|I recently scanned the text of this dissertation, The Populist Romance: A Study of Michelet's Le Peuple and Selected Novels of Hugo, James, Zola, and Galdós (University of Texas at Austin, 1980), and have not finished proofing. (Move your mouse pointer over French or Spanish text to see translations.) —David McMurrey|
Emile Zola is often regarded as the first major 19th century novelist to put the working-class in the novel as central characters of serious dramatic action. Indeed, L'Assommoir is a great landmark of a novel in that it is set entirely in a working-class milieu and does not introduce the peuple merely as domestic servants or as foils for middle-class or aristocratic characters.1 However, Zola's reputation is deserved only if we limit our perspective to 19th century European novelists considered "major." Beyond these major figures though, there are plenty of lesser known and justly forgotten novelists who portrayed the people in their fiction. They have not survived in our memory no doubt chiefly because of their limitations as novelists, but there is another reason: they generally employed a sentimental or romance mode of narrative and of characterization that is now no longer acceptable or palatable.2
Emile Zola may well owe some of his reputation as one of the first to introduce the working classes into central roles in his fiction to the fact that he shifts from the sentimental, romantic portrayal to one that is essentially ironic and quite pessimistic. This is not to imply that modern readers require a literature of condemnation and hatred of the people but that happy endings in the slums and saintly workers are less acceptable. Whatever his attitude toward the peuple—which seems to have been a cautious, critical sympathy—Zola implicitly attacks the traditions of the populist romance throughout the Les Rougon-Macquart series.
In both its visionary, transcendental aspects as well as its sociological claims Zola carries out this attack on the romantic notion of the common people, the populist romance. Romantic revolutionaries appear throughout the working-class episodes of Les Rougon-Macquart in a poor light; in addition, the portrait of the peuple at times seems consciously designed to negate practially all of the mayor ideas of the populist romance. This melancholy satire, or anti-romance, becomes a direct parody of situations, characters, events, names, and themes found in Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, that most important of all expressions of the populist romance, and, less directly, of ideas found in the writing of Jules Michelet. So fierce is the irony that Zola's own variation of the romantic populist becomes a character type in his fiction, and not a little of Hugo and Michelet as well as the other social romantics is to he found in such characters as Florent of Le Ventre de Paris, Sigismond of L'Argent, and even to a limited degree Etienne Lantier of Germinal. Beyond this rejection of Romantic sociology of the peuple, this rejection of the whole range of Romantic doctrine concerning the common people, and this satire of the romantic populist, Zola actually constructs a radically different vision of the peuple. If the Romantic vision had rested ultimately on a mythic basis, the peuple as a collective romance hero, a collective Christ or Christ-like martyr, or as a collective Prometheus, Zola changes that mythic basis and substitutes elements of the Orpheus story. Orpheus does not become a symbol of the peuple, rather, the symbol of the romantic revolutionary who attempts to politicize them. With a revolutionary Orpheus among the peuple, the problem of the intellectual's the revolutionary's, or the populist's identity returns with full force, after Victor Hugo in Les Misérables has confidently assumed that the revolutionary must necessarily come from outside the plebian realm.3
Though most of the principal novels of Les Rougon-Macquart which are set in the working class or which deal with that class in a substantial way develop this anti-romance of the people, L'Assommoir does so with particular force and will be one of the two principal novels for discussion. Certain aspects of the anti-populist romance, however, are less fully developed in this novel, and the focus must shift briefly at times to other plebian episodes—La Fortune des Rougon, Le Ventre de Paris, and particularly Germinal.4 Something rather close to a systematic vision of the peuple develops out of the plebian episodes of the Rougon-Macquart series, and all of the elements of this vision, though some less abvious than others, tend to be present in each of them. Specifically, the elements of the Orpheus story, though present in L'Assommoir rather unobtrusively and in rather unusual combination, are carefully developed in Le Ventre de Paris and Germinal, and it is to that latter novel this study must conclude with an analysis of its Orphic elements.
L'Assommoir was considered at the time of its publication quite an insult to the working classes, despite Zola's own efforts in subsequent prefaces and introductions to present it as a sympathetic contribution to the effort to arouse concern for the social question among the powerful.5 Though the novel does present a frightening and miserable portrait of the working class, no other class in the twenty novel series receives any better treatment, as Son Excellence Eugene Rougon, La Curée, and Pot-Bouille illustrate. All levels of society in the Second Empire are marked by the same general egoism, corruption, greed, cruelty, and reckless extravagance.
Zola's portrait of the peuple can be defended in one other respect; L'Assommoir is less of a political statement—if a political statement at all—than an aesthetic one.6 Specifically, it constitutes an abrupt change in the narrative mode of portraying the working classes; it is a great protest against dreamy romantic visions of the sacred peuple. Zola's own working notes for L'Assommoir show him reminding himself not to fall into a romantic or sentimental mode of fictionalizing the people. Though he had in mind more popular literature such as Eugène Manuel's L'ouvrière which he actually mentions, he could have included the whole of "Romantic" literature, the archpriest of which he considered to he Victor Hugo.
Throughout his career from his early essay on Hugo, to the strong criticism incorporated in the final novel of the Rougon-Macquart series, Le Docteur Pascal, Zola waged a vigorous attack on Romanticism, which he viewed as much a "certain state of sensibility," in Mario Praz's words,7 as an obsolescent literary movement. In Zola's view, Hugo is the grand Romantic and, despite his posture as a visionary, as "un apôtre "biblique de la démocratie," is simply a grand dreamer (I, p. 304) who has traversed his "époque sans la voir, les yeux fixés sur les rêves" (I, p. 316).8 Having little patience with idealism or other worldliness of any kind, Zola sees Hugo's "rêve magnifique" as simply chimerical, empty, delusive, and devoid of any relationship to "les réalités humaines" (I, p. 303);9 for Hugo it is somewhat of a comedown to find himself "sur nos trottoirs boueux, dans nos appartements mesquins." Though these pronouncements were made in the heat of his campaign to win recognition for himself and what he was building up as the naturalist movement in literature, much of this same attitude survives. Even in the last novel of the Rougon-Macquart series, this troublesome human tendency appears in the heroine Laure and is combatted and criticized by the hero, Pascal; for him "c'est l'éternel "besoin de mensonge, l'éternel besoin d'illusion qui travaille l'humanité et la ramène en arrière, au charme berceur de l'inconnu" (VI, pp. 1220-21). Like certain other characters in the series, Laure is preoccupied with "l'inconnu, du mystère. C'était, chez elle, une obsession, une curiosité d'instinct qui arrivait à la torture, lorsqu'elle n'était pas satisfaite. Il y avail là un besoin que rien ne rassasiait, un appel irrésistible vers l'inaccessible, l'inconnaissable" (VI, p. 1216). Zola's romantic populists who have their dream visions of revolutionary apocalypse and edenic results are one manifestation of this more general character type which has the chronic need of the "rêve," the mysterious, the otherworldly. Both the thinker and the mode of thought—no matter whether they are found in religion, economics, or radical politics—are heavily satirized in Les Rougon-Macquart.
Les Rougon-Macquart contains a far more specific satire of the Romantic notion of the people, particularly that of Hugo in his Les Misérables. The working class episodes of Zola's series continually echo elements from Hugo's Les Misérables, that most famous of literary works devoted to the peuple. No doubt, Zola may have incorporated satiric allusions to other such writers and works, for example Poulot's which supplies some plot detail to L'Assommoir, but the language used to describe Silvère's, Etienne's, or Florent's flights into romantic revolutionary fantasies echoes that found in an early article by Zola on Victor Hugo and suggests that these characters were intended not as parodies of Hugo but as symbols of the entire obsolete generation of "social romantics," one of the greatest examples of which Zola held to be Hugo. Victor Hugo was in Zola's estimation simply the literary figure who "incarna tout le mouvement de la première moitié du siècle" (I, p. 302) and whose "toute-puissance" over his generation had continued right into Zola's own time. Hugo had formulated romanticism in the way a powerful intellect "met en lots les tâtonnements de ses devanciers." Romanticism, however, to Zola was simply one stage in the ceaseless evolution of all things; Hugo and his reigning style had become an obstacle to progress in literature and moreover in all aspects of human life. For Zola, Hugo "est à seul tout le romantisme" (I, p. 309).
Hugo's absence from France had only increased the lack of realism in the way he viewed, the world, and had pushed, him more rapidly into his selfstyled role as "un apôtre biblique de la démocratie." Rather like Florent in Le Ventre, who had had his own exile from France on an island, though in the form of imprisonment, Hugo
réclame le bonheur du genre humain, sans tenir compte des hommes. Il décrète la République universelle, comme si les éléments allaient lui obéir et constituer une nouvelle terre et un nouveau peuple. Esthétiquement, rien de plus large; c'est un rêve magnifique. (I, p. 304)
Like Etienne in Germinal who dreams of becoming a great revolutionary leader, Hugo, according to Zola, envisions himself as "notre maître à tous" and as "l'empereur du monde." Just as Florent's longed for return to Paris from Cayenne is in many ways a great disappointment, Hugo's return from exile is
presque une déchéance pour lui que de se retrouver parmi nous, sur nos trottoirs boueux, dans nos apartements mesquins, lui qui dominait la mer et que nous représentions pareil à Isaïe, prophétisant au milieu des orages. Puts, Victor Hugo est fatalement rentré dans les luttes quotidiennes de la politique, et la politique rapetisse les poètes; elle les traîne dans les réalités humaines. (I, p. 303)
For this reason Hugo is trapped in the Romantic formula, exaggerating his attitude as a prophet (I, p. 316), "son effarement et son vertige de visionnaire" and soaring further and further away from reality:
Aujourd'jui, il en est là...Quand il parle d'un petit enfant, il croit que les étoiles écoutent. Et le pis est qu'il est devenu d'autant plus majestueux, que ses vers sont devenus plus vides. Je l'ai appelé un visionnaire. Ce mot le juge. Il a traversé l'époque sans la voir, les yeux fixés sur ses rêves. (I, p. 316)
Nevertheless, the peuple accepts him as its great poet even though it does not understand his work: workers buy his poetry and, though scarcely reading him, are able to imagine him as "un homme politique dont il attend vaguement un âge d'or" (I, p. 309), just as the miners in Germinal hear the golden age in Etienne's impassioned speeches.
If the presence of "rêve" and "fantaisie" in Les Rougon-Macquart and the rejection of the Romantic sociology of the people do not indicate the kind of direct though subtle satire waged upon Hugo, there are other, more obvious elements that do. One of the most striking is the name of one of the mines in Germinal, Madeleine, the same as Jean Valjean's alias during that period in which he is mayor and successful manufacturer in Montreuil-sur-mer. Madeleine in Germinal is one of the mines in the Montsou region which is owned corporately and is controlled by rather anonymous interests in Paris. Like Madeleine in Hugo's novel, whose name becomes synonymous with a benevolent moralistic capitalism which sees to workers' every need, this mining corporation in Zola's novel provides housing for its employees and pensions, but beyond that it is an impersonal, voracious monster. There are in fact smaller, more personal, family-owned mines in the region, which retain a vague resemblance to Valjean's business, but they are doomed to be gobbled up by the corporate mines, as Deneulin's failure illustrates. Even at the very beginning of the Rougon-Macquart series, there are tantalizing similiarties to Les Misérables: in La Fortune des Rougon the character Miette, whose name both semantically and phonologically resembles Cosette's,10 is troubled by the reputation of her father: the revolutionist workers and peasants reject her because "Son père est au bagne, nous ne voulons pas avec nous la fille d'un assassin" (II, p. 45). Of course, Cosette was not the real child, of Valjean though she was certainly cared for in that manner by the fugitive, but Valjean is indeed haunted throughout the novel by his alleged guilt as murderer and thief. There is the same question about the guilt of Miette's father as there is concerning Valjean. In a further similarity, Miette, who is practically speaking as much an orphan as Cosette, is farmed out to the Rébufat family which bears great similarity to the Thénardiers in its cruel exploitation of the little girl. Miette becomes a servant who does not have to be paid instead of a child to be taken care of; she is poorly cared for, fed, and. clothed; Rébufat like Thénardier "l'accabla de besognes grossières, se servit d'elle comme d'une bête de somme" (II, p. 159). Miette and Silvère carry on their love affair much in the manner of Cosette and Marius—across a partition, a barrier, and in secret. These exterior similarities to Les Misérables, however, serve only to underline the enormous differences in Zola's views of, one, the nature of the common people and of, two, romantic visions of revolution in which the common people triumph over oppression and. establish a golden age.
Le Ventre de Paris, another of the plebian episodes in Les Rougon-Macquart, contains references which are unmistakably pointed at Hugo. The entire novel, the story of Florent's failure to readjust to Parisian life after his imprisonment at Cayenne and his failure to arouse a new 1848-like rebellion in the working-class, reads like a proof or demonstration of what Zola had written about Hugo: "quand il a foudroyé les prêtres et les rois, en exaltant une fraternité idéale des peuples, cela n'empechera les peuples de se dévorer dans la suite des siècles" (I, p. 315). Even to the very end of the novel when the whole market district has turned against him and has revealed his radical activities to the police which moves immediately to arrest him, Florent remains naive about the "loup" in humanity, its readiness to devour itself. Of all of Zola's romantic revolutionaries, Florent bears the most similarity to a composite of Victor Hugo and his creation Jean Valjean. Both Hugo and Florent in their own forms of exile on their different islands consider Napoléon III their enemy. Both Florent and Hugo envision themselves as "notre maître de tous" and plan out the great utopias that will come of their leadership. Florent's project, a book on his imprisonment in Cayenne with proposed reforms that extend across the whole of human institutions, bears a vaguely Hugolian title, "La Clef des songes." Florent himself, as en ex-prisoner, or rather as a fugitive, enjoys a certain glory and prestige as a martyr just as Hugo bequeathes to Valjean an aura of saintly martyrdom. Of course, there is an echo of Notre-Dame de Paris in Claude Lantier's statement "Ceci tuera cela, le fer tuera la pierre" (II, p. 732), when he predicts that the coming world will be all steel and ugliness like the new Halles market buildings. Claude acts like the Pierre Gringoire of the same novel in the early parts of Le Ventre as he strolls about the city viewing it esthetically and envisioning a new theory of art. More importantly, it is Claude who provides that statement which ironically echoes Les Misérables: in response to Madame François who blames Florent's failure and arrest on Paris, Claude retorts, "Non, je sais qui c'est, ce sont des misérables" (II, p. 809). For him, it has been the peuple itself, like a pack of wolves, that has turned upon Florent and devoured him, one of Zola's favorite metaphors for human behavior. But Madame François herself voices an idea that is repeated with particular force in L'Assommoir, an idea which directly counters one in Les Misérables. In Hugo's novel Parisian air is described as idealistic and revolutionizing in itself; it is a bracing, healthy, vigorous spiritual climate which encourages a revolutionary march. However, Madame François finds it corrupt and infected; the market district is one vast metaphor for Paris as a whole. As Madame François advises Florent, on one of his visits to her in the country,
Vous n'êtes plus le même, vous avez dix ans de moins. C'est ce gueux de Paris qui vous noircit la mine comme ça. Il me semble que vous avez un coup de soleil dans les yeux, maintenant...Voyez-vous, ça ne vaut rien les grandes villes; vous devriez venir demeurer ici... (II, p. 736)
In L'Assommoir, it is the air of Paris, particularly in Coupeau's case, that constantly ruins people rather than inspires them with the ideal. For a time Coupeau is sent to the country to overcome his increasing alcoholism, and this treatment seems to be successful. But once he returns, he is caught by the infected atmosphere again: as Zola explains, "L'air de Paris le reprenait" (II, p. 847); and elsewhere, "on ne se doute pas combien ça désaltère les pochards, de quitter l'air de Paris, où il y a dans les rues une vraie fumée d'eau-de-vie et de vin" (III, p. 844). The revolutionary spirit contained in the very air of Paris, according to Hugo, becomes the equally intoxicating fumes of alcohol in the Paris of L'Assommoir. And, for Zola, alcohol, religion, and romantic revolutionism are all synonymous—equally delusive, impractical, and destructive.
One of the Parisian elements most inspired by that atmosphere in Les Misérables is the gamin, at divine street urchin, represented by Gavroche. Orphaned or abandoned children, freely rambling about and living on the streets of Paris, also appear in Le Ventre. Instead of the mischievous but angelic creature described in Les Misérables, Muche, Marjolin, and Cadine in Le Ventre and Jeanlin among several in Germinal are all cruel, perverse, egoistic, and maliciously destructive. The latter are emphatically called "gamins"; in fact, Zola repeats the same water image for Muche in Le Ventre that Hugo used for Gavroche: "Il avait pour les eaux ruisselantes des tendresses de petit poisson" (II, p. 669).
The instances in which Zola is engaged, in this parody—or more appropriately, allusive irony—in which he echoes elements of Les Misérables, could be multiplied, but at some point the certainty of intentional parallel fades. For example, in La Debacle Maurice and Jean have similar names to those of Marius and Jean. Coming from different social backgrounds, Maurice and Jean learn to overcome their traditional, class-bound antagonisms and become fast friends, each saving the other by the same means Valjean used to save Marius. As Jean Valjean does for Marius in Les Misérables, Jean Macquart rescues Maurice from the barricades of 1871, transports him through a burning and dangerous Paris, but Maurice does not survive. Similar, faintly Hugolian touches show up in L'Assommoir; the rich old lecher who comes prowling for Nana is in some respects re-enacting, in Zola's terms, Valjean's interest in Cosette; curiously enough, this character in Zola's novel is rumored to he a retired, wealthy manufacturer of buttons, a fact which is repeatedly conspicuously often in a few pages (III, pp. 880-2). Similarly, Valjean in Paris can be considered wealthy and retired; in Montreuil-sur-mer he had manufactured jet which was often used to make buttons. However, to all but the most suspicious of minds, Valjean's interests in Cosette are entirely generous and paternal.
Romantic Sociology Repudiated
One of the most important narrative patterns that continually appears in the episodes of Les Rougon-Macquart involves the romantic revolutionary's ignorance or shock of recognition of the true nature of the peuple. Silvère in La Fortune, Florent in Le Ventre, and Sigismond in L'Argent are good examples of this blindness to the cruel and egoistic nature of the working class. These characters invoke the name of the peuple much in the same way as do Jules Michelet and fictional characters like the Princess Casamassima in James's novel or Beramendi in Galdós's. Nonetheless, the familiar romantic or partisan sociology, which assumes a certain superiority in the lower classes compared to the rest of society, reappears in the plebian episodes of the series and provides some of the foundations on which these characters build their political programs. In Zola's fictional world republican, socialist, or utopian politics assume, just as Michelet does, a certain innate goodness in human nature that will be freed by revolutionary transformations in the social and economic structure to express itself spontaneously. For Zola, such ideology makes no allowances for greed, laziness, selfishness, and inexplicable moral perversity in its blueprints for utopia.11
L'Assommoir on the other hand presents the romantic populist with an enormous challenge to his concept of the people and his plans for the future. In chapter one, in quick succession, Zola shows us home, family, work, social relations—each of which has something terribly wrong with it. In fact we can scarcely call the group Lantier, Gervaise, and children form a "family," nor Gervaise's daily activity "work" in its more noble interpretation, nor her relationship with other people in the quartier "friendship." Reading L'Assommoir closely together with Michelet's Le Peuple, Zola's novel is a categorical repudiation, the question of conscious intention aside, of Michelet's idea or myth of the peuple.
L'Assommoir depicts the possibilities of violence, abandonment, adultery, degradation, and cruelty that are everywhere present in the life of the peuple. It is a startling repudiation of the kinds of things Michelet said in 1846 about them. Of course the nature of the peuple in Zola's world is only one manifestation of a more general notion of human nature.12 L'Assommoir appeared and still does as a fresh gust of truth because it highlights the continuing fiction of the people for what it is—a fiction.
Instead L'Assommoir rejects in almost categorical way the crucial elements of the romantic sociology of the peuple. In Michelet this means several things: a belief in the innate goodness of man, the idea that the plebian milieu is morally and spiritually invigorating, and finally the related idea that the lower classes, the working people, have been the least corrupted of all social groups and thus are sociologically the healthiest. Two keys to Michelet's belief about the lower classes are the un-sociability of the upper classes and their materialism, which are sources of corruption. Michelet views the plebian home as a haven of tranquility and love and simplicity: the social circumstances of the common people actually work to instill or preserve in them those higher moral and social values. There is a stoicism in Michelet's thought about the common people that sees their hard work, their poverty, their necessarily simple lives, their lack of conventional education or high culture as healthy. For Michelet, these circumstances themselves elicit greater familial love and harmony, greater innate intelligence, greater sociability, and ultimately a higher and stronger sense of morality.
In L'Assommoir, the Goujets, a widowed mother and her twenty-five year old son, embody many of these values and are described in language that echoes Miehelet's sentimental evocations of the simple, humble lives of the common people.13 However, the Goujets, despite their good. qualities and the help they provide Gervaise to start her own laundry, seem a caricature of what Michelet had written of the peuple; their lives are dried, narrow, isolated; they seem frightened and suspicious of the rough working class world outside their neat and proper home. Having brought her son to Paris after her husband had killed a man in a drunken fit and had subsequently strangled himself in prison, Madame Goujet seems to be expiating a certain guilt "par une honnêteté stricte, une douceur et un courage inaltérables" (III, pp. 600-81). On the surface her life with her son has the look of serenity; Gervaise often marvels at the "propreté" of their lodgings. Everything there is neat, tidy, in a simple and austere way, highly contrasted to practically all the other working class quarters in the Quartier Goutte d'or. The whole quartier marvels at the Goujets' frugality, the young man's sparkling, neatly mended clothes, their avoidance of "gros mots" and liquor, and their quiet, regular habits. There is, however, an unmistakable narrowness, dryness, and sterility about them: Goujet himself is a "grand enfant" whose existence is imprisoned by his mother and who spends most of his free time gazing pathetically at pictures cut out of journals and hung on his walls. The pictures are for Goujet a substitute of reality and emphasize his passivity. Elements of the ineffectual and the helpless are further suggested in his relationship with Gervaise. A certain sterility is suggested by the failure of this would-be romance hero's efforts to save her from her worsening situation with Coupeau and Lantier and to get her out of Paris. The scene in which his weak, pathetic effort to persuade her to leave Paris with him takes place in an industrial wasteland amidst images of dead nature that reflect upon their own symbolic sterility and, more generally, that of the lower classes:
ils filèrent à gauche, toujours silencieux, et s'engagèrent dans un terrain vague. C'était, entre une scierie mécanique et une manufacture de boutons, une bande de prairie resté verte, avec des plaques jaunes d'herbe grillée; une chèvre, attachée à un pique, tournait en bêlant; au fond, un arbre mort s'émiettait au grand soleil. (III, p. 797)
The Goujets, however, are quite a rarity in the working class districts of L'Assommoir, and even they are characterized by helplessness, isolation, and sterility. Instead Zola introduces us to a plebian world that is vicious and egoistic. Scenes like the one which occurs in the "lavoir" in L'Assommoir are frequent in the Rougon-Macquart series and establish the more general, social characteristics of the lower classes. From scenes like this one, in which on her first work day Gervaise fights with the jeering Virginie, emerges a concentrated, view of the plebian milieu in its constant, barely suppressed cruelty and violence. Similar crowd scenes occur in Le Venite de Paris where the women in the fish market seem always on the verge of pouncing on Florent, the inspector, and in Germinal, where on his first day down in the mines Etienne is mocked by the more experienced miners. Even the supposedly inspired revolutionaries of La Fortune des Rougon surround Miette and scorn her for father's alleged crimes.
In the scene at the lavoir Gervaise has come to work to support herself and her two illegitimate children and encounters Virginie, whose sister has stolen Lantier away from her and who has come to the lavoir for seemingly no other reason than to taunt Gervaise. As if reveling in the misfortunes of another and eager to increase them, the other washerwomen encircle the two women and join in with Virginie in her taunts and jeers: "'Va done! C'est las de rouler la province, ça n'avait pas douze ans que ça servait de paillasse à soldats, ça a laissé une jambe dans son pays...Elle est tombée de pourriture, sa jambe...' Un rire courut" (III, p. 617). This same readiness to believe only the worst about Gervaise, ironically one of the kindest and the most sympathetic characters of the novel, this cruel sarcasm directed at her limp, indicate the scarcity of "bonté de coeur," the generosity, the "sociabilité," the "amour" that the peuple are supposed, to possess.14 Virginie becomes in this scene the choral voice of the plebian community expressing the general hardheartedness, cruelty, and. egoism that Zola must have felt actually characterized the peuple. The washerwomen thoroughly enjoy the fight and, as opposed, to the "disposition naturelle à aider" which Michelet held to he typical of the peuple, seem almost by instinct more given to kicking those who are down, finishing off those who have fallen into misfortune.15 As if instinctively out to get those who are genuinely good, kind, and generous, the quartier constantly thinks the worst of Gervaise: when Nana runs away, the entire quartier gossips that Gervaise has sold her daughter. And of course Gervaise's fall into utter abject misery is interpreted by the neighborhood as entirely deserved; none of that readiness to help the unfortunate appears here. The Lorilleux, her husband's relatives, refuse to help her in her worst need and throw her out:
Bon voyage, du diable s'ils lui ouvraient encore 1 Ils avaient assez vu sa figure, ils ne voulaient pas chez eux de la misère des autres, quand cette misère était méritée. Et ils se laissèrent aller à une grosse jouissance d'égoïsme...Ils se trouvaient tous joliment vengés des anciennes manières de la Banban, de la boutique bleue, des gueuletons, et du reste... Au rancart les gourmandes, les paresseuses et les dévergondées. (III, p. 909)
While Michelet had held that it was the peuple who would invariably help the needy, particularly orphaned children, in even the hardest of times, in contrast, the world of Zola's working class is often singularly lacking in sympathy, compassion, generosity, or pity. Madame Putois and Virginie's discussion of abortion techniques in their rough, sarcastic tone illustrates this. As far as the latter is concerned, "Toutes en décrochent" (III, p. 741), everybody gets rid of babies. Moreover, "père Bru" is a character who seems to appear in the novel for no other reason than to illustrate the appallingly unsympathetic and savage nature of the plebian community and the sympathy and generosity of Gervaise. After fifty years of hard work whitewashing buildings and after the loss of his son in the Crimea, a son who would have cared for him in his old age, Père Bru has nothing to live on, and no one will take him in.
et le père Bru, ce pauvre vieux, qu'on laissait crever, parce qu'il ne pouvait plus tenir un outil, était comme un chien pour elle, une bête hors de service, dont les équarrisseurs ne voulaient meme pas acheter la peau ni la graisse. Elle en gardait un poids sur le coeur, de le savoir continuellement là, de l'autre côté du corridor, abandons de Dieu et des hommes, se nourrissant uniquement de lui-même... (III, pp. 853-4)
Michelet had seen family life among the peuple as a "poésie sainte" and as a humble, simple life that was morally and socially better than that of other social groups; for him, the plebian home was an island of neatness and sanctity; life there as marked by devotion, sacrifice, hardwork, sobriety, and abstinence. Though Le Peuple records his concern for the effects of corrupting city life and of "machinisme," he maintained that the "fonds subsiste," that the peuple retained those characteristics found scarcely anywhere else in French society. Family life, in practically all its aspects, in L'Assommoir, however, is marked by disintegration and squalor. The Hôtel Boncoeur, that ugly frightening tenement whose name seems to echo ironically Michelet's concept of the peuple, is described early in the novel: it captures both the careless squalor of plebian house-keeping and the ugliness and violence of family life among the working class. In it is a panorama of all the drunkenness, cruelty, promiscuity, twisted perversity, and misery that Zola found characteristic of the peuple. Its description begins as Madame Lorilleux asks her brother Coupeau, who has come with Gervaise to ask her permission to marry, whether they had heard the downstairs couple fighting again:
Ces Bérnard s'assommaient tous les jours; le mari rentrait soûl comme un cochon; la femme avait bien des torts, elle criait des choses dégoûtantes. Puis, on parla du dessinateur du premier, ce grand escogriffe de Baudequin, un poseur criblé de dettes, toujours fumant, toujours gueulant avec des camarades. L'atelier de cartonnage de M. Madinier n'allait plus que d'une patte; le patron avait encore congédié deux ouvrières la veille; ce serait pain bénit s'il faisait la culbute, car il mangeait tout, il laissait ses enfants le derrière nu. Madame Gaudron cardait drô1ement ses matelas: elle se trouvait encore enceinte, ce qui finissait par n'être guère propre, à son age...Quant à mademoiselle Clémence, la repasseuse, elle se conduisait comme elle l'entendait, mais on ne pouvait pas dire, elle adorait les animaux, elle possédait un coeur d'or. Hein! quel dommage, une belle fille pareille aller avec tous les hommes; On la recontrerait une nuit sur un trottoir, pour sûr. (III, p. 644)
Mixed into this passage is the nasty, backbiting, gossipy tone of the Lorilleux, a tone or attitude which is more generally characteristic of this working class neighborhood in general.16 Again, the motif of gold, "or," echoes Michelet's metaphorical use of it: in Le Peuple, the lower classes are described as "âmes d'or." L'Assommoir completely cancels out that original association. The domestic violence, the alcoholism, the promiscuity suggested in the passage reappear throughout L'Assommoir; the name of the quartier, the "goutte d'or," or drop of gold, and the thin filaments of gold and the tiny chains of gold made by the Lorilleux, a name itself which contains the motif, suggest the severe paucity of that "bonté de coeur," those "âmes d'or" that Michelet had found in the people.
Perhaps there is no more shocking instance of the terrible failure of the family unit and the marital unit that Zola sees the working class subject to than that which occurs to Gervaise and Coupeau. As opposed to the sacred, haven of peace and the moral sense that Michelet found, in the working class family, L'Assommoir shows the various forms of domestic disintegration—adultery, abandonment, and violence—as pervasive in the peuple. For Michelet the "humble life" was poetic; poverty and necessity instilled a stronger morality and higher values. In L'Assommoir, however, hardship is only destructive. At first Gervaise appears as a vigorous hard worker at the lavoir, then later in the first four years of her married life, and of course "briefly as the propietress of her laundry. But as hardship mounts and becomes relentless, she finds it increasingly difficult to persist. After Coupeau's injury, his long recuperation, his fall into alcoholism, after Lantier's reappearance, his befriending and eventual corrupting of Coupeau, and ultimately his seduction or rape of Gervaise—at the end of this sequence of disasters, she finally gives in:
Maintenant, Gervaise se moquait de tout. Elle avail un geste vague de la main pour envoyer coucher le monde. A chaque nouvel ennui, elle s'enfonçait dans le seui plaisir de faire ses trois repas par jour. La boutique aurait pu crouler; pourvu qu'elle ne fût pas dessous, elle s'en serait allée volontiers, sans une chemise... (III, pp. 818-20)
This is hardly the continuing heroism that Michelet found in the peuple, though understandable nonetheless. This surrender to adversity is made even more painful by the fact that the laundry was bought in the first place on a loan from the kindly Goujets. For Zola then, the more common response to "misère" is the "paresse" and the "malpropreté" that begin to mark Gervaise's life. Misère is not that hard school that trains one in virtue but simply a ceaseless daily pounding and battering that destroys even the best of intentions. Despite the filth, the odor, and the clutter that quickly creep into the laundry as well as their home, "Gervaise se trouvait très bien là-dedans. Elle n'avait pas vu la boutique se salir; elle s'y abandonnait et s'habituait au papier déchiré, aux boiseries graisseuses, comme elle en arrivait à porter des jupes fendues et à ne plus se laver les oreilles. Même la saleté était un nid chaud où elle jouissait de s'accroupir" (III, p. 820).
Although Zola in the first and last novels of the Rougon-Macquart series describes the Rougon-Macquart family as simply representative of the peuple in all its phases in the Second Empire, it would be wrong to see the life and values of Coupeau and Gervaise as representative of the peuple in the same manner or in the same degree as Valjean was. Nonetheless, the same idea of plebian life as a test holds for L'Assommoir, although the range and the types of responses are quite different. First, that naive goodheartedness of a Gervaise is a liability in Zola's working class world as opposed to being a common characteristic in Michelet's: "Son seul défaut, assurait-elle, était d'être très sensible, d'aimer tout le monde, de se passionner pour des gens qui lui faisaient ensuite mille misères" (III, p. 628). It is precisely the trusting, the kind, the generous, the open and naive in Gervaise that makes her vulnerable and that ultimately ruins her in the cruel world of the working class. Related to her vulnerability to a world dominated by "loups" is Gervaise's weakness which reappears with the return of Lantier: "mais elle avait peur, s'il la touchait jamais de sa lâcheté ancienne, de cette mollesse et de cette complaisance auxquelles elle se laissait aller, pour faire plaisir au monde" (III, p. 800). Similarly, she seems able to accustom herself to practically any level of depravity; as she sees it, "Chacun dans son trou, n'est-ce pas?" (III, p. 816).
Coupeau, on the other hand, succumbs to misfortune rather easily; after all, Gervaise's work as a laundry woman keeps the family alive, and his injury, apparently no more than a broken leg, must eventually heal. Those who do survive or withstand the diff culties of working class life do so in a curiously diminished state: the Goujets and the Lorilleux are two examples. The moral rigidity, the aloofness, the determination that have kept them both from Gervaise's fate has left them curiously dry and bitter. Thus, survival has its own costs too.
Toward the end of the novel, Gervaise looks back at the course of her life and reflects that she has failed to achieve her painfully humble ideal. Though she had been abandoned penniless with her two illegitimate children in Paris by her lover Lantier, she has managed to survive somehow by hard work as a laundress. Her marriage to the roofer Coupeau had prospered for a time, even to the extent that she had been able to get her own laundry business, until Coupeau injured himself in a fall from a roof, was cripped for months, and subsequently degenerated into alcoholism. With the return of Lantier, his exploitative friendship with Coupeau, his actual stay with Coupeau and Gervaise in their house, with their extravagant eating and drinking, the men's cruelty to Gervaise, the decline and loss the the laundry, her daughter Nana's escape from home and commencement of a life of sexual promiscuity bordering on prostitution, with Gervaise's own alcoholism and her prostitution forced on her by her husband and Lantier—Gervaise's life reaches astonishing depths.
Elle se souvenait de son idéal, anciennement; travailler tranquille, manger toujours du pain, avoir un trou un peu propre pour donnir. bien élever ses envants, ne pas être battue, mourir dans son lit. Non, vrai, c'était comique, comme tout ça se réalsait! Elle ne travaillait plus, elle ne mangeait plus, elle dormait sur l'ordure, sa fille courait le guilledou, son mari lui flanquait des tatouilles; il ne lui restait qu'à crever sur le pavé, et ce serait tout de suite, si elle trouvait le courage de se flanquer par le fenêtre, en rentrant chez elle. (III, p. 928)
Gervaise's "ideal" of course echoes what Michelet had described as the peuple's actual life. Valjean had called upon Montparnasse to take up this kind of existence extolling the virtues and the power of hard work; however, hard work in Zola's world holds nothing of the promise it does in Michelet's and, Hugo's thinking. Though we cannot look at Gervaise and her husband's story as truly typical and symbolic of the peuple as we can Jean Valjean's story, there are moments in L'Assommoir which suggest that their terrible decline is only atypical in its spectacular, disastrous, shocking excess.17 One scene links Gervaise and Coupeau's story to the more general plight of the Parisian lower classes. In this scene, Gervaise waits among other women who have the same problem for Coupeau who has taken an odd job now that they have run out of money. She realizes she is not the only one whose husband drinks up all the money:
Cependant, Gervaise aperçut quatre ou cinq femmes qui montait la garde comme elle, à la porte du maître zingueur; encore des malheureuses, bien sûr, des épouses quettant la paie, pour l'empêcher de s'envoler chez le marchand de vin...toutes, Gervaise comme ses camarades de faction, passaient et repassaient, en se jetant des coups d'oeil obliques, sans se parler... (III, p. 913)
L'Assommoir continually depicts a plebian world that is not marked by the austerity, devotion, and.sacrifice that Michelet had found in it. Poverty is not in the Quartier Goutte d'Or romantic or ennobling as it was for Marius.
Michelet also accredited the lower classes with a great patriotism and a devotion to the revolutionary ideal of republicanism. Patriotism, Michelet argued, was simply one of the ultimate expressions of that "amour" or that "sociabilité" that was so characteristic of the lower classes. Little of that national feeling appears in Les Rougon-Macquart, but more important is what becomes of republican revolutionary ideals. Such ideals had been held, Michelet wrote, like a religious faith by the peuple; it was their true religion. Coupeau however has a decidedly different attitude:
—Ah bien! vous êtes encore innocents de vous attraper pour la politique;...En voilà une blague, la politique! Est-ce que ça existe pour nous?...On peut bien mettre ce qu'on voudra, un roi, un empereur, rien du tout, ça ne m'empechera pas de gagner mes cinq francs, de manger et de dormir, pas vrai?...Non, c'est trop bête! (III, p. 666)
Such indifference to politics, the republic included (III, p. 682), is quite common in Zola's working class.18 It extends as this passage shows to a general indifference for the nation. In its place is a mean and narrow egoism, which Michelet had located in the bourgeoisie and not the peuple.
Examples of such cruel and barbaric plebian characters can be multiplied in any survey of other novels in the series such as La Fortune des Rougons, La Terre, La Ventre de Paris, La Débâcle. Such behavior, however, is not limited or peculiar to the common people in Zola's world. The working-classes are no better or worse than any of the other classes in that world—a fact which in itself repudiates the romantic or partisan sociology. The few generous, sympathetic, good-hearted plebian characters that do exist in the working-class episodes of Les Rougon-Macquart are such because they are unique individuals and not because of any class membership.19 Moreover, the few good souls that do exist in places like "le Quartier de la Goutte d'Or" of Zola's fiction often belong to that type called in this study the romantic populist. They assume that their own standard of altruistic, less egoistic behavior exists among the people when if so clearly does not.
Alienated Romantic Populists
Although it may seem contradictory to label Zola's revolutionaries, whom many critics have observed, to be conspicuously similar, romantic populists at all, their careers and their characteristics are quite unlike those of Michelet's own life or of Hugo's revolutionaries. Nor are Zola's revolutionaries much like the Princess Casamassima or Hyacinth in James's novel or like Beramendi in Galdos's, as we shall see in the following chapters. However, labelling them "romantic populists" emphasizes what is unusual or outstanding about them, and thus as an ironic label serves a useful function.
The most important aspect of Zola's revolutionaries, or romantic populists as they will be called here, is that they are and often feel themselves to be alien to the people. They are different in physical and behavioral ways; they often dislike or even loathe the people even though they spring from them; and of course they have at best an uneasy relationship with the people, a group in Zola's novels which often expresss a general fear, suspicion, or malevolence on toward these idealistic individuals.20
Unlike the type of romantic populist to be discussed in on the chapters on Henry James's The Princess Casamassima and Benito Pérez Galdós's La Revolución de Julio or already discussed in the chapters on Michelet and Hugo, these romantic populists do not have to journey forth to meet the people but actually begin among them; they grow up in and are native to the plebian milieu. For a variety of reasons, both hereditary and acquired, they are or become alien to their class. Thus, Zola's revolutionaries make their journey away from the people attempting to escape them.
However, their politics brings them back. Zola's romantic populists are like those of James and Gald6s in that they espouse that romantic revolutionism—at least in the earlier moments of their development before frustration drives them to more violent and radical extremes.21 But these characters begin, like Florent, with a naive, sentimental idea of revolution full of a naive humanitarianism, a religiosity, and a dreamlike visionary quality that make it painfully impractical. No doubt, as a group they invoke the name of the people less, but they assume the same virtue and heroism of the people that Michelet seems to; thus they all generally seem profoundly ignorant of or reluctant to acknowledge the realities of human nature and imagine instead a perfect, utopian world as the result of the revolutions of which they dream.22
Individuals such as Silvère in La Fortune des Rougon, Florent in Le Ventre de Paris to a certain extent Goujet in L'Assommoir, and above all, Etienne in Germinal—all come to possess a romantic revolutionary politics that is glaringly out of touch with human possibility. Elements of the populist romance appear in their thought as a result, of course, of the frustration of their lives, but, more importantly, as a result of the peculiarities of their characters in combination with a jumbled, fragmentary, half-comprehended study of romantic revolutionary ideas. Their generally self-directed radical educations combine with, or actually produce, a set of features that reappear with remarkable fullness in all four characters: a certain naive and often excessively fastidious personality; a tenuous or even distant relationship with the common people; accompanied by scorn, suspicion or hostility at times; a tendency to lose touch with practical social reality and to soar into visions of socialist or republican ideas of the golden age, spurred on by the intoxicating influence of that same confused, radical reading program. Such emphasis and reiteration is placed upon the jumbled, fragmentary, poorly understood radical reading of these and other plebian characters that it seems clear that Zola is satirizing in a rather melancholy way one of the most important items on the romantic populists' political agenda—popular education and popular literacy. In Zola, literacy in the working class world means access to the literature of romantic revolutionism and the populist romance; or else it means the kinds of sensational crime stories and pornography favored by Coupeau in L'Assommoir. As opposed, to the great hope Hugo invests in an educated lower class, as opposed, to the great practical benefits Hugo foresaw in an educated peuple—for example, those that derive from the self-educated and philosophic Valjean during his term as Monsieur Madeleine—literacy and self-education in Zola's working class most often mean impracticality and confusion. Of course such thinking and such politics is generally incomprehensible to the peuple as a whole and serves to alienate Florent or Etienne, for example, from those they wish to serve. However, it can also be heady and intoxicating in the hands of a gifted, inspired working class orator, as the example of Etienne in Germinal proves.
Popular education, the effort of the working class to educate itself, and plebian literacy in general, as mentioned before, are in large part responsible for the genesis of this character type. In the latter half of the 20th century, long since the idea of democracy has ceased to be the radical item that it was in the 19th century, it is easy to forget that the notion of an educated populace was certainly one crucial but not the only means by which the idea was advanced. There was the thoroughly romantic notion, found for example in the early Michelet, that an uneducated lower class, by the natural, intuitive wisdom it possesses, could rule better than the sophisticated, the "cultured," those out of touch with the heart. Romantic populists imagine in the people a mystic intelligence when it thinks collectively, when it functions as a sympathetic, intuitively connected, body in telepathic communication with itself. In such moments it is the chosen receiver of divine or transcendental knowledge as a whole. The exact process by which this transcendental guidance and wisdom is sent, received, and synthesized is of course mysterious; nonetheless, the vox populi, which is also the vox dei, is the culmination. Thus, entirely without education, without literacy, the people was considered fit to rule, even more fit to rule than its urbane, sophisticated social counterparts.
But as the fight for extended suffrage, for increasingly democratic institutions, continued though the century, individuals like Michelet and Hugo made impassioned pleas for some form of popular education, education that would be accessible to all Frenchmen. The idea was not to alter the peuple but to enhance its instinctive wisdom that it already possessed and, perhaps, prevent it from being misled by selfish rulers like Louis Napoléon.
In Les Rougon-Macquart Zola parodies the Romantics' great hope in popular education in several ways: first, the very notion of the easy or feasible education of the peuple; second, the idealized results of such an education; third, the related idea, often lovingly described by Michelet, of the ability of the peuple to educate itself, on its own. Michelet was not in the least concerned about how much the working man could read and study; one or two books lovingly read and reread over a lifetime were just as valid as the wide range of the scholar. In Zola, on the other hand, again and. again we encounter working class figures whose weak intellects are beclouded by a jumble of fragmentary ideas randomly gathered from a motley assortment of odds and ends of literature. Literate plebian characters seem rather to suffer from their abilities: alienated from their own class by their literacy, they are unsually equipped with an impractical, inflated idealism that ultimately spells their disaster.
Silvère, who appears in La Fortune des Rougon, is the earliest representative of this pattern. The first description of him suggests an almost Platonic image of a soul trapped in a peculiarly plebian sort of clay:
Par les attaches et les extrémités, par l'attitude alourdie des membres, il était peuple; mais il y avait en lui, dans le redressement du cou et dans les lueures pensantes des yeux, comme une révolte sourde contre l'abrutissement du métier manuel qui commençait à le courber vers la terre. Ce devait être une nature intelligente noyée au fond de la pesanteur de sa race et de sa classe, un de ces esprits tendres et exquis logés en pleine chair, et qui souffrent de ne pouvoir sortir rayonnants de leur épaisse enveloppe. (II, p. 26)
A "Brave enfant," it is precisely his ignorance that generates his "enthousiasmes," a process which will occur again and again in Zola's romantic revolutionary in the working class. His naive, childlike intelligence would in Miehelet's world equip him for heroic leadership, but in Zola's it merely renders him more vulnerable. Like Goujet's, Etienne's and Florent's, Silvère's character is "grave," "mélancolique," "sérieux," "réfléchi," and capable of generous, heroic self-abandon, a set of characteristics which are rare in Zola's typically egoistic world.
Silvère's educational career, like those of most working class youth, has suffered from an abrupt termination at age twelve when he entered into apprenticeship; thus, "les premiers éléments lui manquent toujours" (II, p. 131), but nonetheless he seeks "l'instruction avec une sorte d'entêtement." Reading whatever falls into his hands, with whatever comprehension he can, Silvère's intellectual store is "un étrange bagage; il avait des données sur une foule de choses, données incomplètes, mal digérées, qu'il ne réussit jamais à classer nettement dans sa tête." Out of his collection of "bouqins dépareillées qu'il trouvait chez les brocanteurs du faubourg" (II, p. 169), he develops "une généreuse et étrange religion sociale." He encloses himself in "les utopies humanitaires que de grands esprits, affolés par la chimère du bonheur universel, ont revées de nos jours" and continually builds in his imagination "des projets de société nouvelle" (II, pp. 169-170), which the next morning seem like so many "fantômes." It is precisely the intellectual confusion that produces these idealistic visions and moreover forces them into a religious framework.
Silvère's romantic revolutionism also seems to be partly what sets him apart or isolates him from his own class, prevents him from seeing its true nature, or taking it into account in his dreams of "un gouvernement idéal d'entière justice et d'entière liberté" (II, pp. 132-33):
La vie du jeune homme resta celle de l'enfant... Il éprouvait les répugnances de son père pour les cabarets et les flâneries du dimanche. Ses camarades blessaient ses délicatesses par leurs joies brutales.
Silvère is the first representative in the series of novels of this character type tyat, despite its vision of the revolutionary triumph of the peuple, is actually repelled by the actuality of the plebian behavior. No wonder then he loves "les coins cachés, les solitudes où il pouvait à son aise vivre avec ses pensées" (II, p. 169). The romantic vision of the people of course implies a rather saintly behavior on the part of the people and sets into greater relief the true nature of the group which is a mixture of egoism, brutality, with little of the saint added in.
For Zola, religion appears to be a form of escaping the troubling realities of the world and of human nature.23 Silvère approaches plebian revolution in a frankly religious manner: "Dans le rêve cher aux malheureux du bonheur universelle, les mots de liberté, d'égalité, de fraternité, sonnaient à ses oreilles avec ce bruit sonore et sacré des cloches qui fait tomber les fidèles à genoux" (II, p. 132). As soon as the 1848 republic is proclaimed, it is to Silvère as if the whole world is going to live "dans une "béatitude celeste," "but his "naivetes profondes" and his "ignorance complete des hommes" prevent him from viewing the world in any other fashion than "en plein rêve théorique, au milieu d'un Eden où régnait l'éternelle justice" (III, p. 133).
Such visions and such religiosity again and again in Zola's world are the results of a deficient literacy like Silvère's: "ces miettes de science donnent une idée absolument fausse des hautes vérités, et rendent les pauvres d'esprit insupportables de carrure bête. Chez Silvère, les bribes de savoir vole ne firent qu'accroître les exaltations généreuses...il vécut dans une profonde et innocente religion des grandes pensées et des grands mots vers lesquels il se haussait, sans toujours les comprendre" (III, p. 131). Of course his is not the only outcome of the fragmentary knowledge; his sweet melancholy, generous, well-meaning, and seemingly harmless dream revolutionism is complemented by a more malicious variation: Silvère's uncle, Antoine Macquart,24 whose notion of revolution is one of sumptuous loafing, typical of another set of plebian characters found in Les Rougon-Macquart who use their fragmentary knowledge to quite different effect:
Les lambeaux d'idées communistes qu'il avait pris le matin dans les journaux devenaient grotesques et monstrueux en passant par sa bouche. Il parlait d'une époque prochaine où personne ne serait plus obligé de travailler. (II, p. 135)
Silvère is thus the first of a number of plebian characters who demonstrate a frightening naivete about the malicious, selfish nature of the common humanity about them and. who leap beyond, these impediments to an unreal sphere of idealism. These are characters who ignore the "écrasement que les larges horizons indifférents font peser sur les tendresses humaines" (II, p. 35). While the Romantics extended horizons and brought the transcendental seemingly into closer proximity to our world, Zola draws those horizons back in, crushing mankind in a restricted world; he withdraws the prospect of the transcendental, symbolized particularly by the absence or the illusoriness of stars in his fictional world. Silvère is described, for example, as "un naïf, un naïf sublime," echoing the admiring language of Michelet's Le Peuple, a naïf "resté sur le seuil du temple, à genoux devant des cierges qu'il prenait de loin pour des étoiles" (III, p. 131). It is a false star like the one seen by Gervaise. In Germinal similarly life down in the mines is a "nuit sans astres" (V, p. 54), and life in Montsou in general is hemmed in by "cet horizon fermé" (V, p. 141).25 Thus, Zola's revolutionaries all face a world with severe metaphysical limitations. There is no larger transcendant spirit with which they can commune, only their own illusions of such.
Florent in Le Ventre de Paris is like Silvère, Etienne, and Goujet noticeably different in appearance, intellect, and behavior from those around him in the market district of Paris where the novel takes place. His story in many ways foreshadowing Etienne's in Germinal, he is only temporarily accepted "by the working class community. Claude Lantier's term for Florent's type, "les maigres," refers not only to the continual defeat, oppression, exploitation that his type is subject to but also to that type's rather fastidious behavior, which marks it apart from the greedy, gluttonous, egoistic behavior, of the "gras." Florent is marked by that same repugnance for his plebian surroundings and the people who work there. Part of that loathing and part of his own incongruity in that milieu stem, once more, from his literate background as a teacher.
Florent's thinking also possesses that same tendency to escape a reality that he finds nauseating; his politics becomes imaginary, impractical, finally like a religion. Described early in the novel, he is the type that becomes a "républicain...comme les filles désespérées entrent au convent" (II, pp. 603-4). What he seeks in his revolutionism is "d'oubli et de paix dont il sentait l'impérieux besoin." Rejecting the world almost instinctively as empty and as repulsive, he seeks a better one, one to be achieved he thinks in the revolutionary future; but revolutionary thought for Florent is pure escape, fantasy, a pleasurable vacation from the stench of the market place:
Se bercer, s'endormir, rêver qu'il était parfaitment heureux, que le monde allait devenir, bâtir la cité républicaine où il aurait vouler vivre: telle fut sa récréation, l'oeuvre éternellement reprise de ses heures libres. (II, p. 604)
In a variation of the problem of fragmentary, jumbled, half-comprehended reading and education that plagues Silvère and Etienne, Florent though quite literate and intellectually capable, actually quits reading once this revolutionary dreaming takes hold of his mind. It is the same problem as is found in Silvère or Etienne; only it develops from the opposite direction.
At this stage of passivity and dreaming, Florent is much like another revolutionary in Zola's fiction, Sigismond in L'Argent. This "Marxist" revolutionary is described as vegetating "de son côté, dans ses rêves tellement insoucieux de sa vie matérielle, qu'il serait sûrement mort de faim, si son frère ne l'avail recueilli" (VI, p. 361). His socialism too is "une foi ardente," a religion "fixée." However he never attempts to leave his socialist's version of an ivory tower and go to the people: "Il vivait plus haut, dans un songe souverain de justice," "dégagé de la vie matérielle" (VI, 362). He becomes a symbol, despite his relatively minor role in L'Argent, of the Zola revolutionary, "modifiant, améliorant sans cesse sur le papier la société de demain, couvrant de chiffres d'immenses pages, basant sur la science l'échafaudage compliqué de l'universel bonheur" (VI, p. 362).
Midway through his own story however Florent is ready to leave the tranquility of his revolutionary dreams and attempt to impose them on reality: "maintenant, quand il s'enfermait dans sa mansarde pour travailler, la douceur de la pièce l'impatientait, la recherche théorique de la liberté ne lui suffisait plus, il fallait qu'il descendît, qu'il allat se contenter dans les axiomes tranchants de Charvet et dans les emportements de Logre" (II, p. 687), two political conversationalists at the local tavern. But Florent merely trades one intoxicating, isolated, hallucinogenic milieu, his "mansarde," for another, Lebigre's tavern:
Les premiers soirs, ce tapage, ce flot de paroles l'avait gêné; il en sentait encore le vide, mais il éprouvait un besoin de s'étourdir, de se fouetter, d'être poussée à quelque résolution extrême qui calmât ses inquiétudes d'esprit. L'odeur du cabinet, cette odeur liquoreuse, chaude de la fumée du tabac, le grisait, lui donnait une béatitude particulière, un abandon de lui-même.
Florent is never successful at breaking through to social reality: at a comfortable distance, for example, with "le quartier Mouffetard étalé à ses pieds," he is free to arrange "des mesures morales, des pro jets de loi humanitaires, qui auraient changé cette ville souffrante en une ville de béatitude" (II, p. 603). There, he dreams of a revolutionary peuple which bears no relationship to reality.
Florent's revolutionism both during l8U8 and the Second Empire, the temporal setting of the novel, is marked heavily by a facile, sentimental religiosity characteristic of not just Michelet but the whole progeny of social romantics of that period in general. As opposed to those who call for bloody revenge for the deaths of revolutionaries in the February days, he calls instead for "le rachat de ce sang 'par le baiser fraternel des républicains du monde entier'" (II, p. 604). He becomes one of those "orateurs illuminés" who preach revolution as "une religion nouvelle, toute de douceur et de rédemption." Such visions of "tendresse universelle" are quickly shattered when he is arrested; only briefly does he seem to awake from "son sermon sur la fraternité." Zola seems to place inside the novel some version of his own attitude toward Florent: Charvet, one of Florent's nightly political adversaries, finds him to be
Un garçon... qui n'a pas deux idées en politique, qui aurait mieux fait d'entrer comme professeur d'écriture dans un pensionnat de demoiselles...il nous mettrait ses sacrés ouvriers sur les bras, avec ses rêvasseries sociales. Voyez-vous, c'est ça qui perd le parti. Il n'en faut plus, des pleurnicheurs, des poètes humanitaires, des gens qui s'embrassent à la moindre égratignure. (II, p. 771)
It is Charvet who redefines the peuple as entirely egoistic and who represents a new generation of revolutionary which, unlike those of the A.B.C. Club in Les Misérables, is unwilling to sacrifice himself to the peuple. Charvet has a remarkably negative opinion of the people and interjects a strongly authoritarian element into his politics:
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 habiteur un pays comme la France à l'exercise de la liberté. (II, p. 690)
If Charvet betrays his own scorn for the peuple rather openly, Florent's repulsion manifests itself less directly, no doubt because his romantic populism prevents him from doing so. Bather, it appears in his nausea for the markets and his loathing of the behavior, particularly the culinary habits, of the people there. More importantly, his vision of the revolution is one that expects a wholsale moral change in the character of the working class and thus implies that he is profoundly disgusted by the peuple:
Croyant avoir à venger sa maigreur contre cette ville engraissée, pendant que les défenseurs du droit crevaient de faim en exil, il se fit justicier, il rêva de se dresser, des Halles mêmes, pour écraser ce règne de mangeailles et de soûleries. (II, p. 744)
In other words, Florent rather unwittingly meditates a certain revenge against the peuple itself for its fat, smug complacency, its loss of its revolutionary élan, and its indifference toward its liberators like himself.
Unlike Etienne who enjoys a certain amount of success in arousing the peuple, Florent is a miserable failure in every respect. During a portion of the novel, the latter teaches a "gamin," Muche, to read and write; it is a miniature enactment of the inevitable failure of the romantic populist's program for popular education. Though Muche enjoys his schooling, it never alters his egoistic character; at the end of the novel, when Florent is being hauled away by the police for his efforts to organize a revolution, Muche joyously partakes of the spectacle and jeers along with the other market people. While they last, the lessons also mean a chance for Muche to cook and eat new delicacies he has stolen from the market. Despite Florent's claim that "les hommes seraient meilleurs s'ils savaient tous lire" (II, p. 670), it is clear that Muche remains the amoral, egoistic little ruffian he begins as. More importantly, Muche's writing lessons symbolize plebian literacy and its grasp of revolutionary ideas in general: for writing practice, Florent has Muche copy such words as "tyranniquement, liberticide, anticonstitutionnel, révolutionnaire," or such lines as "Le jour de la justice viendra...La souffrance du juste est la condamnation du pervers...Quand l'heure sonnera, le coupable tombera" (II, p. 679). The mindless repetition, the black-and-white rhetoric, the fragmentary and jumbled nature of the material as well as the uncomprehending reception into the child mentalityall symbolize the pathetic limitations of plebian literacy and education.
Considering the fear of revolution and the destruction it would bring, the actual contentment and complacency of the people in this novel, and their general indifference toward pollicis, it is little wonder that the market people distrust Florent and ultimately turn on him. To Florent, as he is arrested, "il lui semblait que tout le quartier était là qui jouissait" (II, p. 806); "il se disait que les Halles étaient complices, que c'etait le quartier entier qui le livrait" (II, p. 805). In an image that contrasts vigorously with the symbolism of a mighty river in Les Misérables,26 Florent views the common people around him, as he is being hauled, off to jail and most likely to execution, as a rising tide of mud: "autour de lui, montait la boue de ces rues grasses."
Orphic Revolutionary Historicism
The visions of revolution possessed, by Zola's revolutionaries are also similar and can all be labelled, at least in their early stages, romantic. They expect from popular revolution a sudden, apocalyptic, sometimes almost bloodless change in the world and in the nature of man. Theirs is an optimistic, progressive sense of history, rather like that found in Hugo's'Les Misérables and Michelet's work. It assumes that utopia will be reached by popular revolution, by the force of the people. This familiar romantic revolutionary view is fiercely satirized, in Les Rougon-Macquart. Whatever vision of history Zola puts in its place, the peuple is no longer the chief driving force or agent.
Any discussion of the vision of history—its motor force, its destiny, and its optimistic or pessimistic characteristics—is bound by the setting of the series: the Second Empire. Though there was much to be optimistic about during the bustle of building in the period, Zola saw the twenty years of the Second Empire as one of great corruption in all areas of life. The dizzying prosperity of the early years of the Second Empire could only be followed inevitably by decay and disaster toward the end.27 But for Zola in Les Rougon-Macquart the disasters and the destruction which occur at the end of the Empire are simply the phase of purification before a rebirth, the regeneration of French society, which might well bring forth a better world. This pattern of prosperity-corruption-destruction and purificiation-regeneration suggests the pattern of the Eternal Return, which is hardly a progressive vision of history.28 This vision of history as unprogressively repeating itself is contradicted, however, by a certain sense of progress in spite of the disasters which surges forth at the end of Germinal, L'Argent, and La Terre, and La Débâcle: this optimism may simply be inspired by the rebirth phase of the total cycle.29
An element that confuses the question is Zola's own well-known fascination with and confidence in science and technology as a progressive force in the modern world.30 However, even this faith is implicitly questioned, in novels like L'Assommoir, Germinal, and La Bête humaine where new technology is seen dehumanizing man and society. At any rate, whatever the progressive force—if Zola believes in such—it is clearly not identified with the people or political struggle or popular revolution.31 If these latter serve any good purpose at all, they function as the destructive agents which clear the way for the regeneration. The people and popular revolution are not in themselves, however, the regenerative agents. If there is a progressive sense of history in Zola's series, something that breaks out of the historical pattern of the Eternal Return, it is not because of the peuple. As noted earlier, as miserable and reprehensible as they are depicted in Les Rougon-Macquart, they are no worse than any other sphere of society. Thus, the progressive force of history seems no longer to be the revolutionary people but science and technology in Zola's fiction. At the same time, however, the optimistic or progressive sense of historical development can be seen as coming from no single group, development, or force in society at all but rather from a certain innate human obstinence, tenacity, persistence, a stubborn refusal to stay down for long—a spirit suggested, particularly at the conclusion of L'Argent. Again, this may he no progressive spirit at all hut simply the will to bounce hack and begin the cycle of the Eternal Return all over again. One other element confuses the question of progressivism in Zola's fiction: man in Zola's world may not he able to control his destiny in any larger social and historical sense; his world may he improving, despite all the disasters, without his ability to control, direct, or prevent either.32 Such a progressivism, is clearly different from that of Hugo and Michelet which both embody an enormous confidence in man's ability to shape his own destiny.
Whatever the historical dynamic ultimately embodied in Les Rougon-Macquart, it is abundantly clear that the more romantic varieties of popular revolution are fiercely satirized through Zola's alienated, starry-eyed romantic populists discussed earlier. Etienne Lantier, as many have noted, is the most fully developed of all of Zola's revolutionaries in that, along with possessing all the other characteristics discussed earlier, he is the most politically active and successful. Also, he undergoes a certain pattern of development-one of increasing radicalism—the phases of which apply to most of the other romantic populists. More importantly Etienne receives a certain mythic development which symbolizes the nature of the Zola revolutionary, the nature of the peuple in Zola's fictional world, and the relationship between those two. And, of equal importance, this mythic dimension—dimly apparent in Florent and developed fully in Etienne—has much to suggest about the problem of the meaning and direction of history in Les Rougon-Macquart.
Like Florent, Silvère, and the others, Etienne is equipped with those features that set him apart from the plebian milieu, but in Etienne they are developed such that he becomes an Orpheus figure.33 Though it is not as evident in L'Assommoir or Le Ventre de Paris, the central organizing or structuring principle and the natural expression of the plebian world of Zola has to do with the main aspects of the Orpheus story. Like the traditions concerning Prometheus, which Michelet found particularly expressive of his notion of the peuple, the Orpheus story is relevant to Zola's idea of the peuple in terms of a concept of history, the idea of the leader of the people, and the character of nature of the people.
The romantic populist found Prometheus to "be a useful, expressive figure in many ways: he represents martyrdom, innovation, and heroism on the behalf of mankind, as well as rebellion against unjust authority. As a symbol of the peuple, he too seems eternally on the bottom, struggling heroically upward toward the light, to throw off his chains. In keeping with Prometheus's reputation as a practical helper of mankind, as the one who introduces man to fire, he and the peuple are similar in the fact they provide material wealth and comfort to the rest of society and afford that "chaleur," in Michelet's terms. Prometheus also embodies an appropriate sense of history: his struggle to arise from the depths is a progressive or linear one, which will at long last someday succeed.
Orpheus, on the other hand, completely alters some of the main concepts of the populist romance: Orpheus does not become the symbol of the people in the place of Prometheus; rather, he becomes the symbol of the alien revolutionary in the midst of the people; and the people become those whom the Orpheus missionary must convert to the revolutionary doctrine. In other words, the people resemble those Thracian barbarians Orpheus seeks to convert. Orpheus is often viewed as a kind of bringer of civilization, an outsider, a missionary, whose beautiful music and arts succeed for a while with the primitive half-savages he has come to help, but who is rejected and is ultimate- ly torn to pieces. His efforts to civilize are thus only partially successful, and when they fail, it is disastrous for him.34 Into the Orpheus story also enters a cyclical element—the ritual killing of Orpheus linked, to the cycle of the seasons. Transposed into a view of the peuple, it implies a negative view of the lower classes as resistant to civilization; it implies a cyclical view of history as not progressing but as continually falling back and starting over.
Etienne Lantier, the Orpheus figure of Germinal, suffers from the same intellectual problems of Silvère and Florent though in a milder fashion. Although he controls his hereditary alcoholism throughout the novel, it is a symbol at the same time of the "ivresse" that marks his headlong, overly enthusiastic behavior and that marks his family in general. Like Florent, Etienne is simply different from bis plebian associates, educated, sensitive, delicate, somewhat feminine, and somewhat disgusted by the vulgar in the common people.35
From the beginning Etienne is an outsider in more ways than one: Bonnemort finds him so different that he asks if he is from Belgium when in fact he is from the Midi—a remarkable misjudgment. Of course anyone from Belgium would be suspect, that country supplying the strike breakers to France's coal mining region. Two miners roughly object to the hiring of this "inconnu" (V, p. 43) and are not prepared to accept him. Just as Florent is thought a "'monsieur' sous la lamentable froque noire" (II, p. 577), one of the miners sneeringly calls Etienne "Eh! l'aristo!" (V, p. 51). The miners are quick to sense not only Etienne's foreignness but his higher level of education or literacy. Etienne is that combination of the intellectual with delicate, rather feminine features, and that certain loathing of the vulgarity of his fellow workers: Chaval taunts him, "espèce de couleuvre! ça n'a pas la force d'une fille!" as he mishandles a coal cart. In his behavior Etienne is distinct: it marks him as different that he does not seize Catherine when the sexual desire comes over him as other miners apparently do; he rejects "la Mouquette" despite his sexual deprivation and her desire for him; Catherine notices the unusual in him when she offers to share her coffee: "Eh bien, je bois avant toi, puisque tu es si poli" (V, p. 56).
Etienne is delicate, almost feminine, as one would imagine the beautiful Orpheus to be, though he can do the heavy work in the mines: "Sa petite taille lui permettait de se glisser partout, et ses bras avait beau être fins et "blancs comme ceux d'une femme, il paraissaient en fer sous la peau délicate" (V, p. 122). To the veteran miners Etienne is an educated, cultured man, almost an intellectual: Maheau "sentait que ce garçon avait une instruction supérieure à la sienne: il le voyait lire, écrire, dessiner des bouts de plan, il l'entendait causer de choses dont, lui, ignorait jusqu'à l'existence" (V, p. 123). This opinion toward the middle of the novel when Etienne's campaign for the relief fund is under way, becomes widespread; he grows in the esteem of all the coal miners as a "garçon instruit," "le nez toujours dans un livre": "Il était une sorte d'homme d'affaires, chargé des correspondances, consulté par les ménages sur les cas délicats" (V, p. 148). The miners, during the period of his tenuous popularity, look to him for help and guidance in many matters including those written.
Obviously not as limited, as Silvère or Goujet, Etienne falls prey to that same intellectual problem that the other working class characters face: he ranges through pile after pile of confused socialist and anarchist literature "dont la lecture mal digérée acheva de l'exalter" (V, p. 143). This strange formula of Zola's—that combination of a somewhat unsteady or flighty imagination, a fragmentary and jumbled education, a certain aloofness or distance from the common people—seems in Zola's fictional world to provoke the kind of dreamy envisioning of Utopian futures which is found in Etienne:
et, quand il sortait du cabaret de l'Avantage, où il continuait presque chaque jour à déblatérer avec eux contre la Compagnie, il marchait dans un rêve, il assistait à la régénération radicale des peuples, sans que cela dût coûter une vitre cassée ni une goutte de sang. D'ailleurs, les moyens d'exécution demeuraient obscurs, il préférait croire que les choses iraient très bien, car sa tête se perdait, dès qu'il voulait formuler un programme de reconstruction. (V, p. 143)
Etienne's confused, cloudy revolutionary thought depends necessarily upon the romantic sociology of the peiiple. At the same time, Etienne feels that curious, contradictory repugnance in the presence of the peuple—a discrepancy which partially explains his flights into the imaginary and his inability to formulate practical revolutionary programs. Like Silvère, Etienne becomes drunk with visionary radical politics and approaches revolutionary ideology more as one devoted to a millenialistic religion.
Unlike Florent, however, Etienne's intellectual confusion does not prevent him from achieving a certain success among the common people; in fact, it may explain his peculiar success as an inspiring orator whose "rêves" quickly spread among the miners. His visions of a revolutionary return to a new golden age are like a sudden shaft of light to the Maheus, the family with whom he stays and upon whom he exercises his most inspirational charm:
L'éternal recommencement de la misère, le travail de brute, ce destin de bétail qui donne sa laine et qu'on égorge, tout le malheur disparaissait, comme balayé par un grand coup de soleil; et, sous un éblouissement de féerie, la justice descendait du ciel. Puisque le bon Dieu était mort, la justice allait assurer le bonheur des hommes, en faisant régner l'egalité et la fraternité. Une société nouvelle poussait en un jour, ainsi que dans les songes, une ville immense, d'une splendour de mirage où chaque citoyen vivait de sa tâche et prenait sa part des joies communes. Le vieux monde pourri était tombé en poudre, ime humanité jeune, purgée de ses crimes, ne formait plus qu'un seul peuple de travailleurs, qui avail pour devise: à chacun suivant son mérite, et a chaque merite suivant ses oeuvres. Et, continuellment, ce rêve s'élargissait, s'embellissait. D'autant plus séducteur, qu'il montait plus haut dans l'impossible. (V, p. 146)
Parts of this vision echo Michelet and his generation of social romantics almost directly: the emphasis on justice, the notion of an entire world unified as one nation, the idea of revolution as a transformation of the world into an eternal spring which forever defeats human bondage to wintry misery and injustice, and of course the transcendental elements despite the death of god.
As Etienne "begins to experience the hardship and injustice of the miners' lives, as his mind begins to boil with that fragmentary jumble of socialist, anarchist, nihilist ideas fed him by Souvarine, Pluchart and others, he begins his efforts to rouse the miners. His first step toward organizing them into the Second International is to build support for a relief fund, "la caisse de prévoyance." On the Sunday in which Montsou's patron saint is celebrated, Etienne, beginning with the Maheus and building from there, goes from tavern to tavern gathering more and more support for the fund, something like a Pied Piper: "Les autres se mirent à rire, hésitants, puis accompagnèrent le camarade, au milieu de la cohue croissante de la ducasse" (V, p. 134). His infectious politicking excites the miners to contribute; of course, the free flowing liquor of the festival day is in his favor and in fact symbolizes the character of his radicalism.
At home with the Maheu family, Etienne is particularly dazzling; he holds everyone spellbound with his vision of the revolution to come, "son rêve social." As a result of his ardent, lyrical talks, which are increasingly attended by neighboring families, for the Maheus, "C'était, brusquement, l'horizon fermé qui éclatait, une trouée de lumière s'ouvrait dans la vie sombre de ces pauvres gens" (V, p. 146). At first they refuse to believe any of Etienne's ideas, but eventually they are brought under his charm: even upon Maheu's wife,
Peu à peu, le charme agissait aussi sur elle. Elle finissait par sourire, l'imagination éveillée, entrant dans ce monde merveilleux de l'espoir. Il était si doux d'oublier pendant une heure la réalité triste! Lorsqu'on vit comme des bêtes, le nez à terre, il faut bien un coin de mensonge, où l'on s'amuse à se régaler des choses qu'on ne possédera jamais. Et ce qui la passionnait, ce qui la mettait d'accord avec le jeune homme, c'était l'idée de la justice. (V, p. 146)
The Maheus sit spellbound accepting the most miraculous and far-fetched of ideas, "avec la foi aveugle des nouveaux croyants, pareils à des chrétiens des premiers temps de l'Eglise, qui attendaient la venue d'une société parfaite" (V, p. 147). People come from the village to listen to this Orphic revolutionary: "L'influence d'Etienne s'élargissait, il révolutionnait peu à peu le coron. C'était une propagande sourde, d'autant plus sure, qu'il grandissait dans l'estime de tous" (V, p. 147). He is so successful that "il se grisa de ces premières jouissances de la popularité" (V, p. 148).
Etienne's ability to win the miners to his ideas, to inspire them with his voice to strike, and to infect them—intoxicate them, more appropriately—with his romantic, visionary revolutionism is made overtly analogous to the sweet, transforming musicianship of Orpheus. Of course there are obvious differences: the latter's music was so beautiful that it soothed wild beasts, moved rocks and mountains, stopped rivers and made trees dance. And it is true that quite often the coalminers in Germinal are described as "bêtes" or as a "troupeau," and unquestionably they are rough, brutal, seemingly less than uncivilized. Early in the novel, Pere Bonnemort is described as tree-like in his stolid inertia. But Etienne's revolutionism acts upon them like music but not a pacifying music, one rather that gives them a glimpse of an idea, the "rêve social," and energizes them to fight for it.
Orpheus's career is bound up with the spread of a religion, a curious mystic brand, of Dionysianism; indeed, Etienne, an outsider like any missionary, himself undergoes, as be indoctrinates himself in socialist thought, the "ravissement des néophytes" (V, p. 143). Also, there is much of the mystic and the religious in his message as well as in those who are inspired by it. Orphic beliefs were otherworldly, and indeed Etienne's ideas quickly soar into the visionary: his talks awaken imaginations and conduct the wretched miners into a "monde merveilleux de l'espoir;" it gives them the opportunity to forget their awful reality for awhile; "il faut bien un coin de mensonge," as Maheu's wife thinks.
Orpheus also has the traditional reputation as a missionary of civilization, and in fact Etienne conceives of himself in certain respects in that light. Throughout the novel he experiences a certain "tristesse" at the brutal, animalistic promiscuity of the mining people, particularly their youth: this sadness is composed of a certain desire for Catherine but more importantly of a genuine disgust at this people's behavior:
il se trouvait blesse davantage par les promiscuites du coron. Est-ce qu'on etait des betes, pour etre ainsi parques, les uns contre les autres, au milieu des champs, si entasses qu'on ne pouvait change de chemise sans montrer son derriere aux voisins! (V, p. 143)
No doubt, mixed in his attitude toward the people is sympathy for the hardness of their lives as well, but the revolution he imagines, this "rêve social," will totally transform them: in his imagaination at least "il marchait dans un rêve, il assistait à la régénération radicale des peuples" (V, p. 143). After Etienne has lost his popularity as a strike leader among the miners, he admits to himself this disgust that he feels toward those he has wanted to lead:
C'était une sensation de superiorité qui Ie mettait à part des camarades, une exaltation de sa personne, à mesure qu'il s'instruisait. Jamais il n'avait tant réfléchi, il se demandait pourquoi son dégoût, le lendemain de la furieuse course au travers des fosses; et il n'osait se répondre, des souvenirs le répugnaient la bassesse des convoitises, la grossièrté des instincts, l'odeur de toute cette misère secouée au vent. Malgré le tourment des ténèbres, il en arrivait à redouter l'heure où il rentrerait au coron. Quelle nausée, ces misérables en tas, vivant au baquet commun! Pas un avec qui causer politique sérieusement, une existence de bétail, toujours le même air empestée d'oignon où l'on étouffait. (V, p. 296)
Of course Etienne does no real civilizing in any practical way, though his revolutionary visions imply a civilized and morally transformed peuple.
As if to reinforce the Orpheus story still further in Germinal, Zola stages his own greatly modified version of the Orpheus and Eurydice story when Etienne and Catherine are trapped in the mine after a cave-in. Related to this is the tradition that Orpheus was torn apart by the Thracian women because after the death of Eurydice he refused to have anything to do with women. While Etienne has little of Florent's Orpheus-like disdain for the feminine, he is rather fastidious in relation to women, as his avoidance of Mouquette shows. Moreover, Florent is destroyed by the marketwomen in Le Ventre when they all conspire to betray him to the police. At the same time there is the other explanation of Orpheus's death that he was killed because of the strange, foreign religion he imported. Whatever the case, it is clear that these communities turn on Etienne and Florent in a similar way and for similar reasons. In L'Assommoir these elements appear once more but in different combinations in separate characters: the dreamy romantic revolutionism in Goujet; the popularity among the working class folk in Lantier; the focus of community ill will and. suspicion upon Gervaise.
The carefully developed Orphic patterns in Germinal make us conscious that the same pattern reappears in practically all the plebian episodes of Les Rougon-Macquart. In various ways is played out again and again the pattern of the alien, mistrusted Orpheus who enters a working-class community and enjoys a brief tenuous moment of popularity and even influence before being cast out or even destroyed is played out again and again. The Orpheus figure becomes the civilization bringer, the missionary, the outsider, who brings a mystic, intoxicating new religion or ideology into the community; he is the intellectual alienated from the community, the goodhearted soul, the inspired orator, the dreamer of vague socialist utopias; the world into which he enters is that of the people—brutal, violent, desparate, barbaric, and resistant to change. Whereas the visions of an Orpheus—a Florent, a Silvère, or an Etienne—imply a progressive, forward-moving history, the cyclical and the seasonal ritual suggested in the Orpheus story itself as well as in the scenes in Germinal and its references to "l'éternal recommencement" indicates a workings class trapped in its own backward, savage limitations.36
As a destructive force which would sweep away the corruption of the Second Empire, the peuple in Zola's fiction possess a certain value.37 However, Zola himself had nothing hut condemnation for the communards in their more radical phase in the Paris of 1871. Viewing the people as a destructive, natural force in his novels, Zola could gain a gleeful satisfaction at imagining the popular contribution to Louis-Napoléon's long deserved downfall. That the cataclysm brought with it physical destruction made little difference since what was destroyed, was an expression of the same corrupt world. The destruction of civilization, no matter how corrupt, particularly the destruction of its great cultural achievements, hy the revolutionary people is viewed, however, quite differently in Henry James's The Princess Casamassima. In that novel a young man is faced with a choice between two competing allegiances: one, to the People and their de tructive, levelling revolution and two, to Civilization, which will conserve the value created over the centuries at the expense of the people.
1F. W. J. Hennnings points out that the "proletarian proper is almost totally absent from Balzac's La Comédie humaine," that George Sand's working class characters are but "charming fictions." (Emile Zola, Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1966, p. 112). Although the Goncourt brothers claimed to have done "the first study of the lower classes by masters of realism" (Hemmings, p. 112), Keating argues that their claims are not really justified and that Zola can fairly lay claim to his description of L'Assommoir as "le premier roman sur le peuple, qui ne mente pas et qui ait l'odeur du peuple." However "original" L'Assommoir may have been in this regard, Keating argues that it "became immediately, both in France and in England, the archetypal slum novel" and moreover the kind of novel best portraying the working classes. (Keating, pp. 128-29)
2Henri Mitterand in his notes to the Pléiade edition of L'Assommoir discusses the characteristics of these more romantic or melodramatic novels of the lower classes and Zola's familiarity with them. (Emile Zola, Les Rougon-Macquart [Paris: Pléiade, 1966] Ed. Henri Mitterand, Vol. 2, pp. 1539-1541).
3In a fine essay on Zola's revolutionaries, Aimé Guedj argues that the reason for the alienation of this type from the people has to do with the fact that they become politicians: "Par un paradoxe apparent, il a cessé d'être des leurs en se mettant à leur tête. En effet le peuple n'a qu'une existence collective. Toute conscience populaire qui s'individualise, se détache du peuple et passe à la bourgeoisie." Unlike Hugo's idea of the heroic plebian leader, Zola's involves automatic alientation: "Personne ne peut done parler, encore agir au nom du peuple." (Aimé Guedj, "Les Révolutionnaires de Zola," Cahiers Naturalistes, 36 , pp. 134-5).
4In any discussion of the working classes in Zola's fiction it would be a mistake to treat L'Assommoir without Germinal or vice versa; in an 1889 letter Zola states that he could not fit politics in L'Assommoir and had decided to save it for another novel: "Germinal est donc le complément de L'Assommoir, les deux faces de l'ouvrier." (H. H. Matthews, "Zola and the Marxists," Symposium, 12 , pp. 267-68).
5Hemmings records some of the attacks upon L'Assommoir, the fiercest of which came from "the political champions of the working classes": one reviewer saw it as "un pamphlet ridicule dirigé contre les travailleurs et forgeant ainsi des armes pour la réaction"; another concluded that Zola, a bourgeois "dans le mauvais sens du mot," had in the novel expressed "pour le peuple un mépris de bourgeois, double d'un mépris d'artiste faisant de l'art pour l'art, d'un mépris néronien." (Hemmings, Emile Zola, p. 123).
6...L'Assommoir is not a political novel, because there is no attempt to lay at anyone's door the blame for the degradation of the masses (Hemmings, Emile Zola, p. 85). Zola answered the criticisms of the novel by arguing that he had merely been analyzing the causes social evil—the best way to begin overcoming it: "Je ne suis qu'un greffier qui me défends de conclure. Mats je laisse aux moralistes et aux législateurs le soin de réfléchir et de trouver les rémèdes." (From Zola's letter to the editor of Le Bien public, February 22, 1877 cited in Hemmings, Emile Zola, p. 123).
7The Romantic Agony, Trans. Angus Davidson, 2nd Ed. (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1970), p. 11.
8Roger Ripoll, who has carefully traced the evolution of Zola's attitude toward Hugo in newspaper articles, points out that before l871 Zola had nothing but admiration for Hugo but that after that time Zola continually attacked him on political and artistic grounds as "un représentant exemplaire du républicanisme romantique." Zola in an article in l877 describes how the peuple hisses those who speak the truth to them and how "Il se pâme au contraire devant le poète qui le couvre de fleurs, qui lui promet la fin de ses maux, qui la met à la tête du monde, qui le berce d'une langue de théâtre, fleurie et rétentissante." (Roger Ripoll, "Zola juge Victor Hugo," Cahiers naturalistes, 46 , pp. 186, 198-99).
9All references are to Emile Zola, Oeuvres complètes [Paris: Cercle du Livre Précieux, 1967), ed. Henri Mitterand. The Roman numeral indicates the volume; the Arabic number indicates the page number.
10The suffix of both words indicates the diminutive. "Miette" in English means "small bit or crumb," and "cosette" is deformation of the French "chose," or thing, with the diminutive "ette"—thus, "small thing."
11To Roger Ripoll, the novel presents an image of the working class "radicalement autre" and destroys "le mythe généreux et rassurant du peuple, tel que pouvaient le concevoir Hugo et les politiciens de gauche." ("Zola juge Victor Hugo," pp. 201-202).
12Philippe Bonnefis, who finds that the "bête" in man emphasized constantly by animal imagery in Les Rougon-Macquart will always prevent any real progress, describes the corruption that runs through all classes in Zola's portrait of the Second Empire:
La société prend ainsi les apparences d'une ménagerie: à la tête du gouvernement un taureau qui mène le peuple comme un troupeau que l'on utilise avant de le conduire à l'abattoir; une bourgeoisie qui est une meute de chiens courants ou une horde de loups; des gens de finance avides et cruels comme des rapaces...Chaques emploi a son correspondant animal.
("Le bestiare d'Emile Zola," Europe, Nos. 468-69 , p. 103-105).
13David Place has found Goujet, the perfect worker, the moral ideal apparently achievable by all workers, totally inconsistent—a "latent conflict between moralism and sociological attitudes." Goujet in this view seems to represent the approach to social problems by pointing out "exemplary courses of individual behavior"; Goujet seems impervious to the pressures of his plebian milieu whereas the other characters in the novel are not. In fact one reviewer saw Zola as preaching to the worker through this particular character. ("Zola and the Working-Class: the meaning of L'Assommoir," French Studies, 28 , pp. 42-47).
Sandy Petrey sees Goujet as Zola's own defense mechanism against socialist criticisms; Goujet illustrates that even the perfect worker in all his hard work and temperance will be poor and destitute. ("Goujet as God and Worker in L'Assommoir," French Forum, 1 , p. 240).
14One can apply Robert Niess's summary of the general behavior of Zola's working women equally to Zola's working men: "en meme temps elles ont toutes sortes de défauts: elles sont quelquefois avaricieuses, très souvent cancanières, méchantes, fières, moqueuses, cruelles, prêtes à toutes les infamies pour abattre la rivale, dures, brutales et violentes, grossières, déloyales." ("Emile Zola; la femme au travail," Cahiers naturalistes, 50 , p. 57).
15Robert Niess finds Zola's working class, in this case its women, to be "denuées de conscience et d'orgeuil de classe"; they possess no "vrai sentiment de caste" and become united only in hatred of outsiders like Florent. (Niess, pp. 52-53).
16Edwin Grobe also hears the "desperately misanthropic spirit of proletarian society" in the style indirect libre of L'Assommoir. ("Karrative Technique in L'Assommoir," Esprit Createur, 11 , P. 58).
17"Zola n'a pas voulu faire, avec l'Assommoir, un roman réaliste ...Il cherche l'excès, le summum de la violence. ...Plus done qu'un documentaire sur une fraction de la classe ouvrière, le roman offre la vision catastrophique de la condition ouvrière." (Colette Becker, "La condition ouvrière dans l'Assommoir: un ineluctable enlisement," Cahiers naturalistes, 52 , p. 43).
18"Le peuple de l'Assommoir est un peuple sans memoire parce qu'il est un peuple sans passion politique."[Jean Gaillard, "Réalités ouvrières et réalisme dans l'Assommoir," Cahiers naturalistes, 52 , p. 32).
19Although what we conclude about Zola's attitude toward human nature has to be limited to the context of Les Rougon-Macquart, especially since that series presents mankind in a particularly bad light, Zola often alluded to the inextinguishable beast in man which no amount of technological advance would ever wipe out: beneath all the progress of civilization, he hoped to show in La Bête humaine "le statu quo du sentiment, la sauvagerie qui est au fond de l'homme... Voilà l'hérédité de la bête. le mart qui se rue sur l'amant... le lointain homme primitif..." (From the ébauche for the same novel cited in Hemmings, Emile Zola, p. 241).
20Other critics too have found this hatred of the people—of mankind—in these sentimental, humanitarian republicans like Florent and Etienne: "l'inhumanité est en germe dans leur amour, qui d'emblée se trompe d'objet, est sans objet car il se nourrit de sa propre substance," a process which occurs with the idea of the peuple, another idea disconnected from reality. As for Florent, "Abstrait, tourné vers l'homme idéal, il conduit fata ement à la haine des hommes réels." (Guedj, p. 133).
21Guedj argues that Zola's revolutionaries undergo a typical developmental pattern and that each can be located somewhere on the continuum: "on passe logiquement de l'humanitarisme républicain au socialisme et de là à l'anarchisme. C'est-à-dire de la révolution politique à la revolution sociale et, dans le désespoir qui suit l'échec, à la destruction pure"; Etienne Lantier thus provides "la loi du personnage la clé de tous ses avatars." (Guedj, p. 124).
22Guedj for example also sees Zola's characters' revolutionism as "une inquiétude metaphysique," as "la poursuite d'une chimère," and most importantly as "une évasion du monde, la manifestation d'un malaise existentiel." (Guedj, p. 127).
23For David Baguley, this typical escapism and revery of Florent can be explained by a certain "enveloppement, cette pénétration totale par les choses," which is so overwhelming in Le Ventre. Florent's revolutionism thus becomes "une protestation contre cet empire de la matière indigeste, qui immobilise l'esprit," and the novel an example of the "Flaubertian theme" of "l'envahissement de l'être par la matière." ("Le supplice de Florent," Europe, Nos. 468-69 , pp. 95-96).
24It should be pointed out, as does Roger Ripoll, that there are at least two types of revolutionaries in Zola's novels, "le provacateur et l'idéaliste, Macquart et Silvère," in La Fortune des Rougon, and Logre and Florent in Le Ventre, although this study deals only with the latter. ("Zola et les Communards," Europe, Nos. 468-69 , p. 19).
25Auguste Dezalay describes what must be many readers' impression of Zola's fictional world: "La lecture des Rougon-Macquart nous donne souvent l'impression de pénétrer dans un univers qui manque d'air et de lumière, où l'âme obscure d'eetres écrasés par leur mêtier, leurs tares et la société de leur temps se débat pour respirer malgré tout dans l'atmosphere lourde, étouffante et viciée d'un souterrain sans issue." ("Le theme du souterrain," Europe, 468-69 , p. 110).
26Les Misérables, I, p. 483.
27One critic argues that no overall idea of history can be derived from Les Rougon-Macquart since it is contained within the narrative frame of the Second Empire and that "depending on the context, Zola emphasizes the ascending or the descending phase of the cycle of growth and. decay, revolution or repression, the eternal renewal of man's hope or the eternal renewal of his misery." (Naomi Shor, "Zola and la nouvelle critique," Esprit Créateur 11 , p. 19).
28According to Roger Ripoll, Guy Robert was one of the first to call attention to the fact that "l'avenir apparaît sous la double forme de la destruction et de la renaissance associées dans la vision d'une catastrophe purificatrice" in Germinal but also the whole of Les Rougon-Macquart. ("L'avenir dans Germinal: destruction et renaissance," Cahiers naturalistes, 50 , p. 115).
29William Berg, for example, finds that "a second network of images based on a botanical metaphor and stressing growth and progress" yields a more positive view of history in Zola's fiction and counterbalances the pessimistic effect of the animal imagery. ("A Note on Imagery as Ideology in Zola's Germinal," Clio, 2  , pp. 44-45).
30Philip Walker argues that opposed to all the radicals, reformers, visionaries, labor leaders, proletarians, and new bourgeoisie that inhabit Zola's fiction, the scientist and the engineer, "in Zola's mind, are the true revolutionaries, the true architects of the world of the future." ("Zola: Poet of an Age of Transition," Esprit créateur, 11 , p. 8).
31No doubt this is what has long upset some Marxist literary critics; as J.H. Matthews has argued Zola's whole outlook, "based on a confidence in the inevitability of universal progress through scientific advancement," is obviously at variance with the Marxist idea of social progress through class conflict and revolution. (Matthews, p. 262). As stated by Jacques Pelletier, "Il croyait que la société nouvelle serait le fruit d'une lente évolution amenée par le progrès des sciences et le partage par tous des bienfaits de l'éducation." ("Lukács lecteur de Zola," Cahiers naturalistes, 41 , p. 71).
32One critic at least has found a profound helplessness in Zola's vision of man in Les Rougon-Macquart: there may well be progress in his world, but it is a movement that humans can do nothing about: conscious intervention by man in his own history is either futile or disastrous; Zola substitutes "à une action politique contre le capitalisme une observation naturaliste de ses lois" and places his confidence "dans le progrès de la science et dans une meilleure connaissance du 'circulus social,' identique, selon lui, au 'circulus vital'" (Guedj, p. 136).
33Philip Walker argues that despite Zola's proclamations that myths, "rêve," and "fantômes" were outmoded and that science was now ascendant, despite his reputation as a "naturalist" novelist, Zola incorporated the mythic in his work continually. More steeped in Greek and Roman mythology than he cared to admit, Zola often carefully planned evocations of myth in novels which, for Walker, must be regarded, as important keys to the symbolism, the hidden metaphors, and "deeper meanings" of Zola's works. Zola's 1876 statement in a newspaper is particularly important here: "Si l'on veut s'inspirer de l'Antiquité, si l'on veut retrouver la largeur des temps héroïques, il faut etudier et peindre le peuple," he had already had the idea for an Adromache to be set in the lower classes. Walker uncovers a wealth of mythological parallels, allusions or models in Les Rougon-Macquart but makes no mention of Orpheus. ("Zola, Myth and the Rebirth of the World," Symposium, 25 , pp. 209-212).
34The importance of the various aspects of the Orpheus story to the Romantic poets has been studied voluminously in such works as Leon Cellier's "Le romantisme et le mythe d'Orphée, (CAIEF, 10 , pp. 138-57); Brian Juden's Traditions Orphiques et tendences mystiques dans le romantisme français (Paris: Klincksieck, 1971); Gwendolyn Bays' The Orphic Vision: Novalis to Nerval (Lincoln, Neb.: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1964); and Hermine Riffaterre's L'Orphisme dans la poésie romantique; thèmes et style surnaturelistes (Paris: Nizet, 1970). Orphisme as described by these critics is quite similar to the mode of thought of Zola's revolutionaries: both are marked, by "Inspiration fondée sur la pensée de l'infini, sur le sentiment, de l'invisible; obsession quasi physique du mythe sublimée souvent, sinon toujours, en inquiétude metaphysique; volonté anxieuse d'aller au-delà, de transcender les limites de la nature et de l'humain; recherche de l'absolu" (Riffaterre, p. 279). Orpheus to the Romantics represents "une spécialisation du rôle du poète-guide de l'humanité: il devient un rôle de mystagogue, de guide des néophytes à travers les épreuves d'une initiation" (Riffaterre, p. 12).
Cellier points out that Orpheus becomes in Ballanche's Orphee (1828) "un héros plébéien.. .un partisan du progrès...le héros voyageur qui apporte aux hommes la civilisation," who has discovered how to civilize men "[en]pla[çant] leur vie dans l'avenir," just as Etienne does in Germinal (Cellier, pp. 139-140). Like Florent in Le Ventre, Hugo's "poète dans les révolutions," an Orphic figure himself, has the important Orphic role of "victime expiatoire."
Juden points out that Saint-Simoniens and Fourierists took Orpheus as a "synonyme de civilisateur," and that Pierre Leroux, one of the "social Romantics," often used Orpheus as a figure similar to Moses, Jesus, and Saint-Simon himself—all martyrs, social prophets—who are all necessarily as "révélateurs" immolated by a distrustful peuple they have come to help (Juden, pp. 38-81).
35Other critics too have noticed this physical and behavioral difference which sets Zola's revolutionaries apart from the working class from which they generally spring; all tend to be marked by Etienne's "timidité avec les femmes, sa reserve, une certaine délicatesse de sentiments et surtout une sensibilité frémissante" (Guedj, p. 125).
36It should be pointed out that Zola in his later, post Rougon-Macquart fiction returns to a romanticism and a certain visionary utopian, full of religiosity, the very thing he had rejected throughout most of his career. This surprising turn around, which he rather innocently claimed to be merely the culmination of his life's work and thought, is signaled by Travail (1901), described by Henri Mitterand as an "anti-Germinal" full of the "mythe de fraternité et de prosperité" he had so often satirized. In Travail, a novel in which "un mythe de rédemption et de résurrection succède aux mythes de saccage, de sang et mort," a peaceful strike ushers in a utopian era of communalist harmony and a character strangely resembling Monsieur Madeleine named Luc Froment sets about teaching the "évangile de réconciliation." (Henri Mitterand, "L'évangile social du Travail: un anti-Germinal," Mosaic, 5 , pp. 182-84).
37Aime Guedj compares Zola's concept of the peuple to a natural force, blind and unconscious of itself but capable of scientific understanding; as a force in nature the peuple is like a flooding river, totally amoral, neither right nor wrong, but beneficial in the destruction it brings about: "Un sang nouveau, une humanité régénérée, mais à quel prix? Quoi qu'il en soit, le seul personnage authentiquement révolutionnaire est le peuple; être collectif et indifférencié, nature à l'état brut qui remet en cause toute culture, force vive dont Zola attend, fasciné, moins le renversement d'une classe que la destruction de toute société: la Révolution est une apocalypse...." (Guedj, pp. 136-37).