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La Curée by Emile Zola

La Curée (original 1871; edition 1999)

by Emile Zola

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6881120,135 (3.8)1 / 97
Title:La Curée
Authors:Emile Zola
Info:Gallimard (1999), Poche
Collections:Your library
Tags:zola, xix cent french lit

Work details

The Kill by Émile Zola (1871)

  1. 00
    Bel-Ami by Guy de Maupassant (jboshears)
    jboshears: Saccard and Bel-Ami were both reprehensible, greedy guys.

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The second book in the cycle takes us to Paris, and focusses on Pierre Rougon's son Aristide, whom we last saw in Plassans, backtracking rapidly from his stance as a radical journalist when he realised that he was backing the losing side. He's now in Paris, corruptly exploiting a job as a city official in order to make a fortune in property deals off the back of Haussmann's grand demolition and reconstruction project. He's changed his name to Saccard, and has a glamorous new wife, Renée, who is only seven years older than his son from his first marriage, Maxime.

All of which, of course, gives Zola the perfect opportunity to cast Renée as an ironic Second-Empire version of the most famous heroine in French classical drama, Phédre, making her fall desperately and self-destructively in love with her own stepson. And where else could the big sex-scene take place in a Zola novel than under a bearskin in a tropical greenhouse containing at least five pages worth of exotic plants of a sexually suggestive nature? The greenhouse in question is attached to Aristide's glamorous millionaire-villa, which is - of course - illegally built on the edge of the Parc Monceau (one of the private parks bought for the city and rebuilt by Haussmann).

Zola's point in this frantic and complex story of financial and sexual corruption, as flagged by the hunting reference in the title, seems to be to show us that most of his characters are chasing sex or money not so much in order to get it, but mostly for the excitement of the chase. If a plot fails, tant pis - something else will come along. The people who take sex seriously, like Renée, get hurt; the people who take money seriously get boringly rich and fade out of the social circuit. Aristide is an extreme example of the "hunter", who keeps a mistress only because that goes with his self-adopted role as the daring financial wizard: they meet to have a laugh together about her other suitors, and after a decent interval he sells her on to someone else. His financial deals are so elegant, crooked and complicated that he doesn't actually seem to make any money out of them for himself when they succeed. They extend his reputation as a good credit risk, and that's all that matters.

There are a lot of glorious set-piece scenes in the book, especially the grand climax of the story at Aristide's costume-ball, where Zola sets up a scene of positively operatic opulence and complexity, with different groups of characters moving in and out of the spotlight, and dancers, music, plants (again!) and tableaux-vivant all working the symbolism like there's no tomorrow.

In among the general depravity there's a surprising amount of LGBT interest - mostly unfavourable and designed to reinforce our idea of how very corrupt this world is. Maxime is at least gender-uncertain and likes to be treated as one of the girls and talk hair and fashion with them; there's a couple of aristocratic friends of Renée who are widely rumoured to be more interested in each other than in their husbands; there's a valet-de-chambre who likes to have his wicked way with the grooms and coachmen, etc., etc. All a lot more explicit than the things that Trollope sometimes hints at! ( )
1 vote thorold | Feb 11, 2018 |
Taking place during the second empire, The Kill chronicles the over-the-top lifestyle of Aristide Saccard (was Rougon), his wife Renee, and his son Maxime (approx 8 yrs younger than his stepmother).

Aristide has made his fortune with a touch of help from his brother the minister, who came to Paris from Plassans first. But does he really have a fortune? He has a beautiful wife (as a widower, he jumped at the "dowry" he received by marrying a girl in trouble). That dowry set him on his path of speculation as Paris' large boulevards were built. Inside knowledge, tricky schemes, and no aversion to risk get him a huge home, custom clothing, drinking lovers and parties parties and more parties. But he is constantly on the edge.

Are they happy? Satisfied? Can they stay afloat or will it their own empire crash and burn around them? ( )
  Dreesie | Apr 12, 2016 |
The Kill is a feverish novel, written at a frantic pace, full of amazing images, frenetic activity and scandalous affairs.

This exhausting pace is deliberate, for this is Zola's novel of the urban renewal of Paris, a project that still remains the largest of its kind. It was part of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte's effort to establish some legitimacy for himself after staging a coup d'état and having himself crowned as Napoleon III. To carry out the design and build of his new Paris, he appointed Georges Haussman.

In his excellent introduction, Brian Nelson gives an explanation of how Haussman accomplished this work. New expropriation legislation forced property owners to sell to the government any land that was deemed needed for the great new boulevards. This included the land bordering these new routes. The government in turn sold its newly acquired properties on either side of its new roads to speculators. The speculators and developers built the apartments that gave Paris its new look. Uniformity was achieved by regulations for things such as height and the configuration of roof lines. It was also decreed that the new buildings would be made of stone, not brick. An excise tax was introduced on all stone coming into the city, and the proceeds were used in city financing. Bonds were floated by private groups without any regulation.

In less than twenty years, 350,000 people were displaced as their homes were demolished. Rents skyrocketed despite the construction of some 80,000 new apartment buildings. The numbers of trees and streets doubled, Gas and running water were introduced, sewers were expanded. By the time of the 1867 World Exhibition, the host city Paris "was acknowledged as the capital of luxury and fashion -- the capital, indeed, of the nineteenth century." Such a frenzy was guaranteed to attract fortune seekers and opportunists. Enter three of the Rougon siblings, outsiders from Plassans in the south of France, each intent upon "arriving" in the new Paris.

Eugène had come first, before the coup, and had worked hard to get Plassans and his family to support Louis Napoléon. As a reward for his efforts, he was now a government minister. Shortly after the coup, his brother Aristide came to Paris. Eugène found him a minor job as an assistant surveying clerk in the planning department. Unsure of Aristide, he imposed two conditions. Aristide would have to change his family name and not employ the family connection, and having found himself in city hall with all its insider information, he was to rely on his wits to put it to use and not impose on Eugène any further. The third sibling was the shadowy Madame Sidonie, "... as dry as an invoice, as cold as a protest, and at bottom as brutal and indifferent as a bailiff's assistant." Madame Sidonie was a fixer par excellence, trading in dirty secrets, someone everyone in society simultaneously needed and loathed. It was she who arranged a hasty marriage for Aristide, now Saccard, to a young lady in unfortunate circumstances, in return for enough money from her father to set Aristide on his way. Politics, money and sex were the triumvirate of this city and each sibling had mastered the uses of at least one.

Zola characterized the new Paris as the bawdy house of Europe, and Aristide's new wife Renée epitomized it. She thrived in her new world as Saccard's wife, so far removed from her bourgeois roots and convent upbringing. Meanwhile the Saccards' fortune seemed to be at its height. It blazed in the heart of Paris like a great bonfire. This was the time when the rush for spoils filled a corner of the forest with the yelping of hounds, the cracking of whips, the flaring of torches. The appetites let loose were satisfied at last, shamelessly, amid the sounds of crumbling neighbourhoods and fortunes made in less than six months. The city had become an orgy of gold and women. Vice, coming from on high, flowed through the gutters, spread out over the ornamental waters, shot up in the fountains of the public gardens, and fell on the roofs as fine rain. At night, when people crossed the bridges, it seemed as if the Seine drew along with it, through the sleeping city, all the refuse of the streets... (O)ne felt a growing sense of madness , the voluptuous nightmare of a city obsessed with gold and flesh.
Renée joined in the fray. Her pursuit was indulgence. For dedicated thrill seekers, there is no limit to the quest for diversion. Its ultimate end for Renée was the seduction of her stepson. Zola portrays Maxime as beautiful and androgynous, a youth of indeterminate gender. Renée often dominated their encounters, becoming more overtly aggressive in an inversion of the accepted gender roles. She also became more and more indiscreet and abandoned in her public behaviour. She destroyed the family, infecting this last bastion of social order with her disease, as Saccard and his ilk were destroying the diseased world around them.

Initially [The Kill] was published in serial form in La Cloche in 1871. Then the government halted further publication of the episodes, citing morality concerns. This may have been the case, but the government had political concerns as well. Zola wrote to the editor, "My aim, in this new Phaedra , was to show the terrible social breakdown that occurs when all moral standards are lost and family ties no longer exist." Commenting on Aristide, Renée and Maxime, he said, "I have tried, with these three social monstrosities, to give some idea of the social quagmire into which France was sinking." In his own Preface to the book, he called it "... a true portrait of social collapse."

Could such a breakdown have occurred so suddenly anywhere else, or did it need the hothouse that was Paris to create it? It is Zola's genius and observational skills that enable him not only to portray his characters and society so minutely and convincingly, but also to elevate them to a more universal plane, where the reader understands that such circumstances and creatures attend all great societal upheavals.
6 vote SassyLassy | Feb 18, 2016 |
The Kill is the second novel in Zola’s twenty-volume Rougon-Macquart cycle, which is essentially a family saga that follows three branches of the Rougon-Macquarts through the period of France’s Second Empire beginning with the coup d’état of Napoleon III in 1852 and ending with collapse of the empire during the Franco-Prussian War 1870-71.

As an introduction to the series, The Kill is not a bad place to start — and perhaps finish — because Zola’s literary and sociological preoccupations are fully revealed. This novel, which stands perfectly well on its own, will tell the reader whether he or she wants to invest in any or all of the other books.

If the history of Paris — in particular the Haussmann era — has particular appeal for the reader, The Kill will certainly whet the appetite for more. The massive redevelopment scheme launched by Napoleon III and his director of public works Baron Haussmann was carried out in an atmosphere of corruption and decadence. If Zola’s version of events is to be believed, everyone from the Emperor down to the lowliest lackey was morally corrupt and sexually perverted. No one rises from the pages of this novel unscathed.

Zola was a realist in the tradition of Balzac and Flaubert. To illustrate his characteristic brand of realism, a particularly torrid love scene takes place in a palatial hothouse, and Zola uses the occasion to intertwine his description of the scene with a voluptuous exposition of the plants and foliage:

The night of passion they spent there was followed by many others. The houthouse loved and burned with them. In the heavy atmosphere, in the pale light of the moon, they saw the strange world of plants moving confusedly around them, exchanging embraces. The black bearskin stretched across the pathway. At their feet the tank steamed, full of a thick tangle of plants, while the pink petals of the water-lilies opened out on the surface, like virgin bodices, and the tornelias let their bushy tendrils hang down like the hair of swooning water-nymphs. Around them the palm trees and the tall Indian bamboos rose up towards the domed roof where they bent over and mingled their leaves with the postures of exhausted lovers. Lower down the ferns, the pterides, and the alsophilas were like green ladies, with wide skirts trimmed with symmetrical flounces, standing mute and motionless at the edge of the pathway, waiting for some romantic encounter. By their side the twisted red-streaked leaves of the begonias and the white, spear-headed leaves of the caladiums provided a vague series of bruises and pallors, which the lovers could not understand, though at times they discerned curves as of hips and knees, prone on the ground beneath the brutality of blood-stained kisses. The banana trees, bending under the weight of their fruit, spoke to them of the rich fecundity of the earth, while the Abyssinian euphorbias, whose prickly deformed stems, covered with loathsome excrescences, they glimpsed in the shadows, seemed to exude sap, the overflowing flux of this fiery gestation. . . .

And it goes on.

Regarding the plot, it concerns itself with three protagonists: a man, soon to be widowed, who is involved in shady dealings to make money off the Haussmann redevelopment scheme using insider information gleaned from his job at city hall, i.e., the Hôtel de Ville; his second wife who was already pregnant but he married her for her dowry which provided capital to launch his various schemes; and his effete son by the first wife, who is morally and intellectually weak and pliable and thus capable of total moral degradation.

As depicted by Zola, the frenetic pursuit of money and sexual pleasure by all of society seems over the top. “Sin ought to be an exquisite thing, my dear.” Despite the literary merits of Zola’s writing, I am not sure I want to wallow through nineteen more volumes of despicable characters in an atmosphere of total corruption. Surely Zola could have found someone admirable to depict in all of this. I believe his point was partly to marvel at the fact that so much was accomplished in a relatively short period of time in such a morally bankrupt atmosphere. And I agree, that is indeed something to marvel at. ( )
2 vote Poquette | Jun 6, 2014 |
bookshelves: published-1872, winter-20132014, e-book, france, incest-agameforallthefamily, filthy-lucre, paris, series, architecture, families, lit-richer, classic, cover-love
Read from February 09 to 13, 2014

Recommended by Lisa Hill, Brazilliant, Wandaful etc etc

Description: The Kill (La Curée) is the second volume in Zola's great cycle of twenty novels, Les Rougon-Macquart, and the first to establish Paris - the capital of modernity - as the centre of Zola's narrative world. Conceived as a representation of the uncontrollable 'appetites' unleashed by the Second Empire (1852-70) and the transformation of the city by Baron Haussmann, the novel combines into a single, powerful vision the twin themes of lust for money and lust for pleasure. The all-pervading promiscuity of the new Paris is reflected in the dissolute and frenetic lives of an unscrupulous property speculator, Saccard, his neurotic wife Renée, and her dandified lover, Saccard's son Maxime.

Is there a free download to be had? Sorted by the sleuthing skills of Wandaful: http://alfalib.com/book/181378.html

Opening: On the way back, in the crush of carriages returning via the lakeshore, the calèche was obliged to slow to a walk. At one point the congestion became so bad that it was even forced to a stop.

As much as I like descriptive prose Zola's version of that in this first chapter seems forced, self-conscious, even experimental, I hadn't noticed this aspect before. However it turns out there was a very specific reason why these gardens were described at such length: (view spoiler)

When the revolting Aristide Saccard is looking down on Paris from a restaurant on the Heights of Montmatre and describes with a cutting motion the new layout, I envisage that this is just how Zola fore-planned his novels.

Looking forward to 'The Masterpiece' very much: The Masterpiece is the tragic story of Claude Lantier, an ambitious and talented young artist who has come from the provinces to conquer Paris but is conquered instead by the flaws of his own genius. Set in the 1860s and 1870s, it is the most autobiographical of the twenty novels in Zola's Rougon-Macquart series. It provides a unique insight into Zola's career as a writer and his relationship with Cezanne, a friend since their schooldays in Aix-en-Provence. It also presents a well-documented account of the turbulent Bohemian world in which the Impressionists came to prominence despite the conservatism of the Academy and the ridicule of the general public.


As always, introductions and forewords I leave to the end because they always kill off enjoyment of the personal research.

Georges-Eugène Haussmann, Baron Haussmann was the Prefect of the Seine Department in France, who was chosen by the Emperor Napoleon III to carry out a massive program of new boulevards, parks and public works in Paris, commonly called Haussmann's renovation of Paris. Critics forced his resignation for extravagance, but his vision of the city still dominates Central Paris.

From page 14 of Painted Love: Prostitution in French Art of the Impressionist Era

' In a Figaro column, Zola claimed to find adultery rampant among all bourgeois women: "Among the bourgeoisie, a young girl is kept pure until her marriage; only after the marriage does the effect of her spoiled surroundings and poor education throw her into the arms of a love: it is not prostitution, it is adultery, the difference is only in the words." '

Engrossing from start to finish but that last line was on a page by itself and the abruptness, the dismissal was very harsh. Seems that Zola doesn't care for his characters, just uses them as examples and if the author doesn't buy in, then how can the reader be expected to. For this reason my rating is somewhere in the realms of 3.75*

As a silly - have you seen James Joyce in this cover art:

The actual painting is by Gustave Caillebotte

4* Thérèse Raquin (1867)
TR The Fortune of the Rougons (1871)
3.75* La Curée (1872)
OH The Belly of Paris (1873)
WL Nana (1880)
4* The Ladies' Paradise (1883)
5* Germinal (1885)

The plan is that I read all again in my rocking-chair days.

aNobii ( )
  mimal | Feb 13, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Émile Zolaprimary authorall editionscalculated
Goldhammer, ArthurTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Goldhammer, ArthurIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nelson, BrianIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nelson, BrianTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schober, RitaAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0199536929, Paperback)

The Kill (La Curée) is the second volume in Zola's great cycle of twenty novels, Les Rougon-Macquart, and the first to establish Paris - the capital of modernity - as the centre of Zola's narrative world. Conceived as a representation of the uncontrollable 'appetites' unleashed by the Second Empire (1852-70) and the transformation of the city by Baron Haussmann, the novel combines into a single, powerful vision the twin themes of lust for money and lust for pleasure. The all-pervading promiscuity of the new Paris is reflected in the dissolute and frenetic lives of an unscrupulous property speculator, Saccard, his neurotic wife Renée, and her dandified lover, Saccard's son Maxime.
About the Series: For over 100 years Oxford World's Classics has made available the broadest spectrum of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford's commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, voluminous notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:13 -0400)

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'The Kill' is the second volume in Zola's great cycle of 20 novels, Les Rougon-Macquart, and the first to establish Paris - the capital of modernity - as the centre of Zola's narrative world. The novel combines into a single, powerful vision the twin themes of lust for money and lust for pleasure.… (more)

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