The Dream is very different from the prior fifteen novels in Ths Rougon Marquart Cycle. It set in rural France among mostly decent people. My post read research revealed that in The Dream Zola set out to show he could write a successful work that did not depend upon sensationalism and depravity for its power.
It centers on a young girl we first meet as an orphan, Angelique. She is a fourth general Rougart. She is adopted by a happily married couple in their early forties whose only child died while an infant, long ago. I sense in Zola an antagonism toward sexual activity, a feeling that sex is inherently corrupting. His ideal female is very beautiful, falls in love while quite young and dies a virgin.
The family in the novel make their living by producing grand embroidered tapestries and gowns. The testify to the glory of the saints. Angelique is very into the love of Catholic Saints, especially Saint Agnes. Agnes died in Rome around 300AD at 13. She was very beautiful and had many suitors but she had made a vow of lifetime chastity, declaring her love of God overrides any possible earthly attachment. A high ranking Roman official had her tortured and executed when she refused to renounce God and marry him. There is a lot of powerful religious imagery in The Dream.
Angelique and a rich very handsome man of great character meet and fall in love to everyone's delight, especially her adoptive parents.
A beautiful wedding ceremony takes place in this fairy tale like story. The ending will not come as much of a surprise to Zola readers.
The next novel is The Human Beast.