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THE FORTUNE OF THE ROUGONS

By Emile Zola


Edited With Introduction By Ernest Alfred Vizetelly




INTRODUCTION

"The Fortune of the Rougons" is the initial volume of the
Rougon-Macquart series. Though it was by no means M. Zola's first essay
in fiction, it was undoubtedly his first great bid for genuine literary
fame, and the foundation of what must necessarily be regarded as his
life-work. The idea of writing the "natural and social history of a
family under the Second Empire," extending to a score of volumes, was
doubtless suggested to M. Zola by Balzac's immortal "Comedie Humaine."
He was twenty-eight years of age when this idea first occurred to him;
he was fifty-three when he at last sent the manuscript of his concluding
volume, "Dr. Pascal," to the press. He had spent five-and-twenty years
in working out his scheme, persevering with it doggedly and stubbornly,
whatever rebuffs he might encounter, whatever jeers and whatever insults
might be directed against him by the ignorant, the prejudiced, and the
hypocritical. Truth was on the march and nothing could stay it; even as,
at the present hour, its march, if slow, none the less continues athwart
another and a different crisis of the illustrious novelist's career.

It was in the early summer of 1869 that M. Zola first began the actual
writing of "The Fortune of the Rougons." It was only in the following
year, however, that the serial publication of the work commenced in
the columns of "Le Siecle," the Republican journal of most influence
in Paris in those days of the Second Empire. The Franco-German war
interrupted this issue of the story, and publication in book form did
not take place until the latter half of 1871, a time when both the war
and the Commune had left Paris exhausted, supine, with little or no
interest in anything. No more unfavourable moment for the issue of an
ambitious work of fiction could have been found. Some two or three
years went by, as I well remember, before anything like a revival of
literature and of public interest in literature took place. Thus, M.
Zola launched his gigantic scheme under auspices which would have made
many another man recoil. "The Fortune of the Rougons," and two or three
subsequent volumes of his series, attracted but a moderate degree
of attention, and it was only on the morrow of the publication of
"L'Assommoir" that he awoke, like Byron, to find himself famous.

As previously mentioned, the Rougon-Macquart series forms twenty
volumes. The last of these, "Dr. Pascal," appeared in 1893. Since
then M. Zola has written "Lourdes," "Rome," and "Paris." Critics have
repeated _ad nauseam_ that these last works constitute a new departure
on M. Zola's part, and, so far as they formed a new series, this
is true. But the suggestion that he has in any way repented of the
Rougon-Macquart novels is ridiculous. As he has often told me of recent
years, it is, as far as possible, his plan to subordinate his style and
methods to his subject. To have written a book like "Rome," so largely
devoted to the ambitions of the Papal See, in the same way as he had
written books dealing with the drunkenness or other vices of Paris,
would have been the climax of absurdity.

Yet the publication of "Rome," was the signal for a general outcry on
the part of English and American reviewers that Zolaism, as typified by
the Rougon-Macquart series, was altogether a thing of the past. To my
thinking this is a profound error. M. Zola has always remained faithful
to himself. The only difference that I perceive between his latest
work, "Paris," and certain Rougon-Macquart volumes, is that with time,
experience and assiduity, his genius has expanded and ripened, and that
the hesitation, the groping for truth, so to say, which may be found in
some of his earlier writings, has disappeared.

At the time when "The Fortune of the Rougons" was first published, none
but the author himself can have imagined that the foundation-stone of
one of the great literary monuments of the century had just been laid.
From the "story" point of view the book is one of M. Zola's very best,
although its construction--particularly as regards the long interlude of
the idyll of Miette and Silvere--is far from being perfect. Such a work
when first issued might well bring its author a measure of popularity,
but it could hardly confer fame. Nowadays, however, looking backward,
and bearing in mind that one here has the genius of M. Zola's lifework,
"The Fortune of the Rougons" becomes a book of exceptional interest
and importance. This has been so well understood by French readers that
during the last six or seven years the annual sales of the work have
increased threefold. Where, over a course of twenty years, 1,000 copies
were sold, 2,500 and 3,000 are sold to-day. How many living English
novelists can say the same of their early essays in fiction, issued more
than a quarter of a century ago?

I may here mention that at the last date to which I have authentic
figures, that is, Midsummer 1897 (prior, of course, to what is called
"L'Affaire Dreyfus"), there had been sold of the entire Rougon-Macquart
series (which had begun in 1871) 1,421,000 copies. These were of the
ordinary Charpentier editions of the French originals. By adding thereto
several _editions de luxe_ and the widely-circulated popular illustrated
editions of certain volumes, the total amounts roundly to 2,100,000.
"Rome," "Lourdes," "Paris," and all M. Zola's other works, apart from
the "Rougon-Macquart" series, together with the translations into a
dozen different languages--English, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch,
Danish, Portuguese, Bohemian, Hungarian, and others--are not included
in the above figures. Otherwise the latter might well be doubled. Nor
is account taken of the many serial issues which have brought M. Zola's
views to the knowledge of the masses of all Europe.

It is, of course, the celebrity attaching to certain of M. Zola's
literary efforts that has stimulated the demand for his other writings.
Among those which are well worthy of being read for their own sakes, I
would assign a prominent place to the present volume. Much of the story
element in it is admirable, and, further, it shows M. Zola as a
genuine satirist and humorist. The Rougons' yellow drawing-room and
its habitues, and many of the scenes between Pierre Rougon and his wife
Felicite, are worthy of the pen of Douglas Jerrold. The whole account,
indeed, of the town of Plassans, its customs and its notabilities, is
satire of the most effective kind, because it is satire true to life,
and never degenerates into mere caricature.

It is a rather curious coincidence that, at the time when M. Zola was
thus portraying the life of Provence, his great contemporary, bosom
friend, and rival for literary fame, the late Alphonse Daudet, should
have been producing, under the title of "The Provencal Don Quixote,"
that unrivalled presentment of the foibles of the French Southerner,
with everyone nowadays knows as "Tartarin of Tarascon." It is possible
that M. Zola, while writing his book, may have read the instalments of
"Le Don Quichotte Provencal" published in the Paris "Figaro," and it may
be that this perusal imparted that fillip to his pen to which we owe
the many amusing particulars that he gives us of the town of Plassans.
Plassans, I may mention, is really the Provencal Aix, which M. Zola's
father provided with water by means of a canal still bearing his name.
M. Zola himself, though born in Paris, spent the greater part of his
childhood there. Tarascon, as is well known, never forgave Alphonse
Daudet for his "Tartarin"; and in a like way M. Zola, who doubtless
counts more enemies than any other literary man of the period, has none
bitterer than the worthy citizens of Aix. They cannot forget or forgive
the rascally Rougon-Macquarts.

The name Rougon-Macquart has to me always suggested that splendid and
amusing type of the cynical rogue, Robert Macaire. But, of course, both
Rougon and Macquart are genuine French names and not inventions. Indeed,
several years ago I came by chance upon them both, in an old French deed
which I was examining at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. I
there found mention of a Rougon family and a Macquart family dwelling
virtually side by side in the same village. This, however, was in
Champagne, not in Provence. Both families farmed vineyards for a once
famous abbey in the vicinity of Epernay, early in the seventeenth
century. To me, personally, this trivial discovery meant a great deal.
It somehow aroused my interest in M. Zola and his works. Of the latter I
had then only glanced through two or three volumes. With M. Zola himself
I was absolutely unacquainted. However, I took the liberty to inform him
of my little discovery; and afterwards I read all the books that he had
published. Now, as it is fairly well known, I have given the greater
part of my time, for several years past, to the task of familiarising
English readers with his writings. An old deed, a chance glance,
followed by the great friendship of my life and years of patient labour.
If I mention this matter, it is solely with the object of endorsing the
truth of the saying that the most insignificant incidents frequently
influence and even shape our careers.

But I must come back to "The Fortune of the Rougons." It has, as I have
said, its satirical and humorous side; but it also contains a strong
element of pathos. The idyll of Miette and Silvere is a very touching
one, and quite in accord with the conditions of life prevailing in
Provence at the period M. Zola selects for his narrative. Miette is
a frank child of nature; Silvere, her lover, in certain respects
foreshadows, a quarter of a century in advance, the Abbe Pierre Fromont
of "Lourdes," "Rome," and "Paris." The environment differs, of course,
but germs of the same nature may readily be detected in both characters.
As for the other personages of M. Zola's book--on the one hand, Aunt
Dide, Pierre Rougon, his wife, Felicite, and their sons Eugene, Aristide
and Pascal, and, on the other, Macquart, his daughter Gervaise of
"L'Assommoir," and his son Jean of "La Terre" and "La Debacle," together
with the members of the Mouret branch of the ravenous, neurotic, duplex
family--these are analysed or sketched in a way which renders their
subsequent careers, as related in other volumes of the series,
thoroughly consistent with their origin and their up-bringing.



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Keywords: whatever, volume, pascal, macquart, provencal, plassans, provence, latter, written, miette
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