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Assommoir, L' (Penguin Classics) by…

Assommoir, L' (Penguin Classics) (original 1877; edition 1970)

by Emile Zola, Leonard Tancock (Translator)

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1,802315,534 (4.1)1 / 166
Title:Assommoir, L' (Penguin Classics)
Authors:Emile Zola
Other authors:Leonard Tancock (Translator)
Info:Penguin Classics (1970), Edition: English, Paperback, 432 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Literary Fiction

Work details

L'Assommoir by Émile Zola (1877)


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English (26)  French (4)  Italian (1)  All languages (31)
Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
It is a shame to have to read this in translation and miss out on the argot but the Tancock version is enjoyably game in its verbal inventiveness. The relationships and dialogue feel minutely true to life, rendered in utterly lucid prose, and the circumstances almost as relevant now as then: there are many points of plot and colour startlingly in common with recent films set amid poverty like 'The Florida Project'. The plain realism of the portrayal makes the tragedy all the sadder for its complete ordinariness: a well-intentioned young woman tries to work her way out of poverty into a level of simple creature comfort, but is pulled back into squalor by the envy, laziness and parasitism of her friends and family. So old, yet it still feels like an insight into modern life at the bottom. Pair with 'This is London' by Ben Judah. ( )
  wa233 | Feb 9, 2018 |
This book (the French title is "L'Assommoir") is a depressing argument for sobriety. It's also a vivid slice of life in late 19th century Paris. Twenty-two year old Gervaise is deserted by her lover Lantier and left with two small sons. Supporting herself as a laundress, she soon marries Coupeau, a young tin worker, and they have a daughter Anna (or Nana, who later becomes the protagonist in the Zola book with that title). The couple get along well, are steadily employed and manage to save enough for Gervaise to start her own business. Then Coupeau has an accident and thereafter the family is mired in debt. However, the real problems begin when first Coupeau and then Gervaise start to drink.

Lantier also returns and soon enough Gervaise is supporting not only her drunken, unemployable husband but also Lantier, who has a real knack for latching on to women willing to be treated like doormats. I can think of only one man in the book who isn't cruel, brutish and/or drunk. Children are whipped and a wife is kicked to death by her husband. This is not a happy story and things do not turn out well for Gervaise, but it was a well written picture of poverty and despair. Unfortunately, I don't think the story was dated at all. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Frederick Davidson. ( )
1 vote fhudnell | Aug 9, 2017 |

“A heavy man of forty was serving a ten year old girl who had asked him to place four sous' worth of brandy into her cup. A shaft of sunlight came through the entrance to warm the floor which was always damp from the smokers' spitting. From everything, the casks, the bar, the entire room, a liquorish odor arose, an alcoholic aroma which seemed to thicken and befuddle the dust motes dancing in the sunlight.”

The above is but one of the many vivid descriptions in the world of Émile Zola’s L'Assommoir, an urban underbelly of fleshy humanity emitting spit and sweet and stinking of booze; a swarm of filth and grime, grunting, gesticulating, swearing, slobbering. If this sounds like strong stuff, it is the very strong literary stuff of Zola-style naturalism, where we as readers are dragged ever so slowly through the boarding houses, streets and open sewers in the poorest slums of late nineteenth-century Paris.

At the heart of the novel is Gervaise, a young mother abandoned by her lover, who has to fight to earn an honest living as a laundress and starcher. Eventually she marries one Monsieur Coupeau and initially it appears life will be clean, decent and manageable, but her husband starts drinking and thus begins the family’s downward spiral. L’Assommoir translated as The Gin Palace or The Drinking Den or The Dram Shop caused an uproar when first published – too fierce, too brutal, too sordid. Completely unapologetic, Zola simply replied that he wrote about life as it is actually lived among the poor.

Rather than focusing on all the nasty, grimy details, distasteful and disgusting by anybody’s standards, including a scene where a child is being whipped by her drunken father, I read Zola’s work with an eye to what place, if any, literature, music and the arts have in the lives of these poor Parisians. Perhaps surprisingly, there are a number of occasions, noted below, where the men and women in this novel encounter the arts.

After Gervaise and Coupeau’s wedding ceremony, the several men and women of the wedding party pay a visit to the Louvre. When they walk through the Assyrian exhibit they adjudge the gigantic stone figures and monstrous beasts, half cat and half woman, very ugly. Then, when they make their way to the galleries of more modern art, we read, “Centuries of art passed before their bewildered ignorance, the fine sharpness of the early masters, the splendors of the Venetians, the vigorous life, beautiful with light, of the Dutch painters. But what interested them most were the artists who were copying, with their easels planted amongst the people, painting away unrestrainedly." Then the wedding party moves to another room where they encounter Ruben’s Kermesse, and Zola writes, “The ladies uttered faint cries the moment they brought their noses close to the painting. Then, blushing deeply they turned away their heads. The men though kept them there, cracking jokes, and seeking for the coarser details.”

Let’s pause here to reflect on the response of these men and women to the art on display. Is there anything unusual or unexpected in way they interact with the sculptures and paintings? Not really; seeing the ancient art of Assyria as ugly is understandable – they want to see pleasing images, not half-human grotesques. Also, understandable is their focus on the artists copying the great masterpieces rather than the masterpieces themselves – the process of creation is fascinating. Lastly, their visceral reaction to the racy country fête of Ruben is predicable, especially the men enjoying the coarse, sexy details. All this to say, in Zola’s view, members of the lower classes can appreciate art as that art relates to their own lives. True, their viewing isn’t the disinterested objectivity of a refined aesthete or knowing eye of an art historian but that’s no reason to discount the way they value art and make art a part of their lives.

One fine evening, Gervaise hosts a dinner fit for royalty. At this point in the novel, she has put forth great effort to live a life that is a kind of oasis of virtue, industriousness and cleanliness amid the city’s poor. This lavish dinner, complete with fine white linen tablecloth and expertly folded linen napkins, set up in the main room of her very own laundry shop is one of the highpoints of her social life. All those invited voraciously down wine and bread, goose and cake, and then each person takes their turn singing a song. Ah, music, the universal art; no need for instruments or special training -- simply singing songs. And through the singing we are given a glimpse into the soul of each of these poor men and women, quite a moving experience for us as readers.

There are a few more references to the arts: Gervaise’s former lover, Lantier, owns books, teaches Gervaise’s daughter Nana to dance (yes, this is the Nana from Zola’s much read novel) and invites Gervaise to a Café Concert. Also, at one point, bemoaning her bad luck, Gervaise muses about a play she saw where the wife poisoned her much hated husband for the sake of her lover. Additionally, there is also a very important event worth noting, one involving Gervaise’s sixteen year old son, Claude. We read, “An old gentleman at Plassans offered to take the older boy, Claude, and send him to an academy down there. The old man, who loved art, had previously been much impressed by Claude's sketches.” This is a significant detail since in the fictional world of Émile Zola’s social Darwinism people are bound and determined and molded by their social environment; yet, in this case, Zola acknowledges Claude’s artistic talent could develop and be recognized despite his poverty-stricken surroundings. Lucky boy! If I were raised in such squalor, I wish I could be half as lucky. Unfortunately others are not nearly as fortunate or lucky in Zola’s L’Assommoir. Read all about it . . . if you have the stomach, that is.

( )
1 vote GlennRussell | Feb 16, 2017 |
[L'Assomoir] follows the hard, sad life of Gervaise from her arrival in Paris at age 18 with her partner, Lantier, and their two young boys (yes, she had her first child at 14!) through her death. I don't consider it a spoiler to say that things don't work out well for Gervaise - you can sense immediately that the world she lives in is too hard and unforgiving for her life to turn out well.

When Lantier leaves Gervaise for another woman, Gervaise buckles down and gets a job as a laundress to feed herself and her boys (one of which is Etienne, the main character in [Germinal]). She meets Coupeau who hounds her until she marries him. He is a good person, hard worker, and doesn't drink so she finally gives in. They have a good life until an accident at work sends Coupeau and subsequently Gervaise into a tailspin. They descend to the lowest of the low and lets just say things do not end well.

This is my second book by Zola and it was, again, an amazing reading experience. Zola creates great characters (I especially loved the despicable, leeching Lantier) and has amazing descriptive ability. He is able to characterize not only the people in his books but also the settings.

I didn't see myself ever reading all of the Rougon-Macquart series, but after reading just these two, I'm already considering it. I thought it was really interesting to see the early life of Etienne and how it would have influenced him. And I believe one of the books focuses on Nana, child of Gervaise and Coupeau and I'd really like to read that one after seeing her childhood in this book. ( )
2 vote japaul22 | Feb 13, 2017 |
Gervaise comes to Paris with her lover and their two children. Lantier, her partner, deserts her but she soon drifts into marriage with a solid workingman. All goes smoothly until this husband, Coupeau, is injured on the job. Good-hearted Gervaise nurses him back to health though not back to work but still, through the good graces of an infatuated neighbour, she acquires her own business. She is successful--to her neighbours' envy--but at the acme of her happiness Lantier reappears and gradually her life falls into decline.

A couple of things that interest me about the story are Gervaise's tragic flaw and Zola's scheme. Gervaise has ambition and spirit, but what ultimately drags her down is nothing more her willingness to go with the flow. Neither she nor any of the other characters is wicked or altogether intolerable (except for the dreadul Lalie); their failings are not on a grand scale. Nor do Zola's notions of the primacy of heredity need to be used to account for these people's foibles. The environment of poverty he describes is sufficient for that.

There are despite the bleakness comic scenes and characters (Mme Lerat, e.g., who though brooking no obscenities manages to find a salacious meaning in the most innocent of remarks). And though I usually merely tolerate descriptive passages, Zola's descriptions bring an immediacy and sensuality that no one else's do. I loathe over-heated rooms and the smell of meat cooking, but how I long to be at that name-day feast; I've no interest in 19th-century laundry techniques and I dislike violence, but Zola makes me want to stand at that laundry door and watch the women washing and brawling; I'm not given to fondling teenagers, but golly, Nana sounds squeezable. After finishing the book I looked up into a bright autumnal sky and felt a tiny bit of what it must be to be cold and starving and looking up into a yellow dusk over a city with the smell of snow in the air.

I've read L'assomoir four or five times and still I enjoy and admire it enormously. Please give it a try. ( )
1 vote bluepiano | Dec 30, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (57 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Émile Zolaprimary authorall editionscalculated
Buss, RobinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Collodi, LuisaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lethbridge, RobertIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mauldon, MargaretTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Reim, RiccardoEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schwencke, J.J.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tancock, Leonard W.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vingeroets-Longersta… M.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Gervaise avait attendu Lantier jusqu'à deux heures du matin.
L'Assommoir du père Colombe se trouvait au coin de la rue des Poissonniers et du boulevard de Rochechouart. L'enseigne portait, en longues lettres bleues, le seul mot : Distillation, d'un bout à l'autre. Il y avait à la porte, dans deux moitiés de futaille, des lauriers-roses poussiéreux. Le comptoir énorme, avec ses files de verres, sa fontaine et ses mesures d'étain, s'allongeait à gauche en entrant ; et la vaste salle, tout autour, était ornée de gros tonneaux peints en jaune clair, miroitants de vernis, dont les cercles et les cannelles de cuivre luisaient. Plus haut, sur des étagères, des bouteilles de liqueurs, des bocaux de fruits, toutes sortes de fioles en bon ordre, cachaient les murs, reflétaient dans la glace, derrière le comptoir, leurs taches vives, vert pomme, or pâle, laque tendre. Mais la curiosité de la maison était, au fond, de l'autre côté d'une barrière de chêne, dans une cour vitrée, l'appareil à distiller que les consommateurs voyaient fonctionner, des alambics aux longs cols, des serpentins descendant sous terre, une cuisine du diable devant laquelle venaient rêver les ouvriers soûlards. (II)
Mais Goujet avait compris. Il posa le ragoût sur la table, coupa du pain, lui versa à boire.

- Merci ! merci ! disait-elle. Oh ! que vous êtes bon ! Merci !

Elle bégayait, elle ne pouvait plus prononcer les mots. Lorsqu'elle empoigna la fourchette, elle tremblait tellement qu'elle la laissa retomber. La faim qui l'étranglait lui donnait un branle sénile de la tête. Elle dut prendre avec les doigts. A la première pomme de terre qu'elle se fourra dans la bouche, elle éclata en sanglots. De grosses larmes roulaient le long de ses joues, tombaient sur son pain. Elle mangeait toujours, elle dévorait goulûment son pain trempé de ses larmes, soufflant très fort, le menton convulsé. Goujet la força à boire, pour qu'elle n'étouffât pas ; et son verre eut un petit claquement contre ses dents.

- Voulez-vous encore du pain ? demandait-il à demi-voix.

Elle pleurait, elle disait non, elle disait oui, elle ne savait pas. Ah ! Seigneur ! que cela est bon et triste de manger, quand on crève ! (XII)
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Also published as Nana's Mother.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140442316, Mass Market Paperback)

The seventh novel in the Rougon-Macquart cycle, L'Assommoir (1877) is the story of a woman's struggle for happiness in working-class Paris. At the center of the story stands Gervaise, who starts her own laundry and for a time makes a success of it. But her husband soon squanders her earnings in the Assommoir, a local drinking spot, and gradually the pair sink into poverty and squalor.. L'Assommoir was a contemporary bestseller, outraged conservative critics, and launched a passionate debate about the legitimate scope of modern literature. This new translation captures not only the brutality but the pathos of its characters' lives.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:02 -0400)

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"Abandoned by her lover and left to bring up their two children alone, Gervaise Macquart has to fight to earn an honest living. When she accepts the marriage proposal of Monsieur Coupeau, it seems as though she is on the path to a decent, respectable life at last. But with her husband's drinking and the unexpected appearance of a figure from her past, Gervaise's plans begin to unravel tragically. The Drinking Den caused a sensation when it was first published, with its gritty depiction of the poverty and squalor, slums and drinking houses of the Parisian underclass. The seventh novel in Zola's Rougon-Macquart cycle, it was the work that made his reputation. And, in his moving portrayal of Gervaise's struggle for happiness, Zola created one of the most sympathetic heroines in nineteenth-century literature." "Robin Buss's translation renders Zola's street argot into clear, contemporary English. This edition also contains an introduction discussing Zola's naturalistic method, with maps of Paris, Zola's preface responding to his critics, notes, chronology and further reading."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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