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Nana by Emile Zola
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Nana (original 1880; edition 2006)

by Emile Zola, Burton Rascoe (Translator)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
2,443392,527 (3.75)1 / 193
Member:atrautz
Title:Nana
Authors:Emile Zola
Other authors:Burton Rascoe (Translator)
Info:Dover Publications (2006), Edition: Tra, Paperback, 352 pages
Collections:Fiction/Literature/Plays/Essays, Read but unowned
Rating:****1/2
Tags:Literature, French, Prostitution

Work details

Nana by Émile Zola (1880)

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English (30)  Dutch (2)  German (2)  Spanish (1)  Italian (1)  French (1)  Hebrew (1)  Finnish (1)  All languages (39)
Showing 1-5 of 30 (next | show all)
What happens when a woman with overwhelming sex appeal collides with the sex-obsessed male elite of a corrupt society? "Nana", that's what. She is both a creature of mid-19th century Paris, and an embodiment of that glittering, lascivious, and putrefying capital.

Zola's novel about a Third Empire courtesan was intended as part of his naturalistic study of French society. The naturalism is brilliant. His description of places (theaters, ballrooms, and particularly bedrooms) is vivid, conveying an almost physical sense of what it was like to be there. He can also convey the beauty of a rural scene, the excitement of a race track, and the menacing sound and feel of fools marching off to war.

But his naturalism is a vehicle for a moral stance -- nothing wrong with that at all, it's just important to note how selective his naturalism is. Moreover, in "Nana", his approach veers into an almost mythic exaltation of corruption -- operatic, if you will.
Nana starts out as a young actress and courtesan, who matures into the Queen of Paris, the Bitch Goddess, the Whore of Babylon.

Through all this, she remains a believable person; not a particularly nice person (though she does have her good points) but a fascinating one. The world she inhabits is as corrupt as she is herself, she's just better at it than anyone else. The subsidiary characters, who all revolve around Nana, are also interesting. A few created more emotional sympathy in me than did Nana herself, perhaps because Nana, for me, has an odd quality of emotional blankness.

This is the first Zola I have read, and it makes me want to read more. A brilliant book, and one which does not feel in the least remote. ( )
2 vote annbury | Feb 18, 2014 |
Nana is the ninth installment in the 20-volume Les Rougon-Macquart series, which I undertook to read in publication order a couple of years ago. In some ways, my appreciation for this novel has grown in direct proportion to the increase of my dislike for most, if not all the characters in the story, though there is no direct correlation between the two factors. Nana is the daughter of Gervaise Macquart, the doomed alcoholic heroine of L'assommoir. Towards the end of that book, the young girl is already taking a bad turn, and by the age of 16 has taken to walking the streets and finding older men to finance her taste for luxury. The novel dedicated to her is constructed like a play, with each of the 14 chapters showing a different act in the story of the rise, then fall, then the higher rise, then complete destruction of a woman who is best described as a 'Golden Fly' ('La Mouche d'Or') by a journalist writing about her in the papers. A golden fly originating from five generations of bad heredity, who, because of her ample shapes, her golden tresses and boundless appetite for sex and luxury, manages to corrupt all the individuals of the upper classes which she happens to land on.

The first chapter introduces Nana to the reader and the Parisian public as a the new sensation of the variety theatre in a play called La Blonde Vénus, designed to show off her ample physical attractions, displaying her in all but nude glory to a rapt audience. This is her first great success, which introduces her to men of the upper classes, counts and viscounts and marquesses alike, none of which can resist her charms; even the Prince of Whales is a fan. When Count Muffat, who has always been a devout Catholic falls madly in love with her, she is in a position to dictate all her conditions. She is installed in her own luxurious private hotel in one of the best neighbourhoods of Paris and though she has promised Muffat she will be faithful to him in return for an unending stream of generous gifts, her boredom pushes her to greater and greater infidelities. Men's fortunes and honour are lost to her, some even lose their life in their pursuit of her, but she is like a big dumb beautiful child who has no respect for anything but her own pleasure, grabbing at everything and turning it all to dust with her clumsy carelessness, taking pleasure in the very destruction she wreaks. Nana is not a woman a reader can really love or admire, save for the fact that she is guileless and that Zola uses her a a weapon against the corrupt Second French Empire, and that as a means to an end, she has great entertainment value as a goddess of destruction. He has always been a painter of vast and sumptuous tableaux, and here Zola paints scintillating pictures of wealth and unrestrained, utterly corrupted luxury. For those not familiar with Zola's work, this novel perfectly well stands alone, though it is definitely his most decadent. ( )
  Smiler69 | Feb 8, 2014 |
The story of a high-class courtesan, written with great humour and detail. The archetypal men destroyer. Zola is a master of social realism. It probably caused a stir in its time, though it feels quite inocuous nowadays. ( )
  Miguelnunonave | Aug 7, 2013 |
In Nana, Emile Zola portrays the vices of Paris during the Second Empire. Degenerating Parisians are symbolized through Nana. Nana is immorality. Her actions are the actions of all Parisian’s. When she dies, it symbolizes the death of Parisian morality. Zola handles this fascinating metaphor brilliantly.

Overall, parts of Nana read tediously. As a Naturalist, extreme realism was central to the development of Zola’s work. Therefore, details are intentional. The result is a novel that reads like visual imagery. A stream of colors, textures, sounds, and so forth, flow through the readers mind as the story unfolds. Zola takes the reader for a vicarious walk through the streets, homes, restaurants, and bars of 19th century Paris. We experience the theater, grand and illicit parties, and the Grand Prix de Paris. It is both captivating and disturbing. The trick to understanding and enjoying Zola is to not sleep through or be overwhelmed by the details of his writing, but to be absorbed by them. In effect, be a part of them. Only then can one fully appreciate the scope, skill, and creativity of Zola’s work. ( )
  BALE | May 16, 2013 |
Zola's tale of the lives of participants in and patrons of the Theatre des Varieties in 19th century France strikes me as incredibly realistic. His scenes are incredibly detailed and full of characters. At times the book was slow and a bit monotonous -- I'm not sure I really want to read about a dinner party which even the attendees proclaim is boring -- but is very valuable for the slice of historical life that is revealed to a modern reader. ( )
  EmScape | Apr 13, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (90 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Émile Zolaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Boyd, ErnestIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mitterand, HenriEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Parmée, DouglasIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Parmee, DouglasTranslatorsecondary 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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:26:11 -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 3 descriptions

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