In the earlier volumes of the Rougon-Macquart series Zola had dealt with every phase of life under the Second Empire, and in this novel he tells the story of that terrific land-slide which overwhelmed the regime. It is a story of war, grim and terrible; of a struggle to the death between two great nations. In it the author has put much of his finest work, and the result is one of the masterpieces of literature. The hero is Jean Macquart, son of Antoine Macquart and brother of Gervaise (La Fortune des Rougon). After the terrible death of his wife, as told in La Terre, Jean enlisted for the second time in the army, and went through the campaign up to the battle of Sedan. After the capitulation he was made prisoner, and in escaping was wounded. When he returned to active service he took part in crushing the excesses of the Commune in Paris, and by a strange chance it was his hand that killed his dearest friend, Maurice Levasseur, who had joined the Communist ranks. La Debacle has been described as “a prose epic of modern war,” and vast though the subject be, it is treated in a manner that is powerful, painful, and pathetic.
In the preface to the English translation (The Downfall. London: Chatto & Windus) Mr. E. A. Vizetelly quotes from an interview with Zola regarding his aim in writing the work. A novel, he says, “contains, or may be made to contain, everything; and it is because that is my creed that I am a novelist. I have, to my thinking, certain contributions to make to the thought of the world on certain subjects, and I have chosen the novel as the best way of communicating these contributions to the world. Thus La Debacle, in the form of a very precise and accurate relation of a series of historical facts—in other words, in the form of a realistic historical novel—is a document on the psychology of France in 1870. This will explain the enormous number of characters which figure in the book. Each character represents one etat d’ame psychologique of the France of the day. If my work be well done, the reader will be able to understand what was in men’s minds and what was the bent of men’s minds—what they thought and how they thought at that period.”
Le Docteur Pascal.
In this, the concluding novel of the Rougon-Macquart series, Zola gathers together the threads of the preceding volumes and makes a vigorous defence of his theories of heredity. The story in the book is both simple and sad. Doctor Pascal Rougon, a medical man at Plassans and a distinguished student of heredity, had brought up his niece Clotilde (daughter of Aristide Rougon alias Saccard) from childhood. Years afterwards they found that they passionately loved one another, but they did not marry, as Pascal, who had lost money, thought that by doing so she would sacrifice her interests. (In this connection it is right to mention that marriage between an uncle and a niece is legal in France, and