We first meet Nana in the Variety Theatre, where the captivating eighteen-year-old is appearing in the lead role of a musical—even though she can't act or sing. "Nana has something that makes up for everything else," the theater owner explains, and he's right. Instead of booing her off the stage, the crowd howls with admiration. She has disrobed by the third act, and her career as a femme fatale is off to a sensational start.
Nana crawls out of the gutter to ascend the heights of Parisian society, devouring men and squandering fortunes along the way. Zola begins the story of French realism's most beguiling siren in 1867, amid the decadence and moral decay of France's Gilded Age. Nana's corruption reflects the spirit of her era, her prostitution symbolizing the degenerate state of Second Empire politics and society. Hailed as one of the first modern novels, Nana addresses contemporary subjects with realistic observations, dialogue, and scenarios. Its publication sparked a heated controversy that made it an overnight bestseller, and it has long since reigned as a classic of French literature.
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