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L'Assommoir (1877)

de Émile Zola

Altres autors: Mira la secció altres autors.

Sèrie: Les Rougon-Macquart (7)

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2,038375,810 (4.1)1 / 188
Lantier and Gervaise are fresh from the south, making a new life in Paris. But Lantier soon succumbs to urban degeneracy and abandons her. Gervaise, marries Coupeau the roofer and strives to realise her dream of running her own laundry. Hardship, however, is never far away.
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The novel is mainly the story of Gervaise Macquart, escaping to Paris with her tireless lover Lantier to work as a laundress in a hot and busy laundry in one of the most decadent areas of the city.

L'Assommoir begins with Gervaise and her two children being abandoned by Lantier, who leaves for an unknown place with another woman. Although at first she rejected men completely, she eventually gave in to the advances of Coupeau, an abstainer roofer, and they were married. The wedding sequence is one of the most famous scenes in Zola's work; the account of the chaotic and improvised trip of the wedding party to the Louvre is one of the most famous passages of the novelist. Through a combination of happy circumstances, Gervaise manages to fulfill her dream and raise enough money to open her own laundry. The couple's happiness seems to be completed with the birth of a daughter, Anna, nicknamed Nana (the protagonist of Zola's later novel with the same title).

However, later in history, we witness the downward trajectory of Gervaise's life from that happy high point. Coupeau is injured when he falls from the roof of a new hospital in which he is working and, during his long convalescence, he begins first with idleness, then with gluttony and, finally, with drink. In just a few months, Coupeau becomes a vengeful alcoholic who hits his wife, with no intention of trying to find more work. Gervaise struggles to keep her home together, but her excessive pride leads her to a series of embarrassing failures and soon everything is getting worse. Gervaise is infected by her husband's newfound laziness and, in an effort to impress others, spends his money on lavish banquets and accumulates uncontrolled debts.

The house is further disturbed by the return of Lantier, who is warmly received by Coupeau at this point, losing interest in Gervaise and his own life, and becoming seriously ill. The resulting chaos and financial tension are too much for Gervaise, who loses her laundry and is sucked into a spiral of debt and despair. Finally, she also finds solace in drinking and, like Coupeau, falls into heavy alcoholism. All of this leads Nana - already suffering from chaotic life at home and having problems daily - to flee her parents' house and become a casual prostitute. ( )
  Marcos_Augusto | Feb 19, 2021 |
I run the risk, with Zola, of being biased and excessively rapturous. Well, you know what? I try to do it so rarely that you can just put up with it, in this instance!

L'Assomoir, translated roughly as The Drinking Den or sometimes The Dram Shop is the seventh in Zola's 20-volume Rougon-Macquart series and, famously, it's the one that made him a household name in Third Republic France. Zola should be required reading for all people of a left-wing persuasion: he's fiercely angry about the state of society, the ways in which individuals vote against their own interests due to ill education or a quick buck, the destructive forces of poverty and inequality upon people's ability to make smart decisions, and - especially - to the short-sighted hypocrisy of moral reformers and snobs, who proliferated throughout France during its last period of Empire, between 1851 and 1870, which this series chronicles. He is a core text in 19th century class-conscious critiques, with the eye of a 20th century sociologist, always seeking a dozen root causes for a problem when lesser minds - sometimes minds in power - would settle for one. "People wouldn't be poor if they didn't waste their lives on drink and sex!" said the wealthy (who - as the author has chronicled in earlier instalments - waste much of their life on same). "Perhaps", Zola retorts, "we should ask why they drink and have sex, and whether they really had any chance of escaping poverty to begin with."

In the character of Gervaise, a washerwoman torn between three men, various children from different fathers, and a monotonous life broken up only by bouts of injury, brutality, or drunken joy, Zola found a character to enrage and enrapture the literati of Paris in equal measure. As the novel was serialised, readers couldn't tell whether the author was creating a story of a sinner's moral downfall, or just enjoying creating a scandal ("being a pornographer", as his critics called him until his dying day).

But, really, he is doing neither. And this is the point. Zola should also be read by those of a right-wing persuasion. Gervaise's downfall is upsetting. (It's a cakewalk compared to some of the truly brutal, exhausting lives of others, notably an 8-year-old girl acting as mother to her two baby siblings, and as a lighting rod for the graphically-written beatings of her father, widowed by his own hand.) But the lives of Gervaise and all of her compatriots in the working-class neighbourhood near the outer wall of Paris are logical extensions of the society in which they live. It is here that the great overall structure of the Rougon-Macquart comes into play. The opulent "elegant decay" of [b:The Kill|3888856|The Kill|Émile Zola||839934]. The dog-eat-dog world of food market Les Halles in [b:The Belly of Paris|6662310|The Belly of Paris|Émile Zola||10242] (centering around Gervaise's sister Lisa, who perhaps unreasonably does not appear in this book). And most notably [b:His Excellency Eugène Rougon|36794160|His Excellency Eugène Rougon (Les Rougon-Macquart, #6)|Émile Zola||1356899], in which Gervaise's cousin Eugene rises in politics by treating Paris and all of her complex social issues as mere means to an end. If L'Assomoir scandalised France, Zola wanted to say, they should take a long, hard look at themselves.

While the novel is lengthy and often grim, it is also very funny. Zola and Dickens are incredibly different in their structure and approach, although they played similar roles in their respective cultures. But whereas Dickens was a social reformer in the classical sense, with his one-dimensional, honest-but-down-on-their-luck poor, Zola doesn't let his characters off lightly. There are dozens of characters populating Gervaise's world, and they're filled with delightful contradictions, peccadilloes that others excuse on dubious moral grounds, and a constant need to judge others behind their back, all the while assuring everyone that they're not being judgmental, no, of course not. Zola is at his best (as always) in his grand set-pieces, most notably the day of Gervaise's wedding, which commences with a ceremony that no-one wishes to attend, a backlogged Town Hall more interested in bureaucracy than romance, a tipsy tour of the Louvre by a group of people who wouldn't know art if it bit them on the behind, and a messy all-night banquet which leaves the wait staff regretting that they ever agreed to hire the place out to a bunch of white trash.

Even Gervaise, whose tragedy this is, receives countless opportunities to make good decisions, and almost never does so. Zola is showcasing the complexity of poverty, the inevitable human need to prioritise short-term gain over long-term reward when one is in dire straits, but he never (well, rarely) forgets that his characters are also characters. No-one acts the way they do just because of their social tribe; we are all individuals, and he knows this.

As in every one of his novels, Zola chooses an overarching style. Here, his narrative voice is the town gossip. It's an incredible challenge for a translator, as even the omniscient narration is always in character, bursting with slang and catty tangents. Margaret Mauldon's translation seems to be up to the task.

There's always one caveat in a Zola novel, and here it's his lifelong belief (bear in mind he was born in 1840!) that, on a scientific, even genetic level, a woman's first lover "imprints" himself upon her. This was the subject of Zola's early novel [b:Madeleine Férat|312176|Madeleine Férat|Émile Zola||2920502] and resurfaces here, although not in such a way that makes the novel feel outdated. Gervaise's actions (unlike Madeleine's) still feel like their own.

So, in closing, this is quite a book. Every instalment of the Rougon-Macquart is also a history lesson. Zola was chronicling a twenty-year period in France's history, and has left us with a remarkable multifaceted view of a city - a world - in all its iridescent, hypocritical, vibrant, noisy, depressing glory. When L'Assommoir was published in book form in 1877, it was an instant bestseller and, instantly, the previous six books in the series was back in print and selling like gold. While he had been a recognisable figure to Parisians since he began publishing books in the mid-1860s, Zola at last had financial stability, and could convincingly present himself as the leading author of his generation. (Luminaries Flaubert and Hugo - both of whom were reaching the end of their life - seem to have looked upon him with a mix of respect and dismay!) Now he could sit back and write the remaining 13 volumes of his series encompassing an entire era of French history. No big deal. ( )
  therebelprince | Nov 15, 2020 |
I suspect that I would like a newer translation than the one I read - indeed Penguin Classics have published one. ( )
  Arbieroo | Jul 17, 2020 |
Quatrième de couverture - Zola (Paris, 1840 - Paris, 1902), dans « L'Assommoir », septième roman des « Rougon-Macquart » raconte le drame de la vie populaire : l'alcoolisme, propagé par les débits de boissons nommés à juste titre des « assommoirs ». Coupeau, bon ouvrier zingueur, après un accident, au cours d'une longue convalescence, se laisse gagner par l'alcool. Sa femme Gervaise, qui avait de haute lutte acquis une blanchisserie, après avoir résisté, est à son tour entraîné jusqu'à la pire déchéance.
  Haijavivi | Jun 10, 2019 |
> Par Adrian ( : Les 150 classiques de la littérature française qu’il faut avoir lus !
07/05/2017 - Rarement trouve-t-on un titre qui donne une si bonne idée du tempérament d’un livre. Un procès-verbal sur les ravages de l’ivrognerie. Un alambic comme figure centrale.
  Joop-le-philosophe | Jan 27, 2019 |
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Nom de l'autorCàrrecTipus d'autorObra?Estat
Zola, Émileautor primaritotes les edicionsconfirmat
Buss, RobinTraductorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Collodi, LuisaTraductorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Lethbridge, RobertIntroduccióautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Mauldon, MargaretTraductorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Reim, RiccardoEditorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Schwencke, J.J.Traductorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Tancock, Leonard W.Traductorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Vingeroets-Longersta… M.Traductorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
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Gervaise avait attendu Lantier jusqu'à deux heures du matin.
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L'Assommoir du père Colombe se trouvait au coin de la rue des Poissonniers et du boulevard de Rochechouart. L'enseigne portait, en longues lettres bleues, le seul mot : Distillation, d'un bout à l'autre. Il y avait à la porte, dans deux moitiés de futaille, des lauriers-roses poussiéreux. Le comptoir énorme, avec ses files de verres, sa fontaine et ses mesures d'étain, s'allongeait à gauche en entrant ; et la vaste salle, tout autour, était ornée de gros tonneaux peints en jaune clair, miroitants de vernis, dont les cercles et les cannelles de cuivre luisaient. Plus haut, sur des étagères, des bouteilles de liqueurs, des bocaux de fruits, toutes sortes de fioles en bon ordre, cachaient les murs, reflétaient dans la glace, derrière le comptoir, leurs taches vives, vert pomme, or pâle, laque tendre. Mais la curiosité de la maison était, au fond, de l'autre côté d'une barrière de chêne, dans une cour vitrée, l'appareil à distiller que les consommateurs voyaient fonctionner, des alambics aux longs cols, des serpentins descendant sous terre, une cuisine du diable devant laquelle venaient rêver les ouvriers soûlards. (II)
Mais Goujet avait compris. Il posa le ragoût sur la table, coupa du pain, lui versa à boire.

- Merci ! merci ! disait-elle. Oh ! que vous êtes bon ! Merci !

Elle bégayait, elle ne pouvait plus prononcer les mots. Lorsqu'elle empoigna la fourchette, elle tremblait tellement qu'elle la laissa retomber. La faim qui l'étranglait lui donnait un branle sénile de la tête. Elle dut prendre avec les doigts. A la première pomme de terre qu'elle se fourra dans la bouche, elle éclata en sanglots. De grosses larmes roulaient le long de ses joues, tombaient sur son pain. Elle mangeait toujours, elle dévorait goulûment son pain trempé de ses larmes, soufflant très fort, le menton convulsé. Goujet la força à boire, pour qu'elle n'étouffât pas ; et son verre eut un petit claquement contre ses dents.

- Voulez-vous encore du pain ? demandait-il à demi-voix.

Elle pleurait, elle disait non, elle disait oui, elle ne savait pas. Ah ! Seigneur ! que cela est bon et triste de manger, quand on crève ! (XII)
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(Clica-hi per mostrar-ho. Compte: pot anticipar-te quin és el desenllaç de l'obra.)
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Also published as Nana's Mother.
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Lantier and Gervaise are fresh from the south, making a new life in Paris. But Lantier soon succumbs to urban degeneracy and abandons her. Gervaise, marries Coupeau the roofer and strives to realise her dream of running her own laundry. Hardship, however, is never far away.

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