Emasculation of a corpse in Germinal  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

In Zola's novel, Germinal, there is a shopkeeper named Maigrat who has the community in debt bondage with his company store. One day, fleeing from an angry mob, Maigrat breaks his neck falling from a roof. After his fall, the mob puts soil in his mouth and one old woman, la Brûlé, suggests that they castrate him like a tomcat. After the castration, the severed genitals of Maigrat are put on a pole by la Brûlé and carried triumphantly through the streets. This scene is omitted from Havelock Ellis's translation.

French original

Faut le couper comme un matou !

— Oui, oui ! au chat ! au chat !… Il en a trop fait, le salaud !

Déjà, la Mouquette le déculottait, tirait le pantalon, tandis que la Levaque soulevait les jambes. Et la Brûlé, de ses mains sèches de vieille, écarta les cuisses nues, empoigna cette virilité morte. Elle tenait tout, arrachant, dans un effort qui tendait sa maigre échine et faisait craquer ses grands bras. Les peaux molles résistaient, elle dut s’y reprendre, elle finit par emporter le lambeau, un paquet de chair velue et sanglante, qu’elle agita, avec un rire de triomphe :

— Je l’ai ! je l’ai !

Des voix aiguës saluèrent d’impréciations l’abominable trophée. — Ah ! bougre, tu n’empliras plus nos filles !

— Oui, c’est fini de te payer sur la bête, nous n’y passerons plus toutes, à tendre le derrière pour avoir un pain.

— Tiens ! je te dois six francs, veux-tu prendre un acompte ? moi, je veux bien, si tu peux encore !

Cette plaisanterie les secoua d’une gaieté terrible. Elles se montraient le lambeau sanglant, comme une bête mauvaise, dont chacune avait eu à souffrir, et qu’elles venaient d’écraser enfin, qu’elles voyaient là, inerte, en leur pouvoir. Elles crachaient dessus, elles avançaient leurs mâchoires, en répétant, dans un furieux éclat de mépris :

— Il ne peut plus ! il ne peut plus !… Ce n’est plus un homme qu’on va foutre dans la terre… Va donc pourrir, bon à rien !

La Brûlé, alors, planta tout le paquet au bout de son bâton ; et, le portant en l’air, le promenant ainsi qu’un drapeau, elle se lança sur la route, suivie de la débandade hurlante des femmes. Des gouttes de sang pleuvaient, cette chair lamentable pendait, comme un déchet de viande à l’étal d’un boucher. En haut, à la fenêtre, Mme Maigrat ne bougeait toujours pas ; mais sous la dernière lueur du couchant, les défauts brouillés des vitres déformaient sa face blanche, qui semblait rire. Battue, trahie à chaque heure, les épaules pliées du matin au soir sur un registre, peut-être riait-elle, quand la bande des femmes galopa, avec la bête mauvaise, la bête écrasée, au bout d’un bâton.

Cette mutilation affreuse s’était accomplie dans une horreur glacée. Ni Étienne, ni Maheu, ni les autres n’avaient eu le temps d’intervenir : ils restaient immobiles, devant ce galop de furies. Sur la porte de l’estaminet Tison, des têtes se montraient, Rasseneur blême de révolte, et Zacharie, et Philomène, stupéfiés d’avoir

Havelock ellis translation

But this affection for his goods struggled furiously against his fear; he recoiled from the fight with coward- ice. All at once a louder blow from the axe decided him. Avarice carried the day; he and his wife would cover the sacks with their bodies sooner than yield a loaf of bread.

Shouts broke out at once:

"Look! Look! . . . The monkey's there! Go for him!"

The mob had just perceived Maigrat upon the roof of the shed. Though a heavy man he had climbed the fence with alacrity, without caring for the breaking wood; and now he had flattened himself out along the tiles, trying to reach the window. But the slope was very steep and his nails were torn away. Nevertheless he would have dragged himself up to the top, if he had not begun to tremble with a fear of being stoned; for the crowd beneath him still continued to cry:

" Go for himl We'll cut him to pieces! "

Suddenly, losing his hold, he rolled like a ball and fell upon the wall, and from there dropped over on one side of the road, with his skull fractured. His brains gushed out; he was dead. His wife, up-stairs, pale and trembling behind the window panes, had seen the whole occurrence.

At first a stupor came upon them. Etienne paused with the axe still in his hand. Mahue, Levaque and the others, forgetting the shop, turned their eyes to- ward the wall from which slowly ran a small red stream. The cries ceased; a shivering silence came in the grow- ing shadows.

But suddenly the cries again commenced. It was the women alone this time.

"It served him right!"

They surrounded the still warm dead body; they lauglied at him, spitting in the face of the dead the hatred of their long life without bread.

"I owed you sixty francs; there you are paid, thief!" said la Mahue. "You'll not refuse my credit any more. Wait till I fatten you more!"

With her ten fingers she tore up the earth, and tak- ing her two hands full she stuffed it in the dead man's mouth.

"Eat, now! eat! you who were eating us!"

The insults increased; they all seemed wild; while the dead man, lying on his back, steadily stared with his large open eyes up into the immense sky from which night was falling. That earth stuffed in his mouth was the bread he had refused them, and that was the only bread he would eat now; it had not brought him happi- ness to starve the poor people. Up at the window, the Avidow Maigrat never moved; but under the last light of the setting sun, the imperfections in the window glass spotted her pale face which seemed to smile. Beaten every hour, her shoulders bent from morning until night over the register, perhaps she was happy at the thought of her ended sufferings.

In frozen horror, Etienne and Mahue had looked on, without interfering. Then, as the women ran oS, they stood motionless, looking after those furies. At the door of Tison's saloon, heads were thrust out. Ras- seneur pale with rage, Jouvarine with eyes shining like candles, and Zachaire, Moquet and Philomene, stupefied by the horrible spectacle they had seen. The two old men, Bonnemort and Moque, seriously shook their heads. Jeanlin alone laughed.

Etienne again flourished the axe. But the horror could not be cast oiï ; that dead body lay across the road, protecting the shop ; many moved away. It seemed a recompense, which quieted them all. Maheu remained quiet, but a voice said in his ear, "Run away." He turned and recognized Catherine, still in her man's coat, dirty and out of breath. With a gesture, he pushed her away. He did not wish to listen to her, and threatened to beat her. Then she was in despair and, after hesitating a little, ran to Etienne :

"Run away! run away! here are the gendarmes."

He also drove her away, abusing her, as he felt the blood rush to his cheek from the slap she had given him. But she was not discouraged. She made him throw down the axe. She pulled him away with both arms with an irresistible strength.

" Won't you listen to me, when I tell you the gen- darmes are coming? It's Cheval, who has gone to get them, if you want to know. It disgusted me, so I came to warn you. Save yourself. I don't want them to take you."

At that instant the heavy sound of horses' feet was heard and the cry burst forth: " The gendarmes! the gendarmes!" They ran off so quickly that in two min- utes the road was free, absolutely clear, as if swept by a storm. The corpse of Maigrat made the only dark spot upon the white earth. At the door of the Tison saloon there only remained Rasseneur, who applauded the arrival of the gendarmes; while in deserted Mont- son the rich people remained behind closed shutters, covered with a cold perspiration, and their teeth chatter- ing. The plain spread out under the dark night, there were only the high furnaces and coke fires burning in the dark sky. The heavy galop of the gendarmes was coming nearer; they rushed on without being distin- guishable, in a durk mass. And behind them in their care, the carriage of the pastry cook of Marchiennes at last arrived; a cart from which jumped a cook boy, who, with a quiet air began to unpack the dessert^ the pastry, and the vol-au-vent.

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