The Readers Review: Literature from 1714 to 1910 discussion

The Fortune of the Rougons
This topic is about The Fortune of the Rougons
46 views
2012/13 Group Reads - Archives > The Fortune of the Rougons - Chapter III

Comments Showing 1-20 of 20 (20 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Zulfiya (last edited Aug 28, 2013 09:35PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments This is the thread to discuss chapter III of the first novel in the cycle. I hope you enjoyed this chapter as much as I did. The discussion officially lasts the next ten days, but feel free to post any time.


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Small town politics spiced with family drama is the key topic of the new chapter we are going to discuss for the next ten days. Zola provides an interesting and very explosive combination of local and national political excursus with the ongoing historical description of the Rougons. This chaper is heavily loaded with historical facts and figures, but it might seem dull and boring only at the first sight. Eventually, the historicity of the novel chimes in harmoniously with the family saga.
The novel also provides an interesting perspective on the evolving vocabulary of politics. The Republicans and conservatives are actually opponents in contrast to modern-day America, where these terms have recently merged in popular perception.
Despite the extensive political commentary, personal details are not lost. We learn more about the relationship between Felicite, Pierre, and Eugene. Eugene, working under cover, is trying to consolidate the conservatives that will provide support provincially in case of a successful coup d'etat. He is also quite insightful in perceiving the roles his parents have in the household. Felicite is shrewd and manipulative and always pulls the strings and makes her husband act the way she wants. It is not accidental that Eugene asks his father to trust Felicite at any crucial moment, the advice Pierre ignores in his myopic pigheadedness.
We also learn that the youngest one, Aristide, is a republican and a revolutionary who lambasts local conservative conclave despite nearly daily sessions in the yellow drawing room. Pascal provides the most entertaining foray into the world of the people whose ambition is to become rich (Pierre and Felicite) or return the power to the dying aristocracy. His scientific mind can not help comparing the local conspirators to certain species. His view provides the most entertaining but also the boldest take on the situation. His naturalistic evaluation brilliantly sums up both his opinion and his attitude.


“Talk to them,” his mother used to say in an undertone; “try and make a practice out of these gentlemen.” “I am not a veterinary surgeon,” he at last replied, exasperated.

Personally, Zola's detached view of politics, family, and neutral portrayal of his characters is what makes this novel intriguing. Zola does not take sides, and shows the characters with the objectivity of a reporter. There are no good guys and bad guys. Oh, yes, I know we all take sides, and there are characters I sympathize with and find interesting and appealing, but I ultimately make this decision; no one shows me or tells me whom to like or to dislike. A reader's mind at work, and a very naturalistic view...


Elizabeth (Alaska) Zulfiya wrote: "The novel also provides an interesting perspective on the evolving vocabulary of politics. The Republicans and conservatives are actually opponents in contrast to modern-day America, where these terms have recently merged in popular perception. "

As I have said elsewhere, I have loved learning about the French Revolution through fiction.

The Revolution which began in 1789 was to throw out the monarchy and establish a republic. Thus, the revolutionaries were Republicans. It's been so long since I read A Tale of Two Cities, I can't recall if this term is used there, and I have not yet read Hugo's Les Misérables, but it's definitely on my list. In any case, it might have been in this novel, Zola's first in the series, that this term Republican in France made sense to me.

As to the monarchy, much as we are often led to believe, not everyone was happy about it's overthrow. Just like in the US Revolution, not everyone was in a revolutionary mood and there were many who continued to back the monarchy. This was true especially in Brittany. Balzac writes of this in The Chouans.

After the Revolution succeeded, Napoleon had grander ideas that just being the leader of France. He crowned himself Emperor - he literally place the crown on his own head. I learned this from watching a TV program about the Louvre. There is a large painting of the ceremony, although it includes Napoleon placing the crown on Josephine. The TV program talked about the evolution of the painting and the story behind it.

In any case, history via Waterloo put an end to the Empire and Napoleon was exiled to St. Helena in 1815. The monarchy was restored, the people of Brittany and elsewhere happy. I forget which French king was in power now (or maybe I never knew), but this period of history is the beginning of The Count of Monte Cristo. The intrigue of Napoleon leaving St. Helena is the foundation for the novel.

Napoleon does make it back for approximately 100 days, at which time they threw him out again and this time for good. As a child, I learned the palindrome "Able was I ere I saw Elba" and have always remembered the name of the island where Napoleon was exiled last. At the end of this 100 days, the monarchy was again restored. This period is called the Second Restoration. I believe Charles X was the first monarch of this period, but the one who is most remembered in literature, I think, is Louis-Philippe. Much of Balzac takes place in this period - maybe the earlier period too, I have much of Balzac still in front of me.

Now we come to Rougon-Macquart. The excesses of Louis-Philippe were great and the people small. The people were stirring and republicanism on the rise. Because this had not worked so well before, Republicans were thought to be a bit radical.

Napoleon had a grandson, and there was a movement afoot. Between the coup d'etat and 1850, this grandson became Napoleon III and the Second Empire established. These Napoleon backers must have been thought more conservative than the radical Republicans. I cannot think how else this name must have arisen.


message 4: by Lily (new) - added it

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: "...Napoleon had grander ideas that just being the leader of France. He crowned himself Emperor - he literally place the crown on his own head...."

Here is the link at the Louvre for David's painting, including a bit about its fascinating details (e.g., Napoleon's mother, seated in the gallery, wasn't actually present; a second copy was painted so one for Versailles, one for Paris; very much a propaganda piece,...).

http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notice...

I enjoy selecting the painting and enlarging it to full screen. There are new details to observe and enjoy each time.

Here is a drawing that preceded the painting:

http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notice...


message 5: by Robin P, Moderator (new) - rated it 3 stars

Robin P | 2224 comments Mod
This chapter also offers a contrast to Chapter I. No more starry-eyed young idealists ready to sacrifice for their beliefs - now we have cold calculation of what will bring the most money and power. We also have people choosing sides out of fear.

Zola has an interesting commentary on how the bourgeois, once they have some property and money, turn against the roots they came from, fearing that the rabble will take away their small dominions. The bourgeois end up siding with nobles, royalists or Bonapartists, whoever they think will protect them from the masses.

I thought the comparison of the various attendees to animals was delightful. The doctor is doing what Zola is trying to do, observe humanity scientifically.


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: I have loved learning about the French Revolution through fiction."

I have learned about many historical events through history. The historical background is quite significant in the novel, but it is also intrinsically interwoven with the plot. Furthermore, to me, it looks organic in this novel.


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Robin wrote: "Zola has an interesting commentary on how the bourgeois, once they have some property and money, turn against the roots they came from, fearing that the rabble will take away their small dominions. The bourgeois end up siding with nobles, royalists or Bonapartists, whoever they think will protect them from the masses."

The point that was true then, and it is still true now. As a rule, big money makes people quite conservative, and they forget about their roots and origins.


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Jack wrote: "Zola's sympathies are evident."

I am not sure about it:-) I am sure about my sympathies.

And yes, the animalistic, political motif was quite strong in this chapter.


message 9: by Robin P, Moderator (new) - rated it 3 stars

Robin P | 2224 comments Mod
It's ironic to me that some of those so worried about losing what they have to the revolutionaries don't actually have much, for instance Pierre & Felicite. In their case, it's more what they will get if the right party wins, kind of like betting on the right horse.


message 10: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments By and large, I do not think that ordinary people prosper much in any revolution and if they do it is likely to be 'clogs to clogs in three generations' The implication being that the energy and ability required to raise a person's material status from poverty is often not continued to the third generation, and that the success is therefore not sustained. It will be interesting to see at the end of this cycle of novels, whose success has been sustained.


message 11: by Lisa (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lisa (anzlitlovers) I've been very naughty, I've read the whole thing. I couldn't help myself, I just had to find out what happens...


Elizabeth (Alaska) Lisa wrote: "I've been very naughty, I've read the whole thing. I couldn't help myself, I just had to find out what happens..."

Hard to hold back, isn't it?


message 13: by Lily (new) - added it

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Emlymom wrote: "Thoughts? ..."

I'm a bit confused on relationships, too, at the moment and in a bit of a holding pattern until I read more.


Elizabeth (Alaska) Silvere is the Pierre's nephew by his sister Ursule.


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Emlymom wrote: "Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: "Silvere is the Pierre's nephew by his sister Ursule."

Where is this connection made? I obviously missed it."


Patience, my dear reading friends. The next chapter will be very helpful and will answer many of your questions. I know how you feel. I was in your shoes last week:-)


message 16: by Lisa (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lisa (anzlitlovers) Emlymom wrote: "Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: "Silvere is the Pierre's nephew by his sister Ursule."

Where is this connection made? I obviously missed it."

The Brian Nelson edition has a family tree in it, but there's also one at Wikipedia.


Elizabeth (Alaska) One of the things about looking at the Wiki chart is that it contains spoilers. Death dates to me are spoilers, and in some cases, knowing there is the birth of a child is a spoiler.


message 18: by Lisa (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lisa (anzlitlovers) Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: "One of the things about looking at the Wiki chart is that it contains spoilers. Death dates to me are spoilers, and in some cases, knowing there is the birth of a child is a spoiler."
Yes, that's true. But in this novel, with its abrupt abandonment of the two young people in Chapter One, I was puzzled too, like Emlymom, and (because the timeline is in the Brian Nelson translation) I looked back at it to find out how Silvere fitted in because I also thought I'd missed something.


Wendel (wendelman) | 229 comments The insurrectionary army was continuing its heroic march through the cold, clear country. It was like a mighty wave of enthusiasm. The thrill of patriotism, which transported Miette and Silvere, big children that they were, eager for love and liberty, sped, with generous fervour, athwart the sordid intrigues of the Macquarts and the Rougons. At intervals the trumpet-voice of the people rose and drowned the prattle of the yellow drawing-room and the hateful discourses of uncle Antoine. And vulgar, ignoble farce was turned into a great historical drama.

Zola may strive for scientific detachment, but in politics he is fiercely partisan. While some (and possibly all) republican leaders are disappointing, the republican ideal remains. Writing about the republican Movement, like in the passage above, Zola shows himself a real romantic (again). And there can be no doubt that he loathed Louis Bonaparte, whose coup d'état forms the point of departure of our novel.

Elisabeth has given us @3 a quite good resumé of the history of revolutionary France. When the last French king was overthrown in 1848 the republic was restored with Louis Napoleon (nephew of the former emperor) as its elected president. Soon, however, the republicans fell out which each other and the army threatened to restore order. In December 1851 the president, supported by the army, sent the quarrelling parliamentarians home and restored Bonapartism.

But what is Bonapartism? It goes back to the revolutionary and imperial legacy of Napoleon, combining authoritarian policies with opportunities for the bourgeois, some concessions to the poor (like fixed prices for bread) and a guarantee for the peasants that they would remain in possession of former church land. Bonapartism, with its memories of France dominating Europe, also appealed to national sentiments. And it had enough popular support for Louis Bonaparte to win a plebiscite approving his coup d'état and another one in 1852 allowing him to restore the empire.

Zola was disgusted by the Second Empire, that was nearing its end when he started writing the Rougon-Maquart in the late sixties. It was, however, Bismarck's Germany that buried it in 1870, not the French republicans. The irony was that Bonapartism actually had much in common with its Bismarckian enemy - both these authoritarian regimes striving for mass support are sometimes seen as precursors to fascism. The milieu represented by Pierre and Felicité would be the breeding ground of the ultra right in the 20th century, while the condescending support by the aristocracy and the duplicity of the clergy is also familiar to students of fascism.


message 20: by Lisa (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lisa (anzlitlovers) Wendel wrote: "The insurrectionary army was continuing its heroic march through the cold, clear country. It was like a mighty wave of enthusiasm. The thrill of patriotism, which transported Miette and Silvere, bi..."
Thank you, Wendel, for clarifying the meaning of Bonapartism and drawing the links with C20th fascism. That makes sense to me...


back to top