The Émile Zola Tag #Zoladdiction2023

Fanda @ClassicLit is once again hosting Zoladdiction month throughout April. This year she has included a fun questionaire to take us away from our books! You don’t have to be reading a Zola this April to join in the tag either. The questions are designed to entice afficionados and those new-to-Zola as well.

My first introduction to Émile Zola?

It was The Classics Club that first introduced me to Zola.

My curiousity was piqued when I heard about a French naturalism writer creating a series of stories about one family set during the Second French Empire. Not long after, in 2013, Fanda announced her first Zoladdiction. I downloaded a copy of Germinal on my iPad…and struggled w i t h e v e r y s i n g l e w o r d.

I gave up after a couple of chapters.

The first problem was reading a hefty classic on a device. I dislike reading screens for stories, except for short stories or novellas if I must. A classic is something I usually like to underline, flipping to & from the notes at the back and rereading sections for clarity. I cannot do this on a laptop, phone or other device.

Second problem turned out to be the translation. It took me a couple of years to track down a translation of Germinal that I liked. In the meantime, for Fanda’s next Zoladdiction in 2014, I successfully read Nana all the way through.

The passion for defiling things was inborn in her. It was not enough for her to destroy them, she had to soil them too.

Do you read Zola’s randomly, or do you follow a certain, or even your own, order?

My first two Zola’s were random, selected because they were often cited as ‘favourites’ by other bloggers (Germinal and Nana). But then I decided I wanted to read the entire Rougon-Macquart series in publication order.

I am now up to the seventh book, L’Assommoir.

When I get to Nana and Germinal again, I plan to reread them (because I can!!) I have also acquired a new translation of Nana (the 2020 OUP edition translated by Helen Constantine) and I’m keen to compare it with George Holden’s Penguin Classics edition that I originally read.

A ruined man fell from her hands like a ripe fruit, to lie rotting on the ground.

What do you like and/or dislike about Zola? It can be his works, views, or personality. Or if you’ve just found Zola: What makes you decided to read Zola?

I love Zola’s attention to detail. The street names & shops that existed at that time, the slang used by his characters, the clothes they wore, the food they ate, their opinions and habits. I feel like I’m right there.

I also love learning about a period of history with which I’m not overly familiar.

My one beef with Zola, though, is his strict adherence to his theories about Nature & Nurture. He never allows for someone from a poor upbringing to turn their life around for the better; to overcome the odds. Likewise none of the ‘better off’ characters end up making a complete mess of their lives. It would seem that environment is everything to Zola and that individuals are unable to escape the socio-political class they are born into.

If you must spend a day with one character from Zola’s books, who would you rather be with? And what would both of you would do? (This is hard, I know! Zola didn’t create many loveable characters 🤭)

Having only read nine of the books so far it may be too soon to pick a favourite. Or a friend!

I’m currently enjoying Gervaise Macquart’s company. She’s kind, generous, hard working, and loves good food & company, but obviously things are about to go pear-shaped for her.

I would love to spend an afternoon driving a horse-drawn carriage through the Bois de Boulogne with Renée and Maxime, as described in the first chapter of La Curée.

To her right, a slow procession of shrubs and small trees with reddish foliage and slender branches slipped past. On the bridle path reserved for riders, narrow-waisted gentlemen occasionally galloped by on horses whose hooves raised small clouds of fine sand.

To the left, flower beds of various shapes dotted the lawn that sloped down to the quiet lake, which was crystal clear, free of algae, and neatly edged as if by a gardener’s spade. From the far side of its mirror surface rose two islands, joined by the gray hyphen of a bridge, above which loomed charming cliffs whose theatrical rows of fir and other evergreens stood out against the pale sky, while reflections of their dark foliage on the water’s surface resembled the fringes of curtains artfully draped over the horizon.

This little patch of nature, with its air of a freshly painted backdrop, lay immersed in a pale shadow, a bluish haze that added a finishing touch of exquisite charm, of delightful falsity, to the distances.

On the other shore, the Chalet des Iles, looking freshly polished, gleamed like a brand-new toy. Snaking through the lawns of the park and around the lake, ribbons of yellow sand, narrow paths lined with the cast-iron branches of lampposts in imitation of a rustic copse, stood out in this final hour in the strangest way against the softened green of water and grass.

The Kill | Emile Zola
Translated by Arthur Goldhammer (2005)
Bois de Bolougne, Jean Béraud, undated [wikiart]

Name one of Zola’s books you would recommend others to read! Or if you haven’t read him, which book would you like to start with?

Germinal is such a powerful reading experience, it’s the one I recommend to everyone. It’s not the working class mining story you think it’s going to be. But research the translation that suits you best. I enjoyed the translation by Raymond N. MacKenzie (2011) but did not get on with Havelock Ellis (1894) at all.

Other possibilities include L.W. Tancock (1954), Peter Collier (1993) and Roger Pearson (2004).

the monster swallowing down its daily ration of human flesh, the cages emerging, then plunging downward again, engulfing thier loads of men without stopping, gulping them down like a voracious giant.

If you don’t believe me, read what Alok @The Melancholy of Resistance has to say about their first time with Germinal!

You were invited in one of Zola’s soirees (Zola’s famous literary dinners of Naturalism writers) at Médan tonight. You may listen to all the conversation/discussion, but you’re only allowed to suggest one topic – what would that be?

I had been mulling over my question about Free Will vs Zola’s determined stance on Determinism, when I checked Fanda’s tag only to see she had beaten me to it!

So instead, I would like to ask Zola about Paul Cézanne.

In 1861 Zola posed for a portrait, but Cézanne became frustrated and upset with his work, eventually slashing the canvas in front of Zola. Zola calmed him down and took him out to lunch. But what about the portrait? Did Zola get to see it before Cézanne hacked into it? What was wrong with it?

And what did Zola think of the painting that Cézanne eventually painted of him around 1870?

Paul Alexis reading to Zola | Paul Cézanne c1870 [wikiart]

What is your least favourite book from Zola?

So far it is La Faute de l’Abbé Mouret (1875) The Sin of Father Mouret. Way too heavy-handed with the religious metaphors for my liking.

He was possessed now with that obsession for the cross in which so many lips have worn themselves away on crucifixes.

Have you read any book/work by other authors about Zola? Biography, companion book, essay, historical fiction, etc. Share them, please! (It may inspire others). If you haven’t, would you like to?

  • Brian Nelson | Émile Zola: A Very Short Introduction (2020)
    • a great way to get a quick bio and insight into Zola’s writing.
  • The Disappearance of Émile Zola: Love, Literature and the Dreyfus Affair by Michael Rosen was a book I did not finish.
    • I realised that I did not like the Zola portrayed by Rosen.
    • He may have been a man of his time, having a wife and a mistress at his beck and call, he may have even loved both of them in his own way, but it was so obvious that this was a completely unsatisfactory and unhappy arrangement for both women, that I struggled to read any more and still hold on to my enjoyment of reading his books.

Of the Rougons, the Macquarts, and the Mourets, which family do you like best? Why? (wrong-answers are acceptable 😜)

The Macquarts.

The lead such destitute, desperate lives. But before they shuffle off this mortal coil (usually in a rather grand, OTT way), they have a bloody good time, raging against injustice and telling a few hometruths about French society along the way.

Your favourite Zola’s quote(s) ?

This one from The Belly of Paris is certainly up there.

When Zola writes about food, you know it. Odours, textures, sights and sounds float off the page overwhelming your senses. As a cheese lover, I’ve always thought someone should write a symphony about the pleasure of eating good cheese. Zola came close with this stunning piece of writing!

They all looked at each other cautiously. As they were all rather short of breath by this time, it was the camembert they could smell. This cheese, with its gamy odour, had overpowered the milder smells of the marolles and the limbourg; its power was remarkable. Every now and then, however, a slight whiff, a flute-like note, came from the parmesan, while the bries came into play with their soft, musty smell, the gentle sound, so to speak, of a damp tambourine. The livarot launched into an overwhelming reprise, and the géromé kept up the symphony with a sustained high note.

Photo by Azzedine Rouichi on Unsplash
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.

8 thoughts on “The Émile Zola Tag #Zoladdiction2023

  1. Hm… the copy of Germinal I have is from 1962 with the translation by Willard Trask. I guess you don’t know that one. It is also a daunting 437 pages of VERY small print…


    1. Yes it is a long book, like most of Zola’s novels. I think they are worth it (with a translation that works for you).

      I only did a quick search for translators to give an example of favourites that other people had mentioned. I believe there are probably over a dozen different French to English translations of Germinal!
      I’ll add your one to my list 😊

      Liked by 1 person

    1. He was one of the first writers to describe working class conditions in all it’s squalor. The books often start off fun, or promising for the characters, but then they inevitably go to bad. Zola saw this as realism, the result of the environment they lived in. I believe he hoped this would spur on governments and officials to work towards improving the quality of life for those less fortunate – improve housing, health care, education, work conditions etc.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That’s a good question for the soiree, but wait until you read The Masterpiece, your question must have changed a little then, and that would be mostly interesting! 😉

    Spending time with Maxime and Renee to Bois de Boulogne would be very nice!


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