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)