La Faute de Abbé Mouret ( 1875)
- Author: Emile Zola
- Genre: Novel
- Book/table of contents/dedication: The book is divided into 3 parts. ( 50 chapters)
- Setting: Artaud ( village close to Plassans)
- Themes: Spiritual vs carnal desires, celibacy (priesthood), guilt, mystiscism, nature’s fertility
- Trivia: This is Zola’s 5th book published in the Rougon-Macquart series but the author has recommended it to be read as the 9th in the series.
- Trivia:New reading style: Taking a new approach to reading Zola: completely digital via IPAD. Note taking is so much easier instead of squeezing all my thoughts in very narrow book margins. I’ve noticed I’m concentrating more on the words, than my progress in the book. It’s like reading one long page! I keep the book on my night table so I can glance and refresh my memory at the end of the day.
Serge Mouret is a priest who suffers a nervous breakdown due to his struggle with his desires and vocation.
Abline is an innocent uneducated girl adopted by her uncle but left to grow up alone in his graden. “Le Paradou”. She has had no social upbringing and is a ‘sauvage’, a bohemian girl.
- The daily life of Mouret (his Marion devotion)
- Introduction to Albine
- Serge’s desire for Albine.
- Mouret ‘s rebirth in ‘Le Paradou’
- Adam and Eve (Serge and Abline)
- “La faute” (turning point)
- Albine is left bewildered at the loss of her soul mate.
- The novel then builds to a horrible climax.
I was so impressed with the way Zola ‘technically’ builds his story. This book is divided in 3 separate sections and each perform a specific function.
The author goes even deeper and builds part 2 ( The Garden of Eden) into an even more intricate storyline.
1. Introduction: It is an glimpse at the surroundings (paysage, Artaud, farm animals). concentrating the fire of the sun that drives the growth of the vegetation and at the same time burns the hillsides and vinyards. We also meet the villagers who are spiritually indifferent and promiscuous. This is a strong contrast to abbé Serge Mouret ( mystic devotion to the Virgin Mary, celibate)
2. Development: Serge, Abline and ‘Paradise’ all interact to develop the biblical allegory of the birth of Adam and Eve,The Garden of Eden and the eating of the forbidden fruit.
3. Themes: The themes that were introduced in part 1 are repeated. Animals, nature and people are animatied by an irresistable movement of fertility and procreation. ( desires, visions, hallucinations)
The Garden of Eden: ( le Paradou)
In each of the chapters 6-7-9-10-11-12 ( part 2) Zola leads us through the 6 sections of the garden. As Serge and Albine explore the surroundings they experience their feelings changing for each other.
- Rosier (flooded with roses)
- Forest ( represents church, the nave, religious silence, Serge and Abline realize their passions for each other are becoming clearer. They are filled with a feeling of trepidation before “entrer dans un bonheur redoutable” ( entering a fearsome, daunting joy)
- Rocky grounds
.Oscar-Claude Monet ( 1840 – 1926)
Zola can write a ‘papable’ text:
- Chapter 2 (part 1) : You can almost feel the intensity. I don’t know how else to describe it. For example in ch 2 Zola describes how the sun illuminates the nave of the church. The statue of a dying Christ, warmed by the sun, momentarily shivers with a lifeblood as if death had been conquered….. ( un frisson de sève, comme si la mort était vaincue…)
- Chapter 1 (part 1): Zola describes in exquisite details the priest/altar boy celebrating mass
- Chapter 11 (part 1):…the barnyard animals (ch 11) who are the pride and joy of Desirée, (la soeur de l’abbé)
- Chapter 6 ( part 2) Zola describes a shy girl and a brazen woman as roses who can love! One allowing to half open her blossom, timid, blushing while the other unlacing her corset, panting, not being bothered.
Description of the physical changes of Albine which mirror her mental changes:
Zola takes great care to give the reader a lenghty physical description of Abline. As a young 16 yr ” sauvage” she meets Serge. They enjoy a life of pleasure without any moral restraints. Albine’s inner transformation after “la faute” is revealed in her appearance. Zola has used this method before in La Curée as Renée Saccard gazes into the mirror and sees reality.
- Part 1 Chapter 8: In the first part she is savage.. ” Cette enfant blonde, à la face longue, ardente de vie, lui semblait la fille mystérieuse [...] un air de de bohémienne endimanchée..”
- Part 2 chapter 6: In this part she is svelte. ” La chair de lait [...] elle s’allongeait comme un serpent [...] les lignes volupteux..
- Part 3 chapter 11: In this part she is somber. .”Elle sera plus carrée, femme faite, assombrie, toujours belle [...] taille ronde, ses épaules superbes, son odeur de femme passionnée”.
Biblical parallels to reinforce Zola’s message:
- Le Paradou = ( paradise, Garden of Eden)
- Serge = ( Adam) and Abline = (Eve)
- Dr Pascal = (archangel Raphael) ‘warns’ Serge of temptation, remain true to your vows
- Frère Archangais = (Archangel Michael, drives Adam and Eve out of Paradise)
- Artaud (town) = Gomorrah
- Jeanbenat refers to the biblical quote:
- “From dust you came and to dust you will return”.
- (chapter 8) ” Si vous me trouviez mort, un de ces quatre matins, rendez-moi donc le service de me jeter dans le trou au fumier .”
- If you find me dead one day, just throw me into the compost bin…. “
Reading with your 5 senses:
- Zola wants to stress the difference between L’Abbé Mouret and Albine by using the the five senses, smell, feel, hearing, taste and sight.
- Serge wants to isolate himself from nature, while Abline fills herself with the smells and warmth of life ( nature).
L’ Abbé Mouret:
- He closed the door of his senses to liberate himself from the needs of the body. Nature to him was only a trap, only smells. (ch 4, part 1)
- He closed his senses, tried to destroy them. But, Albine reappeared like a beautiful flower, emerging and attractive on the ground. (ch 16, part 1)
- Oh, to live and grow outside the shame of the senses! ( ch 17, part 1)
- Castrate in me the humanness, make me an eunuch among men…( ch 17, part 1)
- She was like a great bouquet with a strong fragrance. (ch 8, part 1)
- Albine was a beautiful rose, one of the pale-colored roses, open in the morning (ch 6, part 2)
- Chapter 14 (part 2) Serge sees Abline’s resemblance while viewing the painted fresco’s in his room.
- The scene of a young woman, with her head tossed back in the embrace of a young faune (half human–half goat) with hoves.
- “La femme couchée se renversait sous l’étreinte d’un faune aux pieds de bouc”.
- This wiil be part of the “La Faute” scene..(pg 269)
- The text is a duplication of images within a text mirroring each other.
- Tree of Knowledge of good and evil = the forbidden place, place of ‘La Faute”
- Breach in the wall of the garden = loss of virginity
- Garden: the place of perfect happiness ( l’endroit de felicité parfaite)
- Roses: = Albine
Chapter 6: ( part 2)
- Zola considers ‘roses’ an important theme and reserves an entire chapter for them.
- The Rose symbolizes Albine a young ‘plant’ whose body comes to full bloom.
- A rose, roses or rosiers are mentioned more than 47 times in just 5 pages.
- roses invading, clambering, crawling
- roses red, yellow, white
- a mantel of roses
- roses showering down
- roses like a drop of living snow
- roses rising to your knees
- roses soaring on kisses
- straw-colored roses
- roses the color of the sun
- a cradle of roses
- tea rose
- whispering roses
- wine red roses ( des roses lie-de-vin)
- frothy roses ( des roses mousseuses)
- roses tilted back in the form of an urn
- crown of roses
- perfume of roses
Jan Frans Dael (1764 – 1840)
Chapter 14: This was an exhausting chapter in which Zola give us a very detailed picture of Serge Mouret’s devotaion to the Virgin Mary. He lapses into trances, hallucinates in prayer and is engulfed by a numbing mysticism.
In (ch 1-5) Part 2 Zola gets carried away The words taste like cotton-candy, too sweet and it makes my head ache. He must describe the ‘rebirth’ of Serge and that means a lot of ‘babillage d’enfant’ ( babytalk) with Albine. It was a bit too much.
Reading long descriptive passages about a garden:
I’ve developed a system for reading this type of text:
- Don’t look up every, plant, tree flower or shrub that Zola mentions. It’s not worth the time or effort. I used this website for reference. You can type the words in French or English. ( ch 12, part 2 is filled with cactuses)
- Concentrate on the description: (a carpet of violets, a mantel of roses, cradle of roses and chryanthemums like full moons.)
- Personification: Birch trees have thin ‘waists’, white ‘skin’, whipping their ‘hair’ in the wind
- Look beyond the flowers. Notice other things: streams, ponds, statues, stairs, columns and rocks.
- Highlight the verbs then you will get the general idea what the text is about. (blossom, fade, resemble something, seperate, clamber up, shiver, bend in the wind, entwine or soak their leaves in a pond)
This book was not what I expected. I dreaded yet another story about a priest. This will be the third Zola book in which a priest was the central character. I wonder how many more are yet to come?
- Emile Zola: ambitious priest in La Conquête de Plassans, Abbé Fuajas.
- Emile Zola: ‘doubting Thomas’ priest questioning his vocation in Lourdes, Abbé Pierre Fromant
Yet Zola uses the elements of nature to make this story soar above the others.
I’ve learned that if you take the time to step back, look at the structure, the symbolisme, the literary tools ( mise-en abyme) that Zola uses, you get so much more that just a story. You get genius!