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The Fortune of the Rougons by Émile Zola
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The Fortune of the Rougons (1871)

by Émile Zola

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Les Rougon-Macquart (1)

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6431822,685 (3.91)1 / 111

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English (14)  French (3)  Vietnamese (1)  All languages (18)
Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
I'd read l'Assommoir and Nana in college, so I thought I'd take a trip to where the whole series began. I don't think I got all the political background about the beginning of the Second Empire, but there were some good character descriptions and action. ( )
  cindywho | May 27, 2019 |
As is usual with French classics, I felt somewhat put off at first by the sociopolitical data one should be familiar with to fully understand what's happening, but then it becomes a bit clearer, one gets through the symbolic nature descriptions which go on for miles of paper, cleans off the burrs and starts actually enjoying watching Zola creating characters, profiling them meticulously and then throwing them on the board to see how they run.

And it does work: they fall awkwardly and get up and start acting and turning Zola into the author he became 20 novels later. And Zola seems to have this sly grin of having known and warned you that that's what was going to happen.

Some passages, particularly the obviously signifying details, the topography (one feels it could be easier to just put a map on the frontispiece and be done with it, fantasy style) and the melodrama are painfully extensive, but not to the point of dehydration, just mild thirst for action, and it does not fail to arrive.

And now I do look forward to a sequel. Go, Zola! ( )
  alik-fuchs | Apr 27, 2018 |
The Rougon-Macquart cycle was partly inspired by Balzac's vast Comédie humaine, but it was conceived as a much more tightly-planned and focussed study, following the career of one particular family through the period of the Second Empire (1851-1871). Zola wants to show us how every aspect of French society was infected by the corruption, greed, and cynical self-interest coming down from the top, and over the course of the 20 volumes (originally he wanted to do it in 10...) and more than 20 years of work, that's pretty much what he did.

In this first volume Zola introduces us to the many members of the family, the lucky possessors of genetic material from Adélaïde Fouque (epileptic and mentally-disturbed) and her husband Rougon (vile peasant) or her lover Macquart (criminal). By the logic of 19th-century genetic science, we know that nothing could possibly go right with this mix, and it doesn't. The family is as corrupt as the government it lives under.

Because there are so many characters to introduce for future use and so much back-story to establish, this doesn't feel like a particularly well-balanced book, but from Zola's point of view we need all this information if we are to make sense of what follows, so you'd better be taking notes. Or have one of those editions that has Zola's famous crib-sheet in the endpapers.

The foreground story takes place over a few days in December 1851 as the sleepy provincial town of Plassans (Aix-en-Provence) reacts to the news of Louis Napoléon's coup-d'état. The idealistic teenager Silvère and his 13-year-old playmate/budding girlfriend Miette join the peasant army that is setting off to no-one-knows-where to defend the Republic against the evil Bonapartists, whilst Silvère's uncle Pierre schemes to ally himself to whichever side looks like giving him a worthwhile civic appointment when the dust settles. Normally in a historical novel it's a problem for the author that we already know who is going to win, but Zola cunningly exploits our hindsight to supply the tragic irony behind the story of the young revolutionaries and the black comedy of coup, counter-coup, and counter-counter-coup that plays out between the entrenched, the suppressed, and the upwardly-mobile in Plassans, in what we are obviously meant to take as a small-scale parody of the even more unseemly political events in Paris.

This book doesn't have the same kind of detailed excavation of the life of a particular aspect of society that we find in the later books in the cycle - it's obviously mostly based on Zola's own childhood memories of small-town life at the time of the coup, and so we don't get quite as much interesting detail as I would like, and we do get rather more than I would like of the sentimental adolescent friendship/love-affair of Silvére and Miette. But still definitely worth reading! ( )
  thorold | Jan 19, 2018 |
I loved this book, it was beautifully writing and I enjoy reading every bit of it. I will admit it did try my patients. The took a lot to make it through the first four chapters. So it was hard to stick with it, due to the unlikeable of the characters and the very long chapters. I was glad when I got to chapter five. It was like sunlight break through the darkness. After reading about all the scheming and lack of just human decency with each other. I just need the innocence moments of love between Silvere and Miette. After this point it was easier to finish the book and it made the first four chapter worth every bit of the struggle it was. If Zola didn’t stick that chapter in, I don’t think I would of finish the book.
I feel a bit for Adelaide with her mental illness. We don’t have a lot of information, so even though she neglects her children and lived here life on whim. I don’t feel disgust for her, just sympathy for the lack of control from her illness.
Even thou her illness is past down to other people in the family, I don’t fine this as the true illness of the family. I almost think the illness of this family is the lack of sympathy, understanding, ruthless. The family seem to eat itself for that little bit of edge to get a head. It is great to have ambition and to want to have more than you do, but if it is at the cost of yourself and lives of others it is something to be re-looked at before taking action. For Pierre and Felicite it was like they were really interested in be good leader of the town or anything else. It was the envy that they had for others and their own poor self-image of these selves. I don’t think Pierre would have pulled any of it off without Felicite and their son Eugene.
Nothing good to say about Antoine Macquart, just total dislike him.
I was a bit disappointed in Pascal Rougon, towards the end. I wanted him to stick up for his grandmother. In the end he just looks at this grandmother not as a person, but an object of study. He never stands up against his father and uncle, but just seem to study them also. For eh lives the science and forget the living.
For Silvere and Miette, well life and ideals don’t work out the way we like and as a conquest we lose our life sometimes. I do wish Emile Zola let them live, but oh well, it is just ends up being a bitter sweet moment. I love the book enough to carry on with the series.
( )
  lemonpop | Nov 22, 2017 |
I love Zola’s writing, I have meant to read more of his Rougon-Macquart series, but I hadn’t read anything for such a long time because I was wondering just how to set about it:

•I could carry on picking random books from the series as they could catch my eye.
•I could read them in the order they were written.
•I could read them in the author’s recommended reading order.

I inclined towards the latter, but I hesitated to pick up this first book; because I feared that it would be a complicated setting a lot of things up but not so interesting for its own sake kind of book.

When I found a group that was beginning to read the whole series, I knew that it was time for me to begin.

I found that my fears weren’t entirely unfounded: there were a lot of characters, there were many stories opening up, and I would have been lost quite early on had my book not had a family tree I could consult; and I’m still not entirely sure about the political history or all of the implications of the story I read.

That said though, I loved this book, I’m very glad that I read it. Zola’s writing about his characters and the world around them is so very vivid, and as I began to the roots and branches of this fictitious family tree I was intrigued by the possibilities it presented; for future stories and for what those stories might say.

The scene is set, and then this story begins with a pair of young lovers who will be caught up in republican protests. Silvère had planned to join the ranks, and he had brought the gun that had always hung on the wall in his grandmother’s home; Miette had thought that she would be left behind, but she was caught up too and found herself carrying the flag.

Then the story went back in time, recounting the recent history of Silvère’s family.

Adelaide Fouque was the descended from a family of a market gardeners. She was a simple soul, and after the death of her parents during the French Revolution she was wealthy and completely alone in the world. She was courted by a farm worker named Rougon, she married him, and she gave birth to a son, Pierre.

Rougon died not long after the birth of his son, and his wife fell in love with a smuggler and heavy drinker named Macquart. They had two children together: a boy named Antoine and a girl named Ursula. The three children grew up in a haphazard wild manner, and it wasn’t long before Pierre soon began to resent his illegitimate half-siblings and his weak minded mother.

Fortune seemed to favour him: Antoine was conscripted into the army, Ursula married and moved away, and when Macquart was killed and Adelaide retired to his cottage to mourn he saw a wonderful opportunity .

Pierre tricked his mother into signing over the family home to him, he sold it off, and he used the proceeds to set himself up in the world. He married Felicité, the daughter of a merchant, and a young woman who was every bit as socially ambitious as he was. They rose very little, but they managed to send their sons to good schools and then university, and they hoped and prayed that they would be successful and elevate their family..

The three boys are educated, but with no capital behind them, their options are limited. Pascal, the middle child, becomes a doctor, he does good work but the other two … well, they are rather too like their parents …

It seems that the ambitions of Pierre and Felicité will always be thwarted, but finally they have a piece of luck. Their son Eugène had moved to Paris, he was mixing with important people, and he passed information to his parents that would allow them to chose the right associates, express the correct views, and rise to the very top of society in Plassans.

Silvère came to Passans after the death of his mother, Ursula, and her husband, Mouret. He lived with his grandmother, Adelaide, now known to all as Aunt Dide; he was apprenticed as a wheelwright and he was introduced to Republican politics by his uncle, Antoine.

Antoine had returned from the army and he was the bitterest opponent of his half brother Pierre, who he claimed had cheated him of his inheritance.

When the clash of the republicans with the government came to its climax, the Rougons’ yellow drawing room had become the centre of political activity in Plassan as the great and good of the town rallied to support the status quo.

Could Pierre and Felicité achive their greatest ambition?

What would happen to Silvère and Miette?

How would the fallout affect Aunt Dide, Antoine, the three sons of the Rougons?

Those are the bare bones of the plot; a plot driven by character, by family relationships and by history. I was so impressed by the portrayal of those family relationships and of how, together with circumstance, they affect the formation of character and the making of decisions; sometimes for good but often, it seems, for bad.

I was impressed by the writing. The characters lived and breathed, and everything feel utterly real. I caught the author’s cynicism; I caught his passion for his subject; and sometimes I caught his anger. One thing that particularly impressed me was the way he could take a small incident and use it to say so much.

I was particularly taken with the story of the young lovers, and the writing about the natural world that ran through their story. That was something that I hadn’t found in Zola’s books before, and it balance the writing about the Rougons and the town beautifully.

There were times when I thought he spent too long with one side of the story; and there were characters I saw too much and others not enough. But maybe as I read on I will see the bigger picture better.

I found much to admire, I felt many emotions as I read; and, most of all, I was struck by how very well Zola laid the foundations for so many more books in this one. ( )
  BeyondEdenRock | Nov 5, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (21 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Émile Zolaprimary authorall editionscalculated
Nelson, BrianIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nelson, BrianTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schwencke, J.J.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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On quitting Plassans by the Rome Gate, on the southern side of the town, you will find on the right side of the road to Nice, and a little way past the first suburban houses, a plot of land locally known as the Aire Saint-Mittre.
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Book description
Set in the fictitious Provençal town of Plassans, The Fortunes of the Rougons tells the story of Silvère and Miette, two idealistic young supporters of the republican resistance to Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte's coup d'état in December, 1851. They join the woodcutters and peasants of the Var to seize control of Plassans, opposed by the Bonapartist loyalists led by Silverè's uncle, Pierre Rougon. Meanwhile, the foundations of the Rougon family and its illegitimate Macquart branch are being laid in the brutal beginnings of the Imperial regime.

The Fortunes of the Rougons is the first in Zola's famous Rougon-Macquart series of novels. In it we learn how two branches of the family came about, and the origins of the hereditary weaknesses passed down the generations. Murder, treachery, and greed are the keynotes, and just as the Empire was established through violence, the 'fortune' of the Rougons is paid for in blood.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0862992168, Paperback)

The first of a series of novels with the collective title, "Les Rougon-Macquart", which occupied Zola for over 20 years. The self-contained novel is set in Plassans (Aix-en-Provence) and evokes the colourful life of the cloistered town, revealed during a period of insurrection.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:20 -0400)

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"The Fortune of the Rougons" (French: La Fortune des Rougon), originally published in 1871, is the first novel in p9smile Zola's monumental twenty-volume series Les Rougon-Macquart. The novel is partly an origin story, with a huge cast of characters swarming around - many of whom become the central figures of later novels in the series - and partly an account of the December 1851 coup d'tat that created the French Second Empire under Napoleon III as experienced in a large provincial town in southern France. The title refers not only to the "fortune" chased by protagonists Pierre and Felicit Rougon, but also to the fortunes of the various disparate family members Zola introduces, whose lives are of central importance to later books in the series. (Excerpt from Wikipedia)… (more)

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