Title: La Curée:
- Term used in hunting when dogs are allowed to eat the entrails of the prey. This term was mentioned in Son Excellence Eugène Rougon chapter 7 pg 289 . It represents the attack by speculators in Paris on houses and buildings in 1850, after the Second Empire.
- Zola gave a recommended reading order and placed this book as number 3. It was published in 1872 just 5 years before his first big commercial success: L ‘Assommoir.
- The novel is set in 1865-1867 the Second Empire, when the triumphant regime engages in unrestrained profiteering, speculation and corruption embodied in the financial Saccard. Zola is still studying the rise and fall of the family Rougon-Macquart. He weaves the double curse of alcoholism ( Marquart) and madness ( Rougon) into the stories.
- Astride Rougon changed his name to Saccard as not be associated with his influential brother Eugène. Pg 37: “Saccard, dont les deux syllables sèches avaient sonné à ses oreilles, les premières fois, avec la brutalité de deux râteaux ramassant de l’or” ( name sounds like a rake gathering gold coins)
There are 63 characters in this story.
- Chapter 1 1865 Description of hôtel particulier of Saccard engorged in riches.
- Chapter 2 1851 Astride (Rougon) Saccard descends on Paris.
- Chapter 3 1858 – 1865 Renée Béraud du Châtel marries Astride Saccard ( marriage deal)
- Chapter 4 1865 Incestuous affaire between Renée and Maxime begins.
- Chapter 5 1866 Mise-en-abîme with love triangle in Phèdre
- Chapter 6 1867 René is slowly slipping into a state of madness
- Chapter 7 1868 Renée feels life that has passed her by.
- Speculation Astride
- Sensual pleasures and sexuality Renée
- Gender deviance:
- Maxime ( garçon-fille )
- Baptiste ( gay)
- Suzanne Haffner et la marquise d’Espanet, ( two married women…with a relationship Pg 252: “amitié honteuse”)
What did I like in chapter 1: l’hôtel d’Aristide Saccard
1. An imposing building: overloaded and complicated (ten to twelve windows – three turrets – countless sculptures).
2. Impossible to identify a style: taste is uncertain because it is an incredible mess. Exterior: drab facade, Interior: bathed in the beauty of nature and flowers.
3. The building shows an amazing material success: references to gold and the location of the hotel next to Parc Monceau.
4. La serre chaud: Pg 62-68 The description of the “serre chaud” was wonderful. Zola mentions more than 30 different sorts of flowers/trees/palms/shrubs. I took the time to look at the images of these plants. In my investigations I learned that Zola used suggestive forms of vegetation to intensify the feeling of desire. This place will play an important part in the story.
- Tiges colossales ( large stems or shafts)
- Couches âcre mer du feu ( pungent beds)
- épanouissement de forêt (blossoming forest)
- toutes brûlantes des entrailles qui les nourrissaient ( smoldering depths that nourish)
- effluves troublants, chargés d’ivresse ( seductive fragrances heavily intoxicating, exhilarating)
This building can represent the Saccard family: appearing modest on the outside in order to hide social success of the family, but the hidden courtyard garden ( la serre chaud) displaying the crushing wealth the family has. One has to wonder is this house a sanctuary or a trap.?
What did I like in chapter 2: Introduction to characters and impressionist description of Paris.
Paris is seen as an Impressionist landscape then transformed under the gaze of Saccard in place of money and pleasure which requires vision. What strikes first is the size of this great metropolis compared to a vast ocean ( pg 103 “..sur cet océan de maisons aux toits bleuâtres…”) with movement and sounds of life. The style impressionism derives from the title of Claude Monet work, “Impression, soleil levant”. Zola describes so many places in this book, La Seine, Bois de Boulogne, l’hôtel particulier, Parc Monceau et les salons ….paintings in words!
Pg 118-124: description of the L’hôtel Béraud. This is the home of Renée’s father. While reading about this building I could visually follow it by means of Google images. L’Hôtel Lambert, Ile de Saint-Louis is was Zola’s inspiration.
What did I like chapter 3: Urban renovation of Paris à la Haussmann / The world of haute-couture
This chapter gave us a overview of life in Paris. The reconstruction of Paris and the intricate schemes of speculation and compensation for buildings. We catch a glimpse of the world of “les jupes, les chiffons, haute-couture. The language of clothes is linked to the metamorphose of Renée ( se défait) as she crumbles before our eyes. Her favorite dress was named Robe Montespan ( pg 136) named after Mme de Montespan, a most celebrated mistress of King Louis XIV.
What did I like in Chapter 4: The seduction : Latin seductio = to lead astray
Renée, celebrated in Paris society for her great beauty, her scandalous affairs, and her priceless and highly original fashions. As the Second Empire sinks into increasing decadence, we see Renée seeking greater and greater thrills, until she ultimately begins a torrid semi-incestuous affair with her stepson Maxime, which will ultimately prove her undoing. The seduction takes place in her “cabinet de toilette” ( pg 214 “comme on dit << la galerie des Glaces à Versailles>> “) . The chapter ends describing the nightly débauche in “la serre chaud” . The pages drip with eroticism….. Pg 222 “Il eurent une nuit d’amour fou. Renée était l’homme…..Maxime subissait”.
What did I like in Chapter 5: Mise-en-abîme with love triangle in Phèdre
I liked Zola’s clever idea of sending Renée and Maxime to see Racine’s Phèdre = Mise-en abîme
Pg 249-251 Mise-en-abîme: Renée see her resemblance while viewing the play Phèdre at Théâtre-Italien. ( text which is a reduplication of images or concepts within a text mirroring each other.) Phaedra is married to Theseus and falls in love with her stepson Hyppolytus. Renée is married to Astride and falls in love with her stepson Maxime.
What did I like in Chapter 6: It was the BEST part of the book = Hallucination
Chapter 6: Pg 323 – 329: In every book Zola achieves a certain quality of writing that leaves one breathless. La Fortune des Rougon – the death of Miette while Sylvière cradles her in his arms
Son Excellence Eugène Rougon - Eugène admitting defeat to Clorinde due to her political intriguesI
La Curée – René gazes into a mirror and see herself and her life as it really is. A mirror is our means of introspection and facing reality, whether we like it or not.
Astride Saccard is compared to a blacksmith that moulds the warm metal ( Renée) into the form he wants. Metal is money = René. She is nothing more than a commodity that he has purchased and expects a major ROI, return on investment.
Renée asks herself: “Qui l’avait mise nue?” In this semi- incestuous relationship it was the father that unclasped the bustier and it was the son that undressed her.
What did I like in Chapter 7: Descriptions of Paris and Renée’s moral agony
I expected more drama in this chapter but Zola uses his descriptive techniques to paint one last work of art. The Bois de Boulogne is described on pg 347-348 and is similar to pg 22 at the begining of the book. Zola uses personification to give us a picture of the Seine, this river beloved by René and her sister in their youth. Renée feels empty, life has passed her by. She finds comfort only in the memories of her youth.
What I did not like:
Explanations about the finances of buying/selling properties with compensation due to the remodeling of Paris by Haussmann. It is obviously in all the chapters, but mastering the vocabulary around these subjects took time. I had to learn the difference between emprunter ( to borrow) , prêter ( to lend), emprunt (loan) an indemnité ( compensation) . Confusing!
Chapter 6: It could have been much shorter. Zola goes a bit overboard describing a “bal travesti, avec un poème et trois tableaux vivants”. It had very little to do with the essence of the chapter. The first visible signs that Renée is sinking into madness, and Saccard walking in on the lovers ( Renée and Maxime) was what this chapter was really about.
Zola gives us yet another book full of characters ( Astride Saccard, his wife Renée and Maxime Saccard his son) and shows us how they were shaped by the environment in which lived . He wants to make reality visible and does this with impressionist techniques. These are the strong points of the book. Unfortunately the plot, for lack of a better word, is boring. It is about the wheelings and dealings of urban renewal in Paris at the time of Hausmann. The first books in the Rougon-Marquart series were not commercial successes and I can see why. The plots are complicated and tiresome…..
1. La Fortune des Rougon - introduction Rougon-Marquet family tree, 2. Son Excellence Eugène Rougon – power and politics in Paris, 3. La Curée – urban remodeling, speculation and corruption in Paris.
I know Zola’s best work is yet to come L’Assommoir (1877), Nana (1880), Germinal, (1885), La Bête Humaine (1890)……and I must be patient.
Reviewing the book with Mork, my new blog editor.
- nager dan le tohu-bohu – to be in a confused situation
- s’accrocher à qqn comme à planche de salut – to cling to someone as a lifeline
- en avoir plein le dos ( j’en ai plein le dos) - I’m fed up with it!
Chapter 1: Zola wrote 5 books in this series, each with a different vision of Paris. La Curée begins with impressionistic descriptions of Bois de Boulogne, houses and gardens. Zola describes 30 different flowers, trees, ferns, palms Saccard’s “la serre chaud” in his villa. Astride Rougon is the link to book 1 and 2, but the central character is Renée his wife. There is something brewing, dark, sensual and we are to discover what “l’autre chose” is that she desires.
Chapter 2: flashback 14 years to moment when Astride Rougon descends upon Paris to make his fame and fortune. Astride is dependant on brother Eugène for work. We learn more about Sidonie Astride’s sister. Difficult to concentrate on my reading, The Tour de France is so exciting to watch with mega sprints and sometimes terrible crashes!
Danny Boy …..needs some attention.
Chapters 3-4: It’s all about Paris: compared to an ocean: “océan de toits bleuâtres”, “pareil à des flots pressés”, “emplissent l’immense horizon”. We meet main characters Astride and Renée who make a marriage deal and Maxime who is Saccard’s son by his first wife. Renée and and Maxime develop a “scabreuse”( naughty) relationship.
Chapter 5: was by far the most difficult chapter to read. I am battling against, an exciting finale Tour de France, “ attendant le bébé royale” of UK and a blistering heat wave that is blanketing The Netherlands.
Seduction of Maxime by Renée, his stepmother is at a boiling point! Savvy Astride (R’s husband) uses his beautiful wife to increase his credit rating. How low can you go?”
Chapter 6: Zola saves the best for last. Renée is slipping into madness. Pages 323-329 took my breath away. Renée gazes into a mirror, sees reality and asks herself: “Qui l’avait mise nue?” In this semi- incestuous relationship it was the father that unclasped the bustier and it was the son that undressed her. Too tired now…will read the last pages tomorrow.