- Author: Emile Zola
- Genre: novel
- Title: La Terre
- Published: 1887
- Table of Contents: 5 parts, 553 pages
- Book: Published by Le Livre de Poche
- Cover: Gil Blas
- Setting: Beauce area North of France between Seine – Loire rivers; village of Rognes
- Themes: greed, inheritance, individual’s appetite for land
- Trivia: Le Gil Blas was a Parisian literary periodical. It is named for Alain-René’s novel Gil Blas. It serialized many famous novels such as Zola’s Germinal, L’Oeuvre and Lourdes before they appeared in book form.
- Trivia: Published in 1887 Zola yet again causes a scandal because La Terre gives the reader a glimpse into the raw, shocking and brutal life of « les paysans ».
- Trivia: Zola was critcized by ‘Le Manifeste des Cinq’ .
- Five young naturalist writers accused him of being bogged down in the ‘vulgar’ and motivated solely by monetary gain.
Structure: 5 parts
- Jean Macquart: 29 yrs, returned from The Second Italian War of Independence 1859,
- Illegitimate birth of Jules: = Marriage Lise – Buteau
- Buteau agrees to share the Fouan inheritance = family conflicts,
- Family squabbles, violence, abuse. Marriage Jean- Françoise
- More abuse, violence and deaths ( murder or accident?) = I see no happy ending here!
- This is a working-class novel describing the hardships and brutality of rural life in the late 19th C.
- Jean Macquart arrives in the peasant community of Rognes in the area called Beauce.
- Jean finds himself involved in the corrupt affairs of the local Fouan family.
- Old Man Fouan has decided to divide his land between his three children.
- But in a community where land is everything, sibling rivalry quickly turns to brutal hatred as Buteau declares himself unsatisfied with his lot.
- There are there are more than 100 different characters in the book !
- The action revolves mainly around:
- 29 yrs, born in Plassans, brother of Lise Quenu [Le Ventre de Paris ] and Gervaise Coupeau [ L' Assommoir ]
- He settles in Rognes after leaving the army. Befriends Lise and Françoise Fouan ( cousins of Fanny, Hyacinthe Fouan) and marries Françoise.
- He has no interest in possessing the land. He just wants to be a farm worker.
- 14 yrs at the beginning of the book, is honest and hardworking. She is devoted to her sister but feelings change once Lise marries Buteau.
- She demands her share of the inheritance after her father dies.
- Unfortunately she is physically abused by Buteau on several occasions.
- Françoise esapes her situation and marries Jean Macquart.
- Yet he cannot save her from her violent death.
- He is married to Lise.
- Violent and stubborn he is obsessed with owning the farmland.
- He is capable of using his ‘killer instincts’ and is responsible for three deaths in order to get what he wants.
- His wife pales in comparison to her violent husband, but she is an accomplice in two of the murders
The Fouan family:
- Parents Fouan, eldest son, Hyacinthe (aka Jesus-Christ), daughter Fanny married to Delhomme and the second son Buteau.
- Fouan’s have worked the lands for years and want to divide the inheritance among the children.
- This is where the problems and family conflicts begin.
- Fouan is disgusted with his son-in-law, Buteau.
- Hyacinthe is a simple fool, perpetually drunk and dabbles in small time theft, poaching and gambling. He has no wish to continue to work the bevloved land of his father.
- Delhomme and Fanny lead a honest life and are a hardworking couple.
- Fanny cares for her father but rations and rules everything in his life ( food, drink, tabacco). She is a penny-pinching daughter with insatiable desire for wealth (greedy).
- She falls out with her father and they never reconcile their differences..
Strong point: Zola’s extensive research
- Zola lived on a farm for a month. He listend to the local stories, observerd the daily peasent life. He was interested in the morals of the village, the rituals of births, marriages, deaths and the accidents.
- The death of the old Fouan is based on the story of an old farmer who was killed by his family because it cost too much to feed him!
- Zola did his homework by reading : L’Histoire des paysans by Eugène Bonnemère ( 3 huge volumes ) and les Pensées by l’abbé Joseph Roux.
- These books gave Zola a basic knowledge of country life.
- The former revealed the individual’s appetite for land and the latter the theft of the land by ground rents and taxes.
- Both topics became themes in the book.
Strong point: camera like descriptions
- The ‘paysage’ (envrionment) is one of the main characters in the book.
- Zola can describe the land as a panoramic shot or zoom in to the left or right or even give us a close up of the characters to reveal their thoughts ( exressions).
- As in many books Zola uses shadows, light and colors to ‘paint’ with words.
- Buteau can recognize the variety of grains in the fields by their colors “le vert jaune du blé, le vert bleu de l’avoine, le vert gris du seigle ” (pg 222)
I could not enjoy ONE of the characters…..NOT ONE!
- Characters: Zola describes humans as machine-like, the faceless farmers working synchronized in the fields or the rythmn of a blacksmith. (pg 304)
- La Terre: Zola describes ‘La Terre’ as human. Buteau looks at ‘la terre’ as a lover contemplates his mistress “il la desire [...] sa jeunesse…” ( pg 222-223)
- Beginning of the book: Jean is sowing seeds in the field for growth, regeneration.
- End of the book: Jean is leaving Rognes and watches the labourers once again scattering the seeds in the fields, giving the book a ‘full circle’ feeling.
Connecting the dots:
- The novel is connected to the other novels in the series by the character Jean Macquart, His childhood was described in La Fortune des Rougon.
- La Terre begins and ends with a scene in the fields while a farmers scatters the seed. This ‘full-cricle’ feeling is also seen in the beginning and end of:
- Nana. (starts in an empty theater – ends in an empty bedroom),
- Le Ventre de Paris ( Florent returns from Devil’s Island – at the end he is deported back to ‘au bagne’).
- La Faute de l’abbé Mouret ( Serge suffers from and excessive religious fervour – at the end of the book he has sunk even deeper in this frenzied faith)
- There are strong ties between the La Terre and King Lear (Shakespeare). The father decides to share his wealth among his children.
- I cannot spend time investigating this interesing connection. It would involve much more work, study and another blogpost!
- It is a ‘nice to know’ element about the book.
- In several books Zola uses the ‘environment’ as a force acting on and defining the characters.
- For example, the sea La Joie de Vivre, Paris Une Page d’ Amour, Le Ventre de Paris , the countryside with farms and barnyards La Faute de l’abbé Mouret and La Terre.
- La Terre is more or less without ‘irony’ as were Zola’s La Faute de l’abbé Mouret and L’Oeuvre. So don’t look for this literary tool in these books, it’s not there!
- This was NOT a pleasure to read.
- It is a portrait of a struggling and very , dysfunctional family community.
- << C’est le pire livre de Zola que j’aie jamais lu! >>
- The worst Zola book I have ever read!
- I agree with ‘Le Manifeste des Cinq’ that Zola goes ‘over the top’ with vulgarity, rape, abuse, violence and murder.
- Last thoughts: I had to read it to finish the series but would never recommend the book!
- Score was almost 1...but he is a classic writer, that is the only thing that kept the book on score 2.