In the Introduction to his last novel, Le Docteur Pascal, Zola gave a recommended reading order. Although it is not required, as each novel stands on its own.
Zola's recommended reading order
- La Fortune des Rougon (1871)
- Son Excellence Eugène Rougon (1876)
- La Curée (1871-2)
- L'Argent (1891)
- Le Rêve (1888)
- La Conquête de Plassans (1874)
- Pot-Bouille (1882)
- Au Bonheur des Dames (1883)
- La Faute de l'Abbé Mouret (1875)
- Une Page d'amour (1878)
- Le Ventre de Paris (1873)
- La Joie de vivre (1884)
- L'Assommoir (1877)
- L'Œuvre (1886)
- La Bête humaine (1890)
- Germinal (1885)
- Nana (1880)
- La Terre (1887)
- La Débâcle (1892)
- Le Docteur Pascal (1893)
Wikipedia also provides us with this nice little summary.
"The Rougon-Macquart family begins with Adelaïde Fouque. Born in 1768 in the fictional Provençal town Plassans to middle-class parents
(members of the French bourgeoisie), she has a slight intellectual disability.
She marries Rougon, and gives birth to a son, Pierre Rougon. However, she also has a lover, the smuggler Macquart, with whom
she has two children: Ursule and Antoine Macquart. This means that the family is split in three branches:The first, legitimate, one is the Rougons branch. They are the most successful of the children. Most of them live in the upper classes
(such as Eugene Rougon who becomes a minister) or/and have a good education (such as Pascal, the doctor which is the main
protagonist of Le Docteur Pascal).
The second branch is the low-born Macquarts. They are blue-collar workers (L'Assommoir), farmers (La Terre), or soldiers (La Débâcle).
The third branch is the Mourets (the name of Ursule Macquart's husband). They are a mix of the others two. They are middle-class
people and tend to live more balanced lives than the others.
Because Zola believed that everyone is driven by their heredity, Adelaide's children show signs of their mother's original deficiency.
For the Rougon, this manifests as a drive for power, money, and excess in life. For the Macquarts, who live in a difficult environment,
it is manifested by alcoholism (L'Assommoir), prostitution (Nana), and homicide (La Bête humaine).
Even the Mourets are marked to a certain degree; in La Faute de l'Abbé Mouret, the priest Serge Mouret has to fight
his desire for a young woman."
I hope this helps those of you embarking on Zoladdiction as well as those already happily ensconced in this world!
I'm currently about half way through Nana, after giving up on reading Germinal on my epad.
I also came across this interesting article on translations and Zola over at His Futile Preoccupations.
How is everyone else doing?