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The Conquest of Plassans by Émile Zola

The Conquest of Plassans (1874)

by Émile Zola

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Les Rougon-Macquart (4)

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English (5)  Italian (1)  French (1)  All languages (7)
Showing 5 of 5
After two books set in the metropolis, we return to the claustrophobic small-town setting of Plassans (Aix-en-Provence) for this fourth book in the series. The Mourets have let their top floor to Abbé Foujas, who has been transferred to a minor appointment in the cathedral at Plassans after getting into some unspecified bother in Besançon. Over a period of several years, we see the scruffy, tetchy and apparently unsophisticated priest - without any obvious effort - gradually gaining more and more influence over the Mouret household, the local clergy, and the politics of the town. And of course, we know how it's all going to end, since this is Zola: catastrophically.

Because of the way that the political story is mostly told indirectly through the small-scale domestic tragedy of the Mourets, Zola doesn't give himself much room in this book for the kind of narrative excesses that we are looking for in a Zola novel, especially if we've just read Le ventre de Paris. There are some nice minor flourishes, like the two grand social-work projects the Abbé presides over, both designed with the sole purpose of preventing under-age working-class girls from debauching the sons of the haute-bourgeoisie (well, it couldn't happen the other way round, could it?), and the bishop's lovely young chaplain who spends his time either reading Ovid to Monseigneur or playing badminton, and there's a very Zolaesque grand guignol final scene, but the rest is really rather flat. Barchester Towers with a higher body-count and fewer laughs... ( )
  thorold | Jul 3, 2018 |
#4 Rougon-Macquart, and not my favorite.

This time the topic is half first cousins Marthe Rougon and Francois Mouret, who have been married for 20 or so years and have 3 kids--2 sons and a mentally disabled daughter. Over the course of the book, they rent a room to a priest and his mother when he is assigned too Plassans. This makes Marthe become very interested in church, which she never attended before. The priest is a bit odd, as he works his way into society, but over a few years he has made his power play within the bishopric. Meanwhile, the kids have all left the house, and the priest's sister and her husband have also rented a room from the Mourets.

This is all church and small-town politics and society. Not my cup of tea in general, and certainly not my favorite Zola. ( )
  Dreesie | Dec 15, 2016 |
I read this Rougon-Macquart book out of sequence because I only recently discovered it was available in a 1957 English translation, but whatever possessed the translator to call it "A Priest in the House" instead of "The Conquest of Plassans" and the publisher to give it that horrifying cover boggles my mind. It really is a story about the conquest of Plassans, Zola's fictional southern French town, by that priest, not the story of the priest in the house. I guess they thought it would sell more books.

At the beginning of the novel, a seemingly awkward new priest, Abbé Faujas, comes to town and, at the request of the current priest, lodges with his mother in the happy and comfortable house of the Mourets, François and Marthe (née Rougon) (François is her cousin, descended from the Macquart side of the family). The Mourets have three children: Octave, who will reappear in Pot Luck and The Ladies Paradise and Serge who, along with the mentally challenged sister Desirée, will reappear in The Sin of Father Mouret. Marthe's parents are the Rougons who appeared in the first Rougon-Macquart novel, The Fortune of the Rougons.

At first everyone wonders about the new priest, because he keeps to himself and seems inept socially. Gradually we learn that Marthe's mother, who keeps a salon that attracts all three factions of the town (the old nobility, the followers of Napoleon's empire, and the royalists who want to bring the traditional royal family back), has schemed with someone in Paris (presumably her son, His Excellency, Eugene Rougon), to have Faujas come to Plassans, but it isn't clear why. As time goes on, Marthe becomes attracted spiritually and emotionally to the priest, and becomes involved in more religious and social welfare activities, neglecting her husband, her home, and her children, which heretofore had been the center of her life. A sister and brother-in-law of the priest arrive in town and seem to be up to no good. Life in the Mouret home deteriorates, until the novel builds to a melodramatic and not completely believable conclusion.

The strength of this novel is more in its depiction of the pettiness and cattiness and scheming of provincial life than in the machinations of the priest, whose transformation from awkward newcomer to cold and haughty schemer I found hard to take. It also effectively illustrates the role of the church in society. The minor characters of the townspeople are all well drawn, as is the picture of the Mouret home and its bucolic setting. François, at first, has good instincts about who to be suspicious of, and Faujas's mother is a wonderful creation as well. But the changes in François, Marthe, and Faujas himself just didn't seem real to me: dramatic, yes, plausible, a stretch.

In this book also, Zola lays on his genetic theories pretty thick, as both François and Marthe are grandchildren of the founding mother of the Rougon-Macquart families who is now in an insane asylum in town that is actually featured in this novel; the physical similarity of both François and Marthe to her is remarked on, and Marthe fears she is going insane.

There was a lot to like in this novel, and it was hard to put down as it built to its conclusion. I'm glad I read it, as it helped me fill in some of the blanks in the Rougon-Macquart cycle
5 vote rebeccanyc | May 26, 2013 |
Zola's ability to spin stories that seem completely true to life and at the same time are filled wall-to-wall with drama, no matter what the subject at hand, always amazes me. Book 4 of the Rougon-Macquart cycle introduces us to the cozy bourgeois household of François Mouret and his wife Marthe (née Rougon, she is also his first cousin) in Plassans. The couple have an almost idyllic life, wanting for nothing. François contentedly looks after his garden and lettuces, making the occasional business deals which keep the coffers well stocked, while Marthe looks after their three almost grown children, Octave, Serge (who plays a small part here but is the protagonist of the next book, The Sin of Father Mouret) and the mentally handicapped Désiree. When they decide to rent the upper floor of their house to an abbot, the severe Faujas and his mother, their whole world is transformed beyond recognition. Marthe, who until then has never been interested in religion becomes so fervently passionate about her renewed Catholic faith that the abbot starts fearing for her mental wellbeing, and for good reason. Soon enough, Faujas' sister and her husband, who are both a questionable lot, move into the house as well, and they all joyfully and quite horribly abuse Marthe's exaggerated sense of generosity, while Faujas turns a blind eye, intent as he is on bigger plans of his own. While at first he is treated with disdain and suspicion, he means to put the whole of Plassans in his pocket by first ingratiating himself to those who can help him land in a position of power, and ultimately devising sinister political schemes.

The evolution of the family and their home life, from a quietly contended and orderly nucleus to an insane den of vice, religious paroxysm and murderous passions had me enthralled until the spectacular ending. Highly recommended. ( )
5 vote Smiler69 | Jun 28, 2011 |
The fourth novel in the Rougon-Macquart series is a portrait of life in the provincial town of Plassans. The main characters are Francois and Marthe Mouret. As is characteristic of most of Zola's novels, it ends in tragedy.

The stage is set when the Mourets take as a boarder the newly-arrived Abbe Faujas and his elderly mother. It is Faujas who "conquers" Plassans, and in so doing destroys the Mouret family.

Although this is one of the lesser-known Rougon-Macquart novels, I believe it approaches the quality of some of Zola's masterpieces. Its depiction of Faujas, his scheming sister, the sometimes comical Francois Mouret, and other characters is masterful. The evolution of Marthe Mouret from content wife and mother to tortured penitent is wholly believable.

I highly recommend this book. As with all the Rougon-Macquart books, it is also a stand-alone read. ( )
1 vote arubabookwoman | May 23, 2011 |
Showing 5 of 5
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» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Émile Zolaprimary authorall editionscalculated
Constantine, HelenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McGuinness, PatrickNotessecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McGuinness, PatrickIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rhys, BrianTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 225300894X, Mass Market Paperback)

Émile Zola (1840-1902), né à Paris, est un écrivain, journaliste et homme public français, considéré comme le chef de file du naturalisme. C'est l'un des romanciers français les plus universellement populaires, l'un des plus publiés et traduits au monde, le plus adapté au cinéma et à la télévision. Sa vie et son oeuvre ont été étudiés dans le détail par la science historique. Sur le plan littéraire, il est principalement connu pour Les Rougon-Macquart, monumentale fresque romanesque en vingt volumes dépeignant la société française du second empire. Les dernières années de sa vie sont marquées par son engagement dans son époque, lors de l'affaire Dreyfus, dans laquelle il joue un r'le décisif par la publication du plus célèbre article de la presse française: J'Accuse.! (1898).

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:35 -0400)

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