Monday, 20 August 2012


Three quotes from Emile Zola's Le Ventre de Paris (1873). I haven't even finished the book yet, but I want to capture something I felt immediately I began it - a sense that here was another of his books I was going to enjoy. Reading it was like pouring the first glass of wine on a warm summer evening - a sense of anticipation to be savoured, not hurried.

Maybe I'm becoming an enthusiast. For Zola that is... and wine of course.

Firstly, the main character, Florent, strolls around Les Halles, the enormous central market of 19th Century Paris.

Florent went out and strolled for some time in one of the covered ways of the markets. A fine mist was rising, and a grey sadness, which the gas lights studded as with yellow tears, hung over the deserted pavilions.

Secondly, our guilt about modern comforts is nothing new.

As he listened to her, with a full plate in front of him, he was affected, in spite of himself, by the prim comfort of his surroundings. The matting beneath his feet seemed soft; the gleams of the brass hanging lamp, the soft yellow tint of the wallpaper, and the bright oak of the furniture filled him with appreciation of a life spent in comfort, which disturbed his notions of right and wrong.

Thirdly, an incident which seems to fit our time as well as Zola's.

There were some people of the smaller middle class, from distant parts of the city, who had come down at four o'clock in the morning to buy a really fresh fish, and had ended by allowing some enormous lot, costing from forty to fifty francs, to be knocked down to them, with the result that they would be obliged to spend the whole day in getting friends and acquaintances to take the surplus off their hands. 


Electro-Kevin said...

Beats reading Fifty Shades of Gray I suppose.

A K Haart said...

Kev - I haven't read Fifty Shades of Gray, but I'm tempted to read it to see if all those negative reviews are right about it.

James Higham said...

the smaller middle class

Love the translation - la petite bourgeoisie?

A K Haart said...

James - yes, the translation is an early one and may well have been made before we adopted the French phrase. A modern translator could leave it untranslated.