Front Cover, Jan 1, 2004 - Fiction
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Considered one of the masterpieces of world-renowned naturalist Emile Zola, "Nana" is his finely written work on the demimonde of France's failing Second Empire. A symbolically compounded novel, it follows the rise and fall of Nana, a street-walking prostitute who becomes an actress at the Théâtre des Variétés. Though apparently independent and self-confident in her role of 'high-class cocette,' Nana envies the material possessions of the people around her, and the series of besotted men, and occasionally women, whom she betrays and ruins are a testament to her selfishness and vanity. What is surprising is Zola's genius in creating the strength and generosity of Nana, the elemental goodness in an unintelligent woman who can't seem to prevent herself from initiating chaos. Though she advances through society, she ultimately only manages to fall from greater heights, taking on an almost mythical quality even as she remains eminently realistic.

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This rather risque novel--for 1880 that is--tells the story of ruthless protagonist Nana's rise from the gutter to the height of Parisian society. The book's heavy allusion to sexual favors caused it to be denounced as pornography upon publication, which, of course, made it a big hit. Read full review

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About the author (2004)

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.

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