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The Fortune Of The Rougons (1985)

The Fortune of the Rougons (1985)

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3.74 of 5 Votes: 2
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0862992168 (ISBN13: 9780862992163)

About book The Fortune Of The Rougons (1985)

This work, which will comprise several episodes, is therefore, in my mind, the natural and social history of a family under the Second Empire. And the first episode, here called The Fortune of the Rougons, should scientifically be entitled The Origin.Author's Preface (1871)When I discovered that Emile Zola wrote a 20-book series about the fictional families of Rougon and Macquart, I became obsessed. I wanted to read them all. I wanted them all lined up on my shelf to look at after completing the run because that's the sort of sick bastard that I am. I didn't realize, however, that there would be difficulties in this plan. Stupid difficulties. Ones that should not exist under any circumstance.Problem #1: This first book in the series was wicked hard to find. I thought I could just stroll on over to my local library, yank a copy off the shelf, and move on to the next at will. But the Carnegie Library system in Pittsburgh, for all of its other perks, failed to have the first book. None of the branches had it, so it's not like I could use the modern convenience of the ILL. I asked them to purchase a copy because, as I pointed out, they have so many of the other Rougon-Macquart books, wouldn't they want the first book for their collection? I never received a response so I'm assuming the answer was NO.So we went on a mission, my boyfriend and I. We were hell-bent on finding a used copy of this book. (Note: Boyfriend may not have actually cared that much, other than he wanted to be able to put a smile on my face and get me to shut up about this damn Zola person, but that's probably beside the point. He participated in my insanity and that's all that matters.) Our Fall 2010 holiday was spent visiting every bookstore we could find between Pittsburgh and Baltimore/DC. We did Internet searches for bookstores that were hidden away in the middle of absolutely nowhere. We met so many bookstore cats and had so much bookstore-grime covering our hands, but we barely even noticed. We I had Zola-vision, and I was going to find this book if it was the last thing I did.Okay, so I didn't find a copy. Sadly. Our holiday came and went and despite all the stores we visited, no one had a copy of this damn book. It didn't ruin our trip, but I was still pretty disappointed and I probably shook my fist at Zola's memory. Pfft, as if it's his fault his book is pretty much out-of-print.Then, magically, for Christmas, there it was. My boyfriend had done what most people in the 21st-century do when they want something - he ordered it online for me. It's what's called a Print On Demand edition. I guess when you request it online, some little monkey somewhere poops it out for you, puts it in a package, and sends it on its merry little way. Thank you, monkey! (And Boyfriend, too!)Problem #2: While doing some "research" about these books I discovered that, yes, there are 20 books in this series. But also there are opinions regarding in which order to read them. What? I was hoping to go through them all publication-order-chronologically-like because that's the kind of person I am (refer to sick bastard statement above).You have the Publication Order (1871-1893), but then you have the Recommended Reading Order, and they differ greatly. They both begin and end with the same books, and there are a couple in the middle that are in the same place, but for the most part they're way different. I spent a lot of time thinking about this, agonizing over this, talking to people who do not care about this. I made a Pro/Con list, I may have even made a pie chart and a graph. And then someone smarter than myself pointed out that the Recommended Reading Order was suggested by none other than Zola himself, but apparently not until he wrote the Introduction for the final book in the series. Why would he hold on us that long? Pshaw on Zola!Then someone else smarter than me pointed out that Zola's recommendation is also discussed in a biography written in the early 1900s, which basically has solidified my decision. (Which is sort of a shame because I have the second book by publication order, but not the second book by recommended order. I have a feeling our Fall 2011 holiday will be done almost identically as it was last year in hopes of finding Son Excellence Eugene Rougon. Sigh.)As for the actual book:It's pretty great. I can tell already that it's not going to be his best out of the whole bunch, but the excitement and anticipation I feel knowing I still have 19 more books to go is practically through the roof and totally enhanced my reading of this book. The Fortune of the Rougons was not Zola's first book in his literary career, so I can't say that it feels like a first book - but I can say that it feels a little unformed, a little dirty and raw around the edges. It could have used some pizazz in parts.But I still love it.The story begins in and ends in a similar manner, right down to the actual setting. When it began I was all giggly-schoolgirl about the foreshadowing of the scene (view spoiler)[in a cemetery (hide spoiler)]

This is the second Zola novel I've read, and the first in his 20 volume Rougon-Macquart cycle. It's a dark tale about despicable people getting ahead in times of crisis by exploiting people's fears. Zola doesn't have a particularly generous attitude toward people in general I think it's safe to say. After reading this, one is led to ask of people in power -- who did you step on to get there?The story begins with a vivid description of an overcrowded graveyard in the fictional French village of Plassans which was moved, and became a place where children played and gypsies camped. Two young lovers meet there, Silvere and Miette on the cold night that Silvere plans to go off and join an insurgency to defend the Rupublic. Next we get a flashback -- the neurotic Adelaide marries a peasant named Pierre Rougon and has a son by him they name Pierre. After her husband dies, she takes a lover, a rough drunk with wanderlust named Macquart. She has two children by him -- Antoine and Ursule (later the mother of Silvere). Adelaide allows the children to run wild, and soon Pierre sets about getting rid of his two bastard siblings, and selling off his mother's land to steal the family fortune. Pierre marries the avaricious Felicite and has three sons -- Eugene, Aristide and Pascal, along with two daughters (who don't figure into this novel). Eugene and Aristide inherit their mothers avaricious temperament. Pierre and Felicite operate an olive oil business and manage to get by and send their sons to school, but when they retire, they're embittered that they were unable to build a fortune, nor do their sons seem to be likely to do it for them. Meanwhile Pierre's half-brother Antoine returns from a life in the military and wants his share of the family fortune, which Pierre refuses him. Antoine becomes a layabout who complains about the Rougons, and marries so he can live off of his wife and children (none of them will figure into this novel, but will later in the cycle). As lazy as he is, Antoine still resents his poverty and becomes a staunch republican, while his brother Pierre is on the side of the aristocrats who want a monarchy. All of this builds up to a number of battles within the Rougon-Macquart family.A big theme here is freewill and the power of genetics and environment over the individual -- here we're specifically talking about greed, neuroticism and alcoholism. You can see how the characters genetic dispositions, along with their environment makes them who they are. Zola doesn't seem to be the type to agree that we have freewill. In the Preface Zola states, "Heredity, like gravity, has its laws." At the very least we do not get to choose what we "like" or are disposed towards.In this novel Zola introduces us to the main characters of the Rougon-Macquart cycle, and they're almost exclusively greedy, backstabbing cowards. Zola states, "There are some situations that benefit only corrupt individuals. These people lay the foundations of their fortune where more sober and more influential men would never dare to risk theirs." In times of crisis it seems the worst have a way of rising to the top by exploiting people's insecurities. Here we find a cynical, ruthless couple who are willing to step on anyone to get ahead, even stage massacres to do so. The allure of power and wealth corrupts them to the core. The few wholesome characters here meet bad ends, while the cowardly and cunning get ahead. One young dreamer is motivated by genuine, if naive love for his country, yet he meets a bad end compared with others who are merely trying to exploit the situation for their own ends. The character of Felicite is interesting as a sort of Lady Macbeth figure -- she's the real brains behind her husband, without him knowing it. She regrets her evil actions at times, but only briefly, as necessary evils in her attempt to create a "family dynasty." Almost everyone in this book is a total coward. Take the character of Aristide who normally writes a pro-Republican column in his newspaper, but when things come to a crisis he puts his arm in a sling and pretends to be injured so he cannot write and pick a side. He too is just after money and waits to see which side will win out.This novel is is well-written, admittedly I wasn't as involved in this story as I was in "The Drinking Den" for example which I absolutely loved, but it builds up to some pretty good scenes, and some downright heart-wrenching ones as well. There's a lot of switching back and forth in time as Zola tells us of the various characters which will be seen in later books of the series. The attitude here is so cynical, it's hard to imagine something like this being written in America for example, although there are American novels written in the naturalist vein, which I hope to explore.

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At first, I didn't care much for The Fortune of the Rougons: I felt that Émile Zola was trying too hard to establish the back-story of the Rougon-Macquart series of novels that was to come. Only in the last three chapters does The Fortune of the Rougons rise above all this authorial bookkeeping.It all starts with Chapter 5, in which we have the touching love story of Silvere and Miette, a flashback to the two of them joining a mob of insurgents to take an adjoining village. It is probably the closest that Zola ever comes to the romantic.But then, in the two remaining chapters, we are in the sleazy world of village politics, which Pierre Rougon and his wife Felicite are navigating in an attempt to win fame and fortune.At the at times tragic, at times bathetic denouement, we have the now demented matriarch of the Rougon-Macquart, Aunt Dide, suddenly come to life:"You're the ones who fired!" she cried. "I heard the gold ... What a wretched woman I am! I brought nothing but wolves into the world ... a whole family ... a whole litter of wolves... There was just one poor lad [Silvere], and they've eaten him up; they each had a bite at him, and their lips are covered with blood ... Damn them! They are thieves and murderers. And they live like gentlemen. Damn them! Damn them!"So I would rate the first four chapters as a three, but the last three a five. The ending is so good that it prevails.

If you intend reading the massive (20 volume) Rougon Macquart series written byEmile Zola from 1871 onward, this is the one to commit to memory first. It introduces many (but not all) of the amazing cast of characters - half from a rich family, the other from a poor one - and it is all done in Zola's spritely, historical-recording with editorial asides. I love it. The action swirls around the time of the coup d'etat which resulted in the creation of the 2nd Empire of France. It is observational, informative and the characters have you sitting on the edge of your chair. Zola is the master of this kind of reporting, far outweighing what say, Colleen McCullough is doing with the Roman Empire as his writing style never lapses into soap opera nor has any 'romance novel' quality. Incisive and witty with really good writing.

This is the first book in the twenty book long Rougon-Marquart series that is a macrocosm of the grasping corruption of life in the Second French Empire. This one introduces many of the characters who will be the main characters of other books in the series and shows how the various branches of the family faced the coup d'etat of Louis Napoleon in 1851. The 'scientific naturalism' that Zola interjects has certainly been superseded by better ideas and research but still makes for great character studies.
—Patrick Link

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