Au Bonheur des Dames

ISBN-10: 0520078675
ISBN-13: 9780520078673
Edition: 1992
List price: $31.95 Buy it from $4.56
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Description: Zola's prophetic celebration of unbridled commerce and consumerism, The Ladies' Paradise (Au bonheur des dames, 1883) recounts the frenzied transformations that made late nineteenth-century Paris the fashion capital of the world. The novel's  More...

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Book details

List price: $31.95
Copyright year: 1992
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 12/5/1991
Binding: Paperback
Pages: 383
Size: 5.50" wide x 8.25" long x 1.00" tall
Weight: 1.034

Zola's prophetic celebration of unbridled commerce and consumerism, The Ladies' Paradise (Au bonheur des dames, 1883) recounts the frenzied transformations that made late nineteenth-century Paris the fashion capital of the world. The novel's capitalist hero, Octave Mouret, creates a giant department store that devours the dusty, outmoded boutiques surrounding it. Paralleling the story of commercial triumph is the love story between Mouret and the innocent Denise Baudu, who comes to work in The Ladies' Paradise. She provides the crucial link between Mouret and the three essential social groups in the novel: the female clientele, the shopgirls, and the petit bourgeois shopkeepers of the neighborhood. But the store itself plays the leading role. Zola celebrates capitalism, commerce, and consumerism with a kind of prophetic optimism, calling this novel "a poem of modern activity." The work's interest for readers in feminist, cultural, and social history and theory is made abundantly clear in the introduction by Kristin Ross, and the fiction is reproduced in its colorful, 1886 English translation.

Zola was the spokesperson for the naturalist novel in France and the leader of a school that championed the infusion of literature with new scientific theories of human development drawn from Charles Darwin (see Vol. 5) and various social philosophers. The theoretical claims for such an approach, which are considered simplistic today, were outlined by Zola in his Le Roman Experimental (The Experimental Novel, 1880). He was the author of the series of 20 novels called The Rougon-Macquart, in which he attempted to trace scientifically the effects of heredity through five generations of the Rougon and Macquart families. Three of the outstanding volumes are L'Assommoir (1877), a study of alcoholism and the working class; Nana (1880), a story of a prostitute who is a femme fatale; and Germinal (1885), a study of a strike at a coal mine. All gave scope to Zola's gift for portraying crowds in turmoil. Today Zola's novels have been appreciated by critics for their epic scope and their visionary and mythical qualities. He continues to be immensely popular with French readers. His newspaper article "J'Accuse," written in defense of Alfred Dreyfus, launched Zola into the public limelight and made him the political conscience of his country.

Kristin Ross is professor of comparative literature at NYU and author of several books, including May '68 and Its Afterlives and Fast Cars, Clean Bodies.

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