Saturday, October 17, 2009

GERMINAL by Emile Zola

While I am on the subject of books that it has taken me a long time in my career to finally read; I have finally read 'Germinal' by Emile Zola. Everything in my life is coal mining lately. I have a son-in-law who was injured in a coal mine. I recently watched the movie 'The Molly Maguires' (1970 - Sean Connery) about coal miners in 1876 Pennsylvania. And now this novel about French coal miners.

In his 'Journals' Andre Gide wrote that he was reading 'Germinal' for the third time and it... "seems more admirable than ever."

First off, I liked it. I was caught up in the story of a young man Etienne Lantier coming into the coal country of Northern France to seek employment there. He is taken in by one of the families and put to work. Seeing the injustice in the world of coal, however, he begins to struggle against the owners and managers. This leads to a protracted strike that leaves everyone out of work, without money, and without food. I guess having fought some of those battles before myself I am a sucker for a story about the struggle for worker's rights.

This is a prime example of French Naturalism. Zola is out to examine not only the conditions of coal and coal miners, but of working class people and the clash between capital and labor, and the sociological ramifications of such clashes. It is a dark tale, but very insightful of the human condition. (Perhaps whenever anyone chooses to focus on the human condition things turn dark - as the saying goes, an optimist is only one who has not yet seen reality).

'Germinal' is one of twenty novels Zola devoted twenty-five years of his life creating - 'Les Rougon-Macuart. Histoire naturelle et sociale d'une famille sous le Second Empire'. (I'm trying to impress here by typing out the entire title). The truth is, I am so taken with 'Germinal' that I am a little afraid to pick up any of the others because they may disappoint. Can anyone point me toward one that would be equal or better?

Let me know.



  1. I haven't yet got to Germinal, though it's on my list. So should you be. You may be interested in looking at my new novel before it's published. If so, let me know how to send you the password (it's on Scribd).

  2. I would recommend one of his other famous novel l'assommoir, a novel which I really admired so much when I first read it back in university days.


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