April is Zoladdiction month with Fanda @ClassicLit!
This year I am up to book five in the Rougon-Macquart series – La Faute de l’Abbé Mouret (1875) The Sin of Father Mouret. I will be reading the Oxford University Press edition translated by Valerie Minogue, the President of the Émile Zola Society in London.
‘I really don’t understand how people can blame a priest so much, when he strays from the path.’
The Sin of Abbé Mouret tells the compelling story of the young priest Serge Mouret. Striving after spiritual purity and sanctity, he lives a life of constant prayer, but his neglect of all physical needs leads to serious illness, followed by amnesia. No longer knowing he is a priest, he falls in love with his nurse Albine. Together, like a latter-day Adam and Eve, they roam through an Eden-like garden called the ‘Paradou’, seeking a forbidden tree in whose shade they will make love. Zola memorably shows their gradual awakening to sexuality, and his poetic descriptions of the luxuriant and beautiful Paradou create a lyrical celebration of Nature. When Serge regains his memory and recalls his priestly vows, anguish inevitably follows.
The whole story, with its numerous biblical parallels, becomes a poetic reworking of the Fall of Man and a questioning of the very meaning of innocence and sin. Zola explores the conflict between Church and Nature, the sterility of the Church and the fertility of Nature. This new translation includes a wide-ranging and helpful introduction and explanatory notes.
The Sin of Father Mouret follows on directly from book four, The Conquests of Plassans and I had planned on reading it straight away last year. I thought I would use the Covid lockdown to good effect. But as we all know, none of that actually played out as we thought it might. Instead I have been meandering my way through Émile Zola, A Very Short Introduction by Brian Nelson after spotting a review for it on Lisa @ANZLitLovers blog recently.
I’m also saving Valerie Minogue’s piece on the OUP blog entitled Church and Nature: sex and sin for the end.
I started my Zola journey with Nana and Germinal, two of the big guns, a number of years ago, but then decided to go back and read the entire series in chronological order by publication date. Since then, I have been gradually acquiring all the OUP editions of Zola. When it is time to (re)read Nana and Germinal, I will assess whether or not I will need to also get OUP editions of them as well.
I may even be tempted to do a recap post before starting on book five. Who knows!
Keeping track of the three branches of family in these stories, is a bit tricky, although it is possible to enjoy each story in its own right, without the background detail. But you know me. If there’s background research to do, then do it I will! If there’s a list, timeline, map or family tree to explore, then explore it I will.
Will you be joining us for Zoladdiction 2021?
My Zola Reading List so far:
- La Fortune des Rougon (1871) The Fortune of the Rougons
- La Curée (1871–2) The Kill
- Le Ventre de Paris (1873) The Belly of Paris
- La Conquête de Plassans (1874) The Conquest of Plassans
- Nana (1880)
- Germinal (1885)
- The Disappearance of Émile Zola: Love, Literature and the Dreyfus Affair | Michael Rosen (2017) – sadly a DNF story.