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La Débâcle (Oxford World's Classics) by…
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La Débâcle (Oxford World's Classics) (original 1870; edition 2000)

by Emile Zola, Robert Lethbridge (Introduction), Elinor Dorday (Translator)

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471621,964 (4.07)26
Member:Artymedon
Title:La Débâcle (Oxford World's Classics)
Authors:Emile Zola
Other authors:Robert Lethbridge (Introduction), Elinor Dorday (Translator)
Info:Oxford University Press, USA (2000), Paperback, 592 pages
Collections:Turbulent Times, French literature, Historical Fiction, Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:France, Prussia, Franco-Prussian War, French, Turbulent time

Work details

The Debacle: 1870-71 by Émile Zola (1870)

  1. 00
    The Franco-Prussian War 1870-1871 by Stephen Badsey (Artymedon)
    Artymedon: This Osprey book has a great map of the battlefield of Sedan, France where La Debacle's main action takes place. The reader understands then how accurate Zola's descriptions are and how his book's values are as much historical as those of a social novelist.… (more)
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» See also 26 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
The tragedy of the Sedan chamber pot - the encirclement of Mac-Mahon's French Army of 100,000.00 and 500 canons by Wihelm I 260,000 and 700 canons is rendered in La Debacle. With Zola, the social aspects of history are present through intimist portraits of the participants, several farmers, some enlisted, some becoming Franc-Tireurs, the director of a factory, a gentleman, heroic women caught in the defense of Bazeilles or in the living hell of an improvised military hospital. The internal coup d'Etat by the Empress and Bazaine that makes the fatally ill Emperor Napoleon III an empty figure head; his wandering in search of death over the battlefield; add tragic counterppoints to this oratorio; the famous cavalry charge of the Margueritte Division; the last cartridges; the accurate but powerless in face of numbers, Chassepot rifle and the shells bursting in the air while the gunners are eliminated by the Prussians; a regiment in a cabbage field under a bombardment. Zola is a great writer, but with La Debacle, he also describes very accurately the battlefield of Sedan. One understands how accurate Zola is if the reader makes the effort to search for the Sedan Battlefield map in Stephen Badsey's Osprey Book about the Franco-Prussian war .

Was La Debacle paving the way for revenge or "La revanche" literature anticipating that other calamity in Northern France 1914?
Zola's treatment of the enemy is done first by mentioning Germany as the mysterious Orient which was probably true for all the conscripted farmers that constituted the bulk of the French Army, unless like Weiss they had a house in Bazeilles and relatives who were German. Then Zola assimilates the German army to insects and describes them from a distance as ants. When they appear on the battlefield it is at first as remote and evasive Uhlans or light cavalry. In Bazeilles finally they come closer during the last cartridges fight. They are identified as Bavarians and a red bearded giant plays a role in restraining the wife of a soon to be executed through firing squad Franc-tireur - in fact a Civilian who took part to the fight without a uniform. This episode reminds of the tone of Maupassant's novels about the same war. The now famous letter of Napoleon III to his "Dear Brother" Wilhelm and Whilhelm's "Ah, les Braves gens" at seeing Margueritte's cavalry charge again humanize the ennemy more than the battle scenes. It is at times disappointing and does not always explain the reasons for this conflict, nor the internal coup d'Etat, other than by the occasional allusion to "Badinguet" by a conscript worker from Paris suburbs. ( )
  Artymedon | Jan 8, 2013 |
This is the first (and so far only) Zola I've read, and then only because I found it cheap in a bookstore. I didn't know anything about the Franco-Prussian War, and as far as Zola I knew that he wrote a cycle of naturalistic novels, which I had been waiting to read until someone did a new translation of the whole thing. But I'm glad I went ahead and tried The Debacle. As others mentioned, it's very reminiscent of War and Peace (well, mostly just the war part). Zola skillfully evokes the dreary and dreadful experience of fighting a losing battle. The main characters, poor French soldiers doomed by mismanagement and incompetence at the top, march about the countryside unable to even find the enemy, until they are finally cornered and massacred. After the fighting is over, Zola moves on to describe the sickness and poverty that decimate even those who do survive. There is no glamor to be found in this war, and as the ending shifts to the political fallout of the German victory, in which the French who have surrendered must fight against the French who continue to resist, there's no honor either. It's a sad story, but a very well written one and fully illuminates the horrors of war on all fronts. ( )
1 vote Calantir | Dec 27, 2012 |
1960 The Debacle, by Emile Zola (read 29 Nov 1985) This is the 19th of 20 novels by Zola. It tells of the events of 1870 and 1871--Sedan, events thereafter, and in frenzied, hurried chapters at the end, the sieges of Paris. Maurice and Jean fight at Sedan together, then end up at Paris on opposite sides. This book exudes Gallic extravagance, reminding me of Dumas. I was rather caught up in the final chapters of this book, illustrating again the amazingly dramatic nature of so much of French history. ( )
  Schmerguls | Aug 19, 2008 |
Zola: The Debacle
In the late 1860s Prussia, led by Kaiser Wilhelm and Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, engaged the French government headed by Napoleon III in heated negotiations over the throne of Spain and the sovereignty of the Low Countries. The dispute grew as France looked for a fight.

France declared war in 1870 but was ill prepared to fight the ensuing Franco-Prussian War. Poorly equipped and incompetently led, the French soldiers were badly used. The result, from the French point of view was a catastrophe. At the battle of Sedan the Prussians captured over 100,000 French troops and Napoleon III himself. France was forced to cede Alsace-Lorraine to the Germans. In the immediate aftermath of the war, a left-wing rebellion erupted in Paris. It was suppressed with brutal rigor.

Like Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Zola’s The Debacle is a historical novel in which the facts of the war are very accurately described, and then well-drawn fictional characters are inserted. The story is told with verve through the eyes of two soldiers. The events of the Franco-Prussian War are extremely complex, yet Zola never lets the reader get lost. The story is engrossing and compelling. This is one of the great books of French literature.

To the reader who comes to this review by way of my history of the Tour de France, this book is related to the Tour rather obliquely. Tour founder Henri Desgrange wrote extensively in the sports newspaper L’Auto, which also owned the Tour de France. Desgrange tried to model his own writing style on Zola’s. ( )
  BillMcGann | Aug 16, 2008 |
A masterful novel about the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71. If there are some minor flaws, then the two sieges of Paris--first by the Prussians, and then during the short civil war stage by the French troops--are dealt with too quickly in a few chapters near the end of the book. A couple of more minor characters are also a bit too caricatured, but other than that it is an amazing novel. Zola's gift for vivid and memorable imagery and his sense for great tragedy is in full bloom. His style doesn't suit some other subjects all that well (e.g. the art circles of The Masterpiece), but here the match between style and subject is perfect. This is the best novel by Zola I've read, even better than Germinal. The Oxford World's Classics translation by Elinor Dorday is very good and highly readable; the introduction, maps and notes are useful as well. ( )
  vaellus | Jun 6, 2007 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Émile Zolaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dorday, ElinorTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lethbridge, RobertIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140442804, Paperback)

Conservative and working-class, Jean Macquart is an experienced, middle-aged soldier in the French army, who has endured deep personal loss. When he first meets the wealthy and mercurial Maurice Levasseur, who never seems to have suffered, his hatred is immediate. But after they are thrown together during the disastrous Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71, the pair are compelled to understand one other. Forging a profound friendship, they must struggle together to endure a disorganised and brutal war, the savage destruction of France's Second Empire and the fall of Napoleon III. One of the greatest of all war novels, "The Debacle" is the nineteenth novel in Zola's great Rougon-Macquart cycle. A forceful and deeply moving tale of close friendship, it is also a fascinating chronicle of the events that were to lead, in the words of Zola himself, to the murder of a nation'.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:49:31 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"La Debacle seeks to explain why the Second Empire ended in a crushing military defeat and revolutionary violence. It focuses on ordinary soldiers, showing their bravery and suffering in the midst of circumstances they cannot control, and includes some of the most powerful descriptions Zola ever wrote. Zola skillfully integrates his narrative of events and the fictional lives of his characters to provide the finest account of this tragic chapter in the history of France."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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