‘The Conquest of Plassans’ by Émile Zola; trans. Helen Constantine

Conquest of Plassans book cover imageVisiting Lyon for a week, I took with me The Conquest of Plassans by Émile Zola [Oxford: OUP, 2014]; a good choice as it turned out. Never short of ambition and seemingly able to write to a band playing, Émile Zola completed this fourth volume of the twenty book Rougon-Macquart novels in 1874. The two connected but opposing families have their roles in this volume. The two central characters are Marthe, a Rougon, and the Abbé Faujas, a zealous and, it seems, cunning supporter of the Imperialist government after the coup d’état. Marthe’s husband, François Mouret is a semi-retired businessman who does not consult his family about important decisions which is why, in the first chapter, Marthe finds out that he has rented their rather decrepit second floor to a newly arriving priest and his mother. The Mourets are not practising Catholics although one of their sons seems to have chosen the priesthood. Marthe is unhappy with the prospect of any strangers, not least such strangers in her house. The story unfolds as the Abbé gradually takes over the house, the local church hierarchy, the town and, finally, Marthe herself as he sets out to conquer the too republican Plassans as a covert agent for the government in Paris. Read more ...