Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Fortune of the Rougons, by Émile Zola

Title: The Fortune of the Rougons
Author: Émile Zola
Published:  1871
Challenges: Zoladdiction 2015, Back to the Classics Challenge 2015, and The Classics Club

The Fortune of the Rougons is the first book in Les Rougon-Macquart series, by Émile Zola.  It introduces the reader to the roots and branches of this fictitious family tree, living during what is called the Second French Empire, of which I know little about.  (Note to self: I need to study French history.)

The initial opening is brief and involves an uprising, or coup d'état, ushering in Napoleon's second coming, or whatever you like to call it.  (See, I need French history.)  After the opening is set, the author pauses to return to the past to introduce the imaginary family beginnings and the founding of their town.  Then he returns to the present where the reader learns there are several characters that are either deeply involved or somewhat involved in the insurrection, while some family members directly oppose each other. 

In this story, there is a shortage of characters to favor, as Zola is not subtle in exposing wicked hearts. Readers can see viciousness and greed being passed down from parent to child as hereditary traits, in addition to hair color and nose shapes.  It is already disturbing to read about cruel characters mistreating others, but it is more disheartening when they are supposedly related in some way.  Also, Zola is setting up the families' future destinies, as one will struggle in poverty while the other will work its way into the upper social class.  

Aside from the conflict, there is a sweet love story - oh, so sweet and innocent (albeit, fairly young) - between two characters, who are quite possibly the most agreeable in this entire story. Ah, those forbidden, natural, yet hopeless, love affairs!  I cannot tell you what happens, but it may break your heart.  (I have said too much already.)

Liberty Leading the People, by Delacroix

So I got lost in the details of the historical setting, and I will need to research French history under Napoleon.  All I know concerning The Fortune is that there is a conflict between family members, and the Rougons used cunning deception to gain power and control, while Macquart threw temper tantrums because he did not achieve what he thought he deserved.

If I ever read The Fortune again, which I should, and if you ever read it for the first time, I suggest, and I hope to remember myself, to make up a family tree and take notes as to who is on what side and what each side represents.  Nonetheless, I look forward to reading book #2, Le Curée, or The Kill, in English, for Fanda's Literary Movement Reading Challenge: Naturalism, in August.


Cleo said...

I remember that this book seemed packed with so much information, both obvious and more subtle. I completely missed the Pyramus and Thisbe allusion and the mulberry tree until someone pointed it out to me. A nice touch by Zola. I must go back and read it again to see what more I can draw out of it, but first, on with the series. I have yet to finish number 4, which I am determined to do by the end of next month.

Ruth said...

Oh, yeah...Pyramus, Thisbe, and the Wall. I would have not known that if my kids did not perform A Midsummer Night's Dream this year.

o said...

Definitely one of my favourites, this one. And reading this series has taught me a but about French history which otherwise had been a total blank!

Ruth said...

I'm encouraged. I've been wanting to study French history for a long time now.