Les Rougon-Macquart  

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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.

Les Rougon-Macquart is the collective title given to a cycle of twenty novels by French writer Émile Zola. Subtitled Histoire naturelle et sociale d'une famille sous le Second Empire (Natural and social history of a family during the Second Empire), it follows the life of a fictional family living during the Second French Empire (1852–1870) and is an example of French naturalism.

Contents

Influences

Early in his life, Zola discovered the work of Honoré de Balzac and his famous cycle La Comédie humaine. This had a profound impact on Zola, who decided to write his own, unique cycle. However, in 1869, he explained in Différences entre Balzac et moi, why he would not make the same kind of book as Balzac:

"In one word, his work wants to be the mirror of the contemporary society. My work, mine, will be something else entirely. The scope will be narrower. I don't want to describe the contemporary society, but a single family, showing how the race is modified by the environment. (...) My big task is to be strictly naturalist, strictly physiologist."

As a naturalist writer, Zola was highly interested by science and especially the problem of heredity and evolution. He notably read and mentioned the work of the doctor Prosper Lucas, Claude Bernard, and Charles Darwin as references for his own work. This led him to think that people are heavily influenced by heredity and their environment. He intended to prove this by showing how these two factors could influence the members of a family. In 1871, in the preface of La Fortune des Rougon, he explained his intent:

"The great characteristic of the Rougon-Macquarts, the group or family which I propose to study, is their ravenous appetite, the great outburst of our age which rushes upon enjoyment. Physiologically the Rougon-Macquarts represent the slow succession of accidents pertaining to the nerves or the blood, which befall a race after the first organic lesion, and, according to environment, determine in each individual member of the race those feelings, desires and passions—briefly, all the natural and instinctive manifestations peculiar to humanity—whose outcome assumes the conventional name of virtue or vice."

Preparations

In a letter to his publisher, Zola stated his goals for the Rougon-Macquart: "1° To study in a family the questions of blood and environments. [...] 2° To study the whole Second Empire, from the coup d'état to nowadays."

Genealogy and heredity

Since his first goal was to show how heredity can affect the lives of descendants, Zola started working on the Rougon-Macquart by drawing the family tree for the Rougon-Macquart. Though it was to be modified many times over the years, with some members appearing or disappearing, the original tree shows how Zola planned the whole cycle before writing the first book.

The tree provides the name and date of birth of each member, along with certain properties of his heredity and his life:

  • The prepotency : The prepotency is a term used by the doctor Lucas. It is part of a biological theory that tries to determine how heredity transmits traits through generations. ola apply this theory to the mental state of his protagonists and uses terms from the work of the doctor Lucas: Election du père (Prepotency of the father, meaning the father is the main influence on the child), Election de la mère (Prepotency of the mother), Mélange soudure (Fusion of the 2 parents) or Innéité (No influence from either parent).
  • Physical likeness: Whether the member looks like his mother or his father.
  • Biographical information: his job and important facts of his life. Additionally, for members still living at the end of Le Docteur Pascal, their place of living at the end of the cycle may be included. Otherwise, the date of death is included.

Note : The gallery doesn't include the tree made for La Bete Humaine which included for the first time Jacques, the main protagonist of the book

For example, the entry for Jean Macquart on the 1878 tree read : Jean Macquart, né en 1831 - Election de la mère - Ressemblance physique du père. Soldat (Jean Macquart, born in 1831 - Prepotency of the mother - Physical likeness to his father. Soldier)

The study of the Second Empire

To study the Second Empire, Zola thought of each novel as a novel about a specific aspect of the life in his time. For example, in the list he made in 1872, he intended to make a "political novel", a "novel about the defeat", "a scientific novel" and a "novel about the war in Italy". The first three ideas will respectively lead to Son Excellence Eugène Rougon, La Débâcle and Le Docteur Pascal. However, the last one will never be made into a book.

Indeed, at the beginning, Zola didn't know exactly how many books he would write. In the first letter to his publisher, he mentioned "ten episodes". In 1872, his list included seventeen novels, but some of them will never be made (such as the one on the war in Italy) and others will be added later on. In 1877, in the preface of L'Assommoir, he stated that he was going to write "about twenty novels". In the end, he settled for twenty books.

Story

Almost all of the main protagonists for each novel are introduced in the first book, La Fortune des Rougon. The last novel in the cycle, Le Docteur Pascal, contains a lengthy chapter that ties up loose ends from the other novels. In between, there is no "best sequence" in which to read the novels in the cycle, as they are not in chronological order and indeed are impossible to arrange into such an order. Although some of the novels in the cycle are direct sequels to one another, many of them follow on directly from the last chapters of La Fortune des Rougon, and there is a great deal of chronological overlap between the books; there are numerous recurring characters and several of them make "guest" appearances in novels centered on other members of the family.

The Rougon-Macquart

The Rougon-Macquart family begins with Adelaïde Fouque. Born in 1768 in the fictional Provençal town Plassans to middle-class parents (members of the French "bourgeoisie"), she has a slight mental deficiency. She marries Rougon, and gives birth to a son, Pierre Rougon. However, she also has a lover, the smuggler Macquart, with whom she has two children: Ursule and Antoine Macquart. This means that the family is split in three branches:

  • The first, legitimate, one is the Rougons branch. They are the most successful of the children. Most of them live in the upper classes (such as Eugene Rougon who becomes a minister) or/and have a good education (such as Pascal, the doctor which is the main protagonist of Le Docteur Pascal).
  • The second branch is the low-born Macquarts. They are blue-collar workers (L'Assommoir), farmers (La Terre), or soldiers (La Débâcle).
  • The third branch is the Mourets (the name of Ursule Macquart's husband). They are a mix of the others two. They are middle-class people and tend to live more balanced lives than the others.

Because Zola believed that everyone is driven by their heredity, Adelaide's children show signs of the their mother's original deficiency. For the Rougon, this manifests as a drive for power, money, and excess in life. For the Macquarts, who live in a difficult environment, it is manifested by alcoholism (L'Assommoir), prostitution (Nana), and homicide (La Bête humaine). Even the Mourets are marked to a certain degree; in La Faute de l'Abbé Mouret, the priest Serge Mouret has to fight his desire for a young woman.


                                      ┌─ Eugène Rougon      ┌─ Maxime Rougon Saccard ──── Charles Rougon Saccard
                                      │     1811-?          │     1840-1873                  1857-1873
                                      │                     │
                                      ├─ Pascal Rougon      ├─ Clotilde Rougon Saccard ── A child
                                      │     1813-1873       │     1847-?                     1874-?
                                      │                     │
                 ┌─ Pierre Rougon ────┼─ Aristide Rougon ───┴─ Victor Rougon Saccard
                 │    1787-1870       │     1815-?                1853-?
                 │                    │
                 │                    ├─ Sidonie Rougon ────── Angélique Rougon Saccard
                 │                    │     1818-?                1851-1869
                 │                    │
                 │                    └─ Marthe Rougon ───┐ ┌─ Octave Mouret ──── Two children
                 │                          1819-1864     │ │     1840-
                 │                                        │ │
                 │                                        ├─┼─ Serge Mouret ───── A son and a daughter
                 │                                        │ │     1841-?
                 │                                        │ │
                 │                    ┌─ François Mouret ─┘ └─ Désirée Mouret
                 │                    │     1817-1864            1844-?
                 │                    │
Adélaïde Fouque ─┼─ Ursule Macquart ──┼─ Hélène Mouret ────── Jeanne Grandjean
   1768-1873     │     1791-1839      │     1824-?               1842-1855
                 │                    │
                 │                    └─ Silvère Mouret
                 │                          1834-1851
                 │
                 │                    ┌─ Lisa Macquart ─────── Pauline Quenu
                 │                    │     1827-1863             1852-?
                 │                    │
                 │                    │                     ┌─ Claude Lantier ─── Jacques-Louis Lantier
                 │                    │                     │     1842-1870          1860-1869
                 │                    │                     │
                 └─ Antoine Macquart ─┼─ Gervaise Macquart ─┼─ Jacques Lantier
                       1789-1873      │     1829-1869       │     1844-1870
                                      │                     │
                                      │                     ├─ Étienne Lantier ── A daughter
                                      │                     │     1846-?
                                      │                     │
                                      │                     └─ Anna Coupeau dite Nana ───── Louis Coupeau named Louiset
                                      │                           1852-1870          1867-1870
                                      │
                                      └─ Jean Macquart ─────── Two children
                                            1831-?

View of France under Napoleon III

As a naturalist, Zola also gave detailed descriptions of urban and rural settings, and different types of businesses. Le Ventre de Paris, for example, has a detailed description of the cheese market in Paris at the time.

As a political reflection of life under Napoleon III, the novel La Conquête de Plassans looks at how an ambitious priest infiltrates a small Provence town one family at a time, starting with the Rougons. La Débâcle takes place during the 1870 Franco-Prussian War and depicts Napoleon III's downfall. Son Excellence also looks at political life, and Pot-Bouille and Au Bonheur des Dames look at middle class life in Paris.

Note that Zola wrote the novels after the fall of Napoleon III.

List of the novels

In an "Introduction" of his last novel, Le Docteur Pascal, Zola gave a recommended reading order, although it is not required, each novel stands on its own. The reading order recommended by Zola can be found in Ernest Alfred Vizetelly's Emile Zola, novelist and reformer: an account of his life & work

The novels in the cycle, in order of publication in the original French, are as follows:

  1. La Fortune des Rougon (1871)
  2. La Curée (1871-2)
  3. Le Ventre de Paris (1873)
  4. La Conquête de Plassans (1874)
  5. La Faute de l'Abbé Mouret (1875)
  6. Son Excellence Eugène Rougon (1876)
  7. L'Assommoir (1877)
  8. Une Page d'amour (1878)
  9. Nana (1880)
  10. Pot-Bouille (1882)
  11. Au Bonheur des Dames (1883)
  12. La Joie de vivre (1884)
  13. Germinal (1885)
  14. L'Œuvre (1886)
  15. La Terre (1887)
  16. Le Rêve (1888)
  17. La Bête humaine (1890)
  18. L'Argent (1891)
  19. La Débâcle (1892)
  20. Le Docteur Pascal (1893)

Almost all of the main protagonists for each novel are introduced in the first book, La Fortune des Rougon. The last novel in the cycle, Le Docteur Pascal, contains a lengthy chapter tying up virtually all the loose ends from the other novels. In between, there is no "best sequence" in which to read the novels in the cycle, as they are not in chronological order and indeed are impossible to arrange into such an order. Although some of the novels in the cycle are direct sequels to one another, many of them follow on directly from the last chapters of La Fortune des Rougon, and there is a great deal of chronological overlap between the books; there are numerous recurring characters and several of them make "guest" appearances in novels centred on other members of the family.

All 20 of the novels have been translated into English under various titles (details of which are listed under each novel's individual entry), but some of the translations are out of print or badly outdated and censored. Excellent modern English translations are widely available for nine of the most popular novels in the cycle and more are being commissioned all the time.

Part of the reason for creating a 20-novel saga was to explore both the drives of human nature, as well as life during the Second Empire under Napoleon III. The Rougon-Macquart cycle looks at two sides of a family--the legitimate Rougons and the illegitimate line of Macquarts. Zola tried to link heredity with behavior. So, we have the high-born Rougons involved in politics (Son Excellence Eugène Rougon) and medicine (Le Docteur Pascal) and the low-born Macquarts involved in alcoholism (L'Assommoir), prostitution (Nana), and homicide (La Bête humaine). To a certain degree, readers can see the criminal aspects of the characters as being as much a part of their economic circumstances as their genetics. As a naturalist, Zola also gave detailed descriptions of urban and rural settings, and different types of businesses. Le Ventre de Paris, for example, has a detailed description of the cheese market in Paris at the time. This is built upon Balzac's Comédie humaine concept, which also charted different parts of French life.

As a political reflection of life under Napoleon III, the novel La Conquête de Plassans looks at how an ambitious priest infiltrates a small Provence town one family at a time, starting with the Rougons. La Débâcle takes place during the 1870 Franco-Prussian War and depicts Napoleon III's downfall. Son Excellence also looks at political life, and Pot-Bouille and Au Bonheur des Dames look at middle class life in Paris.

Zola wrote the novels after the fall of Napoleon III.





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