Behind the scenes of Second Empire politics
This is the sixth novel in Zola’s twenty-novel Rougon-Macquart cycle. Compared to the other novels in the series, this one falls in the middle of the pack in terms of quality. Eugène Rougon is a powerful minister in Napoleon III’s government. Through his own vanity and ambition, and some political maneuvering on the part of his rivals, he is beginning to fall into disfavor with the Emperor and with the public. Rougon won’t go down without a fight, however, and this book chronicles his battle to stay on top. At the same time, Rougon becomes romantically obsessed with a beautiful Italian aristocrat who has hidden political motivations of her own. This book offers a fascinating look into the complex inner workings of the government of France’s Second Empire. Napoleon III himself is a supporting character in the book. This novel is similar to Zola’s work Money (L’Argent) in that it offers us a very well-drawn, strong and ambitious central character with complicated emotional depth, situated in a position of power amidst the historical events of his era. To read this book it helps to have a general knowledge of French history and politics of the time, at least the various wars that were taking place during the Second Empire. The characters make reference to a lot of events, and it can be a difficult read if you don’t know the facts behind the story. Those who enjoy Zola’s other Rougon-Macquart novels will like this book, as will anyone interested in French history.
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