Le Conquête de Plassans ( 1874)
This is the 4th in the Rougon-Macquart series. Zola had his own reading list and placed it as number 6. There are 51 characters in this book.
Zola wrote 5 books in the series about Plassans ( inspired by his hometown Aix-en-Provence). this is the 3rd one I’ve read.
Eugène Rougon ( le ministre à Paris ) is still pulling all the strings. Plassans has fallen into the hands of the Legitimists and must once again be managed by the Bonapartists. A political agent is sent to the town ( Abbé Fuajas) to get the job done. Abbé Fuajas has orchestrated the downfall of many people for his political objectives.
After having read 6 of his books I’m feeling comfortable with Zola’s vocabulary. This was a complex story and required some “think” work ( chapter 14) to understand who the Legitimists and Bonapartists were and what their political agenda was. The human story ( Rougon-Macquart connection) was easy to follow. Chapters 20 -23 were very good and I am still thinking about the ending!
The most important themes are:
- Heredity (“folie lucide” madness)
- Family ( husband and wife relationship)
- Religion (the influence it has on people’s behavior, Catholicism )
- Politics ( Bonapartists vs Legitimists )
Zola captures your attention in the first chapters by describing a very likeable and happy family. He wants the reader to connect with these characters. When this family is torn apart, Zola wants you to feel the pain.
Score: 4 stars
Introduction to the “clergy politics”: ( this took time to figure out….)
- Abbé Fuajas: sent from Pairs to tear Plassans away from the Legitimists. He engages in a conflict with Fenil and seizes power over the Archbishop Rousselot.
- Abbé Compan: Curé de Saint-Saturnin. ( is in a 30 yr feud with Abée Fenil)
- Abbé Fenil, vicar of the diocese of Plassans who pulls all the strings in Plassans
- Monseigneur Rousselot Archbishop of Plassans.
As a naturalist Zola uses once again a labyrinth of gardens as a framework to weave his tapestry. Faujas is an envoy of Eugène Rougon to “conquer” Plassans and bring it under Bonapartist rule once again.
- Jardin Mouret: (between Legitimist and Bonapartist)
- Jardin Sous-Préfecture: (bonapartist)
- Jardin des Rastoil: (legitimist), after election, vacarme de triomphe)
- All the gardens have little doors, there are endless mysterious paths
- All these door are opened in chapter 14 with amazing results!
What did I like in chapter 14: ( most difficult chapter to read)
Monseigneur Rousselot has received letters from Rome. Beware, we suspect that Abbé Fuajas is a political agent.The only way the “ladies and gentlemen” of Plassans could be duped by Paris ( Eugène Rougon) was to send in a “mole” to infiltrate the community. Abbé Fuajas modified his demeanor and message so that it would continue to seem plausible:
- have no political opinion
- make no drastic changes in Plassans
- be well dressed
- be pleasent
- know your place
- don’t say much…but listen!
Two ladies were able to keep in contact with Paris to give and take feedback: Mme Félicité Rougon (Eugène Rougon’s mother) and Mme Condamin ( Eugène Rougon ex-mistress).
You’ll need this list just to read the chapter:
Bonapartists: (Jardin Sous-Préfecture
- Péqueur des Saulaies
- Dr. Porquier
Legitimists: (Jardin des Rastoil)
Orléanist ( no special garden, visits Rastoil frequently) ( 3r party)