La Terre  

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"She caught the bull's member in her hand and pulled it up"

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

La Terre (The Earth) is a novel by Émile Zola, published in 1887. It is the fifteenth novel in Zola's Rougon-Macquart series. The action takes place in a rural community in La Beauce, an area of northern France. The novel is connected to the other novels in the series by the main protagonist, Jean Macquart, whose childhood in the south of France was recounted in La Fortune des Rougon, and who will go on to feature prominently in the later novel La Débâcle.

Major themes

In this novel, Zola attempted to show some of the consequences of the division of rural estates in nineteenth-century France. The laws which provided for this, which were enshrined in the Civil Code of 1804 but owed their initiative to the Revolution, were extremely controversial throughout the nineteenth-century. La Terre picks up on a number of contemporaneous obsessions regarding the decline of France under the influence of the Civil Code, including lack of respect for father figures (hence the parricide which concludes the novel) and voluntary sterility to avoid excessive division of estates between numerous heirs (hence the infamous scene of "onanism", in which Françoise and Jean practise coitus interruptus to avoid conceiving a child).

But the novel also deals with more timeless themes: the parallel with the story of Shakespeare's King Lear emphasises the horror of aging and the physical and mental reduction which accompanies it. Above all, the story plays upon the cyclical nature of life and death, contrasting the unending passage of the seasons with the trivial strife of mankind, a contrast encapsulated in the novel's final sentence: "Deaths, seed, and the bread grew out of the earth" ("Des morts, des semences, et le pain poussait de la terre").

Literary significance and screen adaptation

Zola's novel is one of the most graphically violent and, to a lesser extent, sexually explicit novels of the nineteenth century, and caused considerable controversy at the time of its publication. In it, Zola's efforts to expose the unpleasant underside of his contemporary society reached its apogee; none of the other Rougon-Macquart novels features such sensational material. The publication of an English translation of La Terre in 1888 led to the prosecution for obscenity of the publisher, Henry Vizetelly.

The definitive genetic work on La Terre remains Guy Robert's "La Terre" d'Émile Zola (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1952); there is surprisingly little anglophone material published on the novel.

A silent movie shot in rural locations was directed by André Antoine, starring Armand Bour.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "La Terre" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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