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Germinal (1885)

by Émile Zola

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Les Rougon-Macquart (13)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
4,825731,878 (4.13)1 / 471
The thirteenth novel in Amile Zolaas great Rougon-Macquart sequence, "Germinal" expresses outrage at the exploitation of the many by the few, but also shows humanityas capacity for compassion and hope. Etienne Lantier, an unemployed railway worker, is a clever but uneducated young man with a dangerous temper. Forced to take a back-breaking job at Le Voreux mine when he cannot get other work, he discovers that his fellow miners are ill, hungry, and in debt, unable to feed and clothe their families. When conditions in the mining community deteriorate even further, Lantier finds himself leading a strike that could mean starvation or salvation for all.… (more)

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» See also 471 mentions

English (59)  French (4)  Spanish (3)  Dutch (2)  Italian (2)  German (1)  Catalan (1)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (73)
Showing 1-5 of 59 (next | show all)
I read a different translation of this by L.W. Tancock..The book was quite unclear about who was speaking or precipitating the action. There is no doubt that life was difficult, especially for the miners. However, it seems that everyone saw their environment as either good or horrible. No one seemed to find a middle road. I do not like magical realism and it added nothing but tedium for me. I also felt the portrayal of women was overall that they were flighty characters unable to care about their families. ( )
  suesbooks | Jul 6, 2022 |
Brutal, bleak and unrelenting. ( )
  brakketh | May 1, 2022 |
Wow. Zola’s depiction of life in the pit, and the corresponding above-ground existence, is pummelingly bleak from the get-go. But just when I was inured to the crushing squalor and poverty and settling in for a story of the masses against the classes, the plot lurches into pure disaster territory with sequences of crowd-based madness bleeding into an Armageddon-like conclusion in which hell itself erupts from the coal beds of the Nord.

The characters, with one or two exceptions, aren’t especially deeply drawn, but they ring pretty true nonetheless. The writing is intense, with constant references to the devouring nature of the mines (the “Voreux” is the name of the main shaft) and the hunger for food, warmth and love/sex which drives people on like animals. Speaking of animals, Zola brilliantly paints the terrible plight of the pit-horses who lose their sight, live and die in Abaddon as an analogy for his human characters but also as tragic figures in their own right. Blind Bataille has to be one of the most important and well-drawn non-human characters in literature.

Intense and overwhelming, cloyed with sweat and coal dust. ( )
1 vote yarb | Aug 22, 2021 |
In Germinal we step upon dire ground.

Emile Zola’s 19th-century miners face grim challenges working as beasts submerged below Earth’s surface and under inescapable pains (anemia, scrofula, asthma, bronchitis, rheumatisms, etc.), with hunger’s coercion creating for them a marketplace insistently not one of free choice. These burdens commune with stresses delivered by dangerous toil and unmet desires. Darkness is encompassing, with black phlegm, black coal, dim mine shafts and close tunnels aggregating as concrete manifestations of failing light. Above ground, braziers and boilers and blast furnaces redden the night. Color it a precinct of Hell.

As the novel unfolds in the impersonally christened “Village Two Hundred Forty” hungry families must resort to picking up scraps which do “the disservice of keeping them alive.” A thought offered by the Penguin Classics editor is that pay workers receive is not just for their hire but is also, ideally, barely sufficient to manufacture offspring destined for the mines too. The miners react by attempting a kind of coup. Set less than 20 years after publication of The Communist Manifesto, Germinal illustrates conditions that made Marxism and labor movements influential. It also shows how labor leaders’ conflicting ambitions and inevitable lack of immaculate cooperation undermine efforts to apply ideals to the ground zero of revolt.

The estate of women in the village and vicinity exhibits dramatic contrasts. Those fortunate in social class might rule a man. Those less fortunate often are in thrall to menfolk and their marketplaces. One sentence begins, “Refreshed and invigorated after beating his wife...” Another reports “the meek resignation of the young girl who has to submit to the male from an early age.” That this situation suggests parallels to the worker–capitalist relationship is unmissable.

Zola somehow extracts comic effects even from brutality. We meet a prosperous shopkeeper named Maigrat who exploits impoverished mothers and daughters for his own sexual amusement, compelling their submission as a condition for providing credit. During the uprising, in revenge, a woman called La Brûlé yanks off Maigrat’s manhood—an act apparently requiring determination: she must strain to achieve her goal. Maigrat’s loss won’t inspire compassion. It’s difficult to be dignified when one’s body has just been de-dickified. Especially when that result is richly deserved.

Powerlessness and injustice are underscored by a peripheral incident of victimization so entirely misjudged that though cries of pain and sympathy should greet it, they never will—in fact, cannot, what with the truth of the event entombed. It is a reminder that however well our own or our fellows’ judgment serves, its innate frailties could deliver just such baleful darkness about us too. ( )
  dypaloh | Jul 14, 2021 |
This is just one book in Zola's 20-volume Rougons-Macquart cycle, his magnum opus which traces the fortunes of different branches of the same family throughout the great upheavals of 19th century France, but it got good reviews so it's the first one I read. Zola has a fantastic eye for detail in addition to his amusingly dated theories of congenital sin (the main character gets crazy when he's drunk just like his ancestors, and the other characters also have sins-of-the-father inheritances that prove something or other), and so his characters inhabit an incredibly entertaining world in the midst of the Industrial Revolution, where the protagonists battle through their love triangle while also caught in the grips of an epic coal strike. Germinal (named after a springtime month in the French Revolutionary Calendar that also signifies rebirth) reads a great deal like Upton Sinclair's masterpiece The Jungle, right down to the personal crises of the main character and the triumphalist political messaging at the end, but with French coal miners instead of Chicago meat-packers. I don't know if I'll ever track down all 19 of the rest of the series, but this was a great novel even in translation. ( )
  aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 59 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (64 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Zola, ÉmileAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Armiño, MauroTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Balzer, HansTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bannister, PhilipIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bartócz, IlonaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Becker, ColetteEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bittencourt, FranciscoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Buuren, Maarten vanEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Buvik, PerAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Collier, PeterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ellis, HavelockTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Grant, Elliott M.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jan VergeerTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jong, A.M. deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lethbridge, RobertIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mahn, BertholdIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Minervini, ElisabettaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Montherlant, Henry deIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pearson, RogerIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pearson, RogerTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rieu, E. V.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roldanus, W.J.A.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sbarbaro, CamilloTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tancock, L. W.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tancock, Leonard W.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Valenti, StefanoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wurmser, AndréPréfacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dans la plaine rase, sous la nuit sans étoiles, d’une obscurité et d’une épaisseur d’encre, un homme suivait seul la grande route de Marchiennes à Montsou, dix kilomètres de pavé coupant tout droit, à travers les champs de betteraves.
[translation by Havelock Ellis, 1894] Over the open plain, beneath a starless sky as dark and thick as ink, a man walked alone along the highway from Marchiennes to Montsou, a straight paved road ten kilometers in length, intersecting the beetroot-fields.
— Longtemps, ah ! oui !… Je n'avais pas huit ans, lorsque je suis descendu, tenez ! juste dans le Voreux, et j'en ai cinquante-huit, à cette heure. Calculez un peu… J'ai tout fait là-dedans, galibot d'abord, puis herscheur, quand j'ai eu la force de rouler, puis haveur pendant dix-huit ans. Ensuite, à cause de mes sacrées jambes, ils m'ont mis de la coupe à terre, remblayeur, raccommodeur, jusqu'au moment où il leur a fallu me sortir du fond, parce que le médecin disait que j'allais y rester. Alors, il y a cinq années de cela, ils m'ont fait charretier… Hein ? c'est joli, cinquante ans de mine, dont quarante-cinq au fond ! (I, i)
[translation by Havelock Ellis, 1894] "Long? I should think so. I was not eight when I went down into the Voreux and I am now fifty-eight. Reckon that up! I have been everything down there; at first trammer, then putter, when I had the strength to wheel, then pikeman for eighteen years. Then, because of my cursed legs, they put me into the earth cutting, to bank up and patch, until they had to bring me up, because the doctor said I should stay there for good. Then, after five years of that, they made me carman. Eh? that's fine--fifty years at the mine, forty-five down below."
D’une voix ardente, il parlait sans fin. C’était, brusquement, l’horizon fermé qui éclatait, une trouée de lumière s’ouvrait dans la vie sombre de ces pauvres gens. L’éternel recommencement de la misère, le travail de brute, ce destin de bétail qui donne sa laine et qu’on égorge, tout le malheur disparaissait, comme balayé par un grand coup de soleil ; et, sous un éblouissement de féerie, la justice descendait du ciel. Puisque le bon Dieu était mort, la justice allait assurer le bonheur des hommes, en faisant régner l’égalité et la fraternité. Une société nouvelle poussait en un jour, ainsi que dans les songes, une ville immense, d’une splendeur de mirage, où chaque citoyen vivait de sa tâche et prenait sa part des joies communes. Le vieux monde pourri était tombé en poudre, une humanité jeune, purgée de ses crimes, ne formait plus qu’un seul peuple de travailleurs, qui avait pour devise: à chacun suivant son mérite, et à chaque mérite suivant ses œuvres. Et, continuellement, ce rêve s’élargissait, s’embellissait, d’autant plus séducteur, qu’il montait plus haut dans l’impossible.
D’abord, la Maheude refusait d’entendre, prise d’une sourde épouvante. Non, non, c’était trop beau, on ne devait pas s’embarquer dans ces idées, car elles rendaient la vie abominable ensuite, et l’on aurait tout massacré alors, pour être heureux. Quand elle voyait luire les yeux de Maheu, troublé, conquis, elle s’inquiétait, elle criait, en interrompant Étienne : — N’écoute pas, mon homme ! Tu vois bien qu’il nous fait des contes… Est-ce que les bourgeois consentiront jamais à travailler comme nous ? (III, iii)
[translation by Havelock Ellis, 1894] With his enthusiastic voice he spoke on and on. The closed horizon was bursting out; a gap of light was opening in the sombre lives of these poor people. The eternal wretchedness, beginning over and over again, the brutalizing labour, the fate of a beast who gives his wool and has his throat cut, all the misfortune disappeared, as though swept away by a great flood of sunlight; and beneath the dazzling gleam of fairyland justice descended from heaven. Since the good God was dead, justice would assure the happiness of men, and equality and brotherhood would reign. A new society would spring up in a day just as in dreams, an immense town with the splendour of a mirage, in which each citizen lived by his work, and took his share in the common joys. The old rotten world had fallen to dust; a young humanity purged from its crimes formed but a single nation of workers, having for their motto: "To each according to his deserts, and to each desert according to its performance." And this dream grew continually larger and more beautiful and more seductive as it mounted higher in the impossible.
At first Maheude refused to listen, possessed by a deep dread. No, no, it was too beautiful; it would not do to embark upon these ideas, for they made life seem abominable afterwards, and one would have destroyed everything in the effort to be happy. When she saw Maheu's eyes shine, and that he was troubled and won over, she became restless, and exclaimed, interrupting Étienne:
"Don't listen, my man! You can see he's only telling us fairy-tales. Do you think the bourgeois would ever consent to work as we do?"
D'un élan, elle s'était pendue à lui, elle chercha sa bouche et y colla passionnément la sienne. Les ténèbres s'éclairèrent, elle revit le soleil, elle retrouva un rire calmé d'amoureuse. Lui, frémissant de la sentir ainsi contre sa chair, demie-nue sous la veste et la culotte en lambeaux, l'empoigna, dans un réveil de sa virilité. Et ce fut enfin leur nuit de noces, au fond de cette tombe, sur ce lit de boue, le besoin de ne pas mourir avant d'avoir eu leur bonheur, l'obstiné besoin de vivre, de faire de la vie une dernière fois. Ils s'aimèrent dans le désespoir de tout, dans la mort.
Ensuite, il n'y eut plus rien. Étienne était assis par terre, toujours dans le même coin, et il avait Catherine sur les genoux, couchée, immobile. Des heures, des heures s'écoulèrent. Il crut longtemps qu'elle dormait ; puis, il la toucha, elle était très froide, elle était morte. Pourtant, il ne remuait pas, de peur de la réveiller. L'idée qu'il l'avait eue femme le premier, et qu'elle pouvait être grosse, l'attendrissait. D'autres idées, l'envie de partir avec elle, la joie de ce qu'ils feraient tous les deux plus tard, revenaient par moments, mais si vagues, qu'elles semblaient effleurer à peine son front, comme le souffle même du sommeil. Il s'affaiblissait, il ne lui restait que la force d'un petit geste, un lent mouvement de la main, pour s'assurer qu'elle était bien là, ainsi qu'une enfant endormie, dans sa raideur glacée. Tout s'anéantissait, la nuit elle-même avait sombré, il n'était nulle part, hors de l'espace, hors du temps. Quelque chose tapait bien à côté de sa tête, des coups dont la violence se rapprochait ; mais il avait eu d'abord la paresse d'aller répondre, engourdi d'une fatigue immense ; et, à présent, il ne savait plus, il rêvait seulement qu'elle marchait devant lui et qu'il entendait le léger claquement de ses sabots. Deux jours se passèrent, elle n'avait pas remué, il la touchait de son geste machinal, rassuré de la sentir si tranquille.
Étienne ressentit une secousse. Des voix grondaient, des roches roulaient jusqu'à ses pieds. Quand il aperçut une lampe, il pleura. Ses yeux clignotants suivaient la lumière, il ne se lassait pas de la voir, en extase devant ce point rougeâtre qui tachait à peine les ténèbres. Mais des camarades l'emportaient, il les laissa introduire, entre ses dents serrés, des cuillerées de bouillon. Ce fut seulement dans la galerie de Réquillart qu'il reconnut quelqu'un, l'ingénieur Négrel, debout devant lui ; et ces deux hommes qui se méprisaient, l'ouvrier révolté, le chef sceptique, se jetèrent au cou l'un de l'autre, sanglotèrent à grands sanglots, dans le bouleversement profond de toute l'humanité qui était en eux. C'était une tristesse immense, la misère des générations, l'excès de douleur où peut tomber la vie.
Au jour, la Maheude, abattue près de Catherine morte, jeta un cri, puis un autre, puis un autre, de grandes plaintes très longues, incessantes. Plusieurs cadavres étaient déjà remontés et alignés par terre : Chaval que l'on crut assommé sous un éboulement, un galibot et deux haveurs également fracassés, le crâne vide de cervelle, le ventre gonflé d'eau. Des femmes, dans la foule, perdaient la raison, déchiraient leurs jupes, s'égratignaient la face. Lorsqu'on le sortit enfin, après l'avoir habitué aux lampes et nourri un peu, Étienne apparut décharné, les cheveux tout blancs ; et on s'écartait, on frémissait devant ce vieillard. La Maheude s'arrêta de crier, pour le regarder stupidement, de ses grands yeux fixes. (VII, v)
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Serialized 1884-1885, first published as a book 1885
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The thirteenth novel in Amile Zolaas great Rougon-Macquart sequence, "Germinal" expresses outrage at the exploitation of the many by the few, but also shows humanityas capacity for compassion and hope. Etienne Lantier, an unemployed railway worker, is a clever but uneducated young man with a dangerous temper. Forced to take a back-breaking job at Le Voreux mine when he cannot get other work, he discovers that his fellow miners are ill, hungry, and in debt, unable to feed and clothe their families. When conditions in the mining community deteriorate even further, Lantier finds himself leading a strike that could mean starvation or salvation for all.

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