‘Three Faces of Love’ – a short story collection by Émile Zola

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Three Faces of Love is a short story collection consisting of the three stories ‘For One Night of Love’, ‘Round Trip’ and ‘Winkles for Monsieur Chabre’.

The two longer stories in this collection are also in other collections that I have reviewed. ‘For One Night of Love’ (Pour une nuit d’amour) is in the collection ‘For a Night of Love’ and is reviewed here. ‘Winkles for Monsieur Chabre’ (Les coquillages de Monsieur Chabre) is in the 1984 collection, The Attack on the Mill and Other Stories and is reviewed here where it has the slightly different title of ‘Shellfish for Monsieur Chabre’.

So I bought this collection recently just to get the ten page story ‘Round Trip’ (Voyage Circulaire), which I hadn’t heard of before, and so I could scan the cover for this site’s post of Lurid, Gaudy or Tasteless Covers. The cover is a classic ’60s/’70s cover using sex to sell the book. The first story certainly has a bit of sado-masochistic sex (as well as rape and murder) between Thérèse de Marsanne and Colombel and was probably the justification for the cover design. I can’t help but feel that many readers would have been disappointed when they came to read it though; unless of course they were already a fan of Zola’s work.

There is an informative introduction to this volume. After covering the obligatory biographical details the translator, Roland Grant, gives quite a few details about the stories included. Turgenev helped arrange a contract between Zola and the editors of the Russian periodical, Vyestnik Evropy (The European Herald), such that Zola contributed articles and stories from 1874 to 1880. Pour une nuit d’amour subsequently appeared in a 1882 collection which Grant describes:

The title page has a medallion drawing in pale blue of Thérèse de Marsanne riding on Colombel’s back and plying her whip on that youth’s masochistic shoulders. There is a pink frontispiece portrait of the imperious and heavy-browed heroine.

I guess the editors of that edition had the same idea as the editors of the 1969 collection.

Grant states that ‘Round Trip’ (Voyage Circulaire) was originally published posthumously in the 1929 collection Madame Sourdis. (He also mentions a short story collection by Vizetelly called ‘A Soldier’s Honour’ that I’ve never heard of before.) ‘Round Trip’ is only ten pages long and is quite a humorous tale about the newly-weds, Lucien Bérard and Hortense Larivière who can’t get a moment alone because of Hortense’s mother. Her shop was part of Hortense’s dowry but the mother still lives there and doesn’t approve of the couple kissing in the shop or making any noise at all (the walls are paper thin). The couple manage to organise a two-week railway holiday covering some towns in Normandy much to the mother’s disapproval. But when they’re on the train they still face stern looks of passengers when they try to hold hands and they have to put up with paper thin walls in the hotel rooms. They’re also bored to death with looking around historic buildings during the day. They eventually alight from the train in the middle of nowhere, find an old cottage to rent (with thick walls) and throw away their guidebook – they have a wonderful time! Hortense’s mother however, thinks it was a waste of time as they returned with no more knowledge of the historic buildings of Normandy than when they left.

Three Faces of Love (1969, Sphere Books Ltd, translated by Roland Grant).

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‘For a Night of Love’ by Émile Zola

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For a Night of Love is a short story collection consisting of three stories by Émile Zola. It was first published by Hesperus Press in 2002 and the translations are by Andrew Brown, who also translated the Hesperus Books version of The Dream.

The three stories are For a Night of Love, Nantas and Fasting. For a Night of Love (Pour une nuit d’amour) was originally published in the Russian periodical Vestnik Evropy (European Messenger) in 1876 and subsequently in L’Echo universel in 1877. Nantas was also published in Vestnik Evropy, in 1878. Fasting (Le Jeûne) was first published in 1870.

I hadn’t previously heard of any of these stories, which is exciting, but makes me wonder just how many other stories by Zola are out there that we don’t know about. Many of the stories in the collection The Attack on the Mill and Other Stories first appeared in Vestnik Evropy as well as the stories here.

The first story in the collection is For a Night of Love and begins by describing the life of loner, Julien Michon, who lives in a first-floor flat in an unnamed town (ok it’s called P***). He’s shy, large and feels ugly; he works as a copy clerk in the local post office and although his life is uneventful he’s relatively happy. If he gets bored he plays tunes on his flute, usually late at night when everyone is asleep. Opposite his flat is a large building occupied by the elderly and wealthy Marsannes whom he rarely sees. He discovers that the Marsannes have a daughter, Thérèse, who grew up with Colombel, who also works at the post office and enjoys teasing Julien. Anyway, one night whilst playing his flute he notices a girl at the window opposite, this girl is Thérèse and he falls in love with her and watches her from his window whenever possible; at some point Thérèse becomes aware that Julien is there but ignores him. One night, however, she opens her window, obviously distraught, she sees Julien at his window and blows him a kiss and summons him to ‘come’. I’m not going to reveal any more of the plot but there are similarities with another story by Zola about a Thérèse. In this story Thérèse is a bit of a sadist and is not as pure as she first appears.

The second story, Nantas, is set in Paris; the eponymous hero lives in a narrow attic room and has come from Marseilles to seek his fortune in Paris. It’s not going well but he comforts himself with his favourite phrase, ‘I’m really strong’. Unfortunately his savings have virtually run out and when he returns to his flat he’s seriously contemplating suicide but even this is difficult when you have no money. He watches the sun set and falls asleep only to be woken by a visitor, Mlle Chuin, who says that she has a proposition for him; he’s expecting and hoping for a job offer but she offers him a marriage to a young, rich girl, who is pregnant by a married man. It doesn’t take Nantas long to accept the offer. When he meets Mlle Flavie and her father a deal is made but Flavie has no interest in Nantas and their marriage just seems like another one of Nantas’s business arrangements. You’ll have to read the story yourself to find out what happens but I must admit it’s a bit predictable – brilliantly told though, and definitely worth reading.

The last story, Fasting is only a few pages long and is one of Zola’s gentle gibes at the hypocrisies of the priesthood. A baroness is in church listening to an impassioned sermon on fasting by the curate. She’s enjoying listening to him, even though she’s having trouble staying awake, but he’s reeling off his sermon in order to get away for a concert and meal with a countess. It’s a slight tale but quite a humorous one for Zola.

I’m on a bit of roll with Zola’s short stories so I’ll have to check out the two ‘Ninon’ collections next.

‘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.

Short Story Collections

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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.

Contents

  • 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)