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La Curée by Emile Zola

La Curée (original 1871; edition 1999)

by Emile Zola

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580717,036 (3.79)1 / 84
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 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 |
A trashy story masterfully told. ( )
1 vote slickdpdx | Jan 12, 2013 |
The kill, the title of this second novel of Zola's Rougon-Macquart cycle, refers to the spoils of hunting that are given to the dogs both to reward them and to spur them on to greater efforts. It is a chillingly appropriate image of the chase after wealth and sexual pleasure ("gold and flesh") that rules the lives of the characters in this horrifying work. It takes place as Paris is being transformed through the efforts of Baron Haussmann into the Paris we know today, with broad boulevards replacing rabbit warrens of back streets, in an effort not just to "beautify" but also to eliminate good locations for barricades and to provide routes the police and army could follow to put down rebellions. Then as now, such "urban renewal" involves uprooting the poor and creating ample opportunities for real estate speculation.

Zola tells the tale of speculator par excellence Saccard (formerly Rougon) and his love for scheming, corruption, and prostitutes; his sister Sidonie who profits from other people's secrets and troubles; his second wife Renée who, despite constant purchases of dresses that almost completely display her breasts and life in a mansion decorated to excess, is sufficiently bored to slip into a completely inappropriate sexual relationship; and his son Maxime, devoted only to pleasure, sly and corrupt. It is difficult for the reader to decide which of these characters is most despicable. Their lives are frenetic; Zola describes doors constantly opening and closing, people constantly coming and going, husband and wife and stepson living their own lives while living in the same house. Even as they live in luxury -- and the decor of each of the rooms of the house, and especially the plant-filled hot house are described in infinite, and at times stifling, sensual detail -- both husband and wife owe lots of money, and Saccard, especially, is constantly scheming how to juggle the real money and the money that only exists on paper.

As in his other novels I've read, Zola is a perceptive observer of character and place, and includes a wonderful set piece of a costume ball held in the Saccards' mansion. The deception of the costumes mirror the deceptions of speculative finance, official corruption, sexuality, and adultery that fill the novel. He peoples the ball, and the book, with a variety of vivid secondary characters who, in combination, depict the excesses and corruption of the Second Empire. All in all, he is a consummate story-teller, and I could barely put this book down as I waited for the inevitable train wreck.
13 vote rebeccanyc | Sep 23, 2012 |
I've read several of Zola's well-known classics, some of which constitute part of his 20 volume Rougon-Macquart series. Each novel in the series is stand-alone, and they do not have to be read chronologically. However, I decided to read/reread the entire series in order. I read the first volume last December and found it only so so. The Kill is the second volume in the series, and it is magnificent.

The Kill (La Curee in French, which means something like 'the division of the spoils') focuses on Aristide Rougon, although his brother Eugene and sister Sidonie play prominent roles as well. Aristide has assumed the surname of his first wife, Saccard, and has come to Paris to make his fortune. Through his brother, he obtains a bureaucratic position as the assistant surveyor of roads for Paris. While initially disheartened by his nominal salary, he soon realizes that his position could enable him to make a fortune in real estate, as the boulevards and throughfares of Paris are just being platted and the property through which they will run is being acquired by the city at grossly inflated prices. However, he can't use his insider information, because he has no capital to invest.

This problem is solved when he is offered the opportunity to marry a rich heiress (she is 'damaged goods'), even as his first wife is still on her deathbed. The Kill chronicles the rise and fall of Aristide as an unscrupulous, dishonest real estate wheeler dealer with his second wife Renee, an extravagant, selfish socialite. They flaunt their wealth in their obscenely opulent mansion, Renee's exquisite wardrobe (300,000 F dressmaker bills are not uncommon) and the lavish galas they host. Still, Renee is bored, and seeks something more to make her feel alive. She begins a love affair with her stepson, Aristide's son from his first marriage.

This book ran afoul of the censors when it began appearing in serial form in 1871, for its outrage to 'public morals' and 'gross materialism.' Today, I think it is particularly relevant as we continue to feel the after-effects of our own real estate bubble and rampant over-consumption. Although not as comprehensive and wide-ranging as some of Zola's other books, this is also a great one. ( )
1 vote arubabookwoman | Jun 29, 2011 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Émile Zolaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Goldhammer, ArthurTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Goldhammer, ArthurIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nelson, BrianTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nelson, BrianIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schober, RitaAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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On the drive home, the barouche was reduced to a crawl by the long line of carriages returning by the side of the lake.
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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)

(see all 4 descriptions)

'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)

(summary from another edition)

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