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ZOLA'S NANA Notes including • • • • • • • •
Life and Background of the Author A Brief Synopsis List of Characters Critical Commentaries Character Analyses Critical Essays Essay Topics and Review Questions Selected Bibliography
by James L. Roberts, Ph.D. Department of English University of Nebraska
LINCOLN, NEBRASKA 68501 1-800-228-4078 www.CLIFFS.com ISBN 0-8220-7276-9 © Copyright 1967 by Cliffs Notes, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Cliffs Notes on Nana © 1967
LIFE AND BACKGROUND OF THE AUTHOR Emile Zola (1840-1902) made his presence known in almost every aspect of society during his life. He was perhaps one of the most famous and controversial figures ever known on the French literary scene. Aside from the colossal amount of literary output, which includes novels, dramas, poetry, and criticism, he also dominated the theoretical side of literary endeavor. Equally important, he became known as one of the great champions of the downtrodden, and he never hesitated to allow his name to be added to any cause. Zola was born in Paris, the only child of an Italian immigrant and a French mother. The father died when Zola was about nine years old, leaving the mother and Emile in extreme financial straits. After failing to pass the examinations for his baccalaureate, Zola lived what might be accurately called the life of the poverty-stricken poet. For about two years, he existed in abject want while trying to find some type of suitable employment. Certainly, during these years, he learned a great deal about poverty, which often appears in many of his subsequent novels. Zola began his career as a poet. After obtaining a clerical position, he was able to write on the side and in a few years had published enough to allow him to devote his full time to literary endeavors. From 1862 until the appearance of L'Assommoir in 1877, Zola struggled along, publishing about a novel a year. But with L'Assommoir, Zola became famous and began to reap a certain amount of profits from his writings. Zola's "Rougon-Macquart" series is his great contribution to French literature. This is twenty volumes which depict various aspects of life and society under the second empire in France. Not all of the novels are as successful as Nana, but as one reads from one novel to another, one is struck by the tremendous imagination of the author. In his later life, Zola became a champion of many causes. His intervention in the Dreyfus affair and his famous article "J'accuse" became a bible for the left-wing radicals. Actually, Zola was defending a Jewish officer who he thought was being unfairly crucified by the officers of the army. His response was that of a humanitarian rather than a crusader. Zola was equally famous for his views about naturalism, and he asserted that the novelist could utilize the scientific method in creating characters for fiction. His theoretical criticism influenced the course of modern literature even though it is not considered profound or original. Ultimately, Zola's reputation rests upon the tremendously imaginative feat connected with the conception of the "Rougon-Macquart" series.
A BRIEF SYNOPSIS Monsieur Fauchery, the drama critic, takes his cousin la Faloise to the theater for the opening of a new musical featuring an exciting new star known simply as Nana. At the theater, the two men recognize many people from the fashionable world, among them, the pious Count Muffat de Beuville and his wife, Countess Sabine. When Nana appears onstage, it is obvious that she has no talent, but she possesses one outstanding quality--she is the epitome of sexuality. At first the audience laughs until a young boy, Georges Hugon, cries out, "She's wonderful." From then until the end of the play, Nana is in control of the audience, especially during the final act when she appears on the stage virtually naked. The next day, while Nana is making arrangements to receive her lovers, fans who had seen her the
Cliffs Notes on Nana © 1967
www.cliffs.com preceding evening begin to call upon her. Among the visitors are Count Muffat and his father-in-law, the Marquis de Chouard, who pretends to come to collect money for a charitable organization. Both men are visibly affected by the presence of Nana. A wealthy banker named Steiner also comes, and even though he has a reputation for spending fortunes on actresses, Nana refuses to see him. The following week, at a party given by the Count Muffat, the discussion between the men concerns a party that Nana is giving after her performance. She has told Fauchery to invite the count to the party, but most of the men think that he will not accept. At the party, more people come than Nana had expected; but the count does not come. At the end of the party, Nana decides it is time to look after her own interest and lets Steiner know that she will accept him as a lover. As Nana's reputation spreads, soon foreign dignitaries begin to come to the theater to see her. Count Muffat must accompany an English prince to the theater and while there can hardly constrain himself because Nana has aroused in him unknown desires. Before the prince takes her away for the evening, the count discovers that Steiner has bought her a country house close to a family he often visits. She tells him to come see her there. The country house is owned by Madame Hugon, the mother of Georges, who shouted in the theater that Nana was wonderful. When Georges hears about Nana's visit, he goes to see her. He is so young that Nana does not want to accept him as a lover, but after some mild persuasion she succumbs. This new relationship pleases her so much that she decides to postpone her affair with Count Muffat. After a week, however, Georges' relationship is discovered and his mother forces him to remain at home. Then Count Muffat slips into Nana's bedroom and begins his love affair with her. Three months later, Nana begins to resent the fact that Count Muffat never gives her much money. Furthermore, she has formed an infatuation for an actor named Fontan. When both Muffat and Steiner arrive and find her in bed with Fontan, Nana throws both her old lovers out and decides to be true to Fontan. However, the actor soon tires of Nana and begins beating her brutally. Finally, he even locks her out of her apartment. Nana now decides to renew her relationship with Count Muffat but makes it clear to him that she expects much more than she previously received. The count agrees to all her demands, buys her an expensive mansion, furnishes it elegantly, and gives her twelve thousand francs a month for expenses. Still Nana is not satisfied; she begins to have relations with other men, even men whom she picks up from the streets. Out of boredom, she begins to experiment with lesbian love and finds that it is rather pleasant. Count Muffat must learn to accept all of her vagaries or else leave. By now he is so completely enslaved that he cannot deny her anything. At the famous race, the Prix de Paris, one of the horses is named after Nana. Everyone comes to the race and many bet on the filly, Nana. After the race, which is won by Nana, the owner of the stable, Count Vandeuvres, is suspected of some shady transactions and commits suicide by setting fire to himself and his stables. Nana, however, is celebrated because her namesake won the race. No amount of money or pleasure seems to satisfy Nana. She begins to spend money so wildly that she has to have many more lovers to supply her insatiable demands. Quickly, she begins to go through the fortunes of many men and leaves them destitute and bankrupt. Through all of her experiences, the count remains imprisoned by her capricious behavior. Only when he unexpectedly discovers her in bed with his decrepit father-in-law is he shocked back into his senses. But by then, he too is a broken man. One day, Nana disappears from Paris. No one knows of her whereabouts, but rumors begin to grow up about her. All of the rumors concern huge sums of money and fantastic lovers for Nana. One day, it is
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www.cliffs.com discovered that Nana is in a hotel in Paris dying of smallpox. Many of the old actresses and courtesans go there to see her, but they are too late. Now, only Nana's body, corrupted by the ravages of the disease, lies unclaimed in the austere hotel room.
LIST OF CHARACTERS Nana An actress and a courtesan who possesses an exceptionally beautiful body which she uses to ensnare men.
Count Muffat de Beuville An important member of the French government who has always been a very pious Catholic until he becomes infatuated with Nana.
Countess Sabine de Beuville Count Muffat's wife, who was the pillar of respectability until after her husband began having an affair with Nana. She then has an affair with young Monsieur Daguenet, who was Nana's earlier lover.
Monsieur Steiner A wealthy German-Jew banker who is famous for spending fortunes on actresses with whom he is infatuated. One of his fortunes is spent on Nana.
Monsieur Léon Fauchery An influential journalist who reviews Nana's performances and later writes a scathing article about her.
Hector de la Faloise Monsieur Fauchery's naive cousin who is acquainted with the Muffats and who thinks it would be fashionable to be ruined by Nana.
Madame Hugon A highly respectable lady who is a close friend to the Countess Sabine.
Georges Hugon (Zizi) Her seventeen-year-old son who was Nana's lover for a week and whose infatuation for Nana causes him to stab himself with a pair of scissors.
Philippe Hugon The elder son, who becomes infatuated with Nana, steals money from his command post, and is placed in prison.
Count Xavier de Vandeuvres A prominent gentleman whose fortune is ruined by gambling on horses and shady deals in order to supply Nana with luxuries. He burns himself and his horses after his final collapse.
Marquis de Chouard Count Muffat's father-in-law, who is best described as a dirty old man who annoys all the young actresses.
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Fontan The leading actor for the Variety Theater. Nana becomes infatuated with him in spite of the fact that he is cruel to her.
Zoé Nana's maid, who uses Nana's alliances with men in order to fill her own pockets with leftover money.
Paul Daguenet One of Nana's earliest lovers, whom she later marries to Count Muffat's daughter.
Estelle The priggish daughter of the Muffats, who has a large dowry and who later marries Nana's earlier lover, Daguenet.
Rose Mignon The leading actress for the Variety Theater who sleeps with many of the same people as does Nana but is never as successful.
Monsieur Auguste Mignon Rose's husband, who arranges his wife's love affairs and manages the money she makes.
Satin A childhood acquaintance of Nana's whom she later develops a passion for.
Louis, or Louiset Nana's sickly young son, whose father is unknown.
Bordenave The producer who gave Nana her first start in her acting career at the Variety Theater.
Labordette An ever-present person of discretion who arranges things.
Madame Maloir Nana's elderly friend, who consoles her during times of stress.
Madame Lerat Nana's aunt, who takes care of Nana's son, Louiset.
Madame Tricon A procuress whom Nana goes to when she needs to pick up some ready cash.
Madame Robert Nana's rival for Satin.
Francis Nana's hairdresser, who loans her money and helps her in other small ways.
Cliffs Notes on Nana © 1967
The Prince (Charles) A Scottish (English) prince who is attracted to Nana.
Old Bosc An old actor in the Variety Theater.
Prullière The actor who plays leading roles in the Variety Theater.
De Foucarmont A naval officer and friend of Vandeuvres who is also ruined by Nana.
Théophile Venot A staunch Catholic whose devout religious beliefs influence Count Muffat.
Mesdames Chantereau, de Chezelles, and du Joncquoy Friends of the Countess Sabine de Beuville.
CRITICAL COMMENTARIES CHAPTER 1 Summary Monsieur Fauchery, a journalist, arrives at the Variety Theater thirty minutes early because his cousin Hector de la Faloise is excited about seeing a new production entitled The Blond Venus. There is a general air of anticipation awaiting the appearance of a new actress named Nana, who will play the role of Venus. Bordenave, the producer of the play, meets the two young men and embarrasses the naive la Faloise by insisting that the theater be called a whorehouse. He describes his new actress Nana, as a cheap whore "who sings like a crow" and "has no notion what to do with her hands and feet." However, he is confident that both Nana and the show will be a success because "Nana has something else, something as good as all the other things put together." Monsieur Mignon appears with the wealthy German-Jew banker, Steiner, who is having an affair with Mignon's wife Rose, the leading actress. Mignon, who arranges his wife's love affairs, tries to lead Steiner away from the discussion about Nana. A handsome young man, Daguenet, passes the group and is identified as Nana's lover. Count Xavier de Vandeuvres comes forward to speak to Fauchery just as a crowd on the street begins to chant Nana's name. Everyone goes to his seat to await the curtain. While waiting, Fauchery identifies many of the famous courtesans seated in the boxes. Fauchery is surprised when la Faloise greets the famous Count and Countess Muffat de Beuville and her father, the Marquis de Chouard. The first act of The Blond Venus begins. Rose Mignon, as Diana, complains that Mars has been neglecting her in favor of Venus. Others appear and complain that Venus is causing various troubles between lovers. Only at the end of the first act does Nana appear. She does sing badly and has no concept of how to conduct herself onstage. Just as the audience begins to hiss and shout, a young boy cries out, "She's wonderful." Both the audience and Nana laugh. Suddenly, Nana gains control of the audience and
Cliffs Notes on Nana © 1967
www.cliffs.com no one cares if she has no talent because "she has something else." At intermission, everyone agrees that the production is idiotic, but the main subject is Nana. Several people think they have seen her somewhere, yet no one can make a positive identification. The audience is delighted with the second act. All of the gods from Mount Olympus, dressed incognito, are seen in a Parisian dance hall. Nana is disguised as a fishwife and delights the audience with her natural earthiness. At the second intermission, la Faloise pays his respects to Countess Muffat. He introduces his cousin Fauchery, who is received with cold dignity by the count. The countess, however, invites him to accompany la Faloise next Tuesday to their ancestral home. After they take their leave, they meet a streetwalker named Satin who is so vulgar that she is sometimes amusing. The third act begins and a tremor runs through the audience when Nana appears: "Nana was nude. With quiet audacity, she appeared in her nakedness, certain of the sovereign power of her flesh. Some gauze enveloped her, but her rounded shoulders, her Amazonian bosom, her wide hips, which swayed to and fro voluptuously, her whole body, in fact, could be divined . . . in all its foamlike whiteness of tint, beneath the slight fabric she wore. . . . The good natured girl was suddenly transformed into a voluptuous woman who brought with her the delirium of sex and opened the gates of the unknown world of desire." Furthermore, the audience had never before witnessed such a passionate seduction scene on the stage. No one on the stage now mattered except Nana: "A wave of lust flowed from her, as from an animal in heat." After the play, the audience leaves with mixed emotions. La Faloise assures Bordenave that the play will be highly successful. Commentary Nana is a part of a large series of novels that Zola was at the time writing called the Rougon-Macquart series, which consists of twenty novels published between 1871 and 1898. Nana is the ninth novel in the series and was published in 1880. In general, the series is a rather loosely connected group of novels which depict varying aspects of life during the second empire in France. Even though the title of the series suggests that the novels will deal with two families, this is not so. There are, however, some points of connection between certain novels in the group. For example, Nana is the daughter of Gervaise Macquart, whose husband died of alcoholism while she died of starvation in the novel L'Assommoir (1877). Several times during the novel Nana makes a reference to the background from which she emerged. In its largest sense, Nana fits into the Rougon-Macquart series as depicting an influential aspect of the second empire. Zola thought that his series would not be complete unless he showed the role which prostitution played in the collapse of the empire. Consequently, the reader should note how much moralizing and condemnation is present in the novel. Zola, dropping his scientific objectivity, often describes his main character and her activities so as to show how thoroughly sexual disorders affect a nation. Throughout the entire novel, the reader should be aware of how often the individual chapters are filled with crowd scenes. Perhaps no writer of the nineteenth century filled his novels with so many scenes of such great diversity. Few writers can equal Zola in his ability to render the emotion gripping an entire mass of people. This ability is amply illustrated in the first chapter of the novel, as Nana stands on the stage in her nudity and entrances an entire audience of diverse people. On an initial reading, Zola's beginning offers much difficulty for the inexperienced reader since he refuses to focus his attention on one dominant character. But his intent is to try to capture as much as possible the diverse elements which succumb to the spell of Nana's sexuality.
Cliffs Notes on Nana © 1967
www.cliffs.com The manner in which Zola casually introduces most of his main characters attests to the careful planning that went into the novel. A cursory review of the characters and their ultimate destinies will substantiate the artistic unity of the novel. The first characters to appear are Fauchery and his cousin Hector de la Faloise. Later Fauchery is to write a good review of Nana's initial performance; still later he will write a condemnation of her ("The Golden Fly"); he will also become the lover to the wife of Nana's lover. La Faloise will later be delighted to be ruined by Nana. Steiner is introduced in the presence of the Mignons and later his entire fortune will collapse under Nana's destructive desire. Count Xavier de Vandeuvres will commit suicide when Nana has devoured his fortune. Both the Count and Countess Muffat de Beuville will be utterly ruined because of Nana, and the final ruin will be brought about by the discovery of the old Marquis de Chouard, who is now seen sitting with his daughter and son-in-law. Georges Hugon, who will later stab himself, is seen as the enthusiastic admirer during the performance. The picture of the Count Muffat sitting icy cold and distant with his family contrasts well to the final degradation to which he is brought. This is foreshadowed by the manner in which Count Muffat reacts to Nana's appearance in the third act of the drama. His puritan righteousness is replaced by deep blotches of passionate red all over his face. Besides the emphasis on the mass reaction of the audience, Nana's sexuality is equally emphasized. The entire novel will concern itself with the sexual desires aroused by the physical appearance of Nana's voluptuous body. We must throughout the rest of the novel be constantly aware that there are two Nanas. One is the simple girl of the streets who seems to possess no particular or outstanding attributes, but the other is that symbolic Nana who represents all the sexuality inherent throughout society. The first Nana is simpleminded and gives herself to anyone at any time. The other Nana is the voluptuous incarnation of the love goddess, Venus, who reclines on sumptuous beds costing a small fortune and who evokes hitherto latent urges in everyone. The above idea is first formulated by the theatrical production in the first chapter. The Blond Venus is the symbol of all that Nana is to become. First of all, the play uses the classical goddess of love who had degenerated in modern society to become no more than the goddess of eroticism. Likewise the content of the play, which Zola narrates in detail, foreshadows what is to happen to the entire society. The play suggests that the gods of Mount Olympus will be involved in all sorts of scandals and will be revealed in all of their absurdities. The gods lose their dignity and are dragged through the filth of corruption. Furthermore, the audience enjoys seeing "this carnival of gods . . . being dragged in the mud." Later, people like la Faloise consider it an honor to be ruined by Nana, and the entire society seems to get some vicarious satisfaction in Nana's completely corrupting influence. Nana's initial appearance on the stage suggests how talent and ability are insignificant in the presence of something more important--Nana's sexuality. In the final act when Nana appears naked (and Zola emphasizes Nana's nudity), we understand instantly how Nana is able to mesmerize her audience by her physical presence. Without being aware of what she was doing, Nana arouses animal lust in the beholder. The casual descriptions suggesting the animal instincts aroused by Nana will be come a dominant motif throughout the novel. In fact, almost every naturalistic writer emphasizes some aspect of the animal nature inherent in every human being. This idea rises to its climax in Chapter 13 when Nana forces Count Muffat to conduct himself like a vulgar beast. From the ironic view, The Blond Venus becomes the theme song of the entire empire, and since Bordenave repeatedly insists that his theater be called his "whorehouse," we can subtly see the connection that Zola is implying. The audience is composed of the best of society, and this group becomes corrupt as it comes under Nana's influence. Consequently, the song is appropriate as the theme song for the entire generation because Nana does intrude into every aspect of society in one way or another.
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CHAPTER 2 Summary After opening night, Nana sleeps late in the apartment provided for her by a rich Moscow merchant who had paid the first six months' rent. The apartment "told the story of a girl too early abandoned by her first serious protector." When Nana awakens, she calls her maid, Zoé, and they make arrangements for Nana's two paying visitors. The arrangements must allow time for Daguenet to sleep with Nana. Of more serious consequence is the fact that Nana is now nine months behind in her rent. Other creditors are also plaguing her. Her greatest worry is her two-year-old child, Louis, who is with a wet nurse whom Nana has never been able to pay. Her Aunt Lerat is supposed to go that day and get little Louis, but Nana needs three hundred francs to pay the nurse. Just as she is about to despair, Madame Tricon, a procuress, arrives with a proposition whereby Nana can receive four hundred francs. Nana accepts with relief. Francis, Nana's hairdresser, arrives with Fauchery's favorable review of The Blond Venus. She is pleased and decides she will repay the critic someday. An elderly friend, Madame Maloir, arrives, and the three women talk until it is time for Nana to keep her appointment. While Nana is away, admirers from the preceding evening begin to arrive. These include such diverse people as the young seventeen-year-old Georges Hugon, the rich banker Steiner, and the aloof Count Muffat de Beuville with his father-in-law, the Marquis de Chouard. So many people arrive that Zoé has difficulty finding places to put them. Nana is so late returning from her engagement that her aunt has to postpone the trip. She gives her aunt three hundred fifty francs and keeps only fifty for herself, explaining that the afternoon's experience was exceptionally difficult. She refuses to see any of her admirers until she learns about the count and the marquis. She receives them in her dressing room. With attempts at formal dignity, the count explains that they represent a charity committee collecting money for the poor in the district. Nana notices that each man is visibly excited by her presence, and as she gives them her last fifty francs the count trembles as he takes the money from Nana's soft sensuous hands. As they leave, the count feels "dizzy from having been in that small dressing room with its overpowering odor of woman and flowers." Nana then tells Zoé to send the rest of the callers away, even the rich banker, Steiner, because she is tired of men. As she opens the door to a small unfurnished room, she discovers young Georges Hugon sitting on a trunk holding a bouquet of flowers. As Nana takes the flowers, Georges tries to embrace her. Nana scolds him mildly and sends him away. Alone in her dressing room, Nana hears that admirers are arriving constantly. Even though she still refuses to see any of the men, she is delighted to have so many come to pay court to her. She borrows a hundred francs from her hairdresser, giving as security for the loan the obvious presence of numerous admirers. As she leaves for the theater, she looks forward to sleeping an entire night alone. Commentary Chapter 2 shifts from the public view of Nana and shows her in her own private surroundings. Nana's apartment tells the story of the type of person that she is. There is a gaudy luxury about it which indicates the career of a girl who has to accept lovers of any sort in order to keep the apartment. Throughout the novel, there is a certain aura of comic confusion as Nana must constantly make arrangements to keep one lover from running into another one. The morning after the theatrical
Cliffs Notes on Nana © 1967
www.cliffs.com performance, Nana is mostly concerned about how she can keep her two paying customers away long enough so that she can enjoy sleeping with Paul Daguenet, who just lost his fortune in a drop in the stock market. The introduction of Daguenet's name as Nana's lover prepares the reader for one of the many interrelations throughout the novel. Later, she will use her influence with Count Muffat to arrange for her lover Daguenet to marry Count Muffat's daughter, Estelle. The arrangements that Nana makes become a type of motif which is picked up by many of the courtesans in the novel. The quick letter to lovers--"Sorry darling, not tonight, impossible"--is constantly being sent to a non-paying lover when paying customers show up. Nana must send this type of letter that day to Daguenet, who has just left her bed. Regularly in the novel, the scene will shift from a large crowd scene to a scene in Nana's bedroom. This chapter, therefore, opens in Nana's bedroom as she arranges her lovers and receives her hairdresser. Another constant worry to Nana is the matter of small sums of money. She seems to get large sums of money from people, but she is constantly without small sums with which to pay tradesmen. Today, she needs only three hundred francs in order to pay the wet nurse who is taking care of her young son. But she can't find this sum. Whenever this happens in the novel, Nana always resorts to either going on the streets and picking up someone or else contacting Madame Tricon, a famous procuress. This time, Madame Tricon appears just as Nana needs the money and tells Nana of a chance to pick up four hundred francs that afternoon. Thus, by this method, Nana is always able to solve her temporary need for small amounts of money. When Francis brings in the review of The Blond Venus, Nana feels very appreciative to Fauchery and casually thinks that she will repay him someday. This is just another case of Zola's irony because later Fauchery will write a bitterly sarcastic piece about Nana, and later she will repay him by taking him on as lover and causing him to sell some valuable property to provide her with money. The appearance of Madame Tricon is part of Zola's total picture of the corruption of the age. More ironical is the fact that Zoé stays with Nana in the hope of saving enough money so that she can some day take over a business like Madame Tricon's. Several of the people who will become Nana's lovers at various stages appear that day to congratulate her on her performance. Among these are Georges Hugon, the young boy who called out during the performance that Nana was wonderful; Steiner, the fat German-Jew banker who is later to be ruined by Nana; and most important, Count Muffat and his father-in-law, the Marquis de Chouard. Zola uses many instances of irony here as he has Nana return from her engagement with a paying customer then to receive a supplication from Count Muffat for a donation to the poor in the district. The donation which Nana gives is the last fifty francs she had just earned through prostitution Further irony involves the fact that in their first encounter she gives Count Muffat fifty francs; later she will take hundreds of thousands from him. The attention paid to Muffat reveals that beneath his stiff dignity, he is seething with passion for Nana's body. Each time he is around her, Zola uses the same image and description to depict his inner state: "He needed air; he was overcome from a dizziness from having been in that small dressing room with its overpowering essence of woman and flowers." These images suggest that he will later be totally captivated by Nana's sexuality, and most of his encounters with Nana will like this one be either in small theater dressing rooms or in Nana's dressing room. Since so many callers have come, Zoé has been sticking them into all available space. Nana, now tired from her afternoon's experiences, seeks a place to be alone and discovers young Georges Hugon in one of
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www.cliffs.com the rooms. Even though Nana is only eighteen years old, she considers the seventeen-year-old Georges to be a mere child. But she responds here spontaneously to his gift of flowers even though she will not let him embrace her. Henceforward, he will become one of her most devoted admirers until he stabs himself in the final chapters. But we must notice that, with both Daguenet and Georges, Nana is capable of responding spontaneously to another person even though she usually sells herself. By these responses, Zola tends to humanize Nana and not leave her just a symbol of corruption. These responses tend to make Nana a more believable and likable character in spite of her characteristics. Zola, the strict naturalist and objective writer, does seem at times to entertain romantic notions. It does not seem highly realistic that so many people are "lined up on the stairs" waiting to pay their adulation to Nana. Zola's point, however, is to suggest the degree to which Nana has already captivated the public after one appearance.
CHAPTER 3 Summary The Countess Sabine receives every Tuesday in the drawing rooms of the family mansion. On entering the rooms, one feels the "cold dignity and ancient customs" of a vanished age. The countess, however, feels the continuity of tradition and has "no intention of changing her drawing room." On this Tuesday, there are only a few old acquaintances; among the guests is Count Xavier de Vandeuvres, who owns a famous racing stable and who is famous for the large sums he spends on his mistresses. Also present is the banker Steiner, who has gained a reputation for becoming infatuated with actresses and spending fortunes on them. The main topic of conversation concerns the forthcoming exposition to be held in Paris and the suspense connected with how many of Europe's royalty will attend it. During the discussion, Fauchery and Hector de la Faloise arrive. After paying his respects to the countess, Fauchery contacts Count Vandeuvres and lets him know that Nana is having a party the next night in her apartment. Nana also wants Fauchery to invite Count Muffat, but Vandeuvres thinks it impossible that the count will accept. Fauchery questions his cousin about the countess and learns that she has the "coldness of pious virtue." If she has ever been unfaithful, she has certainly been discreet about it because there has "never been any gossip about her." As for the count, Fauchery learns that Muffat is an extremely pious Catholic who is cold, distant, and formal. In spite of the austere appearance of this noble family, Fauchery notices that the countess has a birthmark almost identical to Nana's. Steiner comes forward bragging about also having been invited to Nana's party. At the same moment, Georges Hugon enters and Fauchery recognizes him as the young boy who had openly cheered Nana in the theater. His mother, Madame Hugon, has known the Countess Sabine since childhood. After some polite conversation, Madame Hugon says that Georges took her to the Variety Theater the night before to see some strange play, but no one in the group mentions or discusses The Blond Venus. As the conversation continues, Vandeuvres moves about the room recruiting men who can bring pretty women to Nana's party. As the evening passes, Fauchery decides he must hazard inviting the count to Nana's party. Vandeuvres promises to help. At first, the count says he does not know Nana, but then he is reminded that he paid her a visit recently. Count Muffat explains that the nature of his business was for charity, and he then refuses the invitation. He assumes a lofty and haughty attitude as though the subject should be dismissed. During the conversation, young Georges Hugon reveals that he has also been invited to the party by Nana.
Cliffs Notes on Nana © 1967
The conversation is interrupted by the appearance of the countess' father, the Marquis de Chouard. Later, Vandeuvres and Fauchery renew their entreaties, this time including the marquis in the invitation. Both are wavering when suddenly the count emphatically refuses. As Fauchery leaves, the ladies are inquiring if Count Bismarck will make war on France. Commentary Even though Chapter 3 shifts to the reception given by the Count and Countess Muffat de Beuville, the emphasis is never away from Nana. She pervades the party from beginning to end, suggesting to what degree she has already become a force on every level of society. For example, Fauchery arrives and lets selected people know that Nana is giving a party the following night and that he is to invite certain people. Count Vandeuvres, who is to be invited, has spent a fortune on mistresses: "Every year his mistresses devoured now a farm, now some acres of land or forest." This early description is later picked up and emphasized when Nana takes him on as a part-time lover, and it also begins to prepare us for his ultimate fate. The main person whom Fauchery is to invite is Count Muffat. Count Vandeuvres emphasizes Muffat's religious tendencies as proof that he will not compromise his virtue. Throughout this chapter and others, Muffat's strong religious traits and his piety are emphasized so that his fall is more complete than the fall of a natural libertine such as Vandeuvres. When Fauchery asks Count Muffat the second time, we should note that the count is about ready to yield and would have done so if it had not been for the influence of Monsieur Venot, the former ecclesiastical lawyer who holds a strong influence over Count Muffat and who, in the end of the novel, finally rescues Muffat after he has been broken by Nana. Nana intrudes upon the party when Madame Hugon announces that her son took her to the theater last night. Madame Hugon is so naive that she did not understand the play. No one in the group mentions Nana's name, but it is present in everyone's mind. Then we discover that even young Georges has been invited to Nana's party. At the beginning of the reception, Countess Sabine is introduced as a person who is very pious and devoted to the traditions of her society. She is very proud of the ancestral home and "certainly would not alter her drawing room after having lived in it for seventeen years." Yet later in the novel, as she becomes corrupted, she tries to make her drawing room as glittering as Nana's. It is furthermore interesting to note the various ways in which Zola suggests and foreshadows the countess' later debaucheries. Aside from the conversation concerning her looks and the suggestive talk about her thighs, Fauchery, the man who will later become her lover, notices a birthmark on her face: "He was surprised by a birthmark he noticed on the Countess' left cheek, near her mouth. Nana had exactly the same kind of birthmark." This small physical characteristic tends to align Nana with the countess, and later we see that the countess becomes as passionate and capricious as Nana. Furthermore, Vandeuvres and Fauchery make a comparison between Nana and the countess and notice several other parallels which suggest that beneath the "coldness of her pious virtue," there is a mysterious magnetism. A large amount of the conversation during the party deals with Count Bismarck and his popularity with ladies, his charm, and his ambitions. The novel, of course, ends with Bismarck and the Prussians declaring war on France. At present, however, he is merely a subject for polite conversation.
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CHAPTER 4 Summary Nana decides that she wants to celebrate her success with a dinner that everyone will talk about, so she decides to have the affair catered. Daguenet and Georges have accompanied Nana from the theater and help her repair a tear in her dress. Soon, guests begin to arrive--Rose Mignon with her husband and the banker, Steiner; Count Vandeuvres with an actress; and Fauchery, who tells Nana that Count Muffat refused her invitation. Soon the room is packed with guests so tightly that people can hardly move about. Nana had expected twenty-five or thirty and had made arrangements for seating only that number at dinner. As guests continue to arrive, Nana becomes somewhat annoyed. When dinner is served, there is such confusion that Nana tells everyone to sit where they please. She places a mysterious gentleman on her right and keeps the rich banker on her left. The table is so crowded that no one has room to eat. Just as the first course is being served, three people whom Nana has never seen appear. They had been invited by Count Vandeuvres. As they squeeze into places, the table becomes almost intolerable. In spite of the closeness of all the guests, there is scarcely any conversation. Young Georges finds the guests "prosaic and sedate." As the guests drink more and more wine, the conversation begins to liven up somewhat, but the waiters serving the meal become more careless and begin to spill things on Nana's rug. Inevitably the subject of the table turns to the forthcoming exposition. All the ladies wonder how much royalty will attend the exposition, which leads to inquiries about the looks and charms of various famous men. It is reported that Count Bismarck is a charming man and someone jokingly says that he now has thirty-two children. As the evening progresses, the banker Steiner becomes more and more infatuated with Nana and begins offering her large sums to sleep with him. Nana pretends not to be interested in order to keep Steiner intrigued. Lucy Stewart warns that Nana never "gives back the men who are lent to her." Meanwhile, young Georges wants to crawl under the table and lie at Nana's feet like a trained puppy. As the party increases in tempo, Nana suddenly feels that she is no longer in her own home. Everyone else seems to be taking over and ordering the servants around. By the end of the meal, she is furious and her anger only excites Steiner more and causes him to offer even larger and larger sums to Nana. She tells everyone to go into another room to have coffee as the party becomes too loud and raucous. One person, Foucarmont, passes out in the middle of the room after bragging that he has never been able to get drunk. After a few minutes, several people at the party notice that Nana has disappeared. Daguenet and Georges call Vandeuvres into Nana's room, where she tells the men that she wants to be respected. Vandeuvres tells her that she is drunk, but Nana still wants to be respected even if she is drunk. She is also disappointed because Count Muffat did not come. Vandeuvres warns her to forget the count, who is much too religious to come to such parties. At four o'clock in the morning, some card tables are set up, and various games and dances start. Even this late, some more people show up, but Nana stoutly claims that she did not invite them. The newcomers remind her that she had extended the invitation in a restaurant only two nights ago. At five o'clock, the dancing stops, but the young men begin drinking heavily. One drunk young man pours champagne into the piano, announcing that champagne is very good for pianos. Later, others find liquors of various colors and add them to the champagne in the piano. Finally realizing that Count Muffat is not coming, Nana offers herself to the fat banker Steiner, who is almost overcome by her sudden burst of generosity. However, Nana suddenly decides that she wants to go to the Bois de Boulogne for a glass of milk. She invites one of her friends, and Steiner can only acquiesce in impatient silence.
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Commentary Chapter 4 presents another of Zola's magnificent crowd scenes as people throng into Nana's apartment for the dinner party which she is giving. Although it has not yet become a dominant image of the novel, notice that even now Zola is using the crowd to suggest animals being fed. This scene has many similarities to Flaubert's scene in Madame Bovary wherein the citizens congregate for the Agricultural Show. Nana's constant desire is to be considered a respected and elegant lady. Therefore, she decides to have her dinner catered since this is more fashionable. Also, she wants to give a party "that everyone would talk about." The irony is that Nana is constantly talked about, but not for the reasons she desires. The animal imagery becomes more dominant as Georges kneels on the floor "with his hands buried in her skirt." This image serves also to suggest the manner in which Nana's sexuality is worshiped. Later during the party, Georges wants "to crawl under the table on all fours and to go crouch at Nana's feet like a little dog." This image again emphasizes the idea of worshiping Nana's sexuality, but the animal image is equally important. For the naturalist such as Zola, man is in constant danger of reverting to the bestial instincts inherent in his nature. Any particular incident can bring out the brutish animal nature in an otherwise civilized person. During the serving of dinner, Zola has a heyday with ironies. The dinner itself consists of many courses, but since the table is filled with many more guests than were invited, there is scarcely room for a person to breathe. Furthermore, all of the women are either prostitutes, courtesans, or women of questionable reputations. Yet there is an attempt to act the part of a lady. As the party progresses, the waiters who are catering the party become careless and begin to spill gravy and sauces on the carpets. Gradually, Nana loses control of the party, and what she wanted to be a great success becomes instead a wild orgy which will be talked about for different reasons. Zola does not directly point out the similarity or the difference between Nana's party and the reception at the countess. But there are implied similarities. For example, the same subject is discussed at both parties. The ladies of each group are interested in the numbers of royalty who will come to Paris for the exposition. But whereas in Countess Sabine's group, the ladies are interested in the royalty for the sake of social prestige, in Nana's group, they are interested in future prospects who will spend money for them. The difference and similarity centers on the personage of Count Bismarck. When Vandeuvres hears him discussed again, "he felt that he was again back in the Muffats' drawing room, the only difference being that the ladies were changed." Then, too, Nana's company emphasize that Bismarck has thirty-two children; and even though this is said in jest, it still underscores the sexual interest of the ladies in someone like Bismarck. With the arrival of Steiner, whom Nana places next to her at dinner, it becomes obvious that Nana will soon take him from Rose Mignon. The image is that "Nana was now showing her white teeth," another animal image to reinforce the general devouring quality possessed by Nana. Yet at the same time Steiner is presented in such a way that it is no particular triumph on Nana's part to make him become infatuated with her. He contributes equally to his own ruin. He serves only to provide Nana with testing ground for her own sexuality. As Nana had in the previous chapter intruded upon the Muffat's party, so now the count intrudes upon Nana's party. She is disappointed that he did not come and only listens when Vandeuvres says that "the priests have too strong a hold on him." Nana knows better because she has already noted the effect that she has upon Muffat.
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www.cliffs.com Nana's whimsicality is also revealed in these chapters. Part of her personality is that she wants to be respected as a lady and yet seldom does anything to command respect. Her actions are often erratic. For example, after she offers herself to Steiner, she then suddenly decides that she wants to go to the Bois de Boulogne to drink milk. This idea occurs almost at dawn after a party that has become impossible to control. But the fact that Steiner concurs in this whimsy points out the degree to which Nana dominates her men.
CHAPTER 5 Summary At the thirty-fourth performance of The Blond Venus, the excitement backstage is due to the fact that the prince is in the audience for the third time that week. Fontan, the leading actor of the theater, is unaware of this because he is busy arranging to have champagne delivered backstage to celebrate his "name day." The members of the troupe are aware that the prince has earlier taken Nana to his place. It is said that he refuses to go to Nana's apartment and prefers to take her to his own rooms. Nana has now become rather influential. She has convinced Bordenave to give her old friend Satin a position in the theater. Steiner has left Paris to buy her a country house. Furthermore, the prince has just requested permission to come backstage to greet and congratulate Nana in person. As members of the troupe look out on the audience, they recognize that the prince is accompanied by Count Muffat and his father-in-law, the Marquis de Chouard. In the midst of the changing of the scenery, there is a sudden commotion and everyone notices that the prince and his two companions are backstage. The prince "had the distinguished air peculiar to a sturdy man of pleasure." While he feels perfectly at ease backstage, Count Muffat is extremely nervous and uncomfortable in the presence of so many strange and mysterious objects. He begins to sweat and feels suffocated by the heavy female odors which permeate the place. Bordenave leads them directly into Nana's dressing room. She is at first angry that someone has burst into her room without knocking, but when she learns the identity of her callers, she comes out from behind the curtain. Count Muffat is so affected by the heat and the feminine odor intensified by a low ceiling that he must sit down to keep from fainting. Nana tries to apologize for receiving the gentlemen in her chemise, but the prince assures her that they are to blame for the intrusion. Nana pretends to scold Count Muffat for not coming to her party, and the count can hardly answer. Suddenly, Fontan appears with the champagne and not knowing that the prince is in Nana's dressing room charges in offering champagne. The prince is delighted to accept. Nana entertains the entire troupe while standing half naked. The room becomes so crowded that she cannot move unless her breasts touched Count Muffat's arms. Soon the bell announcing the beginning of the last act rings, and everyone leaves except the three gentlemen. Nana must excuse herself and apply her intimate makeup. Count Muffat, who had never even seen his wife put on her garters, "was now exposed to all the intimate details of a woman's toilet." He slowly realizes that Nana is taking possession of him, but he is determined to fight against her. But at the same time, he resents the fact that Nana thinks of him as being a highly virtuous man. Just as Nana finishes, the gentlemen leave with the intention of watching the remainder of the show from the wings of the theater. Just as Rose Mignon is about to make her entrance, she suddenly notices her husband and her lover fighting on the floor of the theater. She goes on and sings her song while Bordenave stops the fight. When he returns, he assures the prince that the incident was of no importance.
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At one slight break in the performance, Madame Tricon shows up and goes straight toward Nana, who immediately refuses the procuress' offer. Bordenave is horrified that someone let the procuress backstage while the prince is also there. When Nana goes onstage in her nude scene, Count Muffat is entranced by the spectacle since he now sees her from an entirely different and closer perspective. He feels himself becoming more and more in her power, and he can do nothing to fight against the emotion. Fauchery comes up to the count and offers to show him the other parts of the theater. He takes the count to the ladies' dressing rooms, where once again Count Muffat feels stifled by the presence of so many strong feminine odors. In one of the dressing rooms on the upper level, he discovers his father-in-law sitting between two of the actresses. Clarisse, at Fauchery's insistence, comes forward and lightly kisses the count on the cheek. Suddenly finding himself alone, he wanders back toward Nana's dressing room when he sees her walking down one of the corridors. He silently slips up behind her and kisses the back of her neck. At first Nana is surprised, but when she discovers who it is, she tells him that she now owns a house in the country in a region which the count often visits. She tells him to come and see her there. A few minutes later, Count Muffat sees Nana leave with the prince. When he escapes from the confines of the theater, he realizes now that Nana possesses him and he would repudiate and sell everything to "possess her that very night for a single hour." Commentary Chapter 5 returns to the theater for its setting. The reader should note how Zola is alternating his scenes between Nana's house, large parties, and the theater. In both the house and the theater, Zola creates an aura of illicit sex as we catch (according to Martin Turnell, The Art of French Fiction, 159) "tantalizing glimpses--of shoulders, breasts and thighs. Actresses dodge coyly behind screens if a visitor arrives, only to emerge provocatively when the visitor turns out to be a wealthy old man or an English prince." Justifying his title as a naturalist, Zola does not allow one detail to escape his notice. He catalogs all the various odors, sounds, and details connected with the theater. He is not content only to suggest, but at times he burdens down the reader with this accumulation of details so as to substantiate fully his casestudy of corruption. The thirty-fourth performance of The Blond Venus suggests how completely Nana has made the show a success. Furthermore, the fact that the prince is there to see Nana for the third time within a week suggests that her appeal is more than a local oddity. The prince serves another function in the novel: Since he is visiting royalty and since Count Muffat's position in the service of the emperor demands that he oversee the pleasures of the visiting royalty, the prince's desire to see Nana causes Count Muffat to be brought back into Nana's presence and to become enslaved to her sexuality. During this chapter, we hear that Steiner has just bought Nana an estate out in the country. This fact attests partially to Nana's success as a courtesan, but more important, it provides Nana with a place close to the country house where Count Muffat visits and consequently serves conveniently to move the plot forward. Nana's success with Steiner should not be overrated. Zola uses him mainly as a pawn who contributes to the larger case study in corruption. From the first descriptions, we know that Steiner is not a difficult prey to capture. Throughout the novel, he is there only as someone who can provide Nana with the things immediately needed. His is a secondary role. When the prince comes backstage to congratulate, Nana he brings Count Muffat with him. For the count,
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www.cliffs.com who has never been behind the scenes, this is an entirely new world opening up for him. This simple new experience initiates him into a new awareness of himself also. For a man who has repressed his sexual urges to be placed suddenly amid the suffocating heat laden with the strong odors of female nudity creates emotions so confusing that he cannot understand himself. His cheeks become flushed, his face is red, and he has "small drops of sweat on his forehead." The feeling of dizziness, which he had experienced when he visited Nana in her apartment "once more overwhelms him," and he sits down to keep from fainting. Then when Nana emerges from behind the screen half naked, she stands in the crowded room next to Count Muffat in such a position that he cannot move without touching her breasts. Finally the repressed, pious man begins for the first time to realize that there is a freedom in sexual matters that he has never known to exist: "His whole being was in turmoil. He was terrified of the possession Nana had been taking of him for some time." He is determined to rely on his religious training, but suddenly the Marquis de Chouard says that the count is "virtue personified." When Count Muffat resents Nana knowing this instead of being proud that he is a virtuous man, his downfall is assured. As Muffat watches Nana from behind the scenes as she goes onto the stage in her nudity, he becomes more and more affected by this woman. A trip through the rest of the theater and then, at the end, a sudden glimpse of Nana returning to her own dressing room break him completely as he slips up behind her and kisses her on the neck. He is now defeated and knows it; it will only be a matter of time before he is completely ruined. At the end of the chapter, he realized that "he was hers utterly: he would have abjured everything, sold everything, to possess her for a single hour that very night. Youth, a lustful puberty of early manhood, was stirring within him at last, flaming up suddenly in the chaste heart of the Catholic and amid the dignified traditions of middle age." With this realization on his part, it will only be a matter of arrangements before he does repudiate everything and dissolve his fortune and family to possess Nana. Zola is also careful to mix royalty and decency with almost every aspect of the lurid and vulgar. While the prince and Muffat are backstage, Fauchery and Mignon get into a common brawl. The procuress, Madame Tricon, comes in soliciting. Ironically, Nana does not have time for the procuress, who easily arranges for another actress. This ease reminds us that, in the opening chapter, Bordenave said to call his theater a whorehouse, and now it is vibrantly true.
CHAPTER 6 Summary The Count and Countess Muffat de Beuville arrive for a visit at Madame Hugon's country house. Their hostess is exceptionally pleased to see them but is somewhat puzzled that suddenly everyone who has previously turned down her invitations is now accepting them. After several delays, Georges has arrived for a visit and has invited the drama critic, Fauchery, and also Monsieur Daguenet and Monsieur de Vandeuvres. Madame Hugon tells the count and countess that the banker Steiner has just bought a house two or three miles away and has given it to an actress. Her gardener tells her also that the actress, Nana, is expected to arrive that very day. She decides that if she happens to meet Nana, she will content herself with not speaking to her. That afternoon, Georges tells his mother that he is suffering from a headache and plans to retire to his room and sleep through the night. As soon as possible, he climbs out the window and heads for Nana's house. Meanwhile, Nana arrives at her new house. She has wanted to come ever since Steiner bought it for her.
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www.cliffs.com However, Bordenave would not release her from the theater until September the fifteenth. On the twelfth, she decides that she will slip away and have a few days alone at her house. When she arrives, she runs about the place like a child, examining every room and even the grounds. In the back of the house, she finds a patch of strawberries, which she begins to pick even though it is raining. Suddenly, she sees Georges, who is wringing wet. He was afraid that Nana would scold him for coming and explains that he fell into a stream while coming to see her. She takes him into the house and makes him wear some of her clothes while his are drying by the fire. After they find something to eat, Georges tries to embrace Nana, but she feels too motherly toward him to even consider him as a lover. But gradually during the evening, with Georges dressed as a young girl, Nana begins to feel like a young innocent virgin and finally does consent to sleep with Georges. The next day, Georges is the last to come down for lunch. Meanwhile, other guests have arrived from Paris, and again, Madame Hugon brings up the subject of Nana. Everyone is surprised to hear of Nana's early arrival, but none of the men reveal their astonishment. Count Muffat decides to go to Nana's house that evening, and as he leaves the house, Georges follows him for a while and then takes a short cut. He jealously accuses Nana of planning an affair with the count, but she denies this and sends him upstairs to wait for her. When Count Muffat arrives, he is obsessed with Nana, but she tells him that Monsieur Steiner is there. When the banker appears, Count Muffat is forced to leave after some polite conversation. Pretending to be ill, Nana joins Georges in her bedroom. For a week, she is true to young Georges and feels as though she were once again a fifteen-year-old girl. Meanwhile, Count Muffat comes every evening and leaves in a highly agitated state. After a week, all of Nana's friends from Paris descend upon her for a visit. She makes plans for them to visit an old abbey and forces Georges to promise to accompany her. He is afraid that his mother will find out about their relationship but finally yields to Nana's insistence. Nana rents five carriages, and as they are on a small road, the entire procession meets Madame Hugon and her guests, who are out for a stroll. As they pass, Madame Hugon recognizes Georges sitting opposite Nana. Her great distress forces her to take Count Muffat's arms, and the count now realizes that the young boy is more important to Nana than he is. The excursion to the abbey proves to be long and tedious. The high point is that they pass by the famous chateau of a courtesan of the last century who now lives in regal grandeur. That evening, Georges is forced to remain at home, and Count Muffat goes to Nana's house, where he is led to her bedroom by a Labordette. Nana, deciding it is time to be practical, puts Georges out of her mind and coldly gives herself to Count Muffat. Commentary In Chapter 6, Zola juxtaposes scenes of the aristocrats with scenes of the courtesans. Previously, he had only shown how Nana's name intruded upon parties and receptions given by the Muffats. Now, in the same chapter, he presents an oblique encounter of the two factions, first by placing the action in Madame Hugon's house, then in Nana's house, and finally by having Nana's party cross the path of Madame Hugon's walking entourage. The opening scene in Madame Hugon's house carries several comic implications. Madame Hugon is so innocent and naive that she cannot understand why so many visitors are coming in September since that month is not the best time for a visit. She cannot possibly associate the fact with the impending arrival of Nana, who lives only a few miles away. In fact, in her innocence, she even mentions that Steiner has bought a house nearby for an actress, and she is shocked at this knowledge. She is one person in the novel who is not worldly and consequently is the person most pathetically destroyed by Nana's destructive
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www.cliffs.com actions, which cause the death of one Hugon son and the disgrace of the other. Each man who comes for a visit--Fauchery Daguenet Georges, Count Vandeuvres, and Count Muffat-comes because he knows that Nana is scheduled to arrive the next day, and each one has some secret desire to renew an acquaintance with Nana or to begin one with her. Consequently Nana's influence now spreads itself to almost every action in the novel. We even hear that the Count Muffat has twice delayed his visit, causing perplexity in the countess, but we soon learn that the count's whimsical behavior was caused by the fact that Nana kept altering her intended departure. Nana's corrupting influence is first seen in this chapter through the actions of young Georges Hugon. He lies to his mother for the first time and deceives her by pretending to have a severe headache. He then slips over to see Nana. Zola depicts Georges as a young and innocent boy who is afraid of being scolded by Nana. To blend with this general pastoral scene, he also depicts Nana as responding to her new house with all the enthusiasm of a child. Georges and Nana's actions together evoke much that is innocent and childlike, thereby lessening the corrupting aspect. For example, Nana dresses Georges in some of her clothes so that he looks like an innocent young girl. Together they seem supremely peaceful: "Nana was moved and felt like a child again." At first she resists Georges because she feels it is wrong to seduce one so young. Then "that woman's nightgown and negligee made her laugh again as though a girl friend were teasing her." Under this influence, she yields to young Georges. In this seduction scene, Zola has subtly introduced the innocent element, but also, in concentrating upon Georges dressed like a woman, he prepares the reader for the later lesbian activities which Nana practices. But at least, for the present moment, Nana can respond to a human emotion with warmth and sincerity. She refuses to sleep with Muffat and Steiner because she is enjoying the sensation of being true to young Georges. Zola, however, undercuts Nana's sincerity when he lets the reader know that she can't be true for longer than a week. This was the length of her fidelity to Georges. Looking forward in the novel, this is the only time that Nana has what might be called a wholesome relationship. While it is true that she will be faithful to Fontan for a longer time, that relationship is permeated with brutality and ugliness. This chapter also presents the beginning of the irony connected with the Daguenet-Nana-Muffat relationship. Daguenet had originally come for the visit thinking that he would renew his relationship with Nana, but when he discovers the amount of Estelle's dowry, he changes his strategy. He begins to seek ways of winning Estelle as a wife, and the final irony is that only when Nana intervenes will the engagement become definite. Count Muffat's path to degradation is further emphasized. This chapter presents a good picture of the repressed individual struggling and losing to the powers of sexuality. The fact that Nana cannot yield to him as he had expected only excites him more and more. He becomes almost animal in his moaning and tearing at his pillow. Even his close religious adviser, Monsieur Venot, cannot soothe his burning passion. No pious conversation can ease the burning desire he now feels for Nana. After Georges is forced to remain at home, the count has an open field, and Nana, deciding to be practical, accepts the count as her lover. The expedition taken by Nana and her friends turns out to be a dreadful failure. First, they pass the group from the Hugons', who ignore them except for the fact that Madame Hugon recognizes young Georges as a member of the party. Then the ride and walk are extremely tedious. The only interesting aspect is that they see the grand residence of an ex-courtesan of the last generation. Nana and the other females marvel at the "glorious idea of woman" which could accomplish such grandeur. However, this favorable picture is colored by the fact that they all know that they will never achieve such lasting success. Essentially, the outing proves that Nana and her friends can function only in houses and theaters. The simple outdoor life is dull and tedious.
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CHAPTER 7 Summary Three months later, Count Muffat is pacing in front of the Variety Theater hoping to see Nana. He has been living during this time "in such a whirl of sensual excitement that he had no very distinct impressions beyond the need to possess her." When she sends him a note saying that she is going to spend the night with little Louiset, who is ill, Muffat becomes suspicious and goes by her apartment. He discovers that she is at the theater. As Count Muffat waits, he is so plagued with fears and jealousy that he is no longer discreet about being seen haunting the sidewalks of the theater district. Finally Nana emerges alone from the theater and is surprised to see Muffat. She feels at first like a trapped woman but decides to play along with him. She asks him to take her for some oysters. At the restaurant, Count Muffat slips into a private room to avoid being seen, but Nana sees her old lover Daguenet, who tells her that he has decided to be practical and marry a woman with a large dowry. When Nana asks him about an article written about her by Fauchery, Daguenet is surprised that Nana is not angry. Before leaving, Daguenet tells Nana that Muffat is a cuckold. She learns that the Countess Sabine de Beuville is sleeping with Fauchery, who has just published an article about Nana. At first Nana is disgusted by the news, then she begins to feel sympathetic for Count Muffat. She takes him with her to her apartment but wants to get rid of him before midnight so that she can receive another visitor. At home, Nana undergoes a ritual before her mirror. She likes to take off her clothes and examine her nude body from every angle. When Muffat objects, she reminds him that her performance is only for herself. While admiring herself, she also caresses various parts of her body. To occupy Muffat's time, she gives him Fauchery's article, "The Golden Fly," written about her. The article is a story about a girl from the lowest sector of society who has grown into a superb physical specimen. She is using all the force of her sex to destroy the aristocracy: "Without wishing it, she had become a blind power of nature, a ferment of destruction corrupting and disorganizing Paris between her snow-white thighs." At the end of the article, Nana is compared to "a sun-colored fly which has flown up out of the dung, a fly which sucks death from the carrion left on the roadside, and then, buzzing, dancing, glittering like a precious stone, enters the windows of palaces and poisons men merely by settling on them in her flight." The article reminds Count Muffat how much Nana has corrupted his life and how he is tainted to the "core by filth which he could never even have suspected before." And as he watches Nana's disgusting exhibition of her nakedness, he cannot resist the mounting passion in himself. Nana questions him about his relations with his wife. She discovers that he was a virgin on the night that he married, and she forces him to reveal all the intimate details connected with his married life with the countess. Nana begins to tell the count stories about men who do not satisfy their wives and how the wives look elsewhere for satisfaction. For a long time, the count does not understand Nana, and when he begins to see the light, he is infuriated. Goaded on, Nana tells him that the countess is now in bed with Fauchery. Count Muffat tries to beat her but is unable to carry out his intent. He escapes as quickly as possible from Nana's apartment, and she tells Zoé to let in the other visitor. Count Muffat goes to the building where Fauchery lives. After watching for some time, he sees some shadows in Fauchery's apartment and thinks that one shadow resembles the Countess Sabine. He decides to stand vigilance the entire night, but after dawn, he wanders into a church, where he prays for strength. Leaving the church, his feet carry him automatically back to Nana's apartment She is astonished to see
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www.cliffs.com him and orders him to leave, but Count Muffat wants to go to bed with her immediately. As they are arguing, Steiner also arrives, bringing the thousand francs that Nana had told him to collect for her. She then reveals that she has a lover in her bed, Fontan the actor, and orders both men to leave. On arriving home, at about nine o'clock, Muffat notices that the Countess Sabine looks as though she had spent a sleepless night. Commentary After an interval of three months, Count Muffat is seen watching the exits of the theater. For the first time, he knows that Nana has been lying to him. To such a man as Count Muffat, who has always lived in a world of honesty, this spying is an indication of his degradation. Muffat is aware that Nana no longer responds to him in the same degree of playfulness. But now, for the first time, he is aware that Nana has a separate life. Until today, Count Muffat "had been living in such a whirl of sensual excitement that he had no very distinct impressions beyond the need to possess" Nana. He frantically watches every possible exit at the theater in order to stop her from keeping an assignation with someone else. Earlier, the count would never have allowed himself to be seen parading before the theater or becoming a man of the streets. Now, however, in his anxiety, he commits actions foreign to his nature. Realizing this, he becomes aware of just how much Nana has made him an object of humiliation and scorn. Nevertheless, Zola points out, the count cannot control these basic urges. This is the naturalist emphasizing the animal nature of humans. For the first time in the novel, Nana feels a sense of being trapped in a situation. Earlier, in her relations with Steiner, she could send him off to bed pleading sickness and then go to sleep with Georges. But with Count Muffat, she has entered upon a career where she must answer for her every action and where each moment is evaluated. She particularly resents Count Muffat because "he did not know how much a man ought to give a woman, so she could not hold his stinginess against him." Nana must, then, corrupt him completely before she can dominate him. Whereas Fauchery had originally written a favorable review of Nana's performance in The Blond Venus, now he writes a scathing attack upon her corrupting influence. The relations become complicated since the man who wrote the article is now sleeping with Count Muffat's wife, the Countess Sabine. Ironically Nana is pleased about the article because, being unable to interpret the subtleties, she can only note that it is a long article, that it is about her, and that it appeared in the leading journal. Daguenet, who tells Nana about the article, is not without some degree of duplicity. He has been one of Nana's lovers in the past and is now trying to win Count Muffat's daughter. Nana's reaction to Count Muffat's being made a cuckold by his wife indicates something of her values. She is constantly disgusted throughout the novel when she discovers that respectable people conduct themselves without discretion. Her saving grace is that she is a courtesan and is only doing her business. Further irony is that she always wants to be treated like a lady in spite of anything she does. While Nana is undergoing one of her nightly rituals in which she examines and admires her nude body and then caresses it, she gives Muffat the article to read. The combination of Nana's action and the content of the article is enough to force Muffat to attempt to evaluate his relationship with Nana and to try to recover some aspect of his own decency. The article makes it crystal clear that Nana is a destructive force corrupting everything she comes into contact with. The nature of the article leaves no doubt that Zola is here moralizing about the harm of abnormal sexuality and about the destructive effects that courtesans played in undermining the second empire. Count Muffat's reactions reemphasize how trapped he is by Nana's sexuality. He knows that "in three months she had corrupted his life, he already felt himself tainted to his very marrow by filth hitherto undreamed of. Everything inside him would soon be rotten. For an instant, he understood the effects of this evil, he saw the ruin caused by that ferment, he saw himself poisoned, his family destroyed, a
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www.cliffs.com segment of the social fabric cracking and collapsing." Yet there is some animal instinct in him which draws him down further and further into this corruption. In spite of the overt implications of the article and in spite of Nana's disgusting exhibitionism, Muffat cannot control himself and resorts to brutality as he seizes Nana. Again Zola is emphasizing the brutal or animal instinct which controls humanity's actions at the sacrifice of the higher values. Even though Muffat is able to understand the implications of the article while Nana cannot, the table reverses as Muffat cannot understand Nana's sly allusions to Countess Sabine's infidelity. She forces him to shed his last remnant of shame by relating the most intimate details of his marriage night with the countess; but when Nana begins to allude to women who seek pleasure elsewhere when their husbands will not give it to them, Muffat is very slow in understanding. Nana does not maliciously hurt the count; she is not capable of this type of culpability. Instead, she only wants to get rid of him so she can join her other lover waiting in the kitchen. This other lover is Fontan, to live with whom she will later give up everything. Also, Nana has come to believe that "high or low, women are all the same: not one of them has any morals." And we remember that when Nana first saw the Countess Sabine, she knew then that the countess was a woman who possessed a passionate nature. Muffat's complete collapse into the gutters is seen clearly in the closing pages of this chapter. As he haunts the streets starring at the window where he thinks his wife is having a love affair, his last vestiges of dignity are falling from him. He tries to evoke divine aid and to return to the safety of his previous religious life. In the church, he asks God to help him, but his heart apparently isn't in his plea because he soon finds himself being led automatically back toward Nana's apartment. Once back at Nana's, he can only beg to be allowed to go to bed with her. He is now so lost that he cannot even become angry when Nana insults him. His manliness and his resolution have deserted him, and he is reduced to the level of an animal. The chapter ends with Nana in bed with Fontan. Furthermore, Nana has reached a turning point in her career. She now rejects both Steiner and Muffat and decides to devote herself to love without recompense. This ends the first part of the history of Nana's career.
CHAPTER 8 Summary After throwing both Count Muffat and Steiner out, Nana takes up living with the actor Fontan. She sells as much as she can and slips away to elude all of her creditors. Fontan adds seven thousand francs to the ten thousand that Nana brings and they find an apartment which they will share together. Nana begins to feel that she is in a "rapture of love," and she delights in this new sacrifice she is making for a man whom she adores. After three weeks, she meets Francis, her former hairdresser, who tells her how much she is missed in the old neighborhood. She also learns that Count Muffat is now having an affair with Rose Mignon. Nana has a moment's regret but then remembers her "idyllic" life with Fontan and returns home to tell him with amusement about the news she has just heard. While attending the Italian Theater one evening, Fontan is charmed by a new actress in the troupe. Nana ridicules the actress and that night a quarrel ensues. After Nana complains about some cake crumbs in the bed and tries for the second time to get out, Fontan slaps her so hard that she feels dazed. At first Nana resents this brutality, but after a few minutes, she even respects him for treating her in such a manner.
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www.cliffs.com From this point on, however, their life together undergoes a drastic change; Fontan now slaps and beats her frequently. Sometimes, "he would force her against the wall and talk of strangling her," but this makes her love him more. When Fontan starts staying out more and more, Nana relieves her loneliness by renewing her association with Satin. She is never allowed to bring Satin to her place because Fontan has forbidden Nana to bring any prostitutes into the apartment. One day, Satin takes Nana to meet Madame Robert, a lady whom Nana considers respectable and discreet, but the lady is not at home. Nana offers to take Satin the following day to a restaurant she has heard about. The restaurant is filled with women who are looking for other women. Suddenly, Madame Robert appears, and while Nana is occupied observing something else, Satin leaves with this lady. Nana is disgusted at the idea of a respectable lady acting as Madame Robert did. That night, Fontan writes a letter to Georges for Nana. He has always amused himself by writing Nana's love letters, but that night, Nana does not respond correctly to his efforts and another argument begins. Fontan demands to see how much money there is left in their joint account. When he discovers that it is less than seven thousand, he decides to keep it all. Nana reminds him that she put ten thousand into the undertaking, but Fontan only beats her severely as a rejoinder. From that day onward, he gives her only three francs a day with which to buy groceries. Then, after a while, he even forgets to give her this paltry amount. Consequently, when Nana meets Madame Tricon one day by accident, she begins to accept side visits from customers. By this device, she is able to buy good meals for Fontan, and as a result of degrading herself to support him, she begins to love him even more. When she meets Satin again, Satin will not tolerate Nana's reproaches about living with Madame Robert. Satin "merely replied that if one did not like something, that was no reason for trying to make others become disgusted with it." After this meeting, Nana and Satin begin walking the streets picking up men at random. One day while looking for a customer, Nana is almost caught by the police. She then develops a great fear of being arrested. Then, one night when she comes home, she finds herself locked out of the apartment. Fontan threatens to strangle her if she does not go away. Going to Satin's house, she soon discovers that Satin has also been thrown out of her lodgings. The two women take a room in a cheap hotel, where Satin begins to kiss and soothe Nana, who gradually begins to respond to Satin's caresses. At two o'clock in the morning, the police raid the hotel, but Nana escapes by hiding on a grating outside the window. The next morning, she goes to her aunt, who welcomes her home and anticipates a better fortune for them all now that Nana has regained her senses. Commentary Chapter 8 presents a change and a climax in the career of Nana. She tries to discard her old life and accept the position of the humble and obedient housewife only to discover that she cannot hold a man on such terms. Her success lies in dominating a man. Fontan, who has a reputation of stinginess, offers to contribute half of his share of the expenses, but when Nana has spent her portion, he takes all of his back. He is the only man in the novel whom Nana does not dominate, and the irony is that he is the only person whom Nana wants to accept as equal. It is furthermore ironic that Nana with her beautiful body should choose a man who is as grotesque as is Fontan and that she allows herself to be treated more brutally than she treats her own victims. This experience will solidify Nana's views that all men are dreadful and deserve any treatment that they get from the hands of a woman. This chapter also presents Nana's initial introduction in the world of lesbianism. As Fontan beats her
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www.cliffs.com brutally and refuses to have anything to do with her, she begins to seek some type of consolation elsewhere. The irony here is that Nana is determined to be faithful to Fontan in spite of his brutality. Her associations, therefore, with Satin become a type of outlet from the beatings. At first Nana is horrified by the idea of lesbianism and--consistent with her earlier views--is disgusted with respectable people who debauch themselves. Satin justifies herself simply by saying "that there was no use arguing about tastes, because you never know what you might like some day." And later Satin remarks: "If one did not like something, that was no reason for trying to make others become disgusted with it." At this point, Nana cannot afford to argue about this statement because she is now being beaten by a man, and she continues to live with him and apparently enjoys the beating to a certain degree. At the beginning of the chapter, Nana has hoped to be completely true to Fontan. Ironically, however, as he beats her and refuses to give her money, she must stoop to streetwalking and assignations with Madame Tricon in order to pay for Fontan's food. The perverseness of her nature is further illustrated by the fact that as she sells herself to anyone in the streets so as to support Fontan, whom she loves more and more. The end of this chapter parallels the ending of the preceding chapter in that earlier Nana had impetuously thrown Muffat and Steiner out of her apartment, and she now finds herself thrown out of her apartment because Fontan is sleeping with another actress. This final act against Nana causes her to throw herself into the arms of Satin. Nana then experiences her first lesbian relationship. Chapter 8, therefore, is filled with every type of corruption. Zola shows the sadism involved in Fontan's beating Nana; he depicts the fear of police and the anguish faced by women who must walk the streets looking for paying customers, and finally, he introduces the readers to all types of lesbian gathering places and shows Nana being converted to lesbian love. The chapter ends with Nana at the nadir of her career, afraid of the police, without a place to live, and having to start life over again.
CHAPTER 9 Summary The Variety Theater is now rehearsing The Little Duchess, a new play written by Fauchery, but the rehearsals are going exceptionally badly. Nana is in one of the boxes watching the play before accepting the role of the prostitute which has been offered to her. Rose Mignon is playing the part of a grand duchess even though her husband has informed the troupe that she has been offered a much better part at another theater at twice the salary that she is presently receiving. After watching the play for a few minutes, Nana turns to her companion, Labordette, and asks him when Count Muffat will come. She is assured that the count will soon appear. Nana continues watching the confusion and the arguments resulting from the early stages of rehearsal. When they finally spot Count Muffat arriving, Labordette sends Nana upstairs and promises to deliver the count to her shortly. On her way, she is accosted by Bordenave, who tries to get her to sign for the part of the prostitute. Nana delays answering for the present moment. In a few minutes, Count Muffat appears in the small dressing room where Nana is waiting. He is so emotionally distraught over seeing Nana again that he can hardly breathe or speak. Nana tells him that all is forgiven and she is willing to be friends with him again. He tells her that he wants to take her back again as his mistress and promises to give her all the things that she wants. When Nana refuses, he tells her all the things that he will offer her if she will only promise to be his alone. Nana, however, tells him that he can't give her the thing that she wants most. She then explains that she wants to play the role of the duchess and be known as a respectable woman. She demonstrates how well she can act the part of a refined lady. Count Muffat tells her he will give her anything but that, whereupon Nana accuses him of being afraid of Rose Mignon. She suggests that Fauchery owes it to the count to give in to his wishes, but
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www.cliffs.com she is afraid to mention directly the relationship between Fauchery and the Countess Sabine. Instead of arguing with him, she takes him in her arms, kisses him passionately, and then sends him to secure the role for her. As he is leaving, she makes him confirm his offer to buy her a house, diamonds, and carriages. Count Muffat seeks out Bordenave and tells him of Nana's request. At first Bordenave thinks it is ridiculous, but quickly summing up the situation, he agrees, knowing that Muffat will pay huge sums in support of the theater in order to get his way with Nana. At first, Fauchery will not even listen to the proposition, but after some cajoling on the part of Bordenave and, more important, some desperate pleading on the part of the count, Fauchery agrees to have Nana play the role of the duchess. Monsieur Mignon refuses to allow his wife Rose to be dropped from the role but finally consents by suggesting she be paid ten thousand francs for releasing the part. Muffat agrees to pay that sum. When Rose discovers what has transpired, she threatens revenge. On opening night, she sits in one of the boxes and screeches with laughter every time Nana appears. The play "was a great disaster for Nana. She was atrociously bad in it." Afterward, however, she swears to get even with everyone who laughed at her. She maintains she will show all of Paris "what a great lady is like." Commentary At the end of Chapter 8, Nana was at the low point of her career. With the beginning of Chapter 9, she begins her rise, and from here to the end of the novel, we watch Nana's emergence as a strong destructive character instrumental in the slow and final degeneration of Count Muffat. As in the opening chapter where Nana gained her first reputation in the theater, so does her second rise to fame now begin in the theater. The opening of this chapter is also another one of Zola's famous crowd scenes where many people are seen reacting against one another. The interrelationships of the characters in this scene almost reach the point of incredibility. Nana has always wanted to be respected and thought of as a great lady. She resents the fact that she must always be cast as the loose woman. Therefore, when she sees that Fauchery's play has the part of a grand lady in it, she wants to play that part even though everyone wants her to play the part of the prostitute. Fauchery, furthermore, has already written a bitter satire against Nana previously published as "The Golden Fly," and he has also been Countess Sabine's lover. His relationships with both Nana and with the countess therefore reflect themselves in the characterizations in the play he has written. Nana knows that she can only get the part by forcing Muffat to deal with Fauchery and by buying off the owner of the theater, Bordenave. Nana uses her sexuality to get Count Muffat to plead with Fauchery to allow her to have this particular part. Since Fauchery is now the lover of Count Muffat's wife, he finds that he cannot refuse the count's pleading request. Consequently, Zola loads the scene in a manner that is almost unbelievable. Count Muffat's actions in this chapter indicate how much he is still in Nana's power and how much he is willing to degrade himself in order to pacify and possess her once again. Zola writes that "forces still at work within him and Nana conquered him again . . . by the weaknesses of his flesh." Descriptions such as these reemphasize Zola's inherent naturalistic view of humanity as unable to control those animal instincts working toward its destruction. Other descriptions suggest these animal instincts as Count Muffat falls to his knees in the dirty dressing room so as to "lay his face between her knees." When Nana makes her request, Count Muffat knows immediately that he will have to make overtures to his wife's lover, and he pleads with Nana: "I'll do anything you want, except that." But Nana is unrelenting and decides that argument is not as good a weapon as is her sexuality. She then begins to fondle Count Muffat and sends him to fulfill her request. The extent of Muffat's degradation is seen in the manner in which he must beg his wife's lover for a favor
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www.cliffs.com for his mistress. He prances before Fauchery trying to demonstrate how well Nana can play the part of a grand lady, and in doing so loses his last remnants of dignity. To beg from Fauchery is the most degrading act he has yet performed. The change that is made makes Rose Mignon hate Nana more than ever. She promises to get even with her. Yet as Rose makes these violent threats, the reader should remember that she is the one who will look after the dying Nana. The play was a dreadful failure because too many outside forces were conflicting with the artistic function of the drama. When the private lives of the actresses, the writer, and the various lovers and mistresses intervene with the production, it is doomed to failure from the very beginning.
CHAPTER 10 Summary Whereas Nana was unable to play the role of a grand lady on the stage, she is "able to assume the role of an enchantress without effort." The house that Count Muffat bought her becomes, in Nana's hands, a show place filled with elegance and taste. She relies upon Labordette to help her hire the necessary personnel to look after the mansion, but by the end of the second month, the expenses for the house exceed three hundred thousand francs; therefore Count Muffat allots her twelve thousand a month for expenses. By this time, Nana has placed him on a firm understanding that he is to come visit her only at prescribed times. Nana finally convinces Count Muffat that she will be faithful to him but then immediately decides to allow Count Xavier de Vandeuvres to become her lover. By this arrangement, Nana is able to pick up an extra nine or ten thousand francs a month. One morning while Muffat is still in the bedroom, Georges Hugon shows up unexpectedly. Nana, however, has lost all interest in him and views him only as an amusing friend. Georges comes to see Nana every day and talks constantly of his older brother, Lieutenant Philippe Hugon, whom he thinks his mother will send to rescue him from Nana's clutches. After some time, the older brother does appear; Nana sends word to have him wait a quarter of an hour before being shown into her presence. After a short visit, everything is settled satisfactorily. In the future, the older brother is to become a regular member of Nana's circle. In spite of all her luxury, Nana soon becomes bored. Nothing seems to divert her from her idle and useless existence. Then one day as she is riding along one of the boulevards, she sees Satin, whom she picks up and takes back to her elegant house. They soon resume the little dalliance which had previously been interrupted by the police. But on the fourth day, Satin disappears and Nana goes to a restaurant looking for her. She finds Satin in the company of Madame Robert but is able to coax her into leaving. When Count Muffat learns about the nature of Nana's relations with Satin, he is at first disgusted and shocked. Nana refuses to see anything wrong with her behavior and tells the count he can leave if he doesn't approve. The count has to accept these vagaries also. One night when Nana is dining at the same questionable restaurant, her old lover, Daguenet, appears. They settle their previous quarrel, and Nana promises to help him become engaged to Muffat's daughter. As a reward, she wants Daguenet to spend his wedding night in bed with her. In order to buy Nana an expensive present and to pay some back bills, Count Muffat has to borrow money
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www.cliffs.com because he is afraid of selling one of his estates. Before he can give the present to Nana, she has some friends in for dinner and begins discussing her past life when she was a small child. She delights in mentioning all types of degrading experiences and challenges her guests to leave if they don't like what she is saying. Everyone, however, was willing to "accept anything she wanted." When the men begin to tease Satin about her relations with Nana, she forces Nana to make the men leave so that they can enjoy tonight together alone. After the men leave, Nana looks about her and realizes that the power of her sex has brought her many riches. She joyously throws off her clothes in order to join Satin. Commentary Nana's failure as a grand lady on the stage is countered by her complete success as a lady of fashion off the stage: "And the marvel was that this great creature, so awkward on the stage, so absurd in the role of a virtuous woman, was able to assume the role of an enchantress without effort." Thus, the fact that the entire society now knows Nana and a large segment of that society emulates Nana's dress, her hats, and her actions indicates the level to which it has been corrupted by Nana. The first few pages of this chapter recall another of the naturalist's technique in writing. To make the novel have as much verisimilitude as possible, the naturalistic writer often overloads his pages with voluminous amounts of description. To prove how influential Nana has become, Zola offers pages of description of her house, clothes, servants, and so forth, until it becomes somewhat tedious. The bargain she makes with Muffat indicates how sophisticated Nana has become. She will become Muffat's mistress and will allow him definite privileges, but in return, he must abide by certain rules and come only at specified times. This bargain is reminiscent of "proviso scenes" in Restoration dramas where characters made stipulations before accepting each other. But by this time, it should be obvious to both the reader and Count Muffat that Nana will be unable to keep her part of the bargain. She is incapable of being faithful to any man. Consequently, she is in the house only a short time before she allows Count Vandeuvres to become her lover also. Her justification is that she wants to prove to herself that she is entirely free. From this chapter to the end of the novel, Zola begins to load each chapter with animal imagery. Nana begins to swallow and devour Count Vandeuvres' last farms, and he has a "frenzied appetite" for ruin. He later says to Nana that if he does not win money from the great race for the Prix de Paris, he will lock himself up with his horses and set fire to himself and his horses. When young Georges comes back on the scene, his mother sends the older son, Philippe, to rescue him, but as could be expected, Philippe is also entrapped by Nana's charms. Of all the people who are ruined during the course of the novel, Zola seems to sympathize only with the Hugon family. Here is the basically good and innocent family being devoured by a force which they cannot comprehend. As for Nana, the more she receives, the more she needs. Her desires are insatiable: "In the midst of all that luxury, surrounded by that court, Nana was bored to tears." She begins then to dip into all types of corruption so as to alleviate that sense of complete boredom and futility. Zola is now arranging his material so as to allow the reader to see the aridity of a life such as Nana's. In order to emphasize her corruption, he describes the sickness in the young son who has inherited the inner corruption of his mother. While Nana is physically a magnificent specimen, her son is physically incapable of coping with life. Nana's corruption is emphasized by her relationship with Satin, who "becomes her vice." She learns to enjoy lesbianism. Previously, Nana had been disgusted by grand ladies who came to cheap restaurants to
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www.cliffs.com pick up other women, but now Nana, dressed as the lady of fashion, haunts the cheap lesbian restaurants in search of Satin. She has no qualms now about degrading herself by openly vying for Satin's affection with other women, particularly Madame Robert. Thus Nana finds herself in the position she has placed her men. Whereas she had whimsically left one man to pick up another, now Satin whimsically leaves Nana to pick up another woman in the streets. Nana does not only degrade herself by this relationship but pulls down others with her. Count Muffat must accept lesbianism as unimportant and even learns to welcome Satin as an ally so that Nana will not be picking up other men. Others, like Count Vandeuvres, Georges, and Philippe, learn to accept Satin as a member of the household. The two women delight in being vulgar when "there were men present, as though they were yielding to an urge to impose on them the dunghill from which they had sprung." Nana, therefore, unconsciously is becoming the "Golden Fly" who willfully destroys and corrupts everything she comes into contact with.
CHAPTER 11 Summary On the Sunday of the famous race for the Grand Prix de Paris, Nana is as excited about the event as if her entire fortune depended upon it. The most talked about horse in the race is a filly owned by Count Xavier de Vandeuvres, which he names "Nana." To conform with the mood of the day, Nana is wearing the same colors as those of the Vandeuvres stables, which will be the same colors worn by the filly Nana. On the way to the race, Nana explains to her companions that Count Muffat has been sulking for two days. Out of boredom, Nana picked up a man on the street and later Count Muffat found the man's hat in Nana's room. But today, Nana is not going to let anything interfere with her pleasure. She also tells how a man named Monsieur Venot came to see her to plead with her to give up Count Muffat. At the race track, Nana is excited to find out that her namesake has fifty to one odds against her. Nana decides that "she," that is, her namesake, is not worth very much. She gaily tells her friends: "Bet on any horse you like . . . except Nana--she's a nag." Nana then asks advice of everyone before she decides to bet any money. She gives a thousand francs to Labordette, who will choose a horse for her. He refuses to tell her which horse he will place her money on. All the men in the group are betting on various horses, but when la Faloise decides to bet twenty francs on Nana for fun, the other gentlemen follow suit and place small bets on Nana. Soon, the odds drop to forty to one. As the crowd begins to gather, Nana sees Count Muffat, who is in service to the empress. Rose Mignon and many other of Nana's friends arrive. Monsieur Mignon comes to try to persuade Nana to make up with Rose, who is still furious because Nana took her part in The Little Duchess. He tells Nana that Rose has a letter which the Countess Sabine once wrote to Fauchery, and she plans to use the letter to get even with Nana. Nana, however, is not concerned with Rose but is more puzzled about why the odds are dropping on the filly Nana; suddenly they are only fifteen to one. When Count Vandeuvres comes and takes Nana inside the enclosure, where loose women are not allowed, she feels proud and aristocratic. She questions him about why the odds are dropping but is told abruptly to mind her own business. Nana is not offended with his rudeness because she and everyone know that Count Vandeuvres is playing "his last card that day." Everyone also knows that Nana is the "voracious woman" who is finishing him off. The race begins and the favored horses take the lead, but Nana is never far behind. By the first turn, there are only four horses still in the contest and Nana is one of them. At the finish of the race, there are only
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www.cliffs.com two horses and finally Nana wins by a head. Since the other horse was English, the entire crowd is ecstatic that the French horse won, and Nana's name reverberates throughout the grandstand. Even the empress applauds. "Standing up straight on the seat of her landau, Nana felt as though it were she who was being acclaimed." Labordette returns and tells her he had bet her money on Nana; consequently, she has won forty thousand francs. Immediately after the race, there ensue some quarrels in the stables. Vandeuvres had been preparing for Nana to win for years by holding her back in other races and then secretly manipulating bets in such a way as to win a fortune. But he is trapped in his own net of intrigue, and carrying out an earlier promise, he locks himself and his horses in the stable and sets fire to everything. That night in Paris, Nana is celebrated everywhere she goes. Two days later, Nana maintains that Count Vandeuvres ended his life in real style. She is disappointed when she hears a rumor that the count escaped out a back window. The burning was such a beautiful idea. Commentary Chapter 11 presents another of the crowd scenes where there is no chance for a close or intimate view. But not since the opening chapters in the theater has Zola presented the mass reaction in so effective a manner as he does here during the racing scenes. The entire chapter captures the madness and frenzy of a society whose values are disrupted by attention to pleasure. Nana is at her height as she arrives in her elegance at the race track. The chapter brings together almost all of the personages in the novel from the procuress Tricon, who bets on the filly Nana, to the various lovers and actresses who refuse to bet on Nana, to the royalty, which includes the empress and the prince from England, both attended by Count Muffat. The use of the name Nana to apply to both the main character and the horse in the race provides Zola with ample ironies. From the humorous side, Nana delights in referring to the horse as "Nana, the nag." But more important are the various uses of the animal imagery to imply the destruction of Count Vandeuvres and to clarify varying opinions about Nana the courtesan. Count Vandeuvres ends his life because of some shady transactions made in connection with the filly Nana, leaving Nana the courtesan as an equal partner in his destruction. Since the race has developed into a race between an English horse and a French horse, Nana the filly becomes the apotheosis for the French Second Empire. As the contest is reduced to a two-horse race between the English horse and Nana, the crowd becomes frenzied in shouting for "Nana, the Nag; Nana the slut" to win. Nana represents the pleasure-seeking second empire, and the juxtaposition of horse and courtesan sums up the values which dominated this society. Even after the race, Nana the courtesan is toasted and cheered. Even Nana begins to associate herself with the nag and feels that the crowd is indeed cheering her. Perhaps nowhere in Zola's many novels does he capture so completely the spirit of an age and the mass excitement engendered by dualistic motives.
CHAPTER 12 Summary After three days of sulking, Count Muffat returns to Nana and finds her troubled about religious matters. She tells him openly that she is afraid to die because she knows what happens to "unmarried women who had anything to do with men" and also because dead people are so ugly. These discussions renew Count
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www.cliffs.com Muffat's religious fears. Consequently, he and Nana spend some time comforting each other.
Two days later, Count Muffat arrives and discovers that Nana is terribly sick because she has had a miscarriage. Zoé found her the day before in a pool of blood and Nana has been confined since then. When Nana sees Count Muffat, she smiles and pretends that she wanted the child because it was Muffat's. Actually, she has no idea who the father was. She queries Muffat about why he came and soon discovers that he is deeply troubled. Suddenly Nana realizes that Rose has sent the letter and that Count Muffat now knows all about his wife's infidelities. At first Count Muffat declares that he is going to challenge Fauchery to a duel, but Nana points out the disgrace connected with such an act. After pacifying him somewhat, she finally tells him that he is mainly bothered by the fact that he is deceiving his wife in the same way that she deceived him. She tells him: "That's why you're stamping about here in my bedroom instead of killing both of them." She also points out that if he makes a scene, she would become the subject of many derogatory remarks throughout Paris. She advises him to make up with his wife and only continue to see her at intervals. Count Muffat later admits that he is also troubled by financial matters. A note he signed is being passed around for collection, and he dares not sell any of his property because the transaction would require his wife's signature. Meanwhile, Countess Sabine wants her daughter's marriage contracts signed as soon as possible so that she can give a party celebrating it and at the same time show off how she has had her house newly decorated. At the party, all of the old guard are shocked at how radically Countess Sabine has altered the old family mansion. Most of the ladies present also think Estelle de Beuville could have made a better match than Daguenet. Then other gossip occupies the ladies' attention. La Faloise arrives and begins talking to Steiner, Foucarmont, and others. He suddenly proclaims that Nana has arrived; the group of men look surprised before they realize that la Faloise is trying to be witty. He then ends by asserting that it really was Nana who arranged the wedding. When Fauchery arrives, la Faloise attempts another joke by wondering aloud if the countess has good thighs. Fauchery is visibly disturbed by this allusion even though he calls la Faloise an idiot. As the gay waltz from The Blond Venus is playing, Fauchery goes to pay his respects to the count and the countess. Many eyes in the audience are upon Fauchery when he approaches his hosts, but nothing out of the ordinary occurs. After the church wedding, the count enters the countess' bedroom for the first time in two years. He suggests selling some of their mutual property. Since the countess also has great need of money, she readily agrees. At two o'clock in the afternoon, Daguenet appears in Nana's bedroom. Since she has forgotten the bargain she made with him, he has to remind her that he is there to give her his "innocence" on his wedding day. Commentary Nana's basic sexuality is again emphasized by the opening sentence of this chapter, which describes Nana in bed with Count Muffat. Nana suddenly expresses her fear of God and her fear of death, which begins to prepare the reader for her actual death in the final chapter. Nana's fear that "people are ugly when they're dead" also prepares us for the awesome ugliness of Nana's own death. As Count Muffat sinks deeper and deeper into the gutters of Nana's filth, he tries more and more to recall
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www.cliffs.com his previous religious training. When he receives the letter which his wife had written to her lover, he realizes the depth of his own degradation. Nana's one (and perhaps only) intuitive comment comes when she tells the count: "It's that you're deceiving your wife, too. You don't sleep away from home for nothing. . . . She's only following your example. . . . That's why you're stamping about in my bedroom instead of killing both of them." Finally, Nana is able to make a dent in Count Muffat's immense wealth. He now finds himself in financial troubles, but Nana is unsympathetic and unrelenting in her demands for more money. Equally important is the fact that the Countess Sabine, in learning the pleasures of adultery, has also learned from Nana the pleasures of being needlessly extravagant. In the first part of the book, the countess had been adamant about not changing the ancestral mansion. Now that she is becoming as corrupt as Nana, she is also becoming as capricious and demands that the entire mansion be redecorated. Thus, Nana's influence even extends so far as to affect the countess' personal behavior. In earlier chapters, Nana had quietly obtruded upon the parties given by the aristocracy. In this chapter, her intrusion is more blatantly felt. The waltz from The Blond Venus has become the theme song of the aristocracy. Nana is openly discussed by the aristocratic ladies and analogies are made connecting the countess' caprices with Nana's. There are even jokes made by the men concerning the manner in which Nana has arranged the marriage between Daguenet and Estelle. The final change is ironically underscored when Fauchery enters to the tune from The Blond Venus and calmly greets his mistress and her husband. After the party, when the count mentions the need to sell some joint property, the countess, who is now corrupted, readily agrees because her love affairs are proving to be expensive also. The comic ending of the chapter underscores the corruption of the entire society as Daguenet comes to sleep with Nana on his wedding day.
CHAPTER 13 Summary One day Count Muffat drops in unexpectedly on Nana and finds young Georges Hugon in her arms. She is annoyed at having been found out and promptly admits her error, promising never to deceive again. But the count's illusion has been broken and he "no longer believed in her sworn fidelity." During this time, Nana "flared upon Paris with redoubled splendor." She dominates the city, which copies her hats, her dresses, and her entire style of living. But nothing could remain in Nana's hands without becoming spoiled: "Her path was strewn with nameless debris, twisted shreds, and muddy rags." Even Nana is amazed at the amount of money she spends; although men pile gold upon her, they can never fill the "hole that grew deeper and deeper beneath her house." With nothing else to do, Nana decides to order the grandest bed that has ever been constructed. It is to be "a throne, an altar, to which all Paris would come to adore her sovereign nudity." The bed will cost over fifty thousand francs and Count Muffat is to pay for it. But even while she is ordering the bed, Nana cannot understand why she does not have a hundred francs to pay the butcher or the baker. She constantly asks Philippe Hugon to bring her small sums. When she announces her name day, Philippe brings her an expensive present, which she breaks through carelessness. At first he is crushed by her indifference, but finally he also begins to laugh about the triviality of money. At the end of the evening, she asks him to bring her two hundred francs, and he promises to try. Suddenly he asks her to marry him, but Nana only laughs at him. Georges Hugon has heard the entire conversation from outside the door and flees to his room at home in a
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www.cliffs.com fit of terrible anguish and jealousy. He decides he has to die or kill his brother. The same day, Madame Hugon learns that Philippe has been accused of embezzling twelve thousand francs of his regiment's funds. Thinking that she has lost her oldest son, she feels that she still has her youngest, and without thinking what she is doing, she dresses and heads for Nana's apartment to rescue Georges. Meanwhile, Nana has been annoyed the entire day with creditors. Even though she has bought Satin a new twelve-hundred-franc dress, she does not have enough money for the baker and butcher. But when the designer and Labordette tell her that her bed could be made more magnificent by a nude figure costing six thousand francs, Nana immediately agrees to this change, knowing that Count Muffat will pay for it. As her creditors begin to pester her, Nana prepares to go out to find Madame Tricon in order to earn five hundred francs. As she is leaving, she meets Georges and asks him if Philippe sent her the money she asked for. He tells her "no" and then asks her to marry him. Suddenly she realizes that the two brothers are mad and she explains to Georges that she is about to go out to another man in order to earn five hundred francs. She leaves him briefly, and when she returns he again begs her to marry him. When she refuses, he stabs himself twice with her scissors. Just as he falls to the floor, Madame Hugon enters the room. Nana tries to justify herself by saying that if Philippe were there he could explain it all, and Madame Hugon has to reveal that Philippe is in jail. She insists upon having Georges removed even at the risk of his life. Count Muffat finds Nana distraught by the proliferation of catastrophe. She sends him to find out how Georges is faring, and later he reports that Georges will probably live. In spite of the near tragedy, Count Muffat is secretly glad to be rid of a youthful rival. Gradually the relations between the count and Nana become more and more strained. She no longer conceals the fact that she takes other people to bed with her. The count will have to accept this fact or get out. When he fails to give her enough money, she reminds him that with his looks he has to pay heavily to get a girl to go to bed with him, and she demands that he secure some money for her immediately. Nothing, however, satisfies Nana. In her boredom, she returns to picking up strange men from the street simply to amuse herself. Wild parties are held in her house, and Count Muffat pretends to be ignorant of Nana's promiscuity. The house falls into a state of general confusion and soon servants are being fired and replaced by new ones, who are soon fired. Each servant begins to take advantage of the chaos and steals wildly from Nana. One night a music hall baritone with whom Nana has become infatuated leaves her. She tries to commit suicide in a fit of gloomy sentimentality. She becomes horribly sick, but nothing else happens. By this time, Count Muffat welcomes the relations between Nana and Satin because at least when she is sleeping with Satin, she will not be sleeping with some strange man. But Nana soon begins deceiving Satin in the same way she deceives the count. She even goes to "infamous houses," where she "witnesses spectacles of debauchery that relieved her boredom." Gradually Nana begins to devour all the men with whom she comes in contact: "A ruined man fell from her hands like a ripe fruit, to rot on the ground. . . . She devoured everything like a great fire: the thefts of speculation and the earnings of labor. This time she finished Steiner; she brought him to the ground." Then she turns to la Faloise, who has to sell his farms one by one to satisfy Nana's passion: "Nana devoured an acre with each mouthful." She then ruins Fauchery by making him liquidate a newspaper he had begun to publish.
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www.cliffs.com Through it all, Count Muffat still retains his passion for Nana, who now has "an instinctive urge to debase everything." One night she makes him get down on all fours and pretend to be a bear. At first it is just a game, but soon the game turns into bestiality as Nana begins to treat him like an animal, "beating him and kicking him around the room." The count even liked "his baseness, he savored the enjoyment of being a beast. He longed to descend still lower." Nana then has him bring his distinguished chamberlain's uniform, which she has him utterly debase by all types of obscene actions. Nana's bed does not arrive until the middle of January. It is "a throne broad enough to enable Nana to spread out the royalty of her naked limbs, an altar of Byzantine richness, worthy of the omnipotence of her sex, which she was now displaying in the religious immodesty of an idol held in awe by all men." One day Count Muffat arrives unexpectedly; he goes into the bedroom and is shocked to find his father-in-law, the old Marquis de Chouard, in bed with Nana. This last night of love has left the marquis totally senile, and he never regains his sanity. Count Muffat is horrified beyond all measure. As he falls babbling to himself and calling on God to save him, Monsieur Venot arrives and takes the count away. After Muffat learns that the Countess Sabine has run off with some clerk, his collapse is so complete that he is totally in Monsieur Venot's care. Shortly after the breakup with the count, Nana discovers that Zoé is leaving her, that Satin is dying in a hospital, and that Georges is already dead. She dresses to go to the hospital to visit Satin, maintaining that all men are dirty and responsible for anything that happens to them. Commentary As indicated by the profusion of detail, Zola is now loading his final chapters with as much material as possible. One devastating event follows another with amazing rapidity. In general, Zola shows Nana reaching the heights of her own particular world and then shows it rapidly crumbling about her even though she shows no concern about it For the first time, Count Muffat discovers someone else in Nana's arms. He had known previously that she was not faithful to him, but earlier he had simply closed his eyes to her infidelities. Now as he catches Georges Hugon in Nana's arms, he is torn with jealousy. His hurt will later cause him to be secretly relieved when young Georges stabs himself, thus removing a rival. At last, however, Count Muffat knows definitely that Nana can never be trusted. As Zola points out, "nothing remained in her hands, everything broke, withered, or became soiled between her little white fingers. Her path was strewn with nameless wreckage, twisted shreds, and muddy rags." At this time, Nana orders a luxurious bed which symbolizes all of her own sexuality. It was to be "a throne, an altar, to which all Paris would come to worship her sovereign nakedness." The bed and the sexuality still occupy the foremost attention in Nana's mind. However, even though Zola the naturalist presents the above image as a part of Nana's desires, a closer reading will easily show that it is Zola the moralist making the statement about Nana's corrupting influence. The motif established earlier in the novel showing that Nana was constantly without small sums of money is still emphasized. Perhaps by now the idea begins to lose some of its credibility. That is, in view of the fact that Zola represents Nana as receiving hundreds of thousands of francs in gifts and also many valuable diamonds, it does not seem entirely convincing that she cannot sell a diamond or locate a few hundred francs. The idea, however, is that everything around Nana is beginning to fall into chaos. Her servants are stealing from her, her creditors are in league with the servants in cheating Nana, and in general, there is no order about the house. Even the small gift which Philippe could not afford yet bought anyway is carelessly and senselessly broken by Nana. She can attach no value to any thing, person, or object.
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www.cliffs.com Consequently, in the midst of untold luxury, she goes out to keep an appointment with one of Madame Tricon's customers. This act on Nana's part brings about part of the destruction of the Hugon family. She has drained Philippe until he has now been arrested for stealing army funds. Georges, having discovered Nana's intention to see a customer, stabs himself. At the same time, Madame Hugon arrives to take her son away. The objective reader might say that these circumstances do not comply with Zola's pronounced scientific realism, but Zola maintained that the artist has the right to step out of the role of observer to manipulate his characters at certain times. After the Hugon catastrophe, Nana begins to feel the extreme boredom of her life. She picks up men from the street, and not satisfied with this, she entices young sluts home with her. She even debauches herself in houses of infamy. But she seems to take the most pleasure out of totally destroying and debasing Count Muffat: "She had an instinctive urge to debase everything. It was not enough for her to destroy things, she also dirtied them." She forces Count Muffat to go naked about the house and to crawl on his knees like an animal while "she treated him like an animal, beating him and kicking him around the room." She even forces him to bring his chamberlain's costume and then in her presence to defile it: "It was her revenge, the unconscious family rancor bequeathed to her with her blood." Her thirst for bestiality and devourment cannot be satiated. The final part of Chapter 13 also shows Count Muffat's complete reversion to the bestial instincts which lay dormant in his makeup. He even learns to enjoy his own debasement and to look forward to the moments of bestiality: "He liked his baseness, he savored the enjoyment of being a beast. He longed to descend still lower." Zola is here emphasizing that Muffat and Nana's relationship can exist on no other plane than that of vulgar bestial sexuality. His desire to possess Nana is so strong that he is most anxious to discard all remnants of civilized behavior in order to cope with Nana's animal behavior. This total degradation is seen in his willingness to defile his chamberlain's uniform. Muffat can only break away from the animal when he discovers Nana in bed with the Marquis de Chouard. He has known for some time that she slept with other men, and he accepted this fact in the abstract. But to discover her in bed in such a degrading manner with his own father-in-law leaves Muffat totally defeated. He returns to his earlier solace and calls on God. He allows himself to be carried away like a child by his old friend, Monsieur Venot. The animal imagery in this final chapter dominates almost everything else. As Nana takes on man after man and destroys them, Zola presents her as an animal devouring men as would some large predatory beast: "A ruined man fell from her hands like a ripe fruit, to rot on the ground." She can "devour" a farm with each mouthful: "She consumed everything like a great fire." The men who fall because of her sexuality come from every part of society, and the money spent on her reaches untold sums. Finally, her influence affects the Countess Sabine, who begins to act the part of the slut. Nana's "work of ruin and death was accomplished."
CHAPTER 14 Summary Nana suddenly disappears. After being seen in another of Bordenave's productions, she leaves without notifying anyone of her intentions. At a public auction, her house and furniture brought her over six hundred thousand francs. Various rumors circulate as to Nana's whereabouts, but no one can say for certain. In July, Lucy Stewart discovers that Nana is in a hotel dying of smallpox and is being attended by Rose Mignon.
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Nana had returned from Russia and discovered that her child, Louiset, was dying of smallpox. She apparently caught the disease from her son while nursing him. Two days after Louiset's death, Nana came down with the disease. At the hotel where Rose has Nana taken, various old acquaintances congregate to talk about Nana. The men remain below, frightened of the disease; even Count Muffat remains below, sending messages to inquire about Nana's progress. The women acquaintances, however, seem to have no inordinate fear of smallpox and join Rose even though by now Nana is already dead. As the various friends discuss Nana's life and fortunes, they also comment upon the men who are gathered below. They are interrupted by the cries of people marching in the streets shouting patriotic slogans. The government has just declared war on Prussia, and Count Bismarck's name is mentioned by several of the assembled ladies. Before Rose leaves, she places a candle by Nana's body. It illuminates Nana's face in such a way that the women see the horrors caused by the smallpox. Now Nana is "only a piece of carrion, a mass of pus and blood, a shovelful of putrid flesh. . . . It was as though the virus she had brought from the gutter, from the decaying carcasses left in the street, that ferment with which she had poisoned a whole people, had risen to her face and rotted it." Outside, the people are still crying out for France to march on Berlin. Commentary The final chapter of the novel offers again an indirect view of Nana as we hear of the rumors about her in foreign lands and then the reports of her terrible death agony. The weak and diseased body of her son succumbs to smallpox, and in nursing him, she contacts the disease. All throughout the novel, Zola has obliquely suggested that Nana's inner corruption is reflected in Louis' physical condition. His death ends then a part of Nana's corruption. Since young Louis dies of smallpox, it is only natural that Nana die of the same disease. Zola apparently thought it would be poetic justice for Nana to die of a disease which would ravage her physical beauty. To die of some occupational disease like syphilis would be too contrived. Instead, the final view of Nana's decomposing body leaves the reader sick and disgusted: "She was only a piece of carrion, a mass of pus and blood, a shovelful of putrid flesh." Zola suggests that it was as though her inner rot and corruption had risen to the surface and covered her magnificent body with all its concealed filth and poison. The novel ends with the people of the second empire clamoring for war, and we are reminded that the novel began with both the ladies of fashion and the ladies of the street wondering if Count Bismarck would make war on France. Here then is the beginning of the end to the second empire in France, which had engendered so much corruption in its own society.
CHARACTER ANALYSES NANA There are actually two Nanas in the novel: One is the simple girl of the streets who wants to be respected but does nothing to gain anyone's respect; the other is the symbolic Nana who represents the erotic love goddess and who embodies the concept of extreme sexuality. The simple Nana is a girl from a disrupted home--her father died of alcoholism and her mother of
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www.cliffs.com starvation. She is the product of the gutters of Paris, and her environment influences her actions throughout the novel. She can never escape for long the environment from which she came. Regardless of how much luxury or elegance she is surrounded with, she periodically returns to the streets to pick up men at random merely to relieve her sense of boredom. This Nana possesses no particularly outstanding traits. She has no wit, no talent, and no intellect. At times, she can respond spontaneously, as when she tries briefly to be true to Georges Hugon, or she can have a perverse sense of loyalty, as when she adheres to Fontan in spite of his brutality. But in general, she is a simple girl from the gutters of Paris who, by accident, possesses the most magnificent and lustful body of the age. It is as the second Nana that she becomes famous. Her physical body is such that it excites and arouses the most basic and elemental lustful drives in the male. Sexuality emanates from her every pore and appeals to the animal instincts in the opposite sex. She brings about the corruption of love by appealing to the lower and more bestial instincts in men. As a product of her environment, Nana has also adopted the values of that environment which are actually no values. During the course of the novel, Zola leaves no immorality uncommitted by Nana. She is incapable of being true to anyone, she constantly deceives everyone she associates with, she has no respect for any person or institution, she will sleep with anyone at any time, and most important, she drags everyone else down to her level. The interest in her character derives from the fact that she can at times be capricious, generous, hateful, spontaneous, and designing. She appreciates the power of her sexuality and uses it to its full advantage. Finally, she represents the values of the particular age. When she spends money extravagantly, when she acts capriciously, and when she demands excessively from the men who adore her, she becomes a symbol of the age which sacrificed virtues to enjoyments.
COUNT MUFFAT Count Muffat is, at first, the representative of the highest level of society during the second empire. He is a chamberlain to the emperor and empress and is one of the most respected members of the aristocracy. He is also a pious man who has been a staunch supporter of the church. During his life, he has repressed every sexual emotion and has maintained a cold, pious attitude toward immorality. When he first sees Nana, unknown desires are aroused in him. He gradually discovers a new self, one that cannot live within the restricted bounds of his religious values. When he becomes Nana's lover, he can at first retain part of his dignity even though he is going against his nature. But as his desire increases, he slowly becomes Nana's slave and will stoop to any indignity to satisfy her capricious whims. As he degrades himself to satisfy Nana, she becomes more and more disdainful of him. She forces him to become no more than an animal that has to suffer her abuses and punishment. Count Muffat stands as a symbol of how completely the righteous man can be corrupted by the eroticism of his age. In Muffat's collapse is inherent the collapse of an entire empire which puts its animal desires ahead of spiritual values. His willingness to sacrifice the most respected symbols of the empire represents the empire's desire to destroy itself and to enjoy its own baseness.
CRITICAL ESSAYS ZOLA AND NATURALISM During his lifetime, Zola made his presence felt in almost every area of the literary world. He was constantly involved in some type of literary controversy. In one sense, he is today best known for his Cliffs Notes on Nana © 1967
www.cliffs.com theories and defense of naturalism, and he has aptly been called the father of naturalism. Many critics fail to make a distinction between "realism" and "naturalism." Certainly, the distinction does not involve a major critical view. Realism might be most simply explained as an attempt to present life with a large degree of verisimilitude. As a movement, realism preceded naturalism, and the latter movement is essentially an attempt to carry the position of the realist to a further degree. Sometimes naturalism is called "stark realism." The naturalist thought that the realist had not treated all aspects of life and was determined to show everything connected with life. The naturalist also accused the realist of failing to depict things which are unpleasant, ugly, or sordid. Consequently, the naturalist often concentrates to a greater extent on those aspects of life which are of dubious value, and seldom does it depict the higher nature of humanity. In theory, the naturalist saw humanity trapped by forces which it could not control. Humanity is caught in a hostile universe and there is no chance for it to escape. When humanity realizes its trap or if it attempts to escape, it is usually reduced to the level of an animal. In general, the naturalistic philosophy might be called pessimistic determinism--that is, humans are totally unable to control their own destinies. With this philosophy, the naturalist will often use the image of humanity trapped in some type of cage or in some type of circumstances which could be symbolically viewed as a net or cage. Then the dominant image will often involve a person as some sort of animal. The naturalist uses this animal imagery to reinforce the position that people cannot control their urges and are ultimately reduced to bestiality. The French Zola and the American Frank Norris are the most famous for their uses of animal imagery to depict the lack of nobility in humanity. The naturalist, wishing to capture verisimilitude to the nth degree, would often belabor his descriptions. Many times, this type of writer would often continue his description of physical objects far beyond the patience of the reader. Their flaw then is a result of their desire to give an absolutely accurate account of their position, and in doing so, they often became tedious with their laborious descriptions. Finally, in trying to be completely true to life, the naturalist probably distorted life as much as did the romantic writer. While determined to present the true side of life and therefore concentrating on the ugly and the sordid, the naturalist emphasized this aspect of life to the exclusion of any other aspect. The realist knows that there is the sordid side, but he often presented the pleasant or happy side of life; the naturalist restricted life to the ugly and unpleasant, thereby distorting real life instead of depicting it as accurately as he thought he would.
ZOLA'S CRITICAL THEORIES Zola's theories are often viewed today as being somewhat naive and insignificant. He himself claimed no originality for his own theories, but any historical account of naturalism must take into account his beliefs. However simple, naive, or invalid they might seem today, they had a tremendous effect upon the development of not just French literature, but upon world literature. Because of his theories, he became one of the most abused and most championed figures on the literary scene, and the degree to which he was vilified indicates the amount of influence he wielded. For Zola, naturalism was the systematic, objective, and scientific extension of realism. The duty of the novelist then was to present as accurate a picture of life as possible. This was to be accomplished by having the novelist function as scientifically and as objectively as possible when presenting his material. The subject matter of art should include some representatives of the working class, and the purpose should be to present an understanding of the contemporary social milieu. Thus, many of Zola's novels
Cliffs Notes on Nana © 1967
www.cliffs.com have a social idea as their basis, which is then presented with scientific objectivity. That is, the working class is not romanticized or shown as existing in some sort of perfect idyll; rather, all the trials and difficulties are presented in realistic terms. Like the other naturalists, Zola demanded a great degree of verisimilitude in his novels, but he never claimed that the novel should be purely photographic. He once explained that art is a "corner of reality seen through a temperament" (from Mes Haines). The value of verisimilitude lies in the fact that, through exact descriptions, the artist could present his subject more accurately and consequently be more truthful to his subject. The ultimate aim of the novelist is to be true to his subject matter and to present some basic truths about life. Only by giving the reader an accurate rendition of life could the artist be absolutely faithful to life. Any other form of writing would distort life, and the novelist then could not serve a useful purpose in his society. When the artist presents his subject faithfully, then, for Zola, the character would be shown as a product of his environment and of his heredity. People's actions, like those of a beast, are controlled by the traits they inherited and by the environment from which they sprung. Consequently, throughout Nana, Zola constantly makes references to the gutters from which Nana came and how, unconsciously, she was attempting to drag all of society back to those gutters. Even though there are none or few pure naturalists writing today, Zola's influence on the development of the novel has been tremendous. For example, he opened up new subject matter for the novelists and supported his use of lurid subject matter with philosophical principles.
ESSAY TOPICS AND REVIEW QUESTIONS 1. Nana never enters directly into aristocratic society, yet she has a tremendous influence on this society. Show specific instances of how Nana intrudes upon and influences the values of the entire population. 2. How does Nana's heredity influence her inability to be satisfied in her luxurious environment as a courtesan? 3. How does The Blond Venus represent the entire second empire in France? 4. Choose two or more examples of crowd scenes and show how Zola is able to portray the mass emotions of many diverse people. 5. Using the entire novel, show how Zola is attempting to condemn the role prostitution played in the second empire. 6. What are some of the various ways that Zola lets the reader know that he is writing a condemnation of Nana? How important is Zola's own descriptions of Nana in considering his view of her? 7. How do Nana's relationships with Steiner, Georges Hugon, and Fontan function in connection with the central Muffat-Nana relationship? 8. Citing specific examples, comment upon the function of irony in such a naturalistic novel as Nana. 9. Trace the use of animal imagery throughout the novel and comment on its total function.
Cliffs Notes on Nana © 1967
10. From a moral viewpoint, Nana's death is deserved. But what is gained from an artistic viewpoint by having Nana die of smallpox? Was her death necessary to the total esthetic effect of the novel?
SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY BECKER, GEORGE J., ed. Documents of Modern Literary Realism. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963. The introduction is an excellent account of the historical rise of realism and the importance of naturalism as a part of this general movement. Also, a brief critique of Zola is included, preceding three important essays written by Zola. Of special importance is the essay entitled "The Experimental Novel." BROWN, C. S. Repetition in Zola's Novels. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1952. A brief account of some of the motifs found in Zola's novels and the manner in which he uses repetitions to enforce his meaning. HEMMINGS, F. W. J. Emile Zola. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1953. A full-length study of Zola's life and art. A brief discussion of Nana is very helpful. Hemmings discusses such matters as the manner in which Zola handles crowd scenes and the influence of sexuality on the second empire. JOSEPHSON, M. Zola and His Time. Gollanez, 1929. This work relates Zola to the movements and social environment which influenced his art. TURNELL, MARTIN. The Art of French Fiction. New York: New Directions Press, 1959. This book is a study of five French novelists, but the section on Zola is exceptionally valuable. This is probably the finest introduction to Zola in English, and while the discussion of Nana is short, it is highly illuminating. The reader should also see Turnell's discussion of Zola's life and his view of Zola as a visionary. WILSON, ANGUS. Emile Zola: An Introductory Study of His Novels. New York: William Morrow & Co., 1952. While there is no lengthy discussion of any novel, this is a good general introduction.
Cliffs Notes on Nana © 1967