Composed from 1871 to 1893 the twenty novels in Emile Zola's Rougon Macquart cycle
present French society in the Second Empire from 1852 to the fall of the empire in 1870. They center on two intermarried families. Taken as a whole the cycle is one of the supreme achievements of French literature. I am glad I took the time, not really that much as few of the novels are over 400 pages, to read the full cycle.
I began reading the cycle, in publication order, skipping the four I had already read May 10 this year. I am very glad I decided to read through the complete cycle. The novels are very uneven in quality, from work to work as well as in individual novels. As I was reading sometimes I thought is this ever going to be over and then just as I was wondering if I could go on I would enter into segments of transcendent qualitity that just amazed me. If there is a weakness in the work of Zola, this is just my thoughts, it is in the romances and the long rhapsodies on young girls. I sense Zola equates sex or the lost of virginity as an act of corruption, an abandonment of the good and maybe God to embrace the world in all its corruption. For sure once a woman has sex, married or not, something bad will soon happen.
Zola sees deep corruption everywhere, something bad is always coming soon in a Zola novel. He has theories about heriditary degeneracy and this plays a big part in the cycle.
These words from the last novel in the cycle kind of sum things up
To those new to Zola, I would say first read his acknowledged by most, not by me, masterwork, set in the coal mines, Germinal. Then I suggest you read The Dram Shop followed by Nana. Then you can decide for yourself if you want to read the entire cycle.
I read the cycle in the Delphi Classics E Book of The Complete Works of Zola. The translations are older public domain translations and some may be slightly bowdlerized for sexual content. The edition also includes 11 other novels and a number of short stories. To me it is $2.95 well spent and without it I would not have been able to read the cycle.
There are ten Zola novels I have not yet read. Maybe next year!