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Nana by Émile Zola

Nana (original 1880; edition 1959)

by Émile Zola, Gallie Åkerhielm

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
3,022452,813 (3.75)1 / 232
Authors:Émile Zola
Other authors:Gallie Åkerhielm
Info:Stockholm : B. Wahlström, 1959 ;
Collections:Your library

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Nana by Émile Zola (Author) (1880)


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English (35)  German (2)  French (2)  Dutch (2)  Spanish (1)  Italian (1)  Hebrew (1)  Finnish (1)  All languages (45)
Showing 1-5 of 35 (next | show all)
One of the most delicious things about reading classic historical fiction is discovering the authentic flavor of customs, mores, and social standards prevalent in any given region of the world during a specific period of time. Nana was published in France in the year 1880. I have no idea who Zola intended to be "Nana’s" readers. Did women read for pleasure back then? And if so, were they accustomed to reading stories about prostitutes? Because if this story is credible, “respectable” women were so modest and opposed to displaying overt passion that men were willing to give their lives for a relationship with a good prostitute. Although within the time frame of this novel, respectable women were indiscriminately being led astray.

Zola leads the reader to believe that the majority of men in Paris in the mid-1800s were starved for sexual pleasure… a precious commodity at the time. And in this novel, Nana was the most desirable woman- not just in Paris- throughout Eastern Europe.

"Nana" is the story of a beautiful aspiring actress who wants fame, riches, and respect. The only problem is that she has no real talent except for pleasing men sexually. At that she excels and exploits. She services married men and single men, common men, and titled gentlemen- Lords, Counts, Marquis’ and at least one Prince clamoring for her body. She welcomes them all.

Zola tells the story of her rise to fame from a dysfunctional family in the ghetto. She is a narcissist, a sadist, and a sociopath. It’s a wicked combination. Woe to any man that crosses her doorstep.

Men enter her life knowing of her ruthless reputation. She is addictive and they quickly become willing to sacrifice everything for her and many of them do just that. Zola doesn’t give a favorable impression of the French men of that era. They are gullible, naive, utterly self indulgent, and interested only in instant gratification. I can now see where the old stereotype of French debauchery may have originated.

Emile Zola was credited with being the leader of the French Naturalism writing style, which explores the connection of human personality traits with hereditary and environmental factors while focusing on the harsh living conditions of the masses. And indeed, this story is harsh. The events are intentionally exaggerated for maximum effect, magnified, and preposterous. Often border-line farce, sometimes vulgar and crude, but never ever graphic.

"Nana" was part of Zola’s "Rougon-Macquart" 20 book series taking place during the Second French Empire. Each book is a stand alone novel, but the various stories all involve characters of the two titled families- the Rougons and the Macquarts.

My particular edition of "Nana" was published in 1933 and the translator is not noted. Whomever it was, they did an excellent job. But beware, the first 100 pages are a little overwhelming because of the large cast of characters. Beyond that however, just sit back and enjoy the story. Zola excels in bringing to life all the scenes of the streets of Paris, the theater, the lush drawing-rooms and furnishings, clothing, social gatherings, Nana’s exotic bedroom, a plot that will long be remembered, and the creation of Nana - the French sex goddess.

Now my search begins for the other 19 books. ( )
1 vote LadyLo | Jun 28, 2018 |
Nana by Emile Zola was written 1880 and vividly captures the lively theatre society of Paris and the life of courtesan Nana Coupeau. Nana has risen to a high class prostitute through her role as the blonde Venus in a popular operetta. Although she has no acting or singing talent, her blatant sex appeal causes Paris to be taken with her and by the end of the play, when she appears on stage virtually naked she becomes a star.

Men flock to be around her, they yearn to possess her but Nana is a shrewd woman and is looking after her own affairs. Although she can be cold and manipulative, she is the product of an abusive childhood and the one thing she appears to be searching for is control. She becomes a destructive force in the lives of the men who are drawn to her. The very definition of a man-eater, her admirers find themselves bankrupt, imprisoned or deeply humiliated. As for Nana, no amount of money appears to satisfy her. Then comes the day that Nana disappears, rumors spring up about where she is and who she could possibly be with. The truth of the matter is much more tragic.

Critics far more clever than I have written about the meaning of this literary work. Personally I felt that the author was shining a light on a small corner of society. This brittle section of life that is bored, wasteful and decadent. The excesses and moral corruption of this society breeds misogyny in the men and greed and heartlessness in the women that they preyed upon. Distasteful as I found this story, the author’s strong power of observation certainly brought it to life and drew me into this symbolic tale. ( )
1 vote DeltaQueen50 | Aug 15, 2017 |
This magnificent novel is the story of the rise, fall, and rise again of Nana (child of Gervais of L'Assommoir) from streetwalker to queen of Parisian society in the late 1860's.

It opens with Nana's stage debut in a risque theatrical production. Many of Paris's high society womanizers and rogues are there, as well as many of Paris's reigning courtesans. All are breathlessly awaiting their first experience of Nana; however, when she eventually appears they are at first underwhelmed. Then:

"looking as though she herself were saying with a wink of her eye that she didn't possess a ha'porth of talent, but it didn't matter, she had something better than that,"

Nana wows them all. I pictured Marilyn Monroe singing Happy Birthday Mr. President.

Thereafter, we follow Nana as she acquires and ruins men of all social status and rank. She has "an ever keen appetite for squandering money, a natural disdain for the man who paid, a perpetual caprice for devouring, a pride in the ruin of her lovers." We see Nana at the theater, entertaining at orgy-like dinners, at her country estate, at the races. Through her we see the decadence and corruption of French society of this era.

Zola has skillfully created a well-rounded character in Nana, not just a cardboard symbol of immorality. Despite her penchant for destroying men, we are still sympathetic to her. Although she can be vain and selfish, she is also generous, sometimes to a fault, and she is accepting of others. Although she is calculating and cunning, she is also innocent and naive in many ways. Perhaps these are the things that make her so irresistible.

For the most part Zola stays away from moralizing. He rarely interjects himself into the novel, and lets us be a fly on the wall observing Nana's life. Not surprisingly, the novel was widely condemned when it was initially published, for example:

"Much ability is displayed in this offensive work of engineering skill, and people are asked to pardon the foul sights and odors because of the consummate art with which they are presented. But intellectual power and literary workmanship are neither to be admired, nor commended of themselves. They are to be judged by their fruits and are no more justified in producing that which is repulsive or unwholesome than a manufactory whose sole purpose is to create and disseminate bad smells and noxious vapors. Such unsavory establishment might do its work with a wonderful display of skill and most potent results, but the health authorities of society would have ample occasion for taking measures against its obnoxious business, while those who encouraged the introduction of its products into their households would be guilty of inconceivable folly, besides exhibiting a morbid liking for filthy exhalations."

For me, this is one of the must-reads of the Rougon Macquart series ( )
1 vote arubabookwoman | Apr 24, 2017 |
Intoxicating realism, if that's what you want to call it. A woman who sleeps with everyone and yet remains a figure of sympathy and respect, nothing less. ( )
1 vote soylentgreen23 | Jul 3, 2016 |
Nana was my introduction to Zola and coming from the creamier diet of Balzac it was invigorating. Along with The Earth and The Belly of Paris, Nana is a first growth Zola.
It evokes an age, a city and follows gimlet eyed the stellar trajectory of earth bound creatures evolution to blazing comet to black hole.
For some a bit like Hardy in that you know you've been played, you hate the given inevitability of outcome but the pain is nonetheless exquisite... ( )
1 vote TimForrest65 | Apr 6, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (181 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Zola, ÉmileAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Boyd, ErnestIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Martí i Pol, MiquelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mitterand, HenriEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Parmée, DouglasTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Parmée, DouglasIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Plarr, VictorTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schwencke, J.J.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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At nine o'clock in the evening the body of the house at the Theatres des Varietes was still all but empty.
At nine o'clock the auditorium of the Théâtre des Variétés was still virtually empty; a few people were waiting in the dress circle and the stalls, lost among the red velvet armchairs, in the half-light of the dimly glowing chandelier. (George Holden translation)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140442634, Paperback)

Born to drunken parents in the slums of Paris, Nana lives in squalor until she is discovered at the Theatre des Varietes. She soon rises from the streets to set the city alight as the most famous high-class prostitute of her day. Rich men, Comtes and Marquises fall at her feet, great ladies try to emulate her appearance, lovers even kill themselves for her. Nana's hedonistic appetite for luxury and decadent pleasures knows no bounds - until, eventually, it consumes her. "Nana" provoked outrage on its publication in 1880, with its heroine damned as 'the most crude and bestial sort of whore', yes the language of the novel makes Nana almost a mythical figure: a destructive force preying on a corrupt society.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:30 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Living in the pleasure-loving society of Napoleon III's France is a beautiful, capricious, good-natured yet noxious prostitute named Nana. For her, rich men give up their fortunes and honor; poor men give up their mates and even their lives.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 9 descriptions

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