“On quitting Plassans by the Rome Gate, on the southern side of the town, you will find, on the right side of the road to Nice, and a little way past the first suburban houses, a plot of land locally known as the Aire Saint-Mittre.”
The first book in Zola’s 20 volume Les Rougon-Macquart series, The Fortune of the Rougons introduces us to the half-brothers, Pierre Rougon and Antoine Marquart, their uneasy familial relationship and their two different paths of life, Rougon choosing to be a respectable oil merchant and Macquart, an unemployed, shiftless, irresponsible man who takes after his father.
As Napoleon III prepares an uprising to return the Republic of France to an Empire, Plassans in the south and home of Pierre & Antoine, becomes an unsettled roiling of uprising and intrigue. Silvere, their nephew, leaves with his love Miette to join the insurgents in favour of the Republic, Pierre canvases for Napoleon while scheming to improve his place in society, planning to make his fortune and rid himself of his troublesome half-brother. Antoine longs only to get revenge on Pierre for stealing his inheritance and to satisfy his longing for money to feed his laziness.
After the dust settles, Pierre has won himself an important position in the town. Antoine is in exile for his ill-judged actions, but the reader cannot help but suspect that he will return for more money and perhaps sweet revenge.
Zola’s theories of heredity were meant to play out in these novels and we see the beginnings of their effect in the lives of his characters yet in a very unobtrusive manner. Tel père, tel fils!
I’m looking forward to the next novel!
(translated by Ernest Alfred Vizetelly)