a particular order, but as I found them. This does mean that I read the biggies first since they are more apt to be in local libraries and book stores. I would recommend reading Pot-Bouille ahead of Au Bonheur des Dames because a particular character is featured in both books and Pot-Bouille is set earlier in time. I didn’t discover this until after reading Au Bonheur des Dames and beginning Pot-Bouille. I was quite confused until I realized it was the same character, lol. Ultimately though it didn’t ruin Pot-Bouille for me. There is also the consideration of Gervaise of L’Assommoir and her children. But Nana is the only one affected in a significant way as her childhood is featured more in L’Assommoir than that of her brothers.


  2. SilverSeason says:

    I certainly agree that first you need to get hooked on Zola. I enjoyed The Fortune of the Rougons (just completed) but not sure I would have appreciated it if I had read it first. Since I was already acquainted with some of the characters from the other books, I enjoyed learning about the origins of the family. I thought The Belly of Paris and The Masterpiece were two books which would be good for beginners.


  3. […] Vauquer has already covered the topic of the Reading Order, which I totally agree with, but I would just like to make a few points regarding the reading […]


  4. Conrad says:

    I tracked down an online copy of Vizetelly’s book, you can find the reading order discussion starting at page 350, and then some comments on Zola’s work habits and penmanship. Vizetelly is very frank on the shortcomings of translations as well.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.