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					                                                                            Callie Reynolds
                                                                          Nana, Emile Zola
                                                                      November 11, 2010
        Nana, by Emile Zola, is a fantastically written novel about the lives of Parisians

during last three years of the Second French Empire. It closely follows the rise and fall of

Nana, a young and beautiful coquette, and the aristocratic men that surround her. Nana is

first introduced by her initial appearance on the stage at the Théâtre des Variétés. She is

not welcomed by the city immediately, as she has no real talent for singing or acting, but

she possesses a personality that everyone desires. She quickly becomes the honey for

Paris’ flies.


        Nana’s popularity and magnetism draw the attention of many high-society men,

as well as the attention of their wives. Her lovers range from Steiner, the banker, to Count

Muffat, and many in between. Throughout the novel, Nana takes her time luring each

man in with promises that she does not keep, and eventually ruins them all. She strips

each one of his dignity and personal finances. The novel comes to an end when Nana

succumbs to the smallpox, in 1870, just as the Second Empire is beginning to crumble.


        Emile Zola created his character of Nana to give a physical representation to the

goings-on of the Second Empire. Nana, like the Second French Empire, has a quick shot

to success, with the entire city adoring her, a successful ride at the top of society, the

steady decline of her popularity from her social mistakes and behaviors, and eventually

her destruction.


        Emile Zola does a great job of depicting the bustle of the Parisian streets in the

late 1800’s where the novel unfolds itself. It was surprising to read about the late night

activities of all classes in such a proper and austere time in history. Zola paints a picture

of a city filled to the brim with life, the café’s are constantly full during all hours and the
                                                                             Callie Reynolds
                                                                          Nana, Emile Zola
                                                                       November 11, 2010
citizens roam the streets always looking for the next dinner, party, or get together. A very

insightful scene from the beginning of the book, as the Blonde Venus is premiering, gives

a great portrait at just how busy and cosmopolitan Paris was. As the theater releases the

audience for breaks and intermissions, we are given a look into the constant hustle that

Paris was known for. The small streets outside the theater are crowded with patrons, the

sidewalk cafés have all their tables occupied, streetlights cast a shining light on the

carriages that were backed up horse-to-horse, and all of this activity was happening at the

midnight hour. There was no rest or quiet in Paris.


       From further readings on Paris during the Second Empire, Zola has depicted the

city perfectly. He captured all the grandeur and foulness that the city possessed, giving

readers an insight to the world that he lived in. He gives us the magnificent homes of the

rich, with their glorious architecture and furnishings, to the crumbling homes of the

actresses and less fortunate. He places the reader inside the lives of the characters, using

what he saw and knew as the perfect inspiration.


       Zola creates such a tangible city that it stands as a character on its own in Nana.

Paris reflects the life of Nana herself, with it’s charming smile that draws people in, only

to destroy their hopes, dreams, and lives. The city of Paris did not fall as hard as Nana,

expiring from corruption and lies, though. Paris simply fell from grace and into troubled

times as the reign of Napoleon III came to an end. The rebellions and fights that took

place in the city afterwards did not manage to completely stop the evolution of the city.

After several years, Paris was once again revived and delivered into the Belle Époque era,

which lasted until WWI broke out in Europe.
                                                                              Callie Reynolds
                                                                             Nana, Emile Zola
                                                                          November 11, 2010
        The role of the city greatly affects the lives of the characters in Zola’s novel. Paris

provided the institution in which the classes were able to separate themselves, much due

to the layout of the neighborhoods within the city. Many aristocrats would not travel to

several parts of the city, for fear of danger at every corner. This also led to the high-class

spending much of their time within the confines of their homes and apartments, avoiding

any contact with those who were not of status. Paris affected the lives of the coquettes

very differently. Each street was a personal stage, where they could flaunt themselves

freely without worry of being cast out. They did not let themselves get trapped inside the

grand, old buildings. The coquettes were the ones who were able to really live in the city,

and see everything that it had to offer. The city was either more of a prison or a catwalk,

depending on which class one was situated in.


        This French novel was a very enjoyable read. It provides so much insight into the

lives of the people in Paris and into the life of the city itself. Since the writing is so dense

and rich, one feels as if they are truly in the streets, theaters, homes, and bistros of Paris.

The story really comes to life with each page and Zola created such relatable characters

that one is fully invested in their outcome. Zola’s Nana is the ninth installment in a series

of twenty books that focuses on the lives of the Rougon-Macquart families during the

Second Empire in France. He focused on several topics for each book, with Nana begin

honed in on prostitution. This book was so enjoyable that it has provided the inspiration

to read the rest of the series in the near future. It would also be recommended to anyone

who desired to live the lives of Parisians in a much different time than our own.


        Not only does Nana transport the reader into the Paris of the 1800’s, it provides

several insights into life in an urban center and into how living in a metropolitan area can
                                                                        Callie Reynolds
                                                                       Nana, Emile Zola
                                                                    November 11, 2010
affect a person. One large thread was the fact that everyone knew many people on the

surface, but no one really knew each other deeply. This might stem from the fact that

there is such a large population in the city that one never really has the chance to get

close with others. The characters are always in the company of someone new, and when

they are in familiar company a large majority of time is spent on the topic of gossip of

others. There really were not scenes of honest caring for others, as everyone was trying to

stay on top. This brings about another strong theme: that of status. To truly thrive in the

City of Lights one must constantly keep up appearances and gain a high enough status as

to be respected by the people of the city. There was no risking this status, as those who

had served as examples of ruin.


       An additional lesson on life in a city was that of feeling trapped. Many of the

characters would never actually leave Paris, but they yearned for open spaces, simpler

days, and just to get away from the stresses of city life. They were chained to the city,

though. They could never leave behind the brilliance and shine that Paris gave to their

lives. Simply put, they would always be trapped in the cage that was Paris.


       Nana provided a great look into how the city of Paris functioned in the 1800’s.

This novel has spurred a curiosity about the city’s past and how others saw it. Zola

provides fantastic images of the winding streets, the pushing of the crowds, and how the

aristocrats viewed it all, but it should be balance by a view that was not so high. This is

the only fault of Nana, that the readers are only given a sliver of sight into the Paris of the

Second Empire.
                                                                      Callie Reynolds
                                                                     Nana, Emile Zola
                                                                   November 11, 2010
Bibliography


  Burchell, Samuel. Upstart empire: Paris during the brilliant years of Louis Napoleon.

3. London: MacDonald, 1971. Print.




  GonCourt, Edmond. Journal des Goncourt. 4. Gloucester: Dodo Press, 2008. Print.




  Zola, Emile. Nana. New York: Three Sirens Press, 1933. Print.
                 Callie Reynolds
                Nana, Emile Zola
              November 11, 2010




Nana, Manet

				
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