For a Night of Love is a short story collection consisting of three stories by Émile Zola. It was first published by Hesperus Press in 2002 and the translations are by Andrew Brown, who also translated the Hesperus Books version of The Dream.
The three stories are For a Night of Love, Nantas and Fasting. For a Night of Love (Pour une nuit d’amour) was originally published in the Russian periodical Vestnik Evropy (European Messenger) in 1876 and subsequently in L’Echo universel in 1877. Nantas was also published in Vestnik Evropy, in 1878. Fasting (Le Jeûne) was first published in 1870.
I hadn’t previously heard of any of these stories, which is exciting, but makes me wonder just how many other stories by Zola are out there that we don’t know about. Many of the stories in the collection The Attack on the Mill and Other Stories first appeared in Vestnik Evropy as well as the stories here.
The first story in the collection is For a Night of Love and begins by describing the life of loner, Julien Michon, who lives in a first-floor flat in an unnamed town (ok it’s called P***). He’s shy, large and feels ugly; he works as a copy clerk in the local post office and although his life is uneventful he’s relatively happy. If he gets bored he plays tunes on his flute, usually late at night when everyone is asleep. Opposite his flat is a large building occupied by the elderly and wealthy Marsannes whom he rarely sees. He discovers that the Marsannes have a daughter, Thérèse, who grew up with Colombel, who also works at the post office and enjoys teasing Julien. Anyway, one night whilst playing his flute he notices a girl at the window opposite, this girl is Thérèse and he falls in love with her and watches her from his window whenever possible; at some point Thérèse becomes aware that Julien is there but ignores him. One night, however, she opens her window, obviously distraught, she sees Julien at his window and blows him a kiss and summons him to ‘come’. I’m not going to reveal any more of the plot but there are similarities with another story by Zola about a Thérèse. In this story Thérèse is a bit of a sadist and is not as pure as she first appears.
The second story, Nantas, is set in Paris; the eponymous hero lives in a narrow attic room and has come from Marseilles to seek his fortune in Paris. It’s not going well but he comforts himself with his favourite phrase, ‘I’m really strong’. Unfortunately his savings have virtually run out and when he returns to his flat he’s seriously contemplating suicide but even this is difficult when you have no money. He watches the sun set and falls asleep only to be woken by a visitor, Mlle Chuin, who says that she has a proposition for him; he’s expecting and hoping for a job offer but she offers him a marriage to a young, rich girl, who is pregnant by a married man. It doesn’t take Nantas long to accept the offer. When he meets Mlle Flavie and her father a deal is made but Flavie has no interest in Nantas and their marriage just seems like another one of Nantas’s business arrangements. You’ll have to read the story yourself to find out what happens but I must admit it’s a bit predictable – brilliantly told though, and definitely worth reading.
The last story, Fasting is only a few pages long and is one of Zola’s gentle gibes at the hypocrisies of the priesthood. A baroness is in church listening to an impassioned sermon on fasting by the curate. She’s enjoying listening to him, even though she’s having trouble staying awake, but he’s reeling off his sermon in order to get away for a concert and meal with a countess. It’s a slight tale but quite a humorous one for Zola.
I’m on a bit of roll with Zola’s short stories so I’ll have to check out the two ‘Ninon’ collections next.