A tale of Parisian life, in which the principal character is Helene Mouret, daughter of Mouret the hatter, and sister of Silvere Mouret (La Fortune des Rougon) and Francois Mouret (La Conquete de Plassans). Helene married M. Grandjean, son of a wealthy sugar-refiner of Marseilles, whose family opposed the marriage on the ground of her poverty. The marriage was a secret one, and some years of hardship had followed, when an uncle of M. Grandjean died, leaving his nephew a substantial income. The couple then moved to Paris with their young daughter Jeanne, but the day after their arrival Grandjean was seized with illness from which he died. Helene remained in Paris, though she had at first no friends there except Abbe Jouve and his half-brother M. Rambaud. Jeanne had inherited much of the family neurosis, along with a consumptive tendency derived from her father, and one of her sudden illnesses caused her mother to make the acquaintance of Doctor Deberle. An intimacy between the two families followed, which ripened into love between the doctor and Helene. Events were precipitated by an attempt on the part of Helene to save Madame Deberle from the consequences of an indiscretion in arranging an assignation with M. Malignon, with the result that she was herself seriously compromised in the eyes of Doctor Deberle and for the first and only time fell from virtue. Jeanne, whose jealous affection for her mother amounted to mania, was so affected by the belief that she was not longer the sole object of her mother’s love that she became dangerously ill and died soon afterwards. This bitter punishment for her brief lapse killed Helene’s love for Doctor Deberle, and two years later she married M. Rambaud. As Mr. Andrew Lang has observed, Helene was a good and pure woman, upon whom the fate of her family fell.
In writing the book Zola announced that his intention was to make all Paris weep, and there is no doubt that, though a study in realism, it contains much that is truly pathetic. The descriptions of Paris under varying atmospheric aspects, with which each section of the book closes, are wholly admirable.
Le Ventre de Paris.
A study of the teeming life which surrounds the great central markets of Paris. The heroine is Lisa Quenu, a daughter of Antoine Macquart (La Fortune des Rougon). She has become prosperous, and with prosperity her selfishness has increased. Her brother-in-law Florent had escaped from penal servitude in Cayenne and lived for a short time in her house, but she became tired of his presence and ultimately denounced him to the police. The book contains vivid pictures of the markets, bursting with the food of a great city, and of the vast population which lives by handling and distributing it. “But it also embraces a powerful allegory,” writes Mr. E. A. Vizetelly in his preface to the English translation (The Fat and the Thin. London: Chatto & Windus), “the prose song of the eternal battle between the lean of this world and the fat—a battle in which, as the author shows, the latter always come off successful. M. Zola had a distinct social aim in writing this book.”