L’ Argent ( 1891)
This book was the 18th in the Rougon-Macquart series. Zola placed it as 4th on the reading list.
There are 82 characters in this story.
Historical novel: ( a blend of fact and fiction)
Zola was inspired by two historical events: the financial crisis at the end of the 19th century “The Crash” Union-Générale ( 1878-1882) and the “Jules Mirès affaire”. This person is captured in the character of Astride Saccard. He has the same audacity, energy, blind ambition, tactical sense and absence of scruples.
Zola “never played the stock market”. He gathered much of his information about the “nuts and bolts” of the exchange by reading the following books: Mémoires d’un coulissier (E. Feydeau) and La Bourse, ses abus et ses mystères (E. de Mirecourt). Zola often discusssed the subject matter with his editor, Eugène Fasquelle, who was a broker before entering the publishing business.
- The financial speculation on the stock markt and the scandals that result as a consequence.
- The “the rich are different” (Victor vs Maxime Saccard ( illegitimate /legitimate son).
- Power of the press: Saccard buys newspapers and controls the output.
Timeline: 1864 -1869
Why did Banque Universelle fail?
Liquidity: Most businesses fail not because of lack of profits but because of cash-flow problems. Banque Universelle was an upturned pyramid balanced on a small sliver of cash. Saccard continues to purchase its own shares in order to inflate his universe. He does everything to attract small and medium investors, who are promised easy and quick profits.
What did I like?
Chapter 5 ( pp 183 – 192)
We visit la Cité de Naples . It is truly ” voyage au bout de l’ « enfer »” . Zola is famous for the theme that appears in many of his books: pesants of the lower class, hopeless people who are living at the mercy of the rich. Zola takes the reader into the dark and gloomy slums. The descriptions of putrid smells and the squalid living conditions are powerful. « Ah ! misère qui détruit tout et pourrit tout ! » pp.191
Chapter 6 ( pp 241)
Newspapers: In this novel there is the description of the takeover of major financial newspapers. At first, Saccard gets hold of a small newspaper for writing positive articles about the bank. When the success and money start coming in Saccard takes over an old and reputable journal “La Cote financière.”
The media has the power to controle the minds of the readers but not necessarily their actions. That’s all Saccard needed! pp 234 “…non point une campagne brutale….mais une façon lente de s’emparer du public et de l’étrangler correctement.” ( seize the public and choke them….)
Chapter 11 ( pp 420 – 453)
Money poisons the body and mind. Zola describes the consequences of the relentless desire for more money. Melodramatic scenes of pensioners left without a cent, a father abandonded by his only daughter because he gambled away her dowery and a young stockbroker who could not face the shame of his losses, He commits suicide in front of his wife and two young children. This was quite a chapter and Zola paints yet again a vivid picture of human grief.
What did I NOT like?
I could not find a thing I did not like. The chapters were a little long, but the new vocabulary with “stock market” terms was easy to learn.
At the Stock Exchange ( Degas, 1879)
No new expressions but so many odd words beginning with the letter G:
- gaspillage squandering,
- guenille rag
- girouette weathervane
- goutière gutter
- grouillement bustling
- gringoler to collapse
- grogner to growl
- grimacer to scowl
- glousser to giggle
- guinguette dance hall
- guignon rotten luck
- goguenard mocking
- grelotter to shiver
- guetter to watch closely
Characters – animals ( Zola uses this often to describe a character)
- Busch ainé loup ( wolf)
- Comtesse Beauvilliers cygne ( swan)
- Mme Méchain corbeau ( crow)
- Mme Cronin petit mouton frisé ( curly haired sheep)
- Sabatini couleuvre ( grass snake)
- Mme Chuchu sauterelle ( grasshopper)
4 down…16 books yet to read !
The book describes accurately and vividly people’s behavior when money becomes the center of their lives. Those who had worked all their lives to get a little money and relied entirely on speculation on the stock market, buying shares of the doomed Banque Universelle and ended up losing everything.
Astride Saccard , motivated by profit and self-preservation was a greedy manipulator so hungry to accumulate wealth that he did not care whom he hurt to get what he wanted. There are heartwrenching stories in this book in which we can feel the humain anguish. This makes the book so unforgettable, in my opinion.
This book is easily overlooked while looking at the collection of books written by Emile Zola. The title doesn’t have that “grab power”, but the story on the other does hold the reader’s attention. It is well worth reading!
Reading experiment: Before I start this book, I read all the footnotes and a took quick look at the 82 characters coming my way. It took hours but I did it. I want to see if this changes my attitude to tackling L´Argent. Positive note: the vocabualry of La Curée and L`Argent shouldn´t be too different. 1e chapter we meet the `brokers` from `la Bourse`..
This book was written and the end of the series (1891) but Zola placed it as 4th on the reading list. The story connects seamlessly with La Curée. Astride is main character and he has lost all his wealth (La Curée) and is back to zero. He sees a chance to regain power and money in the world of speculation on the stockmarket. Very easy reading because I’ve learned many words that Zola keeps repeating!
In the banks and the stockmarket lies the modern financial power.
Nothing is possible without money. Best part today was the character of Gundermann. Zola was inspired by James Rothchild for this personnage. “Le banquier Gundermann,le maître de la Bourse et du monde, a construit son empire sur la froide logique. Reading today was as easy as putting a hot knife through butter!
Stocks in the USA are at record high, investors in The Netherlands want to start a new bank. It seems like what I’m reading in L’Argent is anno 2013 instead of 1864! Saccard has been busy “sweet talking” investors for his Banque Universelle. Saccard is obsessed with ….”tenter le hasard, obtenir tout son caprice, ètre roi, ètre dieu!”
Expansion capital is needed, Saccard plans selling more shares to the public. Investors are drunk with greed and invest blindly. This part was very difficult to read. In Chapter 5 we are also told that Saccard has a “love child” , Victor 12 yrs., living in squalor. Business associates smell “blackmail” and are ready to attack Banque Universelle.
Danny Boy after a marathon reading day in the middle of a heat wave in The Netherlands, 36,9 C !! Exhausted….me too!
Saccard receives confidental geo-political information. He uses it for inside trading to make huge gains on the market. Watchful as always, Gundermann ( banque juive) loses 8 million without a complaint. He plans revenge, “il attendait froidement qu’elle (Banque Universelle)se lézardat (will crack) d’elle-mème”. I am exhausted after a long day on the stock exchange.
You can feel the tension. Investors are drunk with greed, the share price for Saccard’s bank has doubled. Only 1 person decides to sell and take the profits, Saccard’s closest business friend Caroline. Why is she suspicious? What does she know? The epic struggle between Saccard and Gundermann is about to explode. Gundermann..”froide d’homme…joueur mathématique…vendant malgré la hausse.”
Saccard must appear confident. I was puzzled by the quote.. (pp 412) . ” par ces grands froids, on a oublié un camélia dans ma cour, et il est perdu”. Saccard fondly remembers a flower while he is on the brink of financial $$ disaster. The crowd is impressed. As he walks in the muddy streets of Paris after Banque Universelle has crashed, he once again says: “ce camélia qu’on a oublié dans ma cour, et qui est mort de froid”. Dazed he realizes…he’s lost everything.
Caroline Hamelin retraces in the last chapter all that has happened. She visits Saccard in prison. He is found guilty, but his brother, Eugène Rougon, wants him out of the country. He flees to ( of all places), The Netherlands! After all is said and done, Caroline is the voice of Zola when she says: ( pp 495) “l’argent jusqu’a ce jour, était le fumier dans lequel poussait l’humanité de demain….” ( money is the “manure” that pushes humanity towards…..tomorrow…)
I read this book for the Language Freak Summer Challenge :