La Joie de Vivre.
Pauline Quenu (Le Ventre de Paris), having been left an orphan, was sent to live with relatives in a village on the Normandy coast. It was a bleak, inhospitable shore, and its inhabitants lived their drab, hopeless lives under the morbid fear of inevitable death. The Chanteaus, Pauline’s guardians, took advantage of her in every way, and Lazare Chanteau, her cousin, with whom she fell in love, got from her large sums of money to carry out wild schemes which he devised. The character of Pauline is a fine conception; basely wronged and treated with heartless ingratitude, her hopes blighted and her heart broken, she found consolation in the complete renunciation of herself for the sake of those who had so greatly injured her.
“The title selected by M. Zola for this book,” says Mr. E. A. Vizetelly in his preface to the English translation (The Joy of Life. London: Chatto & Windus), “is to be taken in an ironical or sarcastic sense. There is no joy at all in the lives of the characters whom he portrays in it. The story of the hero is one of mental weakness, poisoned by a constantly recurring fear of death; whilst that of his father is one of intense physical suffering, blended with an eager desire to continue living, even at the cost of yet greater torture. Again, the story of the heroine is one of blighted affections, the wrecking of all which might have made her life worth living.”
A terrible study of the effects of drink on the moral and social condition of the working-class in Paris. There is probably no other work of fiction in which the effects of intemperance are shown with such grimness of realism and uncompromising force.
Gervaise Macquart, daughter of Antoine Macquart (La Fortune des Rougon), having accompanied her lover Lantier to Paris, taking with her their two children, was deserted by him a few weeks after their arrival in the city. She got employment in the laundry of Madame Fauconnier, and a few months later married Coupeau, a zinc-worker, who, though the son of drunken parents, was himself steady and industrious. For a while everything prospered with the Coupeaus; by hard work they were able to save a little money, and in time a daughter (Nana) was born to them. Then an accident to Coupeau, who fell from the roof of a house, brought about a change. His recovery was slow, and left him with an unwillingness to work and an inclination to pass his time in neighbouring dram-shops. Meantime Gervaise, with money borrowed from Goujet, a man who loved her with almost idyllic affection, had started a laundry of her own. She was successful for a time, in spite of her husband’s growing intemperance and an increasing desire in herself for ease and good living; but deterioration had begun, and with the reappearance of Lantier, her old lover, it became rapid. Coupeau was by this time a confirmed