Book review: Le Ventre de Paris by Émile Zola


Le Ventre de Paris (Les Rougon-Macquart, #3)Le Ventre de Paris by Émile Zola

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the third book of the saga of Les Rougon-Macquart which was published in 1873. This book is preceded by La Curee and it is followed by La Conquete de Plaissans. The fist English translation to English was made in 1888, under the title of The Fat and the Thin.

For more than 800 years, Les halls was the “stomach” of Paris. In this book, Zola makes use of the “style image” – a figurative style, decorated with images and metaphors. This is what marks the most writing Zola in the Belly of Paris. Moreover, we can clearly see by the choice of the title of the work that can be read as a metaphor of the belly.

The general idea can be found in the Preface:

Le ventre-le ventre de Paris, les Halles où la nourriture afflue, pour rayonner sur les quartiers divers ; -le ventre de l’humanité, et par extension la bourgeoisie digérant, cuvant en paix ses joies et ses honnêtetés moyennes.


“Le Marché des Innocents” (Les Halles’ open-air market), by Durand. Open-air market: Musée Carnavalet, Paris; © Phototheque des musées de la ville de Paris/negative: Habouzit; by permission of Librairie Plon, Paris

The plot describes how Florent – the main character, was imprisoned by mistake after the French coup of 1851 . Once he was released, he fins refuge with his step-brother Quenu, a charcutier and his wife Lisa Quenu (formerly Macquart). The he became a fish inspector in Les Halles.

For the first time the author has awarded and supported the beauty of the modern urban landscape in the French fiction.

Through the plot, the painter Claude Lantier makes his apparition for the first time. He will return in “L’Oeuvre: (1866).

Quotations:

La révolution politique est faite, voyez-vous; il faut aujourd’hui songer au travailleur, à l’ouvrier; notre mouvement devra être tout social. Et je vous défie bien d’arrêter cette revendication du peuple. Le peuple est las, il veut sa part.

— L’égoïsme des classes est un des soutiens les plus fermes de la tyrannie. Il est mauvais que le peuple soit égoïste. S’il nous aide, il aura sa part… Pourquoi voulez-vous que je me batte pour l’ouvrier, si l’ouvrier refuse de se battre pour moi?… Puis, la question n’est pas là. Il faut dix ans de dictature révolutionnaire, si l’on veut habituer un pays comme la France à l’exercice de la liberté.

Free download available at Project Gutenberg.

The English version can be found at Gutenberg Project.

And the audio version in French at Literature audio.com.

 

Interesting link:

Emile Zola’s Portrait of Les Halles

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4 thoughts on “Book review: Le Ventre de Paris by Émile Zola

  1. I read the original translation, The Fat and the Thin, a number of years ago. Have recently acquired the newish Brian Nelson translation, The Belly of Paris, and am looking forward to reading it.

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