Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Thursday, February 17, 2011

"Rentafoil" by Emile Zola

"Rentafoil" by Emile Zola (6 pages, translator unknown, 1890-apx)

In the last few months I have read and really enjoyed three novels by Emile Zola  (1840 to 1902) and one short story.    I was really happy to see a few days ago that JoAnn of Lakeside Musings  recently read and endorsed another short story by Zola, "Rentafoil".      The story sounded hilarious if a bit dark so I thought I would no doubt really like it and I do!    

Everything and everyone is for sale in the Paris of Zola.   Zola does not mean this as high level principal or metaphor  of some sort, he means it pretty much literally.     Women are valued primarily for their looks as that raises the potential price they can get for themselves either in marriage to a Duke at one level of society or as a few moments pay on another level.   

"Rentafoil" centers on a new business venture that a wealthy reflective business man has come up with to take advantage of an untapped market in Paris while at the same time finding a lucrative use for ugly women (outside of the kitchen or factory floor).     The business man had noticed that attractive women often had an ugly friend that accompanied them.   The ugly friend only served to make the other woman look more attractive by contrast.     He decided to start an agency that rents out ugly women as an accessory to make other women look good.   

An ad is placed in the newspaper telling ugly girls to apply to the agency.   The problem is no one really ugly applies so Durandeau  hires some agents to walk the streets of Paris looking for girls for his agency.   This tale is narrated in the first person by an unknown observer. 

This hunt for girls who dare not face their mirrors without bursting into tears led to many memorable moments. Sometimes the agents would see passing in the street an ideally ugly woman and were so keen to show her to Durandeau that they could barely restrain themselves.

  The social satire is worthy of Swift.   One of the best scenes is when the potential ugly girls are brought in for inspection.   

Part of the pleasure the attractive get from the agency girls is that they do not have to pretend to be nice to them.   They can enjoy the ugliness of the other girls and take pleasure in the thought they will return to their thread bare hovels at the end of the day.   The ugly girls do get to go to fancy places they never would have any other way.

Watching women come to the agency to pick an ugly rent a friend is hilarious also.   Some of these women are in fact uglier than the ones at the agency but they have rich fathers so they do not know they are ugly!

JoAnn's very well done post on "Rentafoil" is here.   

"Rentafoil" can be read online here (link provided by JoAnn)  

If you have not yet read any Zola, this story might be a good starting place for you.     "Rentafoil" is just hilarious.    My guess is high school students world wide would relate well to this story.     

As always if you have any suggestion as to short stories I might like, especially those I can read online, please leave a comment.   

Mel u


Anonymous said...

To my shame I have not yet read any of Zola's writings. Blogs like this make me want to run out and read his work - alas time is an old enemy.

JoAnn said...

So glad you got a chance to read this, Mel. The dark side of the story seemed so prominent, I had a hard time seeing any humor... just felt bad for all involved. I supposed the only winner was the businessman that was able to find a market for 'ugliness'. Zola is such an amazingly realistic writer.

Thanks for linking to my post.