Reading Zola | L’Assommoir – The Wedding Party

I promised I wouldn’t write a post for every single chapter in L’Assommoir but how does every second chapter sound 😀 ?

The famous wedding day between Gervaise and Coupeau in L’Assommoir chapter three, sees the wedding party decide to walk to the Louvre to celebrate their special day. The plan had been to go for a walk to the Saint-Denis plain for a country outing, but a severe storm put paid to this idea (too muddy). I was curious – how far was this walk? And just how ‘country’ was the outing?

…they’d all meet up at one o’clock at the Moulin d’Argent. From there they’d go out to Saint-Denis to work up an appetite; they’d go by train and come back on foot, along the main road. The party was shaping up quite nicely, not some great spree, just a bit of fun, a nice quiet outing.

Georges Seurat (1859 – 1891) | La Luzerne, Saint-Denis 1884 – 1885 (Scottish National Gallery)

In 1850 the area of Saint-Denis was still separated from Paris by a broad plain. It was outside the Thiers Wall fortifications (described in my previous Zola post). Saint-Denis was originally associated with the French Royal family. The Basilica of Saint-Denis was the royal necropolis; the last king to be interred in Saint-Denis was Louis XVIII (1755 – 1824). It was King Louis XIV (1638–1715) though, who started several industries in Saint-Denis, including dyehouses, weaving and spinning mills.

Napoléon Bonaparte then ordered the construction of the Canal Saint-Denis in 1802.

The aim was to reduce the amount of commercial shipping through the centre of Paris along the Seine. It was completed in 1824, increasing significantly the amount of industry in the area (by the end of the century there were 80 factories in Saint-Denis). In 1843 the first railway line reached Saint-Denis – no doubt the one our wedding party planned to use. The walk home from Saint-Denis though, back to the Moulin d’Argent on the Boulevard de la Chapelle, would have taken our wedding party an hour and a half.

Mademoiselle Remanjou suggested setting off to the country just the same, even if they got no further than the moat round the fortifications.

Fisherman on the glacis of Thier’s Wall near Porte de Meudon

The fortifications were the Thiers Wall mentioned in my previous Zola post. A glacis (see image above) was a man-made artificial slope designed as part of a military strategy around a castle or fortress. I can find no reference to a moat in this area, but the wall was crossed in five places by a canal or river as it encircled Paris. I suspect that Mademoiselle Remanjou was referring to the section where the Canal Saint-Denis met the fortifications. This walk would have taken roughly half the time as the original outing (about 40-45 mins).

According to wikipedia, “after the construction of the Thiers wall, the open grassland of the zone non aedificandi immediately outside the new wall quickly became a popular venue for walks and picnics by prosperous Parisians.” And the not so prosperous apparently, according to Zola.

The wall was demolished between the two world wars. Today its path follows the Boulevards of the Marshals which originally ran just behind the fortifications and by the Boulevard Périphérique which was just outside the fortifictaions. A few remnants of the wall can still be seen.

The Fortifications of Paris with Houses by Vincent van Gogh, 1887

At no point was this walk, or the plan finally hit upon to walk to the Louvre, seen as onerous or long by the participants. A google map search reveals that it is a 42 minute walk from La Chapelle to the Louvre. Obviously, walking long distances was a far more common habit in 1850 than it is in 2023. I would happily walk for that long to see the sights of a city, but many of my travel companions over the years have not been so happy!

Unfortunately I cannot embed a map into WP, so click here to see the walking map I created for The Assommoir wedding party. It sounded like a delightful walk with a great deal of ‘hilarity‘, as they enjoyed the ‘spectacle‘ and attention they created on their way.

The party turned right and went back down into Paris down the Faubourgh Saint-Denis….The wedding party emerged from the Rue Saint-Denis crossed the boulevard. They waited a moment because of the stream of carriages, then ventured on to the road, which the storm had turned into ariver of mud….

By now they had reached the Rue de Cléry. Then they took the Rue du Mail. When they arrived at the Place des Victoires, they came to a halt. The bride’s left shoelace had come undone, and while she was retying it at the foot of the statue of Louis XIV, the couples gathered closely around her, joking about the bit of calf she was showing as they waited. At last, after going down the Rue Croix-des-Petits-Champs, they reached the Louvre.

Jean Béraud (1845-1935) | Le Boulevard St. Denis, Paris

I had planned on including their tour of the Louvre in this post, but it is long enough already! So, for now, I will simply finish with the walk back home. After leaving the Louvre, they strolled through the Tuileries Garden, before heading north again to the Place Vendôme. Monsieur Madinier had the grand idea of climbing the column to ‘see the view of Paris‘.

All twelve of them climbed the narrow spiral staircase in single file, stumbling on the worn steps and holding onto the walls….

Around them stretched the vast greyness of Paris, with its deep valleys and billowing rooftops stretching away to the bluish horizon….a broad ray of sunlight, streaming out from the cloud’s gold-fringed edge, lit up the myriad windows of the Left Bank, making them sparkle, and highlighting that part of the city so that it stood out against a perfectly clear sky, washed clean by the storm.

Ahhh Paris.

My Zola Bibliofile:

This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin. This Reading Life acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are our first storytellers.

11 thoughts on “Reading Zola | L’Assommoir – The Wedding Party

  1. Ah, I missed the descriptions of Paris in this book so much.
    On my first read, I also posted some paintings of laundry places. I’ll bet you’d be doing the same! 😉
    You made me regretting for not picking L’Assommoir this year!


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