|Cafe Guerbois, the model for Cafe Baudequin in The Masterpiece from Wikipedia|
The section of the story from Claude's obsession with painting the nude woman in the Ile de la Cite scene until the acceptance of one of his paintings at the Salon was incredibly difficult to read: Claude is tortured by his inability to express himself fully through the creation of a masterpiece, both Christine and Claude are unbearably mean to their child, "The kid's an idiot, if you ask me", and the lovers' relationship is completely obliterated by artistic obsession, "She had ceased to exist, since all he could find to adore in her now was his art, and nature, and life."
Towards the end of the novel when we revisit the original "gang" and hear how their youthful ambition has, for the most part, been dashed on the rocks of reality, I began to feel less stressed by the overwhelming feeling of impending disaster. Life goes on, groups of friends grow up, move on and find new ways of living. Of course, this made the dramatic end of the story very shocking.
Among the artistic angst and desperation there were a few episodes which came across as light-hearted and made me smile.
I was amused when Sandoz, or rather, the putative Zola, tells Claude about his literary plans, and I think this quotation serves as a good description for the Rougon-Macquart series.
"I'm going to take a family and study each member of it, one by one, where they come from, what becomes of them, how they react to one another. Humanity in miniature, therefore, the way humanity evolves, the way it behaves... I shall place my characters in some definite period that will provide the milieu and the prevailing circumstances and make the thing a sort of slice of history, if you see what I'm getting at... I shall make it a series of novels, say fifteen or twenty, each complete in itself and with its own particular setting, but all connected, a cycle of books that will at least provide a roof in my old age, if they don't prove too much for me in the meantime!"I also found the character of Mathilde amusing, particularly at the end when she has Jory well and truly under her thumb.
Lastly, my favourite quotation, by far, is from a scene, early in the novel, at one of Sandoz's Thursday dinners when the talk turns to models, "Mahoudeau was furious because good bellies were a thing of the past; it was impossible, he said, to find a girl with a belly worth looking at." Down with washboard stomachs!
I can't say that I enjoyed this novel, but it is certainly a fascinating read if you are interested in: the creative process, French Impressionism or the groupe des Batignolles.
I had hoped to read more novels than I did. When I signed up to Zoladdiction, I chose to read only two novels as I knew I would be moving house and that any more would probably be too ambitious. Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed that the location in my profile has now changed, as in the last month I have moved 400 miles southwards. It has been a challenge keeping up with my reading and posting my impressions of Zola's work, but I have really enjoyed this reading event and hope to take part in more events in the future.
- The Masterpiece
- Captain Burle (a short story)
Favourite Work Read
Without a doubt, Germinal. I can definitely see myself reading this novel again and again.
La Maheude in Germinal for her strength and resistance and Sandoz in The Masterpiece for his constancy and loyalty to friends and family. I didn't like the main, male character in either book; Etienne seemed foolish and naive but well-intentioned, and I don't have a positive word to say about the character of Claude.
Future Zola Reading PlansI would like to read some more novels from the Rougon-Macquart series, particularly: La Bete Humaine and Pot Bouille. I also plan to read a novel outside of the series and think this will probably be Paris from Zola's Three Cities Trilogy.
Thanks Fanda and O for hosting this event.