Exceptional Excerpts: The Belly of Paris #3 by Émile Zola

There are so many wonderful passages in Le Ventre de Paris that I am joining Jonathan and posting an excerpt. This is only part of the lengthy, but interesting, description of Gavard. It appears early in the second fifth of the book. The translation, by Ernest Alfred Vizetelly,  is titled The Fat and the Thin, and is available free from Project Gutenberg.



As he was in the habit of visiting the Quenu-Gradelles almost daily, he determined to take up his residence nearer to them, and came to live in the Rue de la Cossonnerie. The neighbouring markets, with their noisy uproar and endless chatter, quite fascinated him; and he decided to hire a stall in the poultry pavilion, just for the purpose of amusing himself and occupying his idle hours with all the gossip. Thenceforth he lived amidst ceaselesstittle-tattle, acquainted with every little scandal in the neighbourhood, his head buzzing with the incessant yelping around him. He blissfully tasted a thousand titillating delights, having at last found his true element, and bathing in it, with the voluptuous pleasure of a carp swimming in the sunshine. Florent would sometimes go to see him at his stall.

And a few sentences later:

At last, in the middle of the alley, near the water-taps, he found Gavard ranting away in his shirt-sleeves, in front of his stall, with his arms crossed over the bib of his blue apron. He reigned there, in a gracious, condescending way, over a group of ten or twelve women. He was the only male dealer in that part of the market. He was so fond of wagging his tongue that he had quarrelled with five or six girls whom he had successively engaged to attend to his stall, and had now made up his mind to sell his goods himself, naively explaining that the silly women spent the whole blessed day in gossiping, and that it was beyond his power to manage them.


L’Assommoir Illustrations


La Loge des Boche
Wood engraving after Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1878

Marc at Free Literature found this article at Open Culture:
The Maligned Impressionist Painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir Illustrates Emile Zola’s Gritty Novel L’Assommoir (1878)



Gervaise et Coupeau, l’ouvrier zingueur, mangeaient ensemble une prune à l’Assommoir
Wood engraving after Frédéric Regamey, 1878

One of the links in the article referenced above mentions there were a total of sixty-two illustrations. Only four were by Renoir. The others are from several different artists and a few are shown at Adventures in the Print Trade.

Zola, Les Halles and The Belly of Paris

In Balzac’s Omelette (Garçon, un Cent d’Huîtres! Balzac et la Table), Anka Muhlstein writes that “Balzac was the first to understand the advantages of taking gastronomy into account in fiction. Victor Hugo, like Charles Dickens, uses food–or rather the lack of it–only to evoke the horrors of poverty . . .


But the next generation, starting with Flaubert, then Maupassant and more particularly Zola, spend as much time in the kitchen as they do in the living room. It is no coincidence that Zola, who set himself the task of handling all the great social themes of his age, devotes an entire volume of the Rougon-Macquart series to Les Halles, The Belly of Paris. And rightly so. In the nineteenth century Paris became the gastronomic capital of Europe.

(Balzac’s Omelette by Anka Muhlstein, Other Press, translated by Adriana Hunter, 2011)

Exceptional Excerpts: Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola


Thérèse Raquin was published when Zola  was twenty-seven. It was his first book to be translated and published in England by the Vizetellys.

Not for the faint of heart, the first appearance was three installments in Houssaye’s L’Artiste with the title Un mariage d’amour (August – October, 1867). Apparently the Morgue scene was omitted in the periodical publication. In the Preface to his translation in a 1902 edition, Edward Vizetelly wrote: “. . . he consented at the insistence of the Editor, who pointed out to him that the periodical was read by the Empress Eugenie, to draw his pen through certain passages, which were reinstated when the story was published in volume form. I may say here that in this translation, I have adopted the views of the late M. Arsene Houssaye; and, if I have allowed the appalling description of the Paris Morgue to stand, it is, first of all, because it constitutes a very important factor in the story; and moreover, it is so graphic, so true to life, as I have seen the place myself, times out of number, that notwithstanding its horror, it really would be a loss to pass it over.”

There are several descriptive pages of individual bodies and the horror that Laurent feels as he sees them, but I will only quote of the Morgue’s popularity as entertainment.

The Morgue is a show that anyone can afford, which poor and rich passers-by get for free The door is open, anyone can come in. There are connoisseurs who go out of their way not to miss one of these spectacles of death. When the slabs are empty, people go out disappointed, robbed, muttering under their breath. When the slabs are well filled, and when there is a fine display of human flesh, the visitors crowd in, getting a cheap thrill, horrified, joking, applauding or whistling, as in the theatre, and go away contented, announcing that the Morgue has been a success that day.

Laurent soon came to know the regulars who attended the place, a mixed, diverse group of people who came to sympathize with one another or snigger together. Some workmen would come in on their way to their jobs, with a loaf of bread and some tools under their arms; they found death amusing. . . . . Women came in great numbers: pink, young working gils with white blouses and clean skirts, who went briskly from one end of the window to the other, attentive and wide-eyed, as though looking at the display in a fashion store; there were working-class women too, haggard with doleful expressions, and well-dressed ladies, nonchalant, trailing their silk dresses.

(Thérèse Raquin, by Émile Zola, Penguin Classics, translated by Robin Buss, 2004, p 73)


Could this possibly be true? A sentence from Paris illustré en 1878 by Adolphe Joanne reads: “When the newspapers announce the discovery of some crime, curious people arrive in large numbers, making a queue from morning until evening that sometimes reaches the number of between 1,000 and 1,500 persons.”


The 1902 Vizetelly edition and an edition in French are available free at Project Gutenberg.

An Old Edition of Zola’s Works


The Works
Emile Zola

One Volume Edition


Published by Black’s Readers Service Company, Roslyn, New York. Copyright, 1928, 1938, by Walter J. Black, Inc. Red hardcover with Emile Zola printed on front in gold letters and The Works of Zola in gold print enclosed in a black box on the spine. Approximately 5 1/4″ x 7 1/2″. Pages are laid out in double columns.

It appears that this One Volume Edition as it is described on the title page was once issued in two separate volumes. This volume has two Sections with separate numbering. There is no extra information and the translator is not credited. Based on information Jonathan found in Garden of Zola by Graham King, the contents were probably taken from works contained in Collected Works of Emile Zola (1928, Walter J. Black Inc, N.Y.) which used Vizetelly texts.


Section I


Section II

The Miller’s Daughter
Captain Burle
The Death of Olivier Becaille
Jacques Damour
The Inundation
A Love Episode


The same translations of all but two of the individual works are available in numerous formats from Project Gutenberg.

Nana is a novel in Zola’s Rougon-Macquart Cycle. The same translation of Nana can be found in Four Short Stories (even though it is a novel). This work also includes identical translations of The Miller’s Daughter, Captain Burle and The Death of Olivier Becaille. I am unable to find the an English translation of Jacques Damour. A different translation of The Inundation is available as The Flood.

A Love Episode is another novel in Zola’s Rougon-Macquart Cycle. The same translation was used in a beautiful edition of the Comédie d’Amour Series published by the Société des Beaux-Arts in 1905 and illustrated by Dantan.

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.