Great news! New editions of Zola titles

The Sin of Abbe Mouret

Readers who followed my Zola journey will know that there were some titles in the Rougon-Macquart cycle that were hard to find, and #BeingPolite there were others that needed a modern translation.

The standard, for me, was set by Brian Nelson’s translations for Oxford World’ Classics: not only were the translations very good, there were also excellent introductions which enhanced my reading of the series.

La Debacle (Oxford World's Classics)Well, I was delighted yesterday to find two new editions in my postbox: La Débâcle, translated by Elinor Dorday – a title which was out of print and very hard to find – has been reissued by Oxford World’s Classics, and *drumroll* they have also issued a new translation of The Sin of Abbé Mouret.  It’s by Valerie Pearson Minogue, who also translated the recent edition of Money in 2014.

As usual in this series, the cover art comes from French artists.  The image on the cover of La Débâcle is a detail from Artillery Skirmish in the Forest during the Siege of Paris by Édouard Detaille, and Cézanne is featured on The Sin of Abbé Mouret with a detail from Forest Interior, 1898-9.

Both titles are available now and you should be able to find them on any online site or in good bookshops.

As I’ve said before, I know that you can find free versions of Zola’s novels online, but if you can afford it, buy these OWC titles, they really will enhance the reading experience for you.


‘L’Argent’ Cover Images

L’Argent was first published in 1891 and has been translated as Money by Vizetelly and more recently by Valerie Minogue for Oxford University Press.

For images of other covers please look on the Images page.

Therese Raquin, by Emile Zola, translated by Andrew Rothwell

3862390 As regular readers know, I’m working my way through Zola’s Rougon-Maquart cycle in the recommended reading order, so The Sin of Father Mouret should be my next Zola However, I’m waiting on my preferred translation to come from a second-hand bookshop in America, so I decided to read Thérèse Raquin in the meantime. (This early novel of Zola’s has the added advantage of being listed in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, a reading project that I have sadly neglected this year.)

Publicity for Therese Raquin 1867 (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

Publicity for Therese Raquin 1867 (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

Thérèse Raquin was Zola’s first big success, and judging by the publicity promising splendides illustrations presumably as racy the one on the poster, the good folk of Paris were under no illusions about the novel. Sales were helped along, no doubt, by outraged criticism in Le Figaro by ‘Ferragus’ who called it ‘putrid literature’. According to the introduction by Andrew Rothwell, the translator of this new edition from Oxford World’s Classics, Ferragus was the nom de plume of author Louis Ulbach and there is some suspicion that Zola put him up to it so that he could generate further interest in the novel by writing a rebuttal. (All publicity is good publicity, eh?) For the good folk of the 21st century, however, inured as we are to unhealthy preoccupation with lust, corpses and decay, Thérèse Raquin isn’t regarded as disgusting and immoral … and … an outrage against good taste. Rather, it’s regarded as a milestone in the development of Zola’s ambitions to use fiction to comment on society.

In 1001 Books it’s included – although it is not the best of Emile Zola’s novels – because

it is precisely the properties of uncertainty and of extravagance that make Thérèse Raquin a significant novel. In it we see one of the most important novelists of the nineteenth century struggling with his form, seeking not without desperation, to transform the novel into the social scalpel he so devoutly believed it could be. (1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, 2006 edition, p. 163)

All well and good, but how does it read on its own terms? Well, it limps a little towards the end, but it’s still a powerful evocation of the psychological effects of guilt. Like Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment it explores the mental anguish arising from murder, showing how the adulterous couple Thérèse and Laurent can never realise the happiness they hoped for because they are tormented by guilt.

Zola paints their claustrophobic mental state in a gloomy, morbid Paris. The Raquins live in an apartment above their haberdashery in a narrow, dark arcade, paved with yellowish flagstones, worn, uneven, permanently exuding an acrid-smelling damp and covered by a right-angled glass roof black with grime. It gets a pallid light in summer, but on foul winter days or foggy mornings, the glass casts nothing but darkness on the sticky flags beneath, a vile and murky darkness. (p. 7) The central characters are held captive in this dingy atmosphere with only a few other equally lugubrious settings: the murky Seine, where the murder takes place; Laurent’s dismal workplace and grubby studio; and most repulsive of all, the morgue.

There are very few characters – only old Mrs Raquin; her doomed son Camille; her niece Thérèse and her opportunistic lover Laurent; and the Thursday night visitors to the house: Grivet, an ancient employee who works with Camille; and the dim-witted police commissioner Michaud, his son Olivier and daughter-in-law Suzanne. (Oh yes, there is also the Raquins’ cat called François, which is imbued with vengeful behaviours by Laurent. But I thought it just behaved like a typical cat.) Consistent with Zola’s beliefs about temperament defining behaviour, the adulterous couple behave as their smouldering amoral passions dictate, and they do not change, which tests the tension and the realism that the novel aims to achieve. The reader knows that they are doomed, it’s just a question of how Zola resolves their fate.

The novel works despite its limitations because Zola is such a brilliant wordsmith. He elicits a sense of shocked awe in the reader when Laurent and Thérèse hatch their plans. Laurent’s obsessive visits to the morgue are revolting. Camille’s constant presence in the couple’s fateful marriage is palpable, and the horror of old Mrs Raquin’s impotent discovery of their duplicity is unforgettable.

Thérèse Raquin is gripping reading, all the more so because for all its flaws it heralds Zola’s mastery of the French Naturalist Movement.

Not to be missed!

Cross-posted at ANZ LitLovers

Author: Émile Zola
Title: Thérèse Raquin
Publisher: Oxford World’s Classics, OUP (Oxford University Press), 2008
ISBN: 9780199536856
Source: review copy courtesy of OUP

‘The Attack on the Mill and Other Stories’ by Émile Zola

Attack on the Mill and Other Stories

Attack on the Mill and Other Stories

Zola is famous for his novels, especially the excellent Rougon-Macquart series, so I was a little bit nervous approaching a book of his short stories. Would Zola continue to impress or would he falter in this format? In my experience novelists aren’t always good short story writers and vice versa; they seem to be quite separate skills. Well, the answer is that he did not fail, and this collection is, with a few exceptions, an impressive collection of stories that is as good as anything I’ve read by him so far. They are similar in style and quality to the best of Chekhov’s short stories.

The stories included in this volume range from a few early stories to one he wrote in 1899 during his exile in England but the bulk, and the best, of the stories were written between 1877 and 1880 for the Russian periodical Vestnik Evropy or European Messenger. More details of the stories can be found on this earlier post.

This ‘Oxford University Press’ (OUP) collection was published in 1984 and all the stories were translated by Douglas Parmeé. More recently it has been re-issued by ‘Oneworld’ as ‘Dead Men Tell No Tales and Other Stories’. In that book it mentions that the collection was first published in 1969 by OUP but no mention of this is made in my OUP version; the only copyright information is for 1984. There are loads of notes at the back which includes lots of information on each story such as original title, date of publication, subsequent publications, character details etc.

So I’d like to state that Douglas Parmeé’s translations here are perfect. Of course, not being able to compare them with the French I can’t make a direct comparison, but they read beautifully and the translator is unobtrusive which is all that the general reader requires. My only gripe with Parmeé is with the story titles; he states that ‘Zola’s titles are often rather unenlightening, and the translator has ventured, here and there, to provide English versions that may be found more stimulating.’ So Naïs Micoulin becomes A Flash in the Pan, La Mort d’Olivier Bécaillé becomes Dead Men Tell No Tales and so on. Why do this? Why does a story title have to describe what happens in the story? Presumably the translator wouldn’t do this throughout the text so why do it with the title? This sort of thing tends to annoy me but it is the only gripe I had with the book.

The stories are roughly in chronological order and so the first five are quite early ones; they’re quite playful and in a way, quite modern. In the four-page story, Death by Advertising, Zola describes a man who tries to live his life by trying every gadget and product that is advertised and to believe faithfully the claims that the advertisers make – it doesn’t end well! In Rentafoil we hear about Durandeau who has found a market for ugliness; he sets up an escort agency whereby women can rent an ugly companion so that they look beautiful in comparison. The last story in the collection, The Haunted House is a sort of anti-ghost story; it’s amusing but it’s a bit of a ‘throwaway’ story.

Although these are quite fun to read, it’s the rest of the stories that really impress. There’s quite a range as well; a range in styles and settings. For example in two of the stories, The Way People Die and Priests and Sinners, the stories are made up of small sketches. The Way People Die starts off describing the lavish funeral of the Comte de Verteuil, then the successive funerals of a judge, a shop-owner’s wife, the sickly child of a washerwoman and bricklayer, right down to the seventy year-old peasant Jean-Louis Lacour. In Priests and Sinners Zola goes the other way, from poor to rich; he starts off with a parish priest in a small village, who ‘looked like a peasant in his smock’, then we get Father Michelin, a confessor to several aristocratic ladies, right up to a soon-to-be cardinal busy writing theological articles.

The title story, The Attack on the Mill takes place during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, and the whole story takes place in and around Merlier’s mill and shows the effects of war on civilians. Running through the story is quite a typical nineteenth century love story, where Françoise is forced to decide whether her father or her lover lives. This story was Zola’s contribution to the Naturalist’s anti-war story collection, Les Soirées de Médan which also included Maupassant’s Boule de Suif.

Captain Burle tells the story of a womanising, gambling Charles Burle, who’s a regimental paymaster who can’t keep his hands off women and can’t stop stealing from the army to pay for his vices. His colleague, Laguitte, eventually gets tired of covering for him and decides to take action.

A Flash in the Pan takes place in Aix-en-Provence and a smaller seaside town. It centers on the love between the lazy son of a lawyer, Frédéric, and the daughter of one of their tenants, Naïs. The set-up seems quite uninspiring, but with Zola’s excellent characters and his descriptive skills he turns this into a wonderful story, with comedy, thwarted murder attempts and a cynical ending.

Dead Men Tell No Tales starts off with this sentence: ‘I died on a Saturday morning at six a.m., after an illness lasting three days.’ The narrator is assumed dead but he is still conscious. Ok, we’re into Poe territory here with a ‘live burial’, but it’s filtered through Zola’s brain. So, either he really dies in the coffin or he escapes and returns to his wife, right?

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder starts off in the Paris Commune and concentrates on Jacques Damour, who gets involved in fighting and politics and ends up getting arrested and deported. He’s given up for dead back at home and his wife eventually re-marries. After several years he finds his way back to Paris and tries to see his wife. But what should he do? How will it end?

In my opinion, the best three stories are Coqueville on the Spree, Shellfish for Monsieur Chabre and Fair Exchange. When reading these stories the reader almost knows how it’s going to end right from the first page. The pleasure in reading them, therefore, centers on how Zola is going to get us to the end, rather than what is going to happen. In the introduction Parmeé makes this point: ‘it is not so much what is going to happen, as when and how is what we can expect to happen actually going to happen. Far less common is the question why something happens.’

Fair Exchange initially takes place in a small town and Zola introduces us to Ferdinand Sourdis, an amateur artist, and Adèle, the daughter of a shop-owner dealing in artist’s supplies. Adèle also paints. After the death of her father, Adèle and Ferdinand marry and move to Paris where Ferdinand has an initial success with one of his paintings. He enjoys his success but finds it increasingly difficult to produce more work; he relies on Adèle more and more as she organises his life and assists in his work.

Coqueville on the Spree is an unusual story by Zola in that it’s a lot of fun and there’s even a happy ending – there I’ve spoilt it for you! The story is basically simple: Coqueville is an isolated seaside village, and there are two rival clans, the Mahés and the Floches. They argue over everything. One day, following a storm, some barrels of liqueurs are found at sea. More and more barrels are found and the inhabitants stop fishing each day and instead ‘harvest’ the sea of its booze. They end up having a big booze-up on the beach which ultimately brings the rival clans together. Maybe they should try this in the Middle-East.

Finally, there’s Shellfish for Monsieur Chabre which is probably my favourite of the lot. Right from the character descriptions on the first page you can guess what’s going to happen. So it involves the forty-five year old M. Chabre who ‘had one great sorrow: he was childless’ and his beautiful twenty-two year old wife of four years, Estelle. The family doctor suggests that they should go on holiday to the sea and that M. Chabre should eat loads of shellfish. They meet up with the good-looking Hector who ends up joining them on some of their excursions. Both Hector and Estelle love swimming but Chabre can’t swim. So, anyway, Chabre eats loads of shellfish, Estelle and Hector go swimming and Estelle gives birth to a baby boy back in Paris. It’s the journey to the end of the story that’s brilliant, not the ending itself.

Prudes on the Prowl – Zola and Censorship

Prudes on the Prowl (OUP)

Prudes on the Prowl (OUP)

I was carrying out a bit of a random internet search for information on the Lutetian Society who were responsible for privately publishing several of Zola’s books in the late nineteenth century. I didn’t find much, partly because I got distracted (as I usually do when searching for something online) by this book, Prudes on the Prowl: Fiction and Obscenity in England, 1850 to the Present Day, published by Oxford University Press in 2013 and edited by David Bradshaw and Rachel Potter. It consists of nine essays and although the whole book looks like a good read, the second essay is especially interesting to Zola enthusiasts – its full title is Pernicious Literature: Vigilance in the Age of Zola (1886-1899) and it’s by Katherine Mullin. It covers the emergence of literacy amongst the working class from 1870 and the perceived threat of ‘pernicious literature’, the rise and fall of the National Vigilance Association (NVA), the Vizetelly trials and the effects the Vizetelly trials had on English writers such as Thomas Hardy, George Gissing and George Moore. Oh, it also had a little bit on the Lutetian Society as well.

As it’s an academic book it’s very expensive – £50.00 for the hardback; but the Zola chapter is available on Google Books if anyone’s interested.

Short Story Collections


The Attack on the Mill and Other Stories is a collection of short stories by Émile Zola, published by Oxford University Press in 1984 and translated by Douglas Parmée.

Dead Men Tell No Tales and Other Stories was published by OneWorld Classics in 2009 and is a revised edition of the Oxford University Press publication. It has some additional material consisting of ten photographs and some biographical information at the end of the book.

The contents of both books are listed below with the English title, the original French title, the original publication it appeared in and the date of publication. Many of the stories were first published in the Russian periodical Vestnik Evropy or European Messenger.


  • The Girl Who Loves Me (Celle Qui M’aime, from Contes à Ninon, 1864)
  • Rentafoil (Les Repoussoirs, 1866 in Esquisses parisiennes)
  • Death by Advertising (Une Victime de la réclame, 1866 in L’Illustration)
  • Story of a Madman (Histoire d’un fou, June 1868 in L’Événement illustré)
  • Big Michu (Le grand Michu, March 1870 in La Cloche)
  • The Attack on the Mill, (L’attaque du Moulin, 1877, 1880 in Soirées de Médan)
  • Captain Burle, (Le Capitaine Burle, 1880 from Vestnik Evropy)
  • The Way People Die (Comment on meurt, Aug. 1876 from Vestnik Evropy)
  • Coqueville on the Spree, (La Fête à Coqueville, 1879 from Vestnik Evropy)
  • A Flash in the Pan, (Naïs Micoulin, 1877 from Vestnik Evropy, published in France in 1879)
  • Dead Men Tell No Tales (La Mort d’Olivier Bécaille, March 1879 from Vestnik Evropy)
  • Shellfish for Monsieur Chabre, (Les Coquillages de Monsieur Chabre, 1876 from Vestnik Evropy)
  • Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder, (Jacques Damour, Aug. 1880 from Vestnik Evropy)
  • Priests and Sinners (no original French title, 1877 from Vestnik Evropy)
  • Fair Exchange, (Madame Sourdis, 1880, from Vestnik Evropy, pub. in France 1900)
  • The Haunted House, (Angeline, pub. in London Star, 1899)