Monday 28 April 2014

Nana by Émile Zola

I'm still reeling from my Nana experience.

Zola has created such a vivid world that it's impossible to come away from it untouched or unscathed. 

Nana, herselfis larger than life even as a sense of doom hangs over her from the start.

I sometimes had trouble keeping up with who was who - especially all the lovers who seemed to have such similar names! I wasn't sure it it was me getting confused with all the French names, a Zola issue or a translation issue. (My translation was a Penguin classic by George Holden from 1972 - he also wrote an informative introduction.)

In the end, I just let the specific names wash over me and focused on soaking up the atmosphere instead!

Other reviews and websites I've visited this past month have commented on misogyny and Zola.

Certainly Holden suggests that Nana started off as an exercise in "puritanical disapproval" but that it gradually grew to be "a more human, balanced and sympathetic" portrayal of the world of  "pleasure and prostitution".

Nana was based on real life demi-mondaines - particularly Blanche d'Antigny and Cora Pearl. A number of the leading men were also based on real people. 

If there is misogyny or sexism in Nana, then it's a reflection of the attitudes of Zola's world at that time; not just Zola.

Women had almost no power to control their own destiny either by law or by tradition. Financial independence & education were rare.
Women like Nana sold the one thing that they could call their own, believing that this somehow gave them control over their own lives.

Money became their sole concern.

Anyone who got in their way got chewed up and spat out.

Their sexuality was their magnet, their power - and they used it. Little realising that, in the end, they were also chewed up and spat out by the society they were trying to impress.

It was a harsh world for all, but it was still better & easier to be a man in this world.

It's hard to feel much sympathy for anyone in this novel.

They all behaved pretty poorly and treated each other badly.
As a commentary on the decaying, rotten world of the Second Empire, Zola has shown very clearly why it was an unsustainable way of life. He managed to not judge the characters in his novel for the choices they made. He did, however judge the society they lived in pretty harshly.

Thanks to Fanda for hosting Zoladdiction 2014. I've loved my first taste of Zola and will be back for more next year (if not sooner)!


  1. I'm so glad that you enjoyed your first Zola.
    For me Nana was interesting, but not one of my favorites.

  2. Such a great post Brona. I've yet to read any Zola, but look forward to getting going at some stage. In the meanwhile I'll have to read vicariously through you.

  3. It sounds very much like my Zola book, The Kill. However, Zola is such a great writer he can include the same themes over and over and still write a wonderful novel. I haven't read Nana yet but based on your review, I am now looking forward to it.

    Now I just have to write up my Zola review but I need to finish my taxes first. :-Z

  4. Anonymous29/4/14

    pretty nice blog, following :)


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