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I venture
to asset that, although it is possible to read individual volumes of
the Rougon-Macquart series while neglecting others, nobody can really
understand any one of these books unless he makes himself acquainted
with the alpha and the omega of the edifice, that is, "The Fortune of
the Rougons" and "Dr. Pascal."

With regard to the present English translation, it is based on one made
for my father several years ago. But to convey M. Zola's meaning more
accurately I have found it necessary to alter, on an average, at least
one sentence out of every three. Thus, though I only claim to edit the
volume, it is, to all intents and purposes, quite a new English version
of M. Zola's work.

E. A. V. MERTON, SURREY: August, 1898.




AUTHOR'S PREFACE

I wish to explain how a family, a small group of human beings, conducts
itself in a given social system after blossoming forth and giving birth
to ten or twenty members, who, though they may appear, at the first
glance, profoundly dissimilar one from the other, are, as analysis
demonstrates, most closely linked together from the point of view of
affinity. Heredity, like gravity, has its laws.

By resolving the duplex question of temperament and environment, I shall
endeavour to discover and follow the thread of connection which leads
mathematically from one man to another. And when I have possession of
every thread, and hold a complete social group in my hands, I shall
show this group at work, participating in an historical period; I shall
depict it in action, with all its varied energies, and I shall analyse
both the will power of each member, and the general tendency of the
whole.

The great characteristic of the Rougon-Macquarts, the group or family
which I propose to study, is their ravenous appetite, the great
outburst of our age which rushes upon enjoyment. Physiologically the
Rougon-Macquarts represent the slow succession of accidents pertaining
to the nerves or the blood, which befall a race after the first organic
lesion, and, according to environment, determine in each individual
member of the race those feelings, desires and passions--briefly, all
the natural and instinctive manifestations peculiar to humanity--whose
outcome assumes the conventional name of virtue or vice. Historically
the Rougon-Macquarts proceed from the masses, radiate throughout the
whole of contemporary society, and ascend to all sorts of positions by
the force of that impulsion of essentially modern origin, which sets the
lower classes marching through the social system. And thus the dramas of
their individual lives recount the story of the Second Empire, from the
ambuscade of the Coup d'Etat to the treachery of Sedan.

For three years I had been collecting the necessary documents for this
long work, and the present volume was even written, when the fall of the
Bonapartes, which I needed artistically, and with, as if by fate, I
ever found at the end of the drama, without daring to hope that it
would prove so near at hand, suddenly occurred and furnished me with
the terrible but necessary denouement for my work. My scheme is, at
this date, completed; the circle in which my characters will revolve
is perfected; and my work becomes a picture of a departed reign, of a
strange period of human madness and shame.

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."

EMILE ZOLA PARIS, July 1, 1871.





THE FORTUNE OF THE ROUGONS



CHAPTER I

On quitting Plassans by the Rome Gate, on the southern side of the town,
you will find, on the right side of the road to Nice, and a little way
past the first suburban houses, a plot of land locally known as the Aire
Saint-Mittre.

This Aire Saint-Mittre is of oblong shape and on a level with the
footpath of the adjacent road, from which it is separated by a strip of
trodden grass. A narrow blind alley fringed with a row of hovels borders
it on the right; while on the left, and at the further end, it is closed
in by bits of wall overgrown with moss, above which can be seen the
top branches of the mulberry-trees of the Jas-Meiffren--an extensive
property with an entrance lower down the road. Enclosed upon three
sides, the Aire Saint-Mittre leads nowhere, and is only crossed by
people out for a stroll.

In former times it was a cemetery under the patronage of Saint-Mittre, a
greatly honoured Provencal saint; and in 1851 the old people of Plassans
could still remember having seen the wall of the cemetery standing,
although the place itself had been closed for years. The soil had been
so glutted with corpses that it had been found necessary to open a new
burial-ground at the other end of town. Then the old abandoned cemetery
had been gradually purified by the dark thick-set vegetation which had
sprouted over it every spring. The rich soil, in which the gravediggers
could no longer delve without turning up some human remains, was
possessed of wondrous fertility. The tall weeds overtopped the walls
after the May rains and the June sunshine so as to be visible from the
high road; while inside, the place presented the appearance of a deep,
dark green sea studded with large blossoms of singular brilliancy.
Beneath one's feet amidst the close-set stalks one could feel that the
damp soil reeked and bubbled with sap.

Among the curiosities of the place at that time were some large
pear-trees, with twisted and knotty boughs; but none of the housewives
of Plassans cared to pluck the large fruit which grew upon them. Indeed,
the townspeople spoke of this fruit with grimaces of disgust. No such
delicacy, however, restrained the suburban urchins, who assembled in
bands at twilight and climbed the walls to steal the pears, even before
they were ripe.

The trees and the weeds with their vigorous growth had rapidly
assimilated all the decomposing matter in the old cemetery of
Saint-Mittre; the malaria rising from the human remains interred
there had been greedily absorbed by the flowers and the fruit; so that
eventually the only odour one could detect in passing by was the strong
perfume of wild gillyflowers. This had merely been a question of a few
summers.

At last the townspeople determined to utilise this common property,
which had long served no purpose. The walls bordering the roadway and
the blind alley were pulled down; the weeds and the pear-trees uprooted;
the sepulchral remains were removed; the ground was dug deep, and such
bones as the earth was willing to surrender were heaped up in a
corner. For nearly a month the youngsters, who lamented the loss of
the pear-trees, played at bowls with the skulls; and one night
some practical jokers even suspended femurs and tibias to all the
bell-handles of the town. This scandal, which is still remembered at
Plassans, did not cease until the authorities decided to have the bones
shot into a hole which had been dug for the purpose in the new cemetery.
All work, however, is usually carried out with discreet dilatoriness
in country towns, and so during an entire week the inhabitants saw a
solitary cart removing these human remains as if they had been mere
rubbish. The vehicle had to cross Plassans from end to end, and owing to
the bad condition of the roads fragments of bones and handfuls of rich
mould were scattered at every jolt. There was not the briefest religious
ceremony, nothing but slow and brutish cartage. Never before had a town
felt so disgusted.

For several years the old cemetery remained an object of terror.
Although it adjoined the main thoroughfare and was open to all comers,
it was left quite deserted, a prey to fresh vegetable growth. The local
authorities, who had doubtless counted on selling it and seeing
houses built upon it, were evidently unable to find a purchaser. The
recollection of the heaps of bones and the cart persistently jolting
through the streets may have made people recoil from the spot; or
perhaps the indifference that was shown was due to the indolence, the
repugnance to pulling down and setting up again, which is characteristic
of country people. At all events the authorities still retained
possession of the ground, and at last forgot their desire to dispose of
it. They did not even erect a fence round it, but left it open to all
comers. Then, as time rolled on, people gradually grew accustomed to
this barren spot; they would sit on the grass at the edges, walk about,
or gather in groups. When the grass had been worn away and the
trodden soil had become grey and hard, the old cemetery resembled a
badly-levelled public square. As if the more effectually to efface the
memory of all objectionable associations, the inhabitants slowly changed
the very appellation of the place, retaining but the name of the saint,
which was likewise applied to the blind alley dipping down at one corner
of the field. Thus there was the Aire Saint-Mittre and the Impasse
Saint-Mittre.

All this dates, however, from some considerable time back. For more
than thirty years now the Aire Saint-Mittre has presented a different
appearance. One day the townspeople, far too inert and indifferent to
derive any advantage from it, let it, for a trifling consideration,
to some suburban wheelwrights, who turned it into a wood-yard. At the
present day it is still littered with huge pieces of timber thirty or
forty feet long, lying here and there in piles, and looking like lofty
overturned columns. These piles of timber, disposed at intervals from
one end of the yard to the other, are a continual source of delight
to the local urchins. In some places the ground is covered with fallen
wood, forming a kind of uneven flooring over which it is impossible to
walk, unless one balance one's self with marvellous dexterity. Troops of
children amuse themselves with this exercise all day long. You will see
them jumping over the big beams, walking in Indian file along the narrow
ends, or else crawling astride them; various games which generally
terminate in blows and bellowings.



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Keywords: fortune, however, family, townspeople, several, suburban, ground, rougons, individual, present
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