The Classics Club Spin #19 – The Earth by Emile Zola

The Earth cover

The Earth by Emile Zola was first published in 1887 and it’s part of his Rougon Macquart series and it’s the book that I got in the Classics Club Spin number 19. I’ve read quite a lot of books in this series and enjoyed most of them, I liked this one but it wasn’t exactly an uplifting read. My Penguin edition, translated by Douglas Parmee is 500 pages long and I was glad to get to the end of it, but apparently it was the author’s favourite novel.

Jean Macquart is now working as a wandering farmhand but previously he had been a corporal in the army, a veteran of the Battle of Solferino. When he reaches the small village of Beauce, north of Paris he decides to settle there, he’s attracted to Francoise who already has an illegitimate child with Buteau who is the youngest child of a local landowner. Buteau isn’t keen to marry Francoise but she decides to wait in hope that he will eventually. Meanwhile Jean says that he will marry her if Buteau won’t.

Buteau’s father Fouan is feeling his age and decides to split his land up between his three children who will work the land and pay their father a small pension from their farm incomes. Fouan’s older sister is very domineering, she’s nicknamed La Grande and she warns Fouan that he is making a huge mistake in giving up his land. She’s correct of course as as soon as Fouan gives up his land he feels that he has lost his status in the village, he’s just an old man of no importance now and it isn’t long before his children stop paying him his pension. They aren’t at all interested in him now that they already have their inheritance and they all start fighting amongst themselves. Fouan should have read King Lear.

Zola had obviously done plenty of research into the subject of agriculture and the problems that were faced by the peasants, the agricultural year is described as the peasants work their way through the sowing, reaping and then the wine-making and amazingly despite the hard work involved they always seemed to have plenty of stamina for illicit sex, they were a very loose-living bunch indeed. Under a hedge seemed to be a favourite place for it!

As ever though Zola’s descriptions are lovely and I intend to read my way through all of this series.

14 thoughts on “The Classics Club Spin #19 – The Earth by Emile Zola

  1. Just when I was thinking, oh this sounds like King Lear, you make the connection too. Your comment about their stamina for under hedge assignations made me laugh!

  2. I’ve never read Zola but a few weeks ago, on a whim, I bought one of his books at a library sale for 50 cents. I’m sure I will read it one of these days…

  3. I’ve only read one or two books by Zola, but I’ve always intended to read more. I have Germinal on my Classics Club list which I’m looking forward to, but most of them sound good!

    • Anne@Headfullofbooks,

      Luckily I don’t work so I have plenty of time for reading, especially in the winter when it’s too cold to garden. Thanks for dropping by.

  4. Katrina,
    Good for you for seeking out another Zola.
    I’m wondering: Which of his books have you read, and which is (are) your favorite (s)?
    Any snowdrops yet?
    We’ve got over 3 feet of snow on the ground, but I am convinced that we will have an early “March” spring this year. Rarely happens–happened the first year we were here, but I think it will, based on a few observations about the polar vortex caving in within February.

    • Judith,
      Germinal is my favourite so far, you should give it a go. Yes the snowdrops are out, they were early but the recent cold weather has stopped them so should prolong their season. It’s very cold here, hard frost and car windscreen scraping time, but we have no snow – unusually that is all down south, even in Cornwall.

  5. The Earth was one of the best Zolas, but wow, so many unpleasant characters! They were so awful, yet I could not stop reading. I’ve read about half the series, and so far my favorites were Germinal, La Bete Humaine, and Pot Bouille which is actually rather funny. I’ve also heard La Debacle is excellent but I haven’t tackled it yet.

    • Karen K.
      My favourite so far is Germinal but I really liked La Bete Humaine too. It was all the unpleasant characters that put me off The Earth, really Jean was the only person I would have wanted to have anything to do with.

  6. Germinal is my favourite of the 4 I’ve read so far too, although I have enjoyed them all in their own way for what they show me about life and times in Zola’s France (Nana, The Kill and The Fortune of the Rougons).

    I like the King Lear link too, Zola certainly had a Shakespearean tendency for high drama and tragedy.

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