But I must come back to “The Fortune of the Rougons.” It has, as I have said, its satirical and humorous side; but it also contains a strong element of pathos. The idyll of Miette and Silvere is a very touching one, and quite in accord with the conditions of life prevailing in Provence at the period M. Zola selects for his narrative. Miette is a frank child of nature; Silvere, her lover, in certain respects foreshadows, a quarter of a century in advance, the Abbe Pierre Fromont of “Lourdes,” “Rome,” and “Paris.” The environment differs, of course, but germs of the same nature may readily be detected in both characters. As for the other personages of M. Zola’s book—on the one hand, Aunt Dide, Pierre Rougon, his wife, Felicite, and their sons Eugene, Aristide and Pascal, and, on the other, Macquart, his daughter Gervaise of “L’Assommoir,” and his son Jean of “La Terre” and “La Debacle,” together with the members of the Mouret branch of the ravenous, neurotic, duplex family—these are analysed or sketched in a way which renders their subsequent careers, as related in other volumes of the series, thoroughly consistent with their origin and their up-bringing. I venture to asset that, although it is possible to read individual volumes of the Rougon-Macquart series while neglecting others, nobody can really understand any one of these books unless he makes himself acquainted with the alpha and the omega of the edifice, that is, “The Fortune of the Rougons” and “Dr. Pascal.”
With regard to the present English translation, it is based on one made for my father several years ago. But to convey M. Zola’s meaning more accurately I have found it necessary to alter, on an average, at least one sentence out of every three. Thus, though I only claim to edit the volume, it is, to all intents and purposes, quite a new English version of M. Zola’s work.
E. A. V. Merton, Surrey: August, 1898.
I wish to explain how a family, a small group of human beings, conducts itself in a given social system after blossoming forth and giving birth to ten or twenty members, who, though they may appear, at the first glance, profoundly dissimilar one from the other, are, as analysis demonstrates, most closely linked together from the point of view of affinity. Heredity, like gravity, has its laws.
By resolving the duplex question of temperament and environment, I shall endeavour to discover and follow the thread of connection which leads mathematically from one man to another. And when I have possession of every thread, and hold a complete social group in my hands, I shall show this group at work, participating in an historical period; I shall depict it in action, with all its varied energies, and I shall analyse both the will power of each member, and the general tendency of the whole.