Abbé Mouret's Transgression by Emile Zola is the fifth novel in the cycle of twenty in The Rougon Macquart Cycle. It focuses on Serge Mouret, son of Francois and Martha Mouret. Serge is the priest for a small French village, few of the people really care about the Catholic Church. He lives with his mentally challenged sister Desiree.
This is by far the most lyrical work by Zola I have yet read. There are very long poetical descriptions of the lush beauty of the French countryside. There are lots of village characters described and we get a feel for the economy of the area.
As I read them I did think these descriptions are going on a bit too long but they are powerful and make you feel you are there. There is a lot of material related to the role of Mary in the lived faith of the peasants. You can ask her to speak to God for you. Mary also is a kind of descendent of older Goddesses like Isis. Serge has taken an oath of celibacy and has disturbing dreams. His sister Desiree matured in body but not mind tends the animals. A local Brother (similar to a monk or Christian brother) frequently gives diatribes in which he speaks of all women, including young girls, as sources of sin and talks of wanting to kill young women.
In reading fiction of other eras, you have to accept a sexual or romantic relationship between twenty six year old men, as Serge was, and a sixteen year old girl is not intrinsically wrong and will not just by the ages be seen as unacceptable. Serge and a sixteen year old girl fall deeply and passionately in love. We see the lush vegetative descriptions are setting up lots of Adam and Eve in the Garden connections.
As I mentioned in a prior post, sex means trouble in the world of The Rougan Marquart Cycle and it is no surprise to see a tragic ending for this novel.
I am so glad I have undertaken this project.