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

by Emile Zola, Burton Rascoe (Translator)

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2,757442,125 (3.73)1 / 215
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 (34)  German (2)  French (2)  Dutch (2)  Spanish (1)  Italian (1)  Hebrew (1)  Finnish (1)  All (44)
Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
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 |
Courtesan - 2nd Empire - Paris
  dlsheaffer | Feb 8, 2015 |
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. ( )
3 vote annbury | Feb 18, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (89 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Émile Zolaprimary authorall editionscalculated
Boyd, ErnestIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Martí i Pol, MiquelTranslatorsecondary 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 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 3 descriptions

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