The first novel I chose to read for Zoladdiction is Germinal, published in 1885. I decided to start with this book for two reasons: i) it comes chronologically before my other choice (only just, as The Masterpiece was Zola's next work published in 1886) and ii) we are currently in Germinal (21st March to 19th April, the seventh month of the French Republican Calendar) and I thought it would be fun to read the novel of the same name during this time.
I was attracted to Germinal by the themes of working life in a mining community, workers rights and political awakening. I haven't been disappointed. I have now reached the first chapter of part V and I have loved every page. Zola's writing is incredibly vivid and descriptive and it feels like he is reporting back after an assignment shadowing coal miners.
My favourite part is Etienne's first day down the mine when he finds work as a trammer and the best part of that scene for me is the description of Bataille, an old pit horse.
"He was Bataille, the oldest horse in the mine, a white horse who had spent ten years underground. For ten years he had lived in this hole, staying in the same corner of the stable, doing the same job, trotting up and down the dark haulage roads without ever going back up to see daylight. He was very fat, with a sleek coat and a benevolent air, and seemed to pass his time living the good life, protected from the misfortunes of the world above. Moreover, he had grown accustomed to the dark, and extremely clever. The passage he plied had finally become so familiar that he knew how to push open the ventilation doors with his head, and he remembered to stoop down to avoid bumping his head where the roof was too low. And he must have been able to count, for when he had done the regulation number of trips, he refused to start another, and insisted on being taken back to his manger. Now, with old age, his cat's eyes would sometimes cloud over with melancholy. Perhaps he had a vague vision, in the dim light of his dreams, of the mill where he was born, near Marchiennes, a mill set on the banks of the Scarpe, surrounded by broad meadows and swept by a constant breeze. There was something bright and burning in the air, a sort of huge lamp, but the creature could not recall it exactly. And he lowered his head, trembling on his aged legs in his futile attempts to remember what the sun was like."We are introduced to Bataille as another horse is being lowered into the mine to begin his working life underground. Trompette, the new arrival, is scared stiff after his journey down the mine shaft and remains frozen in place. Bataille, who has just finished his shift, approaches to greet him, "And he suddenly let out a resounding whinny, whose happy music seemed muted with a sorrowful sigh. It was a welcoming shout, and a cry of pleasure at the arrival of a sudden whiff of the past, but also a sigh of pity for the latest prisoner, who would never be sent back alive."
|Picture from Wikipedia entry on pit pony|
I hope to finish reading Germinal this weekend but I suspect that it will not have a happy or pleasant ending.