Exceptional Excerpts: A Love Affair

A Love Affair was originally published as Une Page d’amour in 1878. It’s probably considered one of the minor books of the Rougon-Macquart series but I was pleasantly surprised when I read it. As with many of these lesser known books of R-M, Zola likes to experiment with the structure and he often has a limited number of characters. A Love Affair is split into five parts and each part is split into five chapters; the end chapters are often highly descriptive and impressionistic, they sometimes have a cinematic feel to them. Chapter Five of Part Four is one such piece; it reminded me a bit of Polanksi’s Repulsion or the obsessiveness of Proust.

I would liked to have included the whole chapter as the excerpt but that may have been considered a bit excessive. The chapter would work well as a stand-alone short story and as such little background details of the novel is needed to read it. Jeanne is a sickly twelve-year old girl who has been left alone in her apartment by her mother, Hélène, an attractive young widow. Hélène has left Jeanne on her own in order to meet up with her lover Henri.

The chapter opens thus:

Jeanne sat staring at the door, very unhappy, at her mother’s abrupt departure. She turned to look around her; the room was empty and silent, but she could still hear noises going on, footsteps hurrying away, the rustle of a skirt, the landing door slammed violently. Then the noises stopped. And she was alone.
All alone, all alone. Her mother’s wrapper, casually flung down, was sprawling on the bed, the skirt spread out, one sleeve lying across the bolster, in the curiously crushed attitude of somebody who had collapsed there sobbing, emptied, as it were, by boundless grief. Underclothes lay strewn about, a black fichu made a patch of gloom on the floor. And she was all alone in the untidy room, where the chairs had been pushed about and the table thrust in front of the wardrobe; and she felt tears choking her as she looked at that wrapper, with her mother no longer in it, stretched out in corpse-like thinness. She clasped her hands and shouted for the last time: `Maman, maman !’ But the blue velvet curtains muffled her cry. It was all over, she was alone.

Jeanne is bored, she has nothing to do except feel very sorry for herself. She looks at her doll and ponders:

…and Jeanne started vaguely dreaming about all the people she had loved, since she had first come into the world. Her oldest, dearest friend in Marseilles had been a huge, heavy ginger cat; she used to pick it up with both her arms clutched round its stomach, and carry it thus from chair to chair, and it never got cross; then it had disappeared, and that was the first cruel thing she could remember. Then she had had a sparrow, and that had died; she had picked it up one morning on the floor of its cage; and that made two. And then there were her toys, that got broken on purpose to make her unhappy; it was all most unfair, and she was such a silly that it upset her dreadfully. One doll in particular, no bigger than her hand, had driven her to despair by getting its head smashed; indeed, she was so devoted to it that she had buried it secretly, in a corner of the yard; later on, seized with a longing to see it again, she had dug it up, and the sight of it had made her sick with terror, it was so black and hideous. It was always the same; other people gave up loving before she did. They got spoilt, or else they went away; in any case, they were partly to blame. Why did it happen so? She herself never changed; when she loved anyone, it was for life. She could not understand desertion; it was something so huge, so monstrous that the notion of it made her little heart break. The slow dawning of confused awareness in her mind sent a shiver through her. So, one day, people parted; they went their separate ways, they stopped seeing one another, they stopped loving one another. And she sat gazing out over the huge and melancholy city, horribly depressed by these glimpses of life’s cruelty revealed to her passionate twelve-year-old heart.

Zola captures the self-obsessions of a twelve-year old brilliantly. So she listlessly looks out of the window; she watches other mothers and daughters enjoying themselves outside and wonders why her mother has ‘abandoned’ her. It starts raining very hard and Jeanne opens the window, even though her mother has explicitly told her not to, and enjoys the feel of the rain on her arms. Still sitting at the open window with her arms dangling outside, she looks out over Paris:

She felt as if everything was finished; she realized that she must be growing very old. Let time pass, now; she had stopped looking back into the room. She was forgotten and alone, but she no longer cared. Her childish heart was full of a despair so deep that all around her seemed black. Perhaps she would be scolded for it, as she used to be scolded when she was ill; that would be terribly unfair. It was a burning pain within her, it was something that gripped her like a headache. Surely, a few moments ago, something had broken inside her; somebody had done that to her. She couldn’t help it; she had to let them do what they wanted to her. She was really too weary. She sat with her little arms folded on the window-sill and her head leaning on them, overcome with drowsiness, but opening her eyes wide from time to time to watch the downpour.

Now, I realise that some people will find this especially cloying, mawkish even, but I feel that Zola handles it brilliantly and it made me realise that Zola rarely gives us a child’s view; the only other one I can think of is when we see Gervaise through young Nana’s eyes briefly in L’assommoir.

Zola_A-Love-Affair-fcXC-700pxA-Love-Affair_Citadel_GRThe excerpts were taken from A Love Affair, which was translated by Jean Stewart and published by Elek Books in 1957. It has also been translated as A Love Episode and A Page of Love.

This has been cross-posted on The Intermittencies of the Mind blog.

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Zest for Life (La Joie de vivre), by Émile Zola, translated by Jean Stewart

Zest for LifeÉmile Zola’s Zest for Life (La Joie de vivre, also translated as The Joys of Living/Joy of Life/How Jolly Life Is) was first published in 1884.  It’s the 12th novel in both the recommended reading order and the chronological publication order for Zola’s Les Rougon-Macquart cycle.  It’s also the most sad of all the Zola novels I have read so far.

The story centres on Pauline Quenu, daughter of the prosperous charcutiers Lisa Macquart and M. Quenu who featured in The Belly of Paris (Oxford World’s Classics) (Le ventre de Paris) which I read in the new translation by Brian Nelson in December last year (see my review).  Unfortunately there isn’t a modern translation of La Joie de vivre so I took the advice of my friend and Zola expert Jonathan who contributes to the collaborative blog The Books of Émile Zola (and also blogs at Intermittencies of the Mind,) and sought out a copy of the Elek transation, published in 1955.   For anyone considering reading La Joie de vivre in English, it is vital to avoid the self-censored Vizetelly freebie version because as Jonathan explains in this Exceptional Excerpt at The Books of Emile Zola, the Vizetelly version prudishly omits the most powerful scene in the entire novel.

In Zest for Life Pauline’s parents have died and, aged ten, she comes to live with relatives in the small seaside town of Bonneville in Normandy.  The sole inheritor of her parents’ legacy, Pauline’s interests are guarded by a collective of well-intentioned but not very effective souls and it is not long before her fortune is at risk.

As usual, Zola contrasts the characters to show how the effects of heredity and environment conform to his theories about eugenics – but in this novel the negative characteristics that are associated with all the descendants of Pauline’s great-grand mother mad Adelaide Fouque (Tante Dide), fall to other characters and not to Pauline.  Pauline, while too realistic to be saintly, is one of those good, kind-hearted souls who gets her greatest pleasure from pleasing others.  Happiness, to her mind, depended neither on people nor on things but on adapting oneself to people and things in a sensible way. (p.182).  For her, with limited resources at her disposal to improve the lives of others, it is enough to reduce their suffering as best she can, and she still feels this way even when their misery is self-inflicted:

‘Isn’t the relief of suffering an end in itself?’ she went on.  ‘It’s a pity they don’t mend their ways, for they’d perhaps be less wretched.  But when they’ve been fed and warmed, well, that’s enough for me, it makes me happy; it’s that much less suffering in the world.’  (p.188)

Unfortunately this generosity of spirit is too great a temptation for Mme. Chanteau.  The Chanteau household is bedevilled by sickness and money worries and its sole hope for advancement lies with the spoilt and selfish Lazare, aged 19 at the beginning of the book.  Contrasted with Pauline’s boundless optimism and healthy value system, Lazare is a dreary pessimist and nihilist, convinced that life is futile and that there is no point in doing anything.  Rather than finish his studies and take up gainful employment to help his parents, he flits about from one project to another, obsessed with it while it holds his interest but abandoning it at whim.  He has a stint at an unfinished Symphony of Sorrow, and later on as a novelist, but it’s when he needs an investor for his seaweed-processing factory that Mme. Chanteau abandons her ostentatiously professed principles and borrows the money from Pauline’s inheritance.  Pauline is also manoeuvred into funding a subsequent project to build fortifications against the seas which encroach on the hapless village – in advance of a grant which fails to materialise.

The servant Véronique – a great character – is wise to the goings on, noting the ways in which Pauline’s money is used to pay for pressing bills and how she is exploited as a nurse to M. Chanteau, crippled by gout.  Zola’s vivid descriptions of the suffering of this piteous man are offset to some extent by Chanteau’s self-absorption and lack of self-discipline, but no reader can be indifferent to his suffering.

As Pauline was getting up, Chanteau uttered a low cry.

‘Is it starting up again?’

‘Starting up again?  Why, it never stops… Did I groan? Isn’t it odd, I’ve got to the point where I groan unconsciously.’

He had become a dreadfully pitiable sight.  Gradually his chronic gout had accumulated chalkstone in all his joints, and enormous tophs (sandstone deposits) had formed, piercing through his skin in white growths.  His feet, now concealed in slippers, were drawn up like the claws of a sick bird.  But his hands displayed their deformity in all its horror; each joint was swollen with red, glistening nodules, and the fingers were distorted by lumps that splayed them out and made them lopsided, particularly on the left hand, made hideous by a chalkstone the size of a small egg.  On the left elbow a heavier deposit had caused an ulcer.  And his limbs were now completely anchylosed, [fused] he could use neither hands nor feet, and the few joints that still functioned a little creaked and rattled like a bag of marbles being shaken.  (p. 275)

Mme. Chanteau is not wholly bad: she did, after all, willingly take the orphaned child into her home, and her initial intentions to leave her fortune alone were sincerely made.  But she has a blind spot where Lazare is concerned, and she salves her conscience about embezzling the money by finding ways to blame Pauline, and eventually to sabotage her marriage plans.

The title is, of course, ironic.  There is no joy in this book; it is a study of how sickness of body and mind exacerbate poverty and vice, and how its victims are often undeserving of their fate.

My next title in my Zola Project to read the entire Rougon-Maquart cycle is No 13 in the recommended reading order,  L’Assommoir (Oxford World’s Classics) in a recent translation by Margaret Mouldon.

Author: Émile Zola
Title: Zest of Life (La Joie de vivre)
Publisher: Elek  Books, London, 1955
ISBN: none
Source: Personal library, purchased via AbeBooks.

Availability:

Out of print.

Cross-posted at ANZ LitLovers

 

A Love Affair (Une page d’amour), by Emile Zola, translated by Jean Stewart

A Love AffairAdolescent girls have a bit of a reputation for sabotaging their parents’ attempts to re-partner, don’t they? If you think that such brattiness is a modern phenomenon, this novel by Zola will make you think again…

Une page d’amour, translated variously as A Love Episode; A Page of Love; Hélène: A Love Episode; or A Love Affair; was first published in 1878. It’s eighth in the publication order, but tenth in the recommended reading order, following on from The Sin of Father Mouret (see my review) and exploring the same kind of theme of transgressive love. Jean Stewart says in her brief introduction to this edition, that Zola had shocked his readers with his exposé of social evil and human degradation in the nightmare world of The Dram Shop (L’Assommoir, 1877) and he wanted to show that he could also write about a touching subject, treated with the utmost simplicity…a good natured book. (p.5)

A Love Affair is, as Zola apparently said, about nice people and romantic feelings and children and flowers – but he couldn’t help himself, he had to make his romance fit with his dubious theory of heredity and a crude determinist philosophy. And so that malevolent young girl on the cover is the inheritor of the Macquart character flaws. She is the great-granddaughter of mad Adelaide Fouque and the grand-daughter of Mouret who hung himself after his wife died – and, irrevocably stained by this heredity, she is the eleven-year-old saboteur of her mother Hélène’s love.

Jeanne has a morbid illness which means that when she has one of her wild passionate fits of temper, doctors must be called in the middle of the night. Dr Deberle – who just happens to live next door – turns out to be kindly and handsome and he can’t fail to be interested in the beautiful young widow Hélène.

Alas, Henri is married, and his wife Juliette becomes a friend to Hélène, who then becomes a frequent visitor to the Deberle household. And although Paris is full of light-hearted adulterers, as the attraction grows Hélène struggles with the conflict between the serenity of innocence and the dawning of her latent sexuality. She wasn’t in love with her first husband and is unprepared for the tumult of passion.

Jeanne, of course, is alert to any threat to her exclusive ‘love’ for her mother. The Abbe Jouve had suggested that Hélène marry his brother, the good, kind and attractively rich Rambaud – but Jeanne put a stop to that with her tantrums even before Hélène had decided that she wasn’t interested. Jeanne’s self-absorption, possessiveness and jealousy are legendary!

There are some wonderful characters in this novel. Mère Fetu is a splendid old emotional blackmailer who trades on the good natures of Hélène and Henri to wangle money and attention, but she also rents out rooms in her squalid apartment. When Beau Malingnon, a dandy proposed as a suitor for Juliette’s sister Pauline, wants a tryst (no, sorry, no spoilers here!) he sets this room up as a lurid fantasy in pink which reminded me of the bedroom excesses of The Kill. The maid Rosalie and her lover, the soldier Zéphyrin, are also interesting as a lower-class couple who are also constrained from fulfilment of their feelings. Juliette, who today we would label ‘ditzy’ and would have a career in event management, is a wonderful creation: she throws a splendid fancy-dress ball for her seven-year-old son Lucien which Zola uses to satirise the greedy excesses of Paris, and the way she stage-manages the funeral is extraordinary, even sourcing countless April flowers to tastefully match the colour of the outfits for the procession. (No, I’m not going to tell you whose funeral it is).

One other character deserves a mention, and that’s Paris. Yes, the city itself, as viewed from Hélène’s window. Of necessity she spends long hours beside Jeanne’s bed, and she often looks out over the rooftops viewing the city’s moods in one kind of weather or another. Zola uses the city to symbolise radiant hope in Spring and the cruelty of life in Winter. For me, much as I am fond of Paris, these scenes were often too long and too laboured. I was more interested in the psychological study of obsessive jealousy and tormented guilt about sins as yet uncommitted.

For some odd reason A Love Affair is (according to Wikipedia) the only title in the Rougon-Macquart series that doesn’t have a modern translation. I was about to succumb to the Gutenberg version on the Kindle when Jonathan who blogs here at the Books of Émile Zola fortunately intervened and recommended Jean Stewart’s translation instead. It’s excellent and the lurid cover of this edition is a bonus! The Elek translations are notorious for their amusingly tacky covers, and they play a starring role in Jonathan’s post about Lurid, Gaudy or Tasteless Covers at the Books of Émile Zola blog – do check out his slideshow to see what I mean.

Next up in The Zola Project is The Belly of Paris. I have a copy of Brian Nelson’s 2009 translation published by Oxford World’s Classics …

Author: Émile Zola
Translated from the French by Jean Stewart
Title: A Love Affair
Publisher: Elek Books, London, 1957
ISBN: none
Source: O’Connell’s Bookshop, Adelaide, via AbeBooks

Availability
Do as I did and hunt out a copy of this translation…

Cross-posted at ANZ LitLovers

Elek Book Translations

Elek Books

Elek Book covers – The original 1950s editions often had garish pictures on their covers as with ‘His Excellency’. The more plain covers are from the 1970s reprints.

When I was reading the Rougon-Macquart series I came across Graham King’s book Garden of Zola, in which I discovered that a large portion of Zola’s books were translated in the 1950s and 1960s. As I had realised by this time that not all the R.M. books were available in newer, more readily available translations and that the older Vizetelly translations were not necessarily the best versions to read, I decided to search for some of the Elek books. I found some in my County Library’s store and some I bought on eBay. Admittedly, these are probably not as easy to get outside the U.K. but many were published separately in the U.S. and may be available by different publishers. I have tried to give some information about U.S. publications below.

In the end I read thirteen of the novels as new translations, six were the Elek Book versions and only one was the Vizetelly translation. Until all the books are available in new translations English readers will have to fall back on older translations such as the Elek Book translations, especially if you’re trying to avoid Vizetelly. I have included as much information as possible on the Elek Book translations below – this information is largely taken from Garden of Zola and from personal copies.

I have also included some information, again mostly from Garden of Zola, highlighting the differences between the Elek Book versions and the Vizetelly version. I have limited this to the novels that are, as yet, unavailable in a modern translation. Graham King compares large sections from the books, however, I will limit myself to quoting his summaries and conclusions which are very often amusing and illuminating.

Elek Book Editions

  • Madeleine Ferat (1957) – Madeleine Ferat (1868) translated by Alec Brown. Published in U.S. by Citadel Press, 1957.
  • The Kill (1958) – La Curée (1871/2) translated by A. Texeira de Mattos. Originally published by Lutetian Society in 1895. Includes an introduction by Angus Wilson. Published in U.S. by Citadel Press, 1957.
  • Savage Paris (1955) – Le Ventre de Paris (1873) translated by David Hughes & Marie-Jacqueline Mason. Published in U.S. by Citadel Press, 1955
  • A Priest in the House (1957) – La Conquête de Plassans (1874) translated by Brian Rhys, ISBN 0236309641. Published in U.S. by Citadel Press, 1957.
  • The Abbé Mouret’s Sin (1957) – La Faute de l’abbé Mouret (1875) translated by Alec Brown, ISBN 0236308084, reprinted 1970. Also published as ‘The Sinful Priest’ in 1960.
  • His Excellency (1958) – Son Excellence Eugène Rougon (1876) translated by Alec Brown. Published in U.S. by Dufour Editions, 1958.
  • The Drunkard (1958) – L’Assommoir (1877) translated by Arthur Symons. Originally published by Lutetian Society in 1895 as L’Assommoir.
  • A Love Affair (1957) – Une Page d’amour (1878) translated by Jean Stewart. Reprinted 1972, ISBN 0236309056. Published in U.S. by Citadel Press, 1957.
  • Nana (1957) – Nana (1880) translated by Victor Plarr. Originally published by Lutetian Society in 1895.
  • Restless House (1957) – Pot-Bouille (1882) translated by Percy Pinkerton. Originally published by Lutetian Society in 1895.
  • Ladies’ Delight (1960) – Au Bonheur des dames (1883) translated by April Fitzlyon. Originally published in 1957 by John Calder. Published in U.S. by Abelard-Schuman, 1958.
  • Zest for Life (1955) – La Joie de vivre (1884) translated by Jean Stewart with a preface by Angus Wilson. Reprinted in 1968, ISBN 0236310135. Published in U.S. by Indiana Uni. Press, 1956.
  • GerminalGerminal (1885) translated by Havelock Ellis. Originally published by Lutetian Society in 1894.
  • The Masterpiece (1950) – L’Œuvre (1886) translated by Thomas Walton. The O.U.P. version published in 1993 is a revision by Roger Pearson of the Walton translation.
  • Earth (1954) – La Terre (1887) translated by Ann Lindsay. This was reprinted by Arrow Books in 1967.
  • The Beast in Man (1958) – La Bête humaine (1890) translated by Alec Brown.
  • The Debacle (1968) – La Débâcle (1892) translated by John Hands with an introduction by Robert Baldick.
  • Doctor Pascal (1957) – Le Docteur Pascal (1893) translated by Vladimir Kean with an introduction by Hugh Shelley. ISBN 0236308602. Published in U.S. by Dufour Editions, 1957.

Translation Comparisons

  • Madeleine Férat – According to King, Brown puts over Zola’s physiological explanations well, whereas Vizetelly makes them even more ludicrous than they already are. Brown’s translation is the best of the three available.
  • A Priest in the House (The Conquest of Plassans) – King quite likes the Vizetelly translation as there wasn’t too much in the novel to annoy the censor. However, the Rhys translation is described as ‘excellent’ and it ‘captures the gossipy flavour of the narrative.’ I enjoyed the book and had no problems with the translation, though this one should be redundant soon as a new O.U.P. translation is coming out.
  • The Abbé Mouret’s Sin – King compares the Elek/Brown translation with a newer one by Sandy Petrey. Although he has qualms about both he admits that both are ‘highly recommended versions’. The original Vizetelly version is ‘as stodgy as a plot of turnips’ and the ‘revised’ Vizetelly was even worse. The middle section of the book is incredibly lyrical, King says that ‘Zola’s linguistic skills are revealed at their peak’ and the Vizetellys weren’t up to the task. This is one of my favourite books of the series.
  • His Excellency – King says that the Elek/Brown version is a ‘craftsman-like interpretation of a straightforward narrative’ and the early versions are ‘run-of-the-mill Victorian mannerist’. This was my least favourite book of the series but I would think that Vizetelly would probably be ok.
  • A Love Affair – King declares the Elek/Stewart translation as ‘excellent’ especially in relation to the many descriptive passages in the novel. The ‘revised’ Vizetelly suffered quite a bit as they cut a lot out.
  • Zest for Life – King states that Stewart conveys ‘both the sombre atmosphere and the dramatic incidents with equal skill’ and almost approves of the pre-trial Vizetelly version of 1886. However, even here Vizetelly evades a menstruation scene. Further cuts were made in the 1901 version, especially in relation to a particularly harrowing childbirth that takes place in Chapter Ten.I also made some comparisons between the Vizetelly and Stewart translations and was astonished at the differences. For anyone who’s interested you may like to check out this post on this site and my GoodReads review. The amount of culling involved is highlighted by looking at the word counts for Chapter Ten of each version: the original French version had approx. 11,200 words, the Elek version had approx. 11,600 words and the Vizetelly version had approx. 5,200 words. So, avoid the Vizetelly version at all costs!

Exceptional Excerpts: Zest for Life by Émile Zola

Zest for Life is the Elek Books version of La Joie de vivre (1884)  which was published in 1955. Although not one of the best books of the series I found it an interesting read. The novel clips along at quite a leisurely pace until the reader reaches Chapter Ten – this is an astounding chapter, containing some of Zola’s most powerful, descriptive writing. Please note that I give away part of the plot in what follows.

In this chapter Louise, who is eight month’s pregnant, goes into labour. Her husband, Lazare, fetches the local midwife, Mme Bouland, but she discovers that the baby’s arm is showing and recommends that Dr. Cazenove is called for. Eventually the doctor arrives and suggests that it will be difficult to save both mother and child. He proceeds, however and for eight pages we experience the doctor’s attempt to re-align the baby and deliver it safely. The mother, who has been in constant pain for hours is unconscious at this point. I would have liked to quote the whole eight or so pages as it works so well as a whole, but instead I’ve picked out a small section which should give a flavour of the prose.

‘We’ve waited too long, it’s going to be difficult to get my hand in…You see, the shoulder’s already engaged in the opening.’

Amidst the swollen, straining muscles, between pinkish folds of flesh, the child could be seen. But it had stopped there, unable to get past because of the narrowness of the organ. Meanwhile, however, the abdominal and lumbar muscles were still striving to expel it; even unconscious, the mother was still pushing violently, exhausting herself in labour, in the mechanical urge to be delivered; and the waves of pain still swept downwards, each accompanied by a cry in her stubborn battle against the impossible. The child’s hand was hanging out of the vulva. It was a tiny black hand, its fingers opening and closing intermittently as though it were clutching at life.

‘Let the leg give a little,’ said Madame Bouland to Pauline. ‘No need to wear her out.’

Dr. Cazenove was standing between the two knees, each held by one of the women. He turned round, puzzled at the way the light was flickering; Lazare behind him, was trembling so violently that the candle shook in his hand as though in a great gust of wind.

‘My dear fellow,’ said the doctor, ‘put the candlestick on the bedside table. I shall see better.’

Incapable of watching any longer, the husband retreated to the further end of the room and sank into a chair. But although he had stopped watching, he still kept on seeing the little creature’s pathetic hand, clinging to life, seeming to grope for help in this world into which it had led the way.

Unfortunately, if you decide to read the Vizettely translation then this whole eight or nine page section of the book is covered by the following paragraph:

There came a cruel and affecting scene. It was one of those dread hours when life and death wrestle together, when human science and skill battle to overcome and correct the errors of Nature. More than once did the Doctor pause, fearing a fatal issue. The patient’s agony was terrible, but at last science triumphed, and a child was born. It was a boy.

A graphic description of a difficult childbirth was obviously not considered appropriate material for the late Victorian reading public. They could read it in French though if they wished.

(Zest for Life by Émile Zola, published by Elek Books, 1955, translated by Jean Stewart)