Zola Reading List

In the Introduction to his last novel, Le Docteur Pascal, Zola gave a recommended reading order. Although it is not really required, as each novel, apparently, stands on its own.

Zola’s recommended reading order:

  1. La Fortune des Rougon (1871)
  2. Son Excellence Eugène Rougon (1876)
  3. La Curée (1871-2)
  4. L’Argent (1891)
  5. Le Rêve (1888)
  6. La Conquête de Plassans (1874)
  7. Pot-Bouille (1882)
  8. Au Bonheur des Dames (1883)
  9. La Faute de l’Abbé Mouret (1875)
  10. Une Page d’amour (1878)
  11. Le Ventre de Paris (1873)
  12. La Joie de vivre (1884)
  13. L’Assommoir (1877)
  14. L’Œuvre (1886)
  15. La Bête humaine (1890)
  16. Germinal (1885)
  17. Nana (1880)
  18. La Terre (1887)
  19. La Débâcle (1892)
  20. Le Docteur Pascal (1893)

Publication order:

  1. La Fortune des Rougon (1871)
  2. La Curée (1871-2)
  3. Le Ventre de Paris (1873)
  4. La Conquête de Plassans (1874)
  5. La Faute de l’Abbé Mouret (1875)
  6. Son Excellence Eugène Rougon (1876)
  7. L’Assommoir (1877)
  8. Une Page d’amour (1878)
  9. Nana (1880)
  10. Pot-Bouille (1882)
  11. Au Bonheur des Dames (1883)
  12. La Joie de vivre (1884)
  13. Germinal (1885)
  14. L’Œuvre (1886)
  15. La Terre (1887)
  16. Le Rêve (1888)
  17. La Bête humaine (1890)
  18. L’Argent (1891)
  19. La Débâcle (1892)
  20. Le Docteur Pascal (1893)

Wikipedia also provides us with this nice little summary.

The Rougon-Macquart family begins with Adelaïde Fouque. Born in 1768 in the fictional Provençal town Plassans to middle-class parents (members of the French bourgeoisie), she has a slight intellectual disability. She marries Rougon, and gives birth to a son, Pierre Rougon. However, she also has a lover, the smuggler Macquart, with whom she has two children: Ursule and Antoine Macquart. This means that the family is split in three branches:

The first, legitimate, one is the Rougons branch. They are the most successful of the children. Most of them live in the upper classes  (such as Eugene Rougon who becomes a minister) or/and have a good education (such as Pascal, the doctor which is the main protagonist of Le Docteur Pascal).

The second branch is the low-born Macquarts. They are blue-collar workers (L’Assommoir), farmers (La Terre), or soldiers (La Débâcle).

The third branch is the Mourets (the name of Ursule Macquart’s husband). They are a mix of the others two. They are middle-class people and tend to live more balanced lives than the others.

Because Zola believed that everyone is driven by their heredity, Adelaide’s children show signs of their mother’s original deficiency. For the Rougon, this manifests as a drive for power, money, and excess in life. For the Macquarts, who live in a difficult environment, it is manifested by alcoholism (L’Assommoir), prostitution (Nana), and homicide (La Bête humaine). Even the Mourets are marked to a certain degree; in La Faute de l’Abbé Mouret, the priest Serge Mouret has to fight his desire for a young woman.

I hope this helps those of you embarking on Zoladdiction as well as those already happily ensconced in this world! I’m currently about half way through Nana, after giving up on reading Germinal on my epad.

If I decide to read all the Zola’s, which order should I read them in? Do you have any preferences or suggestions for translations?

How is everyone else doing?

9 thoughts on “Zola Reading List

  1. I'm reading the series in Zola's recommended order. So far (I'm on #3 La Curée) I'm really enjoying the progress although I can certainly understand how each book can be read on its own. However, once I get a deeper understanding of Zola's themes and purpose of the series, perhaps I might change my mind and advocate for a reading order. We'll see ….. :-)Thanks for posting all the helpful information, Brona!


  2. JUST finished Germinal about 10 minutes ago. I'm speechless. I can't wait to see what others thought about their choices b/c I need another Zola, but I have no idea which one I should read next. It would have been great to read his books in order. Maybe I should just start with #1.I'm going to check out that Zola link you posted. Thanks.~ Ruth


  3. I've read 12 in the series following Zola's read order. As Cleopatra says, you see reoccuring themes, but also how Zola can repeat the structure of the story. For instance in several stories Zola introduces a \”new kid on the block\” , a stranger who drifts into town or the countryside. That is the catalyst for the action! I hope all the readers in Zola Addiction enjoy Zola as much as I do!


  4. I've also been thinking I should have started with no. 1 after putting this together :-)But Germinal and Nana, the two Zola's I've been reading so far, are so different, that I have yet to discover any patterns or themes like Cleo & Nancy mention.


  5. If you were speechless about Germinal, I would recommend L'Assommoir. Both are superb. Nana I didn't get on with for some reason but am going to give it another go.


  6. I care more than I should about reading order, I'd need to go with Zola's suggested reading order. ALthough I haven't read any as yet. It's on the list though.


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