Thursday, April 30, 2015

Germinal: My Second Reading

It is almost three years ago when I first read Germinal, and instantly fell in love with the book—and much more with the author! This year I have decided to give it a second read; to see if I will still find it as great as my first reading. The interesting thing of rereading is that you know what you’re going to get throughout the book, and especially in the end, you know how the story would go. In the case of Zola books, you might not feel the “blow” as intensely as when you read it for the first time. That is what I got from my Germinal second reading.

I also found out that when the blow was softened, the second read allowed me to feel more of the emotion of each character, and to relate to them better than before. Moreover, I could see now why Germinal has become Zola’s masterpiece. From eight of his novels—seven from The Rougon Macquart series—I have read so far, Germinal is the most beautiful in term of writing. It is more flowing; not as intense as Zola’s other books, and Zola did not put his focus entirely on the working class, but also on the bourgeoisie. It put more emphasizes on how the society needed to change; because both sides were slowly crumbling. If the system remained unchanged, the Voreaux tragedy will crush everything in it; just like a giant beast who swallowed them up greedily—as Zola put it. The tragic incident between old Bonnemort and the daughter of Voreux’ stock holder highlighted the faulted system. It happened naturally, it’s nobody’s fault it seemed, but the old corrupted system.

One thing that perhaps distinguished Germinal from its siblings in The Rougon-Macquart series is the hopeful ending; it really effaced the dark tragedy of the Voreux, as if to say that the miners’ sacrifices will not be useless after all; that there is always new and brighter hope which is germinating from the debris of a revolution.

Zola is always good at painting irony in his novels. He described events so perfectly detailed that you would get the irony without further explanations. When the strike was on going, the manager and the stock holder (the bourgeois) were having a luncheon. While the miners were starving and risked their lives by doing the strike to ask for justice, their masters’ concern was at whether the pâtissier’s delivery boy could deliver the vol-au-vent crusts on time for lunch, despite of the strike. The bitter irony lays in the ending of chapter six-part five; it was the scene after the strike was over, when the sun had set, and everything was calm again:

“…The plain was drowning beneath the thick night; there were only the black furnaces and the coke ovens ablaze against the tragic sky. Heavily, the gallop of the gendarmes approached; they landed up in an indistinguishable somber mass. And behind them, entrusted to their care, the Marchiennes pâtissier’s vehicle arrived at last, a little covered cart out of which jumped a small drudge of a boy, who quietly went about unpacking the vol-au-vent crusts.”

What an ending!—and Zola was great in closing each of the chapters in exactly that beautiful-bitter-ironic way. Some are more beautiful than others, but my favorite remains still in the very ending:

Now the April sun, in the open sky, was shining in its glory, warming the earth as it went into labour. From its fertile flanks life was leaping forth, buds were bursting into green leaves, and the fields were quivering with the growth of the grass. On every side seeds were swelling, stretching out, cracking the plain, filled by the need of heat and light. An overflow of sap flowed with whispering voices, the sound of the germs expanded in a great kiss. Again and again, more and more distinctly, as though they had come right up to the soil, the comrades were hammering. In the fiery rays of the sun, on this youthful morning, the country was pregnant with this rumbling. Men were springing forth, a black avenging army, germinating slowly in the furrows, growing up for the harvests of the next century, and their germination would soon overturn the earth. 

Again—what an ending!

On my previous post I have written about my first impression on (second reading of) Germinal; particularly about Étienne. Well, I think, apart from his personal inherited weakness and indecisiveness, Étienne is a kind man. I liked him for his ability to move forward from past faults, for his kindness towards others; in particular Catherine and the Maheus, and for his principles.

My favorite passage is the one concerning Bataille, the old horse. The way Zola portrayed its agony is brilliant! I think I shed tears for the horse more than for the Maheus’! Zola’s words can be very touching too at times. And reading this passage, only now that I realized that what Bataille felt actually reflected the agony of the miners. And that came in this poetic passage:

“…He galloped on and on, bending his head, drawing up his feet, racing these narrow tubes in the earth, filled with his great body. Road succeeded to road, and the junctions opened into forks, without any hesitation on his part. Where was he going? Back, perhaps, towards the vision of his youth, to the mill where he had been born on the bank of the Scarpe, to the confused recollection of the sun burning in the air like a great lamp. He desired to live, his beast’s memory awoke; the longing to breathe once more the air of the plains drove him straight onwards to the discovery of the hole, the exit beneath the warm sun, into the light.”

It was the agony of a creature who had been used from his early days; who never knew other existence besides what he was submissively forced to take; but one day a longing for a better existence would stir deep in his heart; which made him galloping furiously into the light. It made one reflect a lot, didn’t it?

Now, I have been praising this book over and over again, here, as well as in other comments/thoughts, and I don’t think there would be enough words to describe how I love Germinal! I love the beautiful narration, love the vivid description of the mines (Zola took much efforts in doing observation in this), and love the hopeful atmosphere. In short, I love everything about this book! If you aren’t yet convinced to read it by now, try at least!


I read Wordsworth Classics paperback

This book is counted for:

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Life and Times of Émile Zola by F.W.J. Hemmings

Shame on me, really, for after three years having been Émile Zola’s hardcore fan, I have never read any of his biographies! So in Zoladdiction 2015 I would not read any Zola’s novels (only Germinal rereading), to make room for his biography by F.W.J. Hemmings.

Hemmings covered his investigation from the beginning of 19th century. Zola’s mother was a humble-birth young girl of a glazier family, who could not have afforded her dowry if a forty four year old Francesco Zola—a son of a distinguished military family of Republic of Venice—has never been attracted to her. Zola’s father was a genius in constructive business, but never succeeded until his death when Zola was only seven years old. After paying off the debts, the Zolas must leave Aix-en-Provence to live very humbly in Paris with the aids of some friends. It was perhaps his memory of Aix’ country landscape which inspired Zola to write beautiful narration about nature in his novels.

Émile Zola arrived in Paris in 1851, the era when Baron Haussmann was renovating Paris into modern industrial city. If you are reading (or have read) Zola’s The Rougon Macquart series, this theme would not be unfamiliar to you. The world was changing, and so was Paris. Zola’s interest, besides in literature, laid in art, especially paintings. It was the era when young Impressionists strove to reform the old Romantic style, and to get their paintings recognized and exhibited in The Académie des Beaux-Arts. Zola fought for them through his journals, and by hosting meetings in his place, just as Pierre Sandoz did in The Masterpiece. And indeed, most of his novels were inspired by real facts or things he witnessed from his life; including some of his female characters.

Through this book you will get to know the real Émile Zola, with all his struggles in life and in writing. Yes, in writing. Reading his books, you will notice that he was not a writer who would sit on his desk and pour out his imagination on paper just like that. No, he would think of the theme first, then creating the structure, breaking it down into parts or even chapters, studying (from books or observing) the objects he would write about, and finally filling it with his narration. He was not an impulsive person; but rather a genius who would calculate everything beforehand to ensure that he would come up with the desired result. That is Zola.

I think in a way Zola and I have something in common; we both don’t belong to the majority, and often felt lonely because we were different, for it’s hard to find friends who share our ideas. Once we have an opinion (and we always know we are right), we don’t like to deny it just because our lot don’t approve of it. What I admire in him mostly is his brave act of attacking the wrong accusation of Alfred Dreyfus. And he did it not for fame or image building, but because he always fight for the truth; dared to take risk for something he believed was right.

In short, this will tell you the real personalities of a Zola, and it helps a lot to relate with his novels when we are reading it.

Four stars for The Life and Times of Émile Zola


I read Bloomsbury reader paperback

This book is counted for:

Friday, April 24, 2015

Witness for the Prosecution

I am an Agatha Christie’s fan since in high school, but this was my first time of reading her play. Now I must admire Christie more than before, as she turned out to be as good a playwright as she was a crime-novelist.

This play is about Leonard Vole, a young man who was charged for murdering an old woman. The scene moved alternately from Sir Wilfrid’s chamber—the defense counsel, to the Center Criminal Court—better known as The Old Bailey. Emily French, a rich old woman, was fond of Leonard for having helped her in a little incident—after which she was very grateful. One night Leonard visited her; and not long after he went home, Emily was found dead with a blow on her head. Leonard was afraid that the police might think he was the murderer, so he asked Mr. Mayhew—his solicitor—for advice. They came to Sir Wilfrid’s office, and during their discussion, the police came to arrest Leonard. And so Sir Wilfrid came to be Leonard’s defense counsel.

Apart from the rather awkward opening scene, I liked this play. As usual, Christie could peel her characters layer by layer to their (almost) real hearts and minds; but still keep the biggest twisting surprise at the end. She wrote it very detailed too; it would be easy to perform it, as she described each little detail of the scene, down to exact location of the furniture. She also described the characters’ movement, for instance: not only “on the desk”, but also “on the down right corner of the desk”. Without watching it on stage, you could easily use your imagination to “perform” it in your own head. And if you read it carefully, some scenes are a bit funny, which will make you grinning amidst the gloomy atmosphere of the brutal murder.

Four and a half stars for Witness for Prosecution; a quite enjoyable modern drama from Dame Agatha Christie.


I read Harper Collins paperback

This book is counted as:

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Literary Movement Reading Challenge 2015: April Romanticism Check-In

We have come to the first quarter of #LitMoveRC, April Romanticism! This month has been a hectic month for me, for I am also hosting Zoladdiction 2015. So far I have finished Ivanhoe; and still planned to read Dumas’ The Black Tulip if I can finish my Zola reading and Agatha Christie’s play. Oh…that is why you should not host more than one challenge at a time! *self note*

Anyway, here is a question for you…

We still have eight or nine more movements until December; which one is the most exciting for you? Why?

For me, it’s Naturalism in August, because I’ll be reading two of my most favorite classics authors: Émile Zola and Edith Wharton. But Victorian comes closer behind, when I’d be reading still another favorite: Charles Dickens!

What about you?

The linky for April Romanticism is now opened; you can submit your reviews/posts until May 15th.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Classics Salon (1): My First Impression of “Germinal”

The Classics Salon is another weekly meme, hosted by Mangoes and Cherry Blossoms, to discuss or blog about current classics that we are reading. This post should be published on Friday, however I was so hectic around Easter, that I missed it until today. OK, I’m four days late, but it’s better late than never, isn’t it? Plus it is a good idea to boost my blogging mood.

The question for the first Salon is:

What are your first impressions of the current classic you are reading?

I am now reading Zola’s Germinal for Zoladdiction 2015. It is my second read, but my first one was three years ago, so it feels like I’m reading a fresh novel but already knew how it would end, and some of the characters were quite familiar.

Starting a novel for the second (or more) time is a unique experience, specifically when it is your most favorite book, on which you have high expectations of a great reading. I feel the same way with Germinal, but I promised myself to take more time in this reread to devour things I have probably missed on my first read. So, since the beginning I have been paying more attention to the main character, Étienne Lantier. I have praised him after my first read; and even made him my most favorite book boy friend for Book Kaleidoscope 2012. My first impression on him was an adorable and brave young man (I quite forgot why I loved him!).

Now that I am following him, I realized that Étienne is an indecisive man. He couldn’t decide whether he supposed to ask for job upon arrival at the Voreux, jobless and penniless as he was. He has a crush for Catherine; he is jealous of Chaval, yet always keeps a distance from Catherine (out of shyness?). Apart from the indecisiveness, so far I am pleased with Étienne, he is a hard-worker and polite. Although he inherited the intolerance to drinks from his drunkard parents, he could refrain himself well enough.

Other than that, Germinal is mostly regarded as Zola’s masterpiece. Now I see more clearly why; it is the way he wove his sentences. Each chapter is always ended so beautifully and satisfyingly, that you’d be torn between staying where you were and devouring it, or continuing to the next as you were excited of what will happen next. I remember that the ending was great, but now let me enjoy each sentence with its own little greatness. Oh….I think I’m going to fall in love more deeply with Germinal after this!

Have you read Germinal? What do you think of it?

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Zoladdiction 2015 & “Germinal” Read Along

It’s the 1st of April, and—it’s not April fool!—The Zoladdiction 2015 is up today!

See the announcement to find all about this event. In short, I am hosting Zoladdiction every April to praise and spread the knowledge (and addiction) of Émile Zola’s works. To join us, you can simply sign up this event, read as much as Zola’s works (or books about Zola) as possible, post your thoughts, and share them in the linky (opened in April 10th). If you feel itchy to do some shopping (of Zola books of course :D), you are more than welcomed to let us know, or to show off your new Zola books. So, let’s read, let’s post, let’s shop, or let’s watch movies adaptation, all because we are in Zoladdiction! :)

  • I encourage you to post a brief wrap up in the end of Zoladdiction (the linky will be closed in May 10th), and let us know how do you feel/think after delving into Zola works for a month. I’m just curious how you all manage with Zola….
  • The linky for reviews and wrap up post will be up below this post, in April 10th.

In this year’s event, I would also host:


  • You can read it during April, on your own pace.
  • Please post your reviews at the same day of April 30th, 2015, on the linky (will be provided) below.

LINKY FOR REVIEWS: (other than "Germinal")