Monday, April 30, 2018

The Sin of Abbé Mouret by Émile Zola

Serge Mouret is the son of Marthe Mouret (nee Rougon) and François Mouret, son of Ursule Mouret (née Macquart); meaning he has both Rougon and Macquart bloods running in his vein. Serge has two siblings: Octave (who is most Rougon than the others—appeared in The Ladies Paradise and The Conquest of Plassans); and Désirée, a retarded girl, of whom Serge took under his care.

Like all the tribe members, Serge possesses a certain obsession that is in religion; and so he becomes a priest. He practices total obedience in celibacy and fanatic devotion that leads to mysticism. He intends to cut off any link with the world, and to focus more in his devotion, he requests to be placed at Les Artaud, a remote rural village inhabited by peasants with incest relationship, poverty, and ignorance of religion. At first Abbé Mouret lives tranquilly by drowning himself in total devotion. But abandoning his physical health, he gets ill and loses his memory. A girl who loves to roam in The Paradou, a huge neglected garden, nurtures Serge under instruction of Doctor Pascal Rougon (Serge's uncle). Serge regains his health, but forgets that he is a priest, falls in love with Albine, and even makes love with her under a 'forbidden' tree. Yes, this is a replica of Adam and Eve's Paradise!

This book has so many interesting layers to discuss. I'll try to break it down to several points.

Nature v Church
The battle between nature and church is the main subject of this book. Zola portrayed the Catholic Church as empty, gloom, and dead. He especially disapproved of celibacy, which he believed to be unnatural, because procreation is human's nature. I learned from the Introduction (by Brian Nelson—one of Zola's experts) that when Zola wrote this book, France's birth rate was declining. Maybe this is his critic to the Church, because Zola always believed in fertility.

From the beginning of the story, Nature has tried to invade the Church—sun enters and takes possession of the whole church; sparrows fly into the Church through holes on the window panes; strong farmyard odour enters from front door (the farmyard is managed by Desiree, and is located next to the Church). But the biggest battle of Nature v Church is when Albine seduces Serge. Who wins the battle? As much as Zola liked the Nature to triumph, I think, by making Serge finally triumphs over his sexual desire, and returns to God, Zola has involuntarily given the victory to the Church. *spoiler alert* Although Nature could not be stopped in thriving into Church (Albine's death is taking place at the same time as the birth of Desiree's cow), Nature still cannot fully conquer Church.

Sin and repentance
Maybe this is not Zola’s intention, but this book made me think a bit about sin and repentance. After his memory returns, at one point, Serge feels that God abandons him (right after he feels proud of his own purity). He then succumbs to Albine's invitation, and goes to Paradou to meet her. But when Albine seduces him (taking him to the Forbidden Tree), God guides him again, and he can finally cut off his passionate love to Albine forever. Maybe, when we become proud of ourselves, God deliberately sends us temptation to make us sinned, and is therefore humbling us and making us worthy of salvation.

Le Paradou by Edouard Joseph Dantan, 1900
Naturalism and Research
Judging from the book's main topic, you can surely find naturalism flows abundantly throughout the book. There was a passage where the plants and flowers became alive and at war, attacking the Church! Of course, it's an allegory, but reading it, I felt like I saw it myself! Later, Zola's vivid picturesque narration inspired at least two impressionist paintings: Le Paradou by Edouard Joseph Dantan is one of them. And Zola put big efforts too into his research for this book. He must have analyzed and studied many horticultural catalogues to present so many plants and flowers throughout the book that at one point really bored me! And he has certainly studied the Bible, Catholic Missal, and many devotional books to write vividly of Mass and Sacramental events in great details.

Women, Immorality, and Misogyny
I was quite intrigued by the misogyny level in this novel. Brother Archangias--another religious in Les Artaud (but not ordained?) has a deep hatred towards women; so much that he thinks 'it would be a good riddance if girls were all strangled at birth'. Can you imagine this kind of man being religious?

Les Artaud is actually a tribe, which at the end named the village. Les Artauds people married their own relatives for ages. They are low in morality, and don't go into religion. When girls get knocked up, their concern is only of the loss of hands to work the farm, not of the ruined reputation. Again, getting pregnant means procreation and fertility...

On the other hand, when Serge fell into temptation, I felt that the narrator puts the blame to Albine (the woman brings down the man | woman is temptress); while in fact, both consciously wanted it. It's not the only example, there are several incidents throughout the book. I just wonder.. whether it's a common view in 19th century; or is it a vague evidence that Zola is a misogynist?

The Hereditary Illness
Although becoming a priest, Serge does not devoid of sexual passion. It is through his fanatic devotion and mysticism that he satisfies himself (he adores Virgin Mary as his mistress). It makes sense that, when he loses his memory, his sexual passion reborn through his exposure to the Nature. After his repentance, he switches his devotional focus to God, instead of Mary. Once again, Zola 'proved' his theory of hereditary illness. Could anyone in the family skip it? We should know after Doctor Pascal's final investigation is complete... on the last book: Doctor Pascal.

Meanwhile... 4,5/5 for The Sin of Abbé Mouret.

The Paradou in The Sin of Abbé Mouret | #ZolaStyle

The Paradou is the replica of Adam and Eve's Paradise. It is an abandoned huge garden with various species of plants. As Zola is a great artist in vividly portraying natural landscape into his prose, one cannot resist becoming a little artsy...

As Zola is an active supporter of Impressionist artists at his time, I pick paintings from this era too, mostly from Claude Monet, one of Zola's best friends. Monet owned a beautiful garden at his house in Giverny, and has produced quite many flower and garden paintings. The Sin of Abbé Mouret has also inspired two paintings by Joseph Edouard Dantan and John Collier.

Albine guided Serge to the right, into a field which seemed a sort of cemetery for the flower garden. Scabious were in mourning here. Funeral processions of poppies went along in line, stinking of death, and displaying their heavy flowers with their feverish brilliance.
Poppy Field Near Giverny by Claude Monet

All around them the rose trees bloomed. It was a wild and loving flowering, full of laughter--laughter red, rosy, and white.

Then they went slowly on into the arbour of roses. It was indeed a wood, with a veritable forest of tall standard roses, spreading out leafy canopies as large as trees, and huge rose bushes, like impenetrable thickets of young oaks.
Le Jardin by Claude Monet

New natural paths had formed in the midst of the woods, narrow alleys, and wide avenues, delightful covered passages where one could walk in the shade and the fragrance. These paths led to crossroads and clearings, went under arches of little red roses, and between walls covered with little yellow roses. Some sunny patches gleamed like swathes of green silk, patterned with bold splashes of colour; some shady parts had the seclusion of alcoves, the scents of love, and the warmth of a bouquet wilting on a woman's breast.
Pathway in Monet's Garden at Giverny by Claude Monet

The glade was of big rose trees, rising one above the other in an orgy of branches, a tangle of thorny tendrils, like thick layers of foliage, clinging to each other in the air, and hanging there, stretching from bush to bush like parts of the roof of a flying tent. Through the holes in the lace-like patterning of the leaves, one could see only the tiniest dots of light--an azure screen, letting through light and an impalpable spray of sunshine.

The flower garden, carefully tended for a master with a passion for flowers, had once displayed a wonderful selection of plants in flower beds neatly trimmed borders. Now one could see the same plants, but perpetuated and enlarged into such innumerable families, all gallivanting to the four corners of the garden, that the whole garden was now just a riot, an unruly shrubbery-school, beating against the walls, a suspect area in which drunken nature hiccupped verbena and carnations.

Friday, April 27, 2018

My Blog’s Name in Books: A Fun Meme!

Found this meme from On Bookes (originally from Fictionophile), which I think is quite fun. Let’s play!

The rules:
1. Spell out your blog’s name.
2. Find a book from your TBR that begins with each letter. (Note you cannot ADD to your TBR to complete this challenge – the books must already be on your Goodread’s TBR)
3. Have fun! 


For A Night of Love by Émile Zola
All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens
Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt


Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
Locked Rooms by Laurie R. King
All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
The Siege by Helen Dunmore
The Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton
Casino Royale by Ian Feming
Le Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Mallory
The Fear Index by Robert Harris (OK, I cheat on this, but it’s the closest I could find)
The Tenant of the Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Reading Challenges Update: April

April is always the Zoladdiction month, to honor Émile Zola. We usually read books by Zola or about Zola the whole month. I have hosted Zoladdiction for the fifth time this year, and this year we are having a mini themed challenge. So, I am quite busy on reading, writing, and posting about Zola until end of this month. Meanwhile, here’s my progress:
Book(s) read = 9
Review(s) posted = 9 (yay!)

The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux for Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 (Re-read a favorite classic)
Towards Zero by Agatha Christie for Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 (a classic crime story)
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene for #TBR2018RBR and The Classics Club
March by Geraldine Brooks for #TBR2018RBR
East of Eden by John Steinbeck for The Classics Club and Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 (a 20th century classic)
Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy for #TBR2018RBR, The Classics Club, and Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 (a classic with single-word title)
A Love Story by Émile Zola for Victorian Reading Challenge

Question of the month from #TBR2018RBR:

Have you discovered any new favorite authors as a result of the TBR Pile Challenge? Read an author you’ve never read before but definitely want to again? Share!
So far I have read 3 books from new authors (new for me): Graham Greene, Geraldine Brooks, and Thornton Wilder. They are all good writers, of course, but I instantly felt connected with Geraldine Brooks when I started March. New favorite? Not sure…, but I definitely want to read her again. In fact, I have secured a copy of her Caleb’s Crossing for my next read.

In general, I am satisfied with my progress. This month I have set a new habit, of dedicating 1-2 hours on the weekends to spend only for writing reviews/other blog posts. I live in an apartment, so I usually go down to the lobby on Saturday mornings (when it’s often deserted), sit on my favorite spot on the sofa lounge…. and write. It is very effective, and I would return to my unit with at least one complete review ready to publish!

Right now I am in the middle of my second book for #Zoladdiction2018, yet also impatient to start Clepoatra: A Life for my 5th TBR2018RBR (this month I have made no progress, but I have read 4 books in 4 month, so I guess I am still on track).😎

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

A Love Story by Émile Zola

Une Page d'Amour is the eight novel in Rougon-Macquart series, if you follow Zola's recommended order of reading. Helen Constantine titled this new translation published by Oxford World's Classics with A Love Story, instead of 'an episode of love'—the closest translation to Zola's original title—because she found that this book is not only about love affairs, but also represents Zola's love for Paris.

Hélène Grandjean (nee Mouret) is the daughter of Ursule Mouret (nee Macquart)--the illegitimate daughter of Aunt Dide (the matriarch of the Rougons and the Macquarts – The Fortune of the the Rougons). After her husband's death, she lives tranquilly with her sickly 7 y.o. daughter Jeanne. Their neighbors are a young Doctor Henri Deberle and his wife Juliette. Henri attends Jeanne when she's having a seizure. She is believed to suffer the 'hereditary lesion' as was her grandmother (Aunt Dide). A sexual passion then starts slowly to grow between Hélène and Henri.

On the other hand, an Abbe Jouve and his respectable but boring brother Monsieur Rambaud are regular visitors to Hélène's home. The Abbe has at first advised Hélène to remarry with M. Rambaud to protect her honor, but a passionless marriage—just what she had had with her late husband—does not interest her. One day, Hélène learns that Juliette Deberle too—as is many other women—is having an affair with another man. That encourages her to finally give up her modesty, and gives herself to Henri. Is that all? Of course not! It's just the beginning of an impending doom.

As I said earlier, this novel is not all about love story or love affairs. Two things have intrigued me during my reading. The first is Jeanne. She seems to share her mother's growing sexual tension. She becomes more and more suspicious and jealous on Doctor Deberle, and even feels ashamed and humiliated when the doctor saw her naked breast. And she is tormented during her mother's love making with Henri. She seems to know what is going on with the two lovers, and her anxiety grows parallel with the growing intensity of her mother’s passion.

Then, there was also the parallel between Hélène’s emotional condition and her views of Paris. Hélène lives in a suburb called Passy. From her bedroom window, she has a complete view of Paris. She and Jeanne love to stand by the window to look at and adore the city. There are a lot of passages where Zola described (or literally painted) the panoramic view of Paris. At first I thought it’s his passion for Paris that drove Zola to capture it in different conditions (sunshine, raining, starry, or blazing). But along the chapters, I began to realize that the current condition of Paris correlated with the current level of Hélène’s emotion. When her sexual desire began to kindle, Paris began also to ablaze with lights. That was just remarkable! I found an interesting piece from the Introduction (by Brian Nelson) about this: “[following Freud] …that a dream-landscape is most often a representation of the sexual organs. The female sexual connotations of the landscape are plain:  the focal centre of the city is the Seine, with Paris seen as an immense valley. The violence of the storm as it sweeps across the city matches the phallic significance of the Panthéon, in which Jeanne momentarily imagines her mother to be…

So… what is this novel really about? That’s my direct question after finishing it. I can only guess that it is a kind of psychological study on love and sexuality—how it grows, and many variations of it (I think Rosalie-Zéphyrin’s relationship serves as the opposite of Helen-Henri’s—the healthy v passionate relationship?) Or, is it a critic against the hypocritical bourgeoisie, who ‘condone’ a married woman of having love affair, but ‘condemn’ a widow of having done the same? Either way, this has been an interesting reading. Not my favorite, perhaps, but it’s still beautiful, as always…

My rating: 4/5

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Paris, oh Paris! | #ZolaStyle | #Zoladdiction2018

I have been “warned” in the Translator’s Note by Helen Constantine (translator of A Love Story – Oxford World’s Classics edition) that ‘[Zola’s] abiding passion for Paris shines throughout its pages.’ Nonetheless, I was not prepared to find copious “portraits” of Paris flooded the novel. Paris at twilight, Paris at night, Paris after raining, Paris in the morning; seems that Zola has captured his beloved Paris at every condition. At times, Zola could write a whole page and more, just to tell us about how Paris looks at night! Here I share some for you…

Paris was brightening in the burst of sunshine. After the first ray of light had fallen on Notre-Dame, other rays followed and struck the city. As it went down, the sun caused breaks in the clouds. Then the quartiers spread out in variegations of shade and light. At one minute all the Left Bank was a leaden grey, while the circles of light streaked along the Right Bank, unrolling next to the river like the pelt of some gigantic beast. [...] A ray of light, whose shafts sprang out like rain from the fissure in the cloud, fell into the empty chasm that it left. You could see its golden dust trickle like fine sand, grow into a vast cone, and pour down in torrents on the Champs-Élysées, dancing and splashing with light. This sparkling shower lasted a long time, like the constant firing of a rocket.

Beyond the irregular towers of Saint-Sulpice, the Panthéon stood out on the skyline with a subdued glow like a royal palace of fire about to be burnt to cinders. Then the whole Paris was lit up at the pyers of monuments as the sun went down. Flickers of light gleamed on the tops of roofs […]. All the façades which faced towards the Trocadéro were reddening, their glass sending out showers of sparks, which rose from the city as though some bellows were ceaselessly firing up that colossal forge. Fountains of light, constantly renewing themselves […]. Even on the far plain, from beyond the rusty embers that buried the ruined faubourgs, which were still hot, the odd rocket, shooting up from some suddenly reignited fire, blazed. 

Night was falling. From the pale sky where the first stars were shining, a fine ash seemed to be raining down on the city, that slowly but surely was disappearing. Shadows were already massing in the dips while an ink-black line rose from below the horizon, devouring the remains of the day, the hesitant glow that was retreating towards the setting sun. Beneath Passy there remained only a few stretches of roof still visible. Then came the black flood as darkness fell. [...] They were silent, their eyes still raised, dazzled and trembling a little beneath this, as it seemed, ever vaster teeming in the heavens. Beyond the thousands of stars, thousands more appeared, more and more, in the infinite depths of the firmament. It was a continual flowering, an ember fanned into life, of worlds that burned with the quite brightness of jewels. The Milky Way was already whiter, spreading its starry atoms so innumerable and distant that they were no more than a scarf of light in the round firmament. 

To the left, another gap appeared, the Champs-Élysées led a regular procession of stars from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde, where there was a glittering constellation; the the Tuileries, the ouvre, the blocks of houses next to the river, the Hôtel de Ville right at the back formed a dark shape, separated here and there by a large brightly-lit square. [...] On the other bank, on the right, only the Esplanade was clearly visible with its rectangle of flames like some Orion of the winter nights who had lost his belt. The long streets in the Quartier Saint-Germain were lit rather despondently at intervals. Beyond them, the populous quartiers scintillated, lit up with the little flames packed closely together, glowing in a misty nebula.

On the Pont des Invalides stars constantly crossed, while below, along a black, thicker band, was a miraculous thing, a group of comets, whose golden tails stretched out into a rain of sparks. These were the reflections of the lamps on the bridge in the waters of the Seine. But beyond that, began the unknown. The long curve of the river was etched out in a double string of gaslights attached to other strings of lights, from place to place, square to square. You would have thought that a ladder of light had been thrown across Paris, resting at two ends on the edge of the sky, in the stars. 

All you could see in the far distance was a bank of clouds which were heaping up a landslip of chalky boulders. Now in the pure, intense blue sky, puffs of cotton wool were sailing by at a leisurely pace, like flotillas of little boats billowing out in the wind. To the north, over Montmartre, a web of exquisite pale silk stretched over a section of the sky, like a fishing net on a calm sea. But as the sun went down over the hills of Meudon, the last of the downpour must still have been obscuring the sun, for Paris, under the brightness, was still dark and damp, beneath the steam of the drying roofs. The Seine had the dull sheen of an old silver ingot. [paris-rain]

I could have shared more, but I have to stop now before hurting my arm from continual typing!

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Ides of March by Thornton Wilder

Julius Caesar is perhaps one of the most famous people, of whom so many authors have written about. And after that many (Shakespeare included), what else left for Thornton Wilder to cover in his The Ides of March? To me, that was the most interesting aspect which persuaded me to read this book at the first place. Partly because I thought it was a play (Wilder is famous for his plays), and partly because Ancient Rome always fascinates me, particularly the era of Caesar and Cicero. I am Cicero's admirer too, if you haven't known it. :)

Anyway, with that in mind, I plunged into the book, only to find, not without surprise, that The Ides of March is actually an epistolary novel! It contains communication through letters of Caesar and people around him, his journal-letters to a fictional character of Lucius Mamilius Turrinus, as well as Commonplace Books of some historians such as Cornelius Nepos. Commonplace Book is an account of events of the writer's time that he kept by himself. These materials are, of course, fictional, but Wilder kept most of the events and the characters as real as possible; but not the times.

In the Preface, the author has stated that 'historical reconstruction is not among the primary aims of this work.' What, then, is this work's about? I had to finish it before realizing the answer. The Ides of March covers events in year 45 BC, from the profanation of the Mysteries of the Bona Dea by Clodia Pulcher and her brother Clodius, to Caesar's murder. I have assumed from the novel title, that Brutus, Cassius, Casca, and the gang would be the center characters. But no--another surprise!--Clodia Pulcher played almost as much important role as Caesar in the plot. Then, Cleopatra also made her appearance, as well as Catullus the poets who fell in love with Clodia. At first I asked myself: 'Why must I read about Clodia Pulcher and Catullus? They had nothing to with Caesar's murder!'

Julius Caesar's assassination
After finishing the novel, I realized that The Ides of March is more a philosophical novel than historical; that Wilder might have brought us to enter Caesar's mind; saw him as a statesman--as well as a man--and enter one of the genius minds that ever lived on earth. This side of Caesar appeared in his journal-letters to Lucius Mamilius Turrinus. Most of them reflect his searching for human existence, and his thoughts on many subjects. These insights changed my mind on Caesar. Now I can see that Caesar is an extremely proud person. He is not snobbish, but he just believes that he is different from others. He knows how to make Rome a solid state, and has capability and commitment to do the works, when others had none of the qualities (and he was probably right). He cares about others, especially common people--although perhaps selfishly--that they also loves him in return. He seems to dislike vulgar luxury and indulgence, and hates the deity that others imposed on him. His bigger flaw, perhaps, is women. But even in his affair with Cleopatra, I can see that being a genius man, Caesar longs to acquaint others who equal him. Cleopatra is one! They understand each other. Although Caesar also realizes that Cleopatra's only concern is her Egypt. What a lonely man, Caesar is!

I was most intrigued by Caesar's decision to let Clodius sneaking into the Bona Dea ritual disguised as a woman to meet Pompeia, albeit a warning from Cleopatra before the event (both Caesar and Cleopatra have secret polices). Is it his way to 'punish' Pompeia because she was aware of Clodius' plan but did nothing to prevent it (and thus dishonored herself)?

About the conspirators, Caesar was aware of their presence (from the secret police), but he must have never thought them to be so solid, and certainly never suspected Brutus, whom he loved. I think Brutus is the most hypocrite man I've ever known. How he scolded his mother for suggesting the idea of tyrannicide (I have never known this word ever existed!); he really appeared to be disgusted; but then… :(. Even Dante made him dwell on the lowest circle, didn't he? And what was that for? The freedom, they said? It’s more for their persona; freedom, I think, not so much for Rome!

All in all, it is an interesting take on Julius Caesar. 3,5/5 was my final score.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

I Spy Book Challenge

I found this on Joseph @ The Once Lost Wanderer. But the original version is believed to be BooksandLala’s. It looks fun, so... let’s play!

The rules:
Find a book on your bookshelves that contains (either on the cover or in the title) an example for each category. You must have a separate book for all 20, get as creative as you want and do it within five minutes! (or longer if you have way too many books on way too many overcrowded shelves!)

And here are the books. For books I have read and reviewed, follow the link to read my posts. The books come from my bookshelves, physical and virtuall ones. 😁

1. Food
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society 
by Mary Ann Shaffer

2. Transportation
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

3. Weapon
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

4. Animal

5. Number 
Twenty Years After by Alexandre Dumas

6. Something You Read 
The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens

7. Body of Water
Walden by Henry David Thoreau

8. Product of Fire
The Flames of Rome by Paul L. Maier
(review in Bahasa Indonesia)

9. Royalty
Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon

10. Architecture
The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
(review in Bahasa Indonesia)

11. Item of Clothing 
The Ladies’ Paradise by Émile Zola

12. Family Member 
Père Goriot by Honoré de Balzac

13. Time of Day
Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

14. Music 
Tales of the Jazz Age by F. Scott Fitzgerald

15. Paranormal Being
The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

16. Occupation 
Rouge Lawyer by John Grisham

17. Season
The Rainmaker by John Grisham
I live in a tropical country (Indonesia), where we only have two seasons in a year: dry and rainy (monsoon) seasons.

18. Color
The Black Tulip by Alecandre Dumas

19. Celestial Body 
Test of Magnitude by Andy Kasch
I was offered the e-book by the writer, to be read and reviewed years ago, but somehow I couldn't find the right mood to do it (and now I shamelessly use it for this challenge 🙈). Very sorry, Andy! I wish you have the best writing career!

20. Something That Grows 
Germinal by Émile Zola
ger·mi·nal [jərmənl]
relating to or of the nature of a germ cell or embryo.
* in the earliest stage of development.
* providing material for future development.

If you read this challenge and want to do it, consider yourself tagged.