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:

1 comment:

  1. I felt the same way you did at Bataille's death. I wonder if it's a choice issue?
    The humans, even though with limited understanding or options, chose to go down into the mines. Bataille had no such choice.

    I also posted my Germinal review tonight.

    Thanks so much for hosting this great event again. I, for one, will be signing up for more Zola again next year :-)


What do you think?