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.

Fat-and-the-Thin_Aegypan_GR02

 

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.

 

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Exceptional Excerpts: The Conquest of Plassans, by Emile Zola

The Conquest of Plassans (Oxford World's Classics)It is my good fortune to be reading Zola’s Rougon-Macquart Cycle just as Oxford World Classics is releasing new translations of this wonderful series of books. The Conquest of Plassans (La Conquête de Plassans) (1874) is hot off the presses, arriving here in Australia when I was just about to embark on the sixth novel in the recommended reading order, using the old Vizetelly translation on The Hated Kindle. In this Sensational Snippet from Chapter 5, you can see how the new translation by Helen Constantine has so artfully captured the malice between mother-in-law Félicité Rougon and her daughter Marthe’s husband, Mouret:

Félicité kissed Marthe on the forehead as if the latter were still sixteen. She then extended her hand to Mouret. Their usual mode of conversation had a sharp edge of irony.

‘Well,’ she asked with a smile, ‘have the police not been to arrest you yet, you old revolutionary?’

‘Not yet,’ he replied, also with a laugh. ‘They are waiting until your husband gives them the order.’

‘Oh, very funny, ‘ Félicité replied, her eyes blazing.

Marthe appealed to Mouret with a pleading look; he had certainly gone too far. But he was off and there was no stopping him.

‘Good gracious, what can we be thinking of? Here we are receiving you in the dining room? Let’s go into the drawing room.’

This was one of his usual jokes. When Félicité came calling, he assumed her affectations. It was no good Marthe saying they were fine where they were, she and her mother were obliged to follow him into the drawing room. There he took enormous pains opening the shutters, arranging the armchairs. The drawing room was never used and its windows remained closed more often than not; it was a large unused room, in which stood furniture with white covers yellowed by the damp from the garden.

‘This is terrible, ‘ Mouret murmured, wiping the dust from an occasional table, ‘Rose [their servant] leaves everything in such a state.’

And, turning to his mother-in-law, in a voice laced with irony:

‘Please forgive us for receiving you like this in our poor little residence … we can’t all be rich.’

from The Conquest of Plassans, by Émile Zola, translated by Helen Constantine, Oxford World Classics, 2014

Compare this with the Vizetelly version:

Félicité kissed Marthe on the forehead and then gave her hand to Mouret. She and her son-in-law generally affected a mocking tone in their conversations together.

‘Well,’ she said to him with a smile, ‘the gendarmes haven’t been for you yet then, you revolutionist?’

‘No, not yet,’ he replied with a responsive smile; ‘they are waiting till your husband gives them the order.’

‘It’s very nice and polite of you to say that!’ exclaimed Félicité, whose eyes were beginning to glisten.

Marthe turned a beseeching glance upon Mouret. He had gone too far; but his feelings were roused and he added:

‘Good gracious! What are we thinking of to receive you in the dining-room? Let us go into the drawing-room, I beg you.’

This was one of his usual pleasantries. He affected all Félicité’s fine airs whenever he received a visit from her. It was to no purpose that Marthe protested that they were very comfortable where they were; her husband insisted that she and her mother should follow him into the drawing-room. When they got there, he bustled about, opening the shutters and drawing out the chairs. The drawing-room, which was seldom entered, and the shutters of which were generally kept closed, was a great wilderness of a room, with furniture swathed in white dust-covers which were turning yellow from the proximity of the damp garden.

‘It is really disgraceful!’ muttered Mouret, wiping the dust from a small console; ‘that wretched Rose neglects everything abominably.’

Then, turning towards his mother-in-law, he said with ill-concealed irony:

‘You will excuse us for receiving you in this way in our poor dwelling. We cannot all be wealthy.’

Zola, Emile (2012-11-23). Complete Works of Emile Zola (Illustrated), The Conquest of Plassans, Chapter 5, Delphi Classics. Kindle Edition

It makes a big difference, doesn’t it?

Author: Émile Zola
Title: The Conquest of Plassans
Translated by Helen Constantine
Publisher: Oxford World Classics, 2014
ISBN: 9780199664788
Source: Review copy courtesy of Oxford University Press

Availability
Direct from Oxford University Press and good bookshops everywhere.

Cross-posted at Lisa Hill’s blog as part of the Zola Project at ANZ LitLovers.

Exceptional Excerpts: Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola

RobinBussPenguin

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.

Exceptional Excerpts: The Kill by Émile Zola

The Kill was originally published as La Curée in 1872. It was the second volume in Zola’s Rougon-Macquart series of books. The whole novel revolves around Saccard’s (a.k.a. Aristide Rougon) lust for money and Maxime and Renée’s lust for each other – Maxime is Saccard’s son from his first wife and Renée is Saccard’s second wife.

This excerpt is from the first chapter. A banquet has been held at Saccard’s luxurious house and the guests are leaving. Maxime and Louise, his betrothed, have sneaked off to the hothouse which is filled with exotic plants; Renée has followed them at a distance and spies on them.

Endless love and voluptuous appetite pervaded this stifling nave in which settled the ardent sap of the tropics. Renée was wrapped in the powerful bridals of the earth that gave birth to these dark growths, these colossal stamina; and the acrid birth-throes of this hotbed, of this forest growth, of this mass of vegetation aglow with the entrails that nourished it, surrounded her with disturbing odours. At her feet was the steaming tank, its tepid water thickened by the sap from the floating roots, enveloping her shoulders with a mantle of heavy vapours, forming a mist that warmed her skin like the touch of a hand moist with desire. Overhead she could smell the palm trees, whose tall leaves shook down their aroma. And more than the stifling heat, more than the brilliant light, more than the great dazzling flowers, like faces laughing or grimacing between the leaves, it was the odours that overwhelmed her. An indescribable perfume, potent, exciting, composed of a thousand different perfumes, hung about her; human exudation, the breath of women, the scent of hair; and breezes sweet and swooningly faint were blended with breezes coarse and pestilential, laden with poison. But amid this strange music of odours, the dominant melody that constantly returned, stifling the sweetness of the vanilla and the orchids’ pungency, was the penetrating, sensual smell of flesh, the smell of lovemaking escaping in the early morning from the bedroom of newlyweds.

Renée is overcome by the odours in the hothouse, the night’s excess and from watching Maxime and Louise. The chapter ends with this paragraph:

The shrub that half concealed her was a malignant plant, a Madagascan tanghin tree with wide, box-like leaves with whitish stems, whose smallest veins distilled a venomous fluid. At a moment when Louise and Maxime laughed more loudly in the reflected yellow light of the sunset in the little boudoir, Renée, her mind wandering, her mouth dry and parched, took between her lips a sprig of the tanghin tree that was level with her mouth, and sank her teeth into one of its bitter leaves.

( The Kill, by Émile Zola, Oxford University Press, translated by Brian Nelson, 2004, p39-40)

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)

Exceptional Excerpts: His Excellency Eugene Rougon, by Emile Zola, translated by Ernest Alfred Vizetelly

I was reading His Excellency Eugène Rougon, by Émile Zola, (No #2 in the Rougon-Macquart cycle and part of my Zola project) when I came across this passage in Chapter 9.  The repression that Rougon exacts in the name of the Emperor and the lust for power at any price made me think of Stalin …

Outside, France was hushed in fear. The Emperor, in summoning Rougon to power, had been desirous of making examples. He knew the great man’s iron hand, and had said to him on the morning after the attempt on his life, with all the anger of one who has just escaped assassination, ‘No moderation, mind! They must be made to fear you.’ He had just armed him, too, with that terrible Law of General Safety, which authorised the confinement in Algeria or the expulsion from the empire of anyone who might be convicted of a poli­tical offence. Although no single Frenchman had taken part in the crime of the Rue Le Peletier, the Republicans were about to be hunted down and transported; there was to be a general sweeping away of the ten thousand ‘suspects’ who had been passed over at the time of the coup d’état. There were rumours of contemplated action by the revolutionary party. The authorities were said to have made a seizure of weapons and treasonable documents. Already in the middle of March, three hundred and eighty persons had been shipped at Toulon for Algeria, and now every week a fresh contingent was sent off. The whole country trembled in the terror which like a black storm cloud rolled forth from the room with the green velvet curtains where Rougon laughed aloud while stretching his arms.

The great man had never before tasted such complete contentment. He felt well and strong, and was putting on flesh. Health had come back to him with his return to power. When he walked about the room he dug his heels into the carpet, as though he wanted his heavy tread to resound throughout France. He would have liked to shake the country by merely putting his empty glass down on the side-table or casting aside his pen. It delighted him to be a source of fear, to forge thunderbolts amidst the smiling grati­fication of his friends, and to crush a whole nation with his swollen parvenu fists. In one of his circulars he had written: ‘It is for the good to feel confidence, and for the wicked only to tremble.’ He revelled in playing this part of a divinity, damning some, and saving others. He was filled with mighty pride; his idolatry of his own strength and intelligence was becoming a real religion with him.

Among the new men who had sprung up with the Second Empire, Rougon had long been known as a partisan of strong government. His name was a synonym for stern repression, the refusal of all liberties; despotic rule, in fact. All knew therefore what they had to expect when they saw him called to office. To his intimate friends, however, Rougon un­bosomed himself. He did not, he said, so much hold opinions as feel a craving for power. Power had too much attraction for him, and was too essential to his appetite for him to refuse it, whatever the conditions on which it might be offered to him.

To rule, to set his foot on the neck of the crowd, was his first and immediate ambition; the rest was merely secondary matter to which he could easily accommodate himself. The one thing which he really wanted was to be chief. It so hap­pened, however, that the circumstances under which he was now returning to power made his success very pleasant. The Emperor had given him complete liberty of action, and he was at last in a position to realise his old dream of driving the multitude with a whip like a herd of cattle. Nothing filled him with greater satisfaction than to know that he was feared and disliked. And sometimes when his friends told him that he was a tyrant, he smiled, and said with deep meaning: ‘If I should become a liberal some day, people will say that I have changed.’ Rougon’s very greatest joy was to stand triumphant amidst those friends of his. He forgot France and the obsequious functionaries and the crowd of petitioners who besieged his doors, to regale himself with the perpetual admiration of his ten or twelve intimate associates. His office was open to them at any hour, he allowed them to make it a home, to take possession of his chairs, and even of his desk itself; he told them that it was a pleasure to have them always about him like a pack of faithful dogs.

from His Excellency Eugène Rougon, by Émile Zola, in the Complete Works of  Émile Zola (Illustrated) (Kindle Locations 64059-64091). Delphi Classics. Kindle Edition.

Instructive, n’est-ce pas?

Exceptional Excerpts: The Belly of Paris, by Émile Zola

The Belly of Paris  was originally published in 1873 as Le Ventre de Paris; it was the third novel in the Rougon-Macquart series of novels and is centred around the busy Les Halles market in the centre of Paris.

This excerpt comes from a point about three quarters the way through the novel and takes place in Madame Lecoeur’s cheese storeroom. Also present is Mlle Saget and La Sarriette. Mlle Saget has found out some information about the main character, Florent. Although the reader of the novel already knows from the opening pages what this secret is I won’t reveal it here as I want to concentrate largely on the descriptive and lyrical prose of this section. It is, in total, about five pages long and begins with a page long description of all the cheeses in the storeroom, the women continue gossiping as the smells of all the cheeses in the enclosed room becomes overwhelming.

I would have liked to just quote the whole section but that might have been a bit excessive. Instead I’ve picked out some of the more descriptive text and left out most of the dialogue and gossiping, this is because the dialogue makes more sense as part of the plot, whereas the descriptive text more easily stands alone. I’ve indicated where I’ve skipped some text with an ellipsis in square brackets. I believe that this section was known as ‘The Cheese Symphony’ for reasons that will soon be clear.

All around them the cheeses were stinking. On the two shelves at the back of the stall were huge blocks of butter: Brittany butter overflowing its baskets; Normandy butter wrapped in cloth, looking like models of bellies on to which a sculptor had thrown some wet rags; other blocks, already cut into and looking like high rocks full of valleys and crevices. […] But for the most part the cheeses stood in piles on the table. There, next to the one-pound packs of butter, a gigantic cantal was spread on leaves of white beet, as though split by blows from an axe; then came a golden Cheshire cheese, a gruyère like a wheel fallen from some barbarian chariot, some Dutch cheeses suggesting decapitated heads smeared in dried blood and as hard as skulls – which has earned them the name of ‘death’s heads’. A parmesan added its aromatic tang to the thick, dull smell of the others. […] Then came the strong-smelling cheeses: the mont-d’ors, pale yellow, with a mild sugary smell; the troyes, very thick and bruised at the edges, much stronger, smelling like a damp cellar; the camemberts, suggesting high game; the neufchâtels, the limbourgs, the marolles, the pont-l’évèques, each adding its own shrill note in a phrase that was harsh to the point of nausea; […]
A silence fell at the mention of Gavard. They all looked at each other cautiously. As they were all rather short of breath by this time, it was the camembert they could smell. This cheese, with its gamy odour, had overpowered the milder smells of the marolles and the limbourg; its power was remarkable. Every now and then, however, a slight whiff, a flute-like note, came from the parmesan, while the bries came into play with their soft, musty smell, the gentle sound, so to speak, of a damp tambourine. The livarot launched into an overwhelming reprise, and the géromé kept up the symphony with a sustained note.

( The Belly of Paris, by Émile Zola, Oxford University Press, translated by Brian Nelson, 2007, p210-216)

Exceptional Excerpts: Germinal, by Emile Zola

Germinal, (1885) by Emile Zola, is the thirteenth novel in his twenty-volume series Les Rougon-Macquart, but it’s the first that I have read by this great French writer. The realism of this story of a miners’ strike in the 1860s in northern France is stunning.

In this Sensational Snippet, the strike has got out of control. A small contingent of soldiers are guarding Belgian scabs in the pit and the strikers are attacking them with stones and bricks. Zola – whose sympathies throughout this novel are with the miners and their cause – shows that things are never as simple as they seem afterwards in the cold light of day:

The little squad was nearly lost to sight under the hail of stones. Fortunately they landed too high and merely pitted the wall above. What was to be done? For a moment the captain considered retreating into the buildings, but the very thought of showing his back to the mob made his pale face flush – and in any case it was no longer practicable, for if they made the slightest movement they would be lynched. A brick had just broken the peak of his cap and blood was trickling down his forehead. Several of his men were wounded, and he realized that they were at the end of their tether and had reached the stage of instinctive self-defence when they would no longer obey their superiors. The sergeant had let out an oath when his shoulder had nearly been put out and his skin bruised by a heavy thud that sounded like a dolly banging the washing. The recruit had been grazed in two places, his thumb was smashed and his right knee was smarting: how much longer were they going to put up with this? One brick had bounced up and hit the veteran in the groin, and he had turned green and was raising his rifle with his thin arms. Three times the captain was on the point of ordering them to fire. He was torn with perplexity, and for some seconds an apparently endless struggle within him shook all his ideas, his sense of duty and his beliefs as a man and as a soldier. The bricks rained thicker still, and just as he was opening his mouth to shout ‘Fire!’ the rifles went off of their own accord; first three shots, then five, then the whole volley of a platoon and then, long afterwards, a single shot in the midst of silence.

There was a moment of stupefaction. They had really fired, and the crowd stood motionless, unable to believe it. Then piercing shrieks arose, while the bugle sounded the cease fire. And then a wild panic like the stampede of cattle before machine-guns, a frantic rush through the mud.

(Germinal, by Emile Zola, Penguin Classics, 1954 translation by L.W. Tancock, p 410-1)

Selected by Lisa Hill, 17/11/11 and cross-posted at ANZ LitLovers.