Sunday, April 25, 2021

The Sin of Abbé Mouret by Émile Zola [Second Read]

I read The Sin of Abbé Mouret for the first time three years ago, in Zoladdiction 2018. If you want to know what the story's about, you can click the link above, which will bring you to my first posts of the book. On this second post, therefore, I will talk less about the story, but dig deeper onto the nature-vs-church theme, and Zola's own aim on writing this book.

Only on this second read did I see how this book plays an important role on Zola's Naturalism. If you are curious about Naturalism as literary movement, this book will throw you some lights. Naturalists hold on the power of Nature as supreme, and distrust any institution that (they think) restrain it - Church (and religion) is one of these, though I don't see why they thought so, while the Bible (Book of Genesis) says that men are created by God to manage the earth and everything in it. Of course I realize that the 19th century Catholic Church held different views from our modern Church (maybe after the Second Vatican Council in 1962? - I'm not sure - but I know that the Council did bring huge change on the Church). Nature and Church should not have been separated.

Zola's hatred of clerics
I think Zola's hatred of Church might have been, first, triggered by its clerics. There are two kinds of clerics in this book: The pious, calm Abbé Serge Mouret who denounces physical pleasure which he believes hindering him to the utmost communion with God; and the coarse, hypocrite, cruel Brother Archangias with his love of worldly pleasure, and hatred of women. Did Zola make Abbé Mouret "triumphed" over temptation and sin at the end as a warning to the Church of France? That it should be concerning its "own business", i.e. religion and morality, rather than interfering in politics and state business?

Zola's second reason of hating priests is perhaps related to his believes in procreation and fertility. He hated celibacy and might regard it as unnatural. But I think he's overreacting here. How many priests were there compared to the whole population? So what if few of them chose celibacy? It won't make any significant change...

What I still didn't get is, if Zola disliked the Church that much, why did he make it triumphed in the end? Abbé Mouret finally conquered his weaknesses, Albine was chocked to death by the nature, and the church, though in dilapidated condition, was still intact. Again, this book might have served as a warning to France, because Zola believed that the Church was opposed to procreation and science (and therefore against nature), so naturally it should or will one day crumble. It shows how Zola, despite his meticulous researches on the Church (the Sacrament, rituals, devotion, etc.), and his vivid portrayal of Abbé Mouret's spiritual struggles (you'd think he experienced it himself); he understood nothing about religion, or particularly, Catholicism. It's a shame that one so genius in writing, could not or refused to see beyond his own principles. I mean, one can disagree with some views other than one's belief, but at least one should tolerate others who believe in it.

Ironically, Zola's vivid portrayal of Serge's spiritual journey has been a sort of inspiration for me. It reminds me to never be proud of my spiritual "achievement" (whatever it is), since we will never be free of temptation. The more we think we are holy/pious, the bigger be the risk of temptation. And that's what made me love Zola. His principles might be far different from mine, but he's so dedicated to his writing, that he could inspire others to hold on a principle that is the very opposite of what he might originally want to aim. If I hadn't known Zola, and this is my first book of his, I might have thought he's a devout Catholic!

So how do I think about The Sin of Abbé Mouret after the second read? Let me see...
- The neverending description of the Mass is boring! It feels like after compiling tons of information about it, Zola'd thought: 'I might as well use it all - not gonna wasting my efforts!' - I am a devout Catholic, but reading it all like encyclopedia is really tedious.
- Abbé Mouret's spiritual journey to true repentance is inspiring.
- This is the best story that explains Naturalism as a movement.

After weighing all aspects, here is my final rating (and thus changed my previous) : 3,5 / 5

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