The Readers Review: Literature from 1714 to 1910 discussion

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Buddy Reads Archives > The Ladies' Paradise - Week 3 - Ch 9-12

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message 1: by Robin P, Moderator (new)

Robin P | 2065 comments Mod
Just opening up this thread since I'll be away from my computer most of the weekend. Feel free to add comments as you read the section.


message 2: by Phrodrick (last edited Sep 07, 2019 07:12PM) (new)

Phrodrick Last time was an exterior shot of the real Bon Marche
This is an inside shot of same
image: description


message 3: by Phrodrick (new)

Phrodrick Some more
image: description


message 4: by Phrodrick (new)

Phrodrick In my text a paragraph on pf 224 Chapt 9 got me looking up terms and clothes

Silk Surahs Checked Surahs and taffetas are among the dressiest fabrics offered for street and even for semi-ceremonious gowns. In some varieties of taffeta white is associated in the checks with heliotrope, old-rose, cerise, garnet, blue, black or brown; and in others the checks are woven in three harmoniously contrasting colors, such as tan, brown, and olive, green, brown and blue, cardinal, stone and silver-gray, or heliotrope, tan and olive. A brown-and-white checked taffeta is pleasingly marked with spaced white feather-edged stripes that produce the effect of applied stripes of ribbon.
https://historicalsewing.com/1894-sum...

https://historicalsewing.com/1894-sum...
Pongee silk is here illustrated, and cresson silk and oriental lace flouncing are conspicuous features of the garniture. A knife-plaiting of pongee trims the edge of the four-gored skirt, and above the plaiting the skirt is covered to the required depth by the drapery with gathered flounces of the lace.

image: description

From Wiki:
Tussar silk (alternatively spelled as tussah, tushar, tassar,[1] tussore, tasar, tussur, tusser and also known as (Sanskrit) kosa silk) is produced from larvae of several species of silkworms belonging to the moth genus Antheraea, including A. assamensis, A. mylitta, A. paphia, A. pernyi, A. roylei and A. yamamai. These silkworms live in the wild forests in trees belonging to Terminalia species and Shorea robusta as well as other food plants like jamun and oak found in South Asia, eating the leaves of the trees they live on.[2][3] Tussar silk is valued for its rich texture and natural deep gold colour, and varieties are produced in many countries, including China,[4] India, Japan, and Sri Lanka.

image: description


message 5: by Phrodrick (new)

Phrodrick Does this make sense or just my lack of French
From A Tale of Two Cities Madam Leforge Whom I remember as an unpleasant revenge filled person and
The Ladies' Paradise Madame Desforges


message 6: by Robin P, Moderator (new)

Robin P | 2065 comments Mod
Phrodrick wrote: "Does this make sense or just my lack of French
From A Tale of Two Cities Madam Leforge Whom I remember as an unpleasant revenge filled person and
The Ladies' Paradise Madame Desforges"


In Tale of Two Cities, it's Madame Defarge. That could have been in Zola's mind.

It's so unfair that Denise is disliked at first because she is bad at her job and later because she is good at it. When she is fired, she only survives because of a patron, the old man who houses and employs her and watches Pepe. It was a nice turn, though surprising, to find someone helpful, when most of Paris is competing with each other.

The wrath of the small shopkeepers who refuse to sell their space to the Paradise is kind of amusing. The same thing happens today, in that apartment or business building owners can start "improvements" that render the spaces practically unusable. Once the tenants leave, they can jack up the prices for new people.


message 7: by Robin P, Moderator (new)

Robin P | 2065 comments Mod
Great pictures, Phodrick!


message 8: by Brian (new)

Brian Reynolds | 696 comments This section was a fun and interesting section and I have to admit I'm not sure how this will end, especially since its a 'naturalist' book.

The French versus Victorian culture contrast is interesting, when comparing the more openly discussed sexual conduct here versus the Trollope novels. The choices presented to Denise seem to be either sexual conquest or wife. She loves Mouret but refuses to be his sexual mistress, but also doesn't believe she can be his wife. There appears to be no option for casual dating to check each other out, so we are at impasse I guess.

I have often found the characters' values in French novels to be a little disconcerting at times. The level of interpersonal backstabbing and amorality is similarly disconcerting in this book. However, I do find the characters in this book quite interesting and enjoyable, especially the heroine, Denise.


message 9: by Phrodrick (new)

Phrodrick Among other things I notice is the total lack of concern for labor. Arbitrary and capricious hire fire is the rule and no one questions.

As for the back biting and amorality never struck me as anything but believable. Now, then, French or you name it.

As for casual dating,
The entire relationship as a false ring to it. Mouret is in love with a person of who he knows only that she is not easy. Denise is oin love with an icon having no known to her anything except god like power over all he sees.

Consider the modern problems of the lord super high owner dating a shop girl , even if a near first line supervisor. The hypothetical he is up against company non dating rules and the ever looming threat that he used the power imbalance to subsume her right to choose.

She has every reason to believe they have noting in common.
Oddly, what we know of Octave is that he is a guy from the country with great business skills. If he has refined taste or is mere nouveau riche, we do not even know. Likely had they met away from business they would have far more in common and emotional compatibility than in the circumstance Zola has dictated.


message 10: by Robin P, Moderator (last edited Sep 11, 2019 07:33AM) (new)

Robin P | 2065 comments Mod
Of course, no rules existed about sexual harassment or not fraternizing with your employees. Everyone thought it was normal for the boss to pick out women from his staff. I was struck by how the employees had to work on their one day off, Sunday, to do inventory. I'm sure they weren't paid any overtime rate. With so many employees, this place was ripe for a union. If they all refused to work, the store would lose so much money and couldn't replace everyone quickly. But this was too early for a union.

I think I may have made the weekly portion rather long this time. I haven't gotten through it yet myself. I was impressed with Mouret's marketing ideas, including:
Giving the impression the store is packed at all times
Lowering prices on older merchandise, even selling at a loss
Trying to understand the mind of his clients (like Amazon now)
Making clients go all through the store (like Ikea does)


message 11: by Brian (last edited Sep 11, 2019 01:25PM) (new)

Brian Reynolds | 696 comments Robin wrote: "..I think I may have made the weekly portion rather long this time. "

In my edition, the first 3 weeks were 119, 113 and 128 pages, respectively, so it really is only slightly longer, The final section will be 2 chapters, but 72 pages, as the last chapter is also the longest chapter. If you had shifted Chapter 12 to the final section the final section would have been longer than the third week.
For me personally, the reading schedule was perfect as is. It enabled me to add this book and just delay a planned read of Palace Walk to the second half of the month. After a quicker start, the book and I settled in for a comfortable chapter a day pace. I will finish today and have ample time for Palace Walk and the Claverings.
So I thank you for the schedule.


message 12: by Brian (new)

Brian Reynolds | 696 comments Both Phrod and Robin make good observations about the workplace at this time. While the place is ripe for a union, the unionization of service workers did not progress like it did with industrial and trade workers and miners, as Zola will address two years later in Germinal.

I also found the marketing and sales strategies to be fascinating. Zola does a great job of describing the strategies and actually all aspects of operating a department store. He either does know, or at least gives the appearance of knowing, what he is talking about.


message 13: by Robin P, Moderator (new)

Robin P | 2065 comments Mod
Brian wrote: "Robin wrote: "..I think I may have made the weekly portion rather long this time. "

In my edition, the first 3 weeks were 119, 113 and 128 pages, respectively, so it really is only slightly longer..."


Thanks, it was a challenge for me as my Gutenberg text didn't have chapters listed. Of course, everyone can continue to discuss any section as they get to it.


message 14: by Robin P, Moderator (last edited Sep 11, 2019 01:01PM) (new)

Robin P | 2065 comments Mod
I enjoyed Zola's eye for detail being put on fabrics, displays, etc. rather than on depressing scenes as in most of his books. When I saw the film of Germinal with Gerard Depardieu, although the story was pretty faithful, the scenes in the mine were much too light. (Of course they needed light to film.) And some of his other books show poverty and degradation.

There is degradation of the rich here. Rich people are wasting their money gambling and overshopping. Zola does show how customers are sucked in to buying despite their intentions. One other sales strategy I forgot to mention above is returns. Apparently, this was a new thing. When all clothing was made to order, you wouldn't want a customer to return something. You wouldn't be able to resell it. But with mass-produced goods, you can take returns. Of course, Mouret knows that most people won't return things. There is a mention of people who buy household goods, use them for a week, and then return them. It seems to me I heard of people doing that these days when they are having a party or other event. Now we have rental services for furniture, dresses, etc. where the whole point is to use something short term.


message 15: by Robin P, Moderator (last edited Sep 12, 2019 01:28AM) (new)

Robin P | 2065 comments Mod
There was some question about why Mouret would like Denise. She does seem to have flowered since the beginning, though I'm not sure there is any particular reason why. The period of striving on her own might have made her stronger but probably not prettier or more charming or better at dealing with the upper-class public. But it seems it did.

However, in this section, it's clear to me that the reason he wants her is specifically because she isn't immediately attainable. The other shop girls would be thrilled to flirt with him, come to dinner, take his gifts, etc. Denise pretends not to notice his overtures for a long time, and then she has a strong feminist reaction, telling him right out that she doesn't need money, she isn't a short-term fling and she doesn't accept competition. This drives him to his next tactic, whining about how much he is suffering. These seem like the classic moves of a bully or even an abuser. But she doesn't give in to these either.

The ploy of his upper-class mistress to show up Denise in her home backfires totally. It's interesting to see all the tricks she tries, such as asking Mouret to fetch something, implying he knows where things are in her bedroom. This whole "mean girl" episode and all the gossip in the store remind me of high school behavior. Of course many of the employees are very young and this is their first time away from home. With them all living together, it is a sort of boarding school.


message 16: by Phrodrick (new)

Phrodrick Robin wrote: "There was some question about why Mouret would like Denise. She does seem to have flowered since the beginning, though I'm not sure there is any particular reason why. The period of striving on her..."

“Denise pretends not to notice his overtures for a long time, and then she has a strong feminist reaction, telling him right out that she doesn't need money, she isn't a short-term fling and she doesn't accept competition.”

Been waiting to see when would be the time to add in some of the cultural history around The Ladies’.

First some opinion. The term ”feminist” in this context is slightly constructionist. The term was likely meaningless to Denise and ascribes to her a formulated thought process that has no positive evidence. We are told she does not fully understand her hesitancy. Indeed, she will not have a name for what she wants for a few pages yet, and that idea will come from another.

We are told more than once that she loves Him. I am not impressed with this as a literary plot devise. It strikes me as forced. His love for her seems to be exactly what Robin describes. I fear that he will marry her on her terms and within a year be stocking up on one ups and semi-regular mistresses. If he needs to bed another title in order to cozy up to some other rich old man, wedding vows and Denise's’ ever ready tears be damned.

Now for some History

Known to Zola was that this period saw the emergence of what we now call the feminist movement. It would have been known as the Woman’s Movement. Women were organizing over several issues including voting rights and anti-saloon leagues and so forth, depending on the country.

In this time women were beginning to get into universities, opening their own colleges and a few making it as degreed doctors and professors. Women as nurses, in war zones and at home was a very old fact. Official recognition and even pay was a real possibility. The fact is that for most of history, most cultures having wives/sisters/daughters unemployed was proof that a family had made it. As we see, even before The Ladies’, women were working. Unless there was enough money to keep them ‘merely’ doing house work and there if you have any money at all, you had a domestic or two. Bottom line for the vast majority of women, whatever your family did to stay alive, sales, farming, bar keep or black smith, the women of the house were in it or leading it. As for that the various new department stores and smaller shops they employed many tens (hundreds?) of thousands of women. Some at above entry level.

Possibly unknown to Zola, and maybe only in my imagination
The entire strategy of marketing centered on woman, may have contributed to the notion that women were the center of things. When not shopping women might have carried over the expectation of the kind of respect and attention that the big stores were doing. In The Ladies’ the women ruled. If men will listen, bow and scrape there; why not in every aspect of life. Certainly, some women had to have noticed that they were a lot more than disposable chattel when nicely dressed men were treating them with (oily) respect.

What Zola may be suggesting is that part of what was new in marketing was very high level, deliberate marketing to women. Making women the center of the seduction may have had unintended consequences.


message 17: by Jenny (new)

Jenny | 124 comments Again, I’m behind and trying to catch up but my impression so far seems to be almost exactly opposite to some of the above comments regarding women.

Women are certainly being catered to in Mouret’s dept. store but they are not in the driver’s seat. The “respect” given them is purely superficial and the male clerks are manipulating them to make certain purchases. To make matters worse, the women are very easily manipulated. They allow their impulse to drive them, seduced by the appearance and texture of the displays.

This actually reinforces female stereotypes. Instead of being reasonable creatures who can make rational purchases, they are whisked away by their emotions and desires. If I was a Victorian minded man, I wouldn’t want my wife, daughter, sister, shopping there. Not because they might get ideas of respect and authority but because it proves their inability to protect themselves, make rational choices and control their own moral and sexual behavior.

Denise is put in a position with Mouret where she has to demand the protection of the paternalistic institution of marriage. Her personal seduction by Mouret mirrors his public seduction of his customers. The early drawing room scene describes the women (one of whom only brought her looks to her marriage) discussing spending their husbands’ money. One husband had to continually work longer and harder to keep up with his wife’s frivolous purchases.

The store caters to women in the sense of taking advantage of their most childlike impulses in an environment where their pleasure is controlled by men. It seems to me to be an advertisement for why women need protection from themselves.


message 18: by Phrodrick (last edited Sep 13, 2019 02:36PM) (new)

Phrodrick Jenny wrote: "Again, I’m behind and trying to catch up but my impression so far seems to be almost exactly opposite to some of the above comments regarding women.

Women are certainly being catered to in Mouret..."


In objective terms I am in at least 85% agreement with all of this post.
What I stand on is the purpose, intent and effect of this kind this shopping experience is to focus on the women. Their whims and their desires. Stereotype or not. I am not positive this word in this context in this point of history would have had any understood meaning.

These women were being catered to, listened to, their wish was someone else's command. Was is all a ploy? Damn Straight! Was it a money making ploy? Look at the pictures of the real Bon Marche and the continued existence of the same business model. Argue against it from now till the next millennium and you argue against the facts.

If you are insulted, I more than sympathize. What was being done was to give the women center stage - the appearance of power and the cash flowed in by the groaning table load.

My suggestion is that this was a very large scale operation, duplicated in other businesses and centered on telling women they had power and respect. If in fact they had neither is about a zillion per cent not imporatant. The women , if they thought at all, thought they were being served. In fact the English approach was literally: " Are you being served?"

Women were being told, however disingenuously that the world revolved around them. They were rarely getting this message at home, at church, in the professions and often anything but this message in the law.

In the stores, there was no debate. Women yes. The men could wait in the few chairs, hold purses, look awkward and out of place. It is not much of a stretch to think that some women would take this to heart and later to the streets.


message 19: by Robin P, Moderator (new)

Robin P | 2065 comments Mod
I didn’t mean to imply that Denise was a feminist or thought of herself as one, only that today we might see her independence that way in our terms. I am struck by how simple her language always is. This contrasts with the manipulative use of language by the ladies and gentlemen at the salon.


message 20: by Jenny (new)

Jenny | 124 comments Phrodrick wrote: "Jenny wrote: "Again, I’m behind and trying to catch up but my impression so far seems to be almost exactly opposite to some of the above comments regarding women.

Women are certainly being catere..."


In retrospect it sounds like we are arguing two different points: real power vs perceived power. If women perceived a source of power and reacted accordingly in other spheres, then the motivation behind the business is, indeed, moot.

My primary concern is detecting through the characters and their respective fates what Zola is trying to “say.” I know Zola’s primary concern as a naturalist is to reveal real life to us. And his picture of this store seems spot on. But I agree with what you said last week that Zola doesn’t seem to care for middle class morality. I’m wondering how Denise’s fate will play out, in her role of attempting not to become one of Mouret’s female victims. I feel her fate will also reveal a comment, either consciously or unconsciously, about the modern business model and all its strategies which Paradise represents in a combined role of church/sex den/monster/machine.

Will Denise or Mouret give in? Will Denise be a source of strength or weakness? Will Denise be eaten up completely or find a way to survive.....or thrive?


message 21: by Jenny (new)

Jenny | 124 comments Spectacular pictures, Phodrick, their addition really adds to the picture I had of Paradise in my mind. Much more mind-blowing than I’d imagined on my own.


message 22: by Phrodrick (new)

Phrodrick I think I get your points and agree.

I am not certain that Zola was making any connection between what these stores were faking and what real women were beginning to do. And believe about themselves.

I am making that connection. I have several speculations about marketing and unintended consequences. The above is a new one and only came to me by reading The Ladies.

Between us, I am not sure I like Denise but there are things about who she is becoming that I admire.

I wonder how the people of Zola's time reacted to her almost complete lack of loyalty to those she left behind across the street.


She is on her way to becoming a very adapt supervisor and she has a decent vision of how a large enterprise might make money and better handle staffing.

Mouret was introduced as the center of the last book. Much as Denise is in this one. I wonder if we get to see her in later book?


message 23: by Rafael (new)

Rafael da Silva (morfindel) | 270 comments It was pretty interesting Denise's concern about the
laborer's condition. Her "socialist" views were quite advanced for the time, I suppose.


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