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The Downfall
Émile Zola
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The Downfall (Les Rougon-Macquart #19)

4.03  ·  Rating Details  ·  663 Ratings  ·  47 Reviews
The story is set against the background of the series of political and military events that ended the reign of Napoléon III and the Second Empire in 1870, in particular the Franco-Prussian War, the Battle of Sedan and the Paris Commune.

The novel starts in the summer of 1870 when, after serious diplomatic tensions, France has declared war on Prussia (the nucleus of Germany,
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Published April 13th 2011 by Robin Michell (first published 1892)
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This is superb. A historical novel about the astonishing failure of the French at Sedan on Prussia's 1870 invasion. I've read it two or three times, and will read it again. What greater praise can there be than that?
Oct 14, 2009 Jim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Emile Zola takes as his subject one of the most searing moments in French history: The defeat at Sedan in the abortive Franco-Prussian War, followed by the Paris Commune, in which the inhabitants of Paris, in effect, rose up and nullified the Versailles government under Adolphe Thiers. The action is seen through the eyes of two soldier friends, Jean Macquart and Maurice Levasseur.

Although the breadth of the subject matter makes it difficult for The Debacle not to appear to be too diffuse, Zola
Mohsen Rajabi
Sep 07, 2015 Mohsen Rajabi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
شکست. در ابتدا چیزی که برایم جالب بود، نام ساده کتاب بود. عادت کرده بودم نام کتابهای زولا، کمی کوبنده یا خاص باشد، مانند گناه کشیش موره، آسوموار (شرابخانه)، نانا و کتاب ویژه او با آن اسم عجیب و غریبش: ژرمینال. اما این یکی، خیلی ساده: شکست. خب، کتاب خیلی مرتب و دستبهسینه مثل شاگردهای مؤدب آن بالا در قفسههای کتابخانه دانشگاه نشسته بود. حجم خوبی داشت (حدود 500 صفحه) و با آن اسم سادهاش اصراری هم در خواندهشدن نداشت. همه اینها باعث شد تا کتاب انتخابی بعدی از زولا، همین باشد.
دیگر این عبارت برایم کهنه ش
Elizabeth (Alaska)
Zola was an admirer of Balzac and wanted to write a similar collection of novels as La Comédie humaine of his hero, but he was unable to quite see how to do it. When the Second Empire of Napoleon III fell in 1870-71, Zola was able to finally formulate his plan. He began with the coup d'etat in 1848 with his The Fortune of the Rougons and wrote through to the collapse of the Empire with La Débâcle. Yes, there is one more in the series, Le Docteur Pascal - I don't expect the drama, but rather a "w ...more
Aug 07, 2008 Greg rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read the Penguin Classics edition, translated by Leonard Tancock, which, I will admit, gave me the liberty to refer to the title as "The Debacle," which I appreciated, as my tongue doesn't work very well in French. The Tancock translation works fine, but it did seem a little rigid at times; the Penguin version of GERMINAL goes by without any effort at all, so I was surprised when I had to work through parts of this book. Maybe the Oxford version is better?

Someone recommended this novel as bei
When I think of war novels, I'm inexorably drawn towards the literature of WWI. Maybe because I've studied them more, maybe because it was the first genuinely modern war, a naive continent wrenched into the brutality of the twentieth century. It's relatively easy to forget that the Great War doesn't have the monopoly on modern European war literature. It seems such a unique experience, at that time when warfare was changing forever, but of course the seeds of those changes in warfare are to be f ...more
Jul 26, 2015 Teresa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The catastrophe of the Franco-Prussian war according to Zola. Even if I went to a French school and I did learn about this war, it is only reading this book that I have realised what it meant for France and its people, as well as for Napoleon III. Zola mercilessly describes the chaos and lack of organisation inside the French army (compared to the efficiency of Prussia), during and before the war. It particularly concentrates on the battle of Sedan, a battle when it became clear that France was ...more
Nancy Burns
Aug 08, 2015 Nancy Burns rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: french
Twitter thoughts...
situational irony...
#Cringe moments reading battle scenes of men and horses being mowed down...

Exhausted after reading Zola's page turner.
Here is my review:
Aaron Arnold
Last year I read Germinal, which was about post-Second Empire coal miners struggling to survive the Industrial Revolution. This volume (#19 of 20) of the Rougon-Macquart universe is set a bit earlier, beginning in 1870 right before the fatal blow to Napoleon III's reign at the infamous Battle of Sedan and finishing at the climax of the Paris Commune. Most of the book is taken up by a sort of buddy movie starring two ordinary French soldiers suffering through the poor organization and even worse ...more
Robert French
On my mother's side, my great grandparents emigrated to the United States in the 1870's. Family stories implied that they emigrated before and possibly because of the Franco-Prussian War. They may also have left to avoid family members from being drafted into the Prussian Army. I recently did some additional research and understand that the conscription of every male Prussian of military age in the event of mobilization was enacted by Albrecht von Roon, the Prussian Minister of War in 1860s. Thi ...more
Mike Clinton
Jun 16, 2011 Mike Clinton rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I went through an arc with this book, which started out slow and uneventful; it must have been Zola's purpose, though, to convey the plodding and desultory sense of aimlessness and helplessness that affected the French soldiers in the lead-up to Sedan. The intricacies of the various sub-plots, the grand sweep and nuances of the historical scenes, the predicaments and personalities of the characters,the vivid and forceful language Zola uses all engrossed me, though, and I became drawn in and comp ...more
Charles Puskas
Sep 20, 2013 Charles Puskas rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Well-researched historical fiction on the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 by a great French novelist, Emile Zola (Germinal). It was written 23 years after the event and the author read a stack of accounts and was able to interview some eyewitnesses. His fictional and quasi-historical characters help you to empathize with those (military and civilian) who experienced this tragic war and its aftermath which was an indirect cause of WW I. Many of his favorite characters suffer or die as he narrates ...more
Aurimas Novikovas
Feb 06, 2013 Aurimas Novikovas rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
So far the finest selection of French literature. Although I`ve enjoyed many novels written by Zola, Proust, Hugo and others, this piece of literature seems to be the best. If you look into it from the point of view of criticism, La Débâcle is undeniably strong. If you look into it from the aesthetic point of view, the book moves one more than one might expect.
E.Zola did a huge research and depicted the maybe ugliest French war in a very precise and fine way. Characters are also exciting, surel
May 10, 2016 Gill rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: unfinished
Book 19 of the Rougon Maquart series. I skim-read this, so I'm marking it as unfinished rather than as read.

I think it would have been of great interest to its French audience at its time of publication, not many years after the FrancoPrussian war.

I enjoyed reading about several characters who had appeared in earlier books in the series. I skimmed very quickly through the parts relating to actual battles. In fact the main violence, comes in a nonbattlefield sequence.

Only 1 book to go!
A powerfull novel about war. Zola puts together a plot with fantastical coincidences. One which is very stereotypical, everything happening in the right order much like in modern day soap-opera.

Nonetheless, the historical events and battles are real. Zola describes the distruction of the war and the destroyed battlefields very vividly. The annoyance of the French over Prussia getting stronger comes trough vividly as does the shock of the invincibly advancing german coalition and the ultimate cap
J.M. Hushour
The penultimate novel in Zola's Les Rougon-Macquart is one of the rare ones I found uninteresting to a certain degree. More than any other of the twenty novels of the series, here Zola immerses himself in his meticulous attention to historical detail. This is arguably necessary from the point of view of his goal writ large: to portray the downfall and final, disastrous end of the Second Empire and Napoleon III. So, yes, yes, he has to cover the endless marches across northern France, Sedan and i ...more
Alex Moran
Sep 15, 2014 Alex Moran rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: france, history
This is the first Zola book I've had the satisfaction of reading and on the whole I came away impressed with the book and the level of detail in his writing in particular.

The story revolves about the Franco-Prussian of 1870 and the socialist Commune in Paris of 1871. In doing so it explores the disorganisation and miscommunication which led to the French defeat before and during the battle of the Sedan. The Prussian occupation and it's affect on the populace is portrayed afterwards.

This is mainl
Steve Gordon
Dec 04, 2011 Steve Gordon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating look at the Franco-Prussian War through the eyes, mostly, of Jean Macquart. My only irritation was Zola's seeming to make the Communards the villains of the fall of Paris.
Jan 17, 2012 Florent rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1870
Bien documenté, un poil long, mais plutôt agréable pour un Zola. L'histoire est bien rythmée. Je n'ai pas lu les 18 premiers tomes de la saga ...
Fanda Kutubuku
Only second after Germinal, The Debacle is the best war novel I've read so far.
The Idiot
Sep 30, 2014 The Idiot rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Definitely in my top 5 books of all time and probably my number one.
Jul 14, 2014 Lucy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant but horrible.
Un des meilleurs Zola selon moi, en tout cas il fait partie de mes préférés.

Les événements décrits dans le livre m'étaient déjà familiers, pour les avoir étudiés à l'école, mais ne m'avaient jamais particulièrement intéressée. A vrai dire, en commençant ma lecture, je craignais de m'ennuyer, n'étant au départ pas fan de récits militaires. Et pourtant, Zola, tout en offrant un récit exact, quasiment journalistique, du déroulement des faits, a su rendre cette part de notre histoire absolument pass
May 03, 2016 Kevin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If I had read Emile Zola's The Debacle in high school, I might have not gone to West Point. Thankfully I read this 121 year old fictional account of the Franco Prussian War (1870-1871) after I left the Army, because the book's graphic accounts of the physical and emotional effects of war on the common soldier would have made me a near-pacifist. The book's depictions of the violence and cruelty and confusion of war were so real that it probably would have been banned if an American author had wri ...more
Well, here we are at the penultimate novel in Zola’s Rougon-Macquart cycle, and what a magnificent novel La Débâcle has turned out to be. Often compared to Tolstoy’s War and Peace it tells the story of how, in Bismarck’s quest to unify a muddle of German states into a united country, he outmanoeuvred the French military and humiliated them in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Under his leadership, Germans overran Alsace and Lorraine, besieged Metz, captured Napoleon at Sedan and triggered the fal ...more
Oct 17, 2015 Anna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
'The Debacle' is Zola’s account of 1870 and 1871, a painful period for France. It is, however, still not as traumatic to read as Germinal, which one doesn’t so much read as attempt to survive. When I started to read 'The Debacle', I was hopeful that it would dwell on the Paris Commune, which I am fascinated by. Sadly, this is not the case and the majority of the narrative concerns the Franco-Prussian war, which France lost in a spectacularly disastrous fashion. Nevertheless, it paints an incredi ...more
sadly, this was the only Zola i read in 2014. that leaves me with only 2 books left in the Rougon-Macquart series (which i should have finished this year, but got lazy).

part of the problem was that the Debacle was just that: i have to say this was the most disappointing of the whole series so far. it's about the prussians and the Paris Commune and war and all the drama that should accompany that, but the first two thirds felt like a tedious history lesson and by the time it warmed up, i was jus
Sep 01, 2013 Jemma rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
As you might expect with Zola, this is a masterpiece of a novel encompassing the personal and political, during the French defeat at Sedan and the Paris Commune. I picked this largely because I have read little about the Commune and even less about Sedan and this seemed like an oversight. The Commune attracts some attention as a proto-Communist revolution but Sedan is something that is largely ignored, despite it being the first of the 3 German assaults on France by essentially the same means. P ...more
Mar 07, 2013 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
J'accuse The Debacle of being another fine Zola novel. I've only been reading him for a couple of years now but really like him. The 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, 2010 ed. includes no fewer than 5 Zola novels, which must rank him near the top of authors in the book. I don't know if he's really the "French Dickens" as I tend to think of him, but I do know that his much vaunted realism is on full display in his account of the ill-fated Franco-Prussian War here. There is a 10 page stretc ...more
Sep 01, 2011 Michael rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I think Zola is soft on the butchers of the Paris Commune, which I wasn't expecting from a famous leftist. I also think the book is much too nationalistic. Certainly it exposes the failures of the French Army and reasons people would revolt against them, but mostly it seems he feels their failure was not fighting Germans well enough. Anyone with a broader internationalist view, like some Communards would have had, is totally lacking from the book. The few communist characters are essentially laz ...more
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  • Cousin Pons
  • Williwaw
  • Covenant With Death
  • The Military Philosophers (A Dance to the Music of Time, #9)
  • The Ship
  • Fair Stood the Wind for France
  • Confederates
  • Death of a Hero
  • Day
  • South Wind
  • Three Soldiers
  • A Flag For Sunrise
  • Bouvard and Pécuchet with The Dictionary of Received Ideas
  • Count Belisarius
Émile François Zola was an influential French novelist, the most important example of the literary school of naturalism, and a major figure in the political liberalization of France.

More than half of Zola's novels were part of a set of 20 books collectively known as Les Rougon-Macquart. Unlike Balzac who in the midst of his literary career resynthesized his work into La Comédie Humaine, Zola from
More about Émile Zola...

Other Books in the Series

Les Rougon-Macquart (1 - 10 of 20 books)
  • The Fortune of the Rougons (Les Rougon-Macquart, #1)
  • La Curée (Les Rougon-Macquart, #2)
  • The Belly of Paris (Les Rougon-Macquart, #3)
  • La Conquête de Plassans
  • La Faute de l'abbé Mouret (Les Rougon-Macquart, #5)
  • Son Excellence Eugène Rougon (Les Rougon-Macquart, #6)
  • L'Assommoir (The Dram Shop) (Les Rougon-Macquart, #7)
  • Une page d'amour (Les Rougon-Macquart, #8)
  • Nana (Les Rougon-Macquart, #9)
  • Pot-Bouille (Les Rougon-Macquart, #10)

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