Written as a “passport to the Academy,” this novel stands alone among the Rougon-Macquart series for its pure, idyllic grace. Angelique, a daughter of Sidonie Rougon (Le Curee), had been deserted by her mother, and was adopted by a maker of ecclesiastical embroideries, who with his wife lived and worked under the shadow of an ancient cathedral. In this atmosphere the child grew to womanhood, and as she fashioned the rich embroideries of the sacred vestments she had a vision of love and happiness which was ultimately realized, though the realization proved too much for her frail strength, and she died in its supreme moment. The vast cathedral with its solemn ritual dominates the book and colours the lives of its characters.
La Conquete de Plassans.
The heroine of this book is Marthe Rougon, the youngest daughter of Pierre and Felicite Rougon (La Fortune des Rougon), who had inherited much of the neurasthenic nature of her grandmother Adelaide Fouque. She married her cousin, Francois Mouret. Plassans, where the Mourets lived, was becoming a stronghold of the clerical party, when Abbe Faujas, a wily and arrogant priest, was sent to win it back for the Government. This powerful and unscrupulous ecclesiastic ruthlessly set aside every obstacle to his purpose, and in the course of his operations wrecked the home of the Mourets. Marthe having become infatuated with the priest, ruined her family for him and died neglected. Francois Mouret, her husband, who by the machinations of Faujas was confined in an asylum as a lunatic, became insane in fact, and having escaped, brought about a conflagration in which he perished along with the disturber of his domestic peace.
The book contains a vivid picture of the petty jealousies and intrigues of a country town, and of the political movements which followed the Coup d’Etat of 1851.
A study of middle-class life in Paris. Octave, the elder son of Francois Mouret, has come to the city, where he has got a situation in “The Ladies’ Paradise,” a draper’s shop carried on by Madame Hedouin, a lady whom he ultimately marries. The interest of the book centres in a house in Rue de Choiseul which is let in flats to various tenants, the Vabres, Duvreyiers, and Josserands among others. The inner lives of these people, their struggles, their jealousies and their sins, are shown with an unsparing hand. Under the thin skin of an intense respectability there is a seething mass of depravity, and with ruthless art Zola has laid his subjects upon the dissecting-table. Of plot there is little, but as a terrible study in realism the book is a masterpiece.