Waterstones La B ete humaine

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Waterstones La B ete humaine
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Description: Did possessing and killing amount to the same thing deep within the dark recesses of the human beast? La Bete humaine (1890), is one of Zola's most violent and explicit works. On one level a tale of murder, passion and possession, it is also a compassionate study of individuals derailed by atavistic forces beyond their control. Zola considered this his 'most finely worked' novel, and in it he powerfully evokes life at the end of the Second Empire in France, where society seemed to be hurtling into the future like the new locomotives and railways it was building. While expressing the hope that human nature evolves through education and gradually frees itself of the burden of inherited evil, he is constantly reminding us that under the veneer of technological progress there remains, always, the beast within. This new translation captures Zola's fast-paced yet deliberately dispassionate style, while the introduction and detailed notes place the novel in its social, historical, and literary context. ABOUT THE SERIES: For over 100 years Oxford World's Classics has made available the widest range of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford's commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, helpful notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more. Waterstones La B ete humaine - shop the best deal online on thebookbug.co.uk

 

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Author: David K. Warner

Rating: 5

Review: In this novel in the Rougon-Marquet series, Émile Zola explores the atavistic passions of the human animal - the passions to kill and for sex - against the backdrop of Second Empire political and social decay and rapid industrialisation, and in an orgy of murders reveals the obsessions and compulsions that lie just beneath the surface of the individual even in an age of rationalism and modernity. The setting is the railway line between Dieppe and Paris, including the two termini and their basic accommodation, the stations at Rouen and Barentin, and a crossing in the middle of nowhere at a place ominously called La-Croix-de-Maufas, between February 1869 and June 1870, a period of heightened political activity which includes the elections and plebiscite that bring about an attempt at parliamentary government and culminates in the reckless outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War. However, while the political context is established, the drama, which intentionally tends towards the melodramatic, is overwhelmingly domestic. What Zola has written is an epic tragedy on an operatic scale, with each chapter providing a set-piece scene in which his characters battle their animal within, usually unsuccessfully, culminating in acts of violence or their contemplation that are often associated with sexual congress or desires to possess that mirror them: it is clear that in this world the urge for sex is a sublimation of the urge to kill and vice versa. The lives of the main participants, excluding the first victim, who is also the catalyst for the narrative, and the careerist legal figures who conduct the investigations and trials, are those of simple working people, with the anti-hero, Jacques, an engine driver, and the anti-heroine, Séverine, with whom he enters into a tempestuous affair driven by his passion, ultimately fulfilled in her, to kill a woman, the wife of an assistant station master. It is a closed private world of poor wages, poorer opportunities, petty rivalries, gossip, adultery, and gambling, but it is also an expansive public world of technological advance, industrial might, impressionistic beauty, and grand, consuming passions. As ever, like his contemporary Thomas Hardy, Zola magnificently sets his story in his chosen landscape, and the environment itself becomes a participant in the drama, as events take place through the cyclical seasons, beautifully captured in this translation of the author's prose, with tremendous set-pieces involving summer heat, rainy tempests and, particularly, a superbly drawn snow storm. The irrational desires of the characters are thereby set against the uncontrollable backdrop of the extremes of weather and within the technological framework of an industrialisation that cannot suppress human urges but only channel them. As to the characters themselves, they are far from the beauty of the natural environment, either physically or morally, with only Jacques, the driver manfully struggling with his homicidal tendencies, regarded as handsome in an earthy manner - Zola intentionally encodes the psychopathology of his characters within their physiology. Indeed, apart from the landscape, the only thing of real beauty in both form and function is the train engine, La Lison, who receives more true love and attention from Jacques than his human lover, Séverine. It is no coincidence that the loss of this beautiful and powerful, but responsive, machine to woman-made disaster is the prelude to the driver's destruction of his mistress, and that Jacques feels more loss at the engine's demise than he does from his later killing of the woman he came to love sexually as an assumed palliative for his homicidal compulsion. There is an ethical purity about the inhuman train engine that the humans lack. Zola's novel could easily be seen as just another blood and sex, penny dreadful, railway novel (in both senses), and the murders committed, including a train crash staged out of jealousy by Flore, the archetypal, untameable, nature-woman of passion, and a tawdry uxorial poisoning in pursuit of a thousand francs, might seem to suggest that, but there is a much greater intent here. What Zola seeks is nothing less than to rip away the surface material of civilisation, rationalism, and modernisation to reveal the most basic drives that compel human beings to life: the need for sex, and its subliminal corollary of the need to kill. In no other novel of the age is the metaphor of the apogée of sexual intercourse as une petite mort quite so vividly painted as this, not even with Tess d'Urberville at Stonehenge. 'La Bête Humaine' may be seen as proto-Freudian in its examination of the unconscious and its effects upon individuals struggling to contain and rationalise their urges under a veneer of nineteenth century accepted, class determined behaviour, but it is also remarkably prescient in its understanding of the evil that can come about through the combination of human social psychology and pathology and the power of industrialisation when the restraints of civilisation are removed and the urges of the human beast given free reign. Just like 'La Dêbacle' foreshadows and gives warning of the killing fields of the Western Front, so this masterpiece of beautiful writing and visceral emotions provides a miniature of the orgy of death that would consume much of Europe during parts of the twentieth century when the drive to kill is combined with the technological ability to do so on a vast scale. Zola's novel is thus a psychological portrait of the modern man, or woman, who is already in 1870 capable of murder driven by passions, and is able to utilise technology, in this case the railway, to effect his and her killings and escapes. The railway that allows these murders to take place is the same railway that will carry troops on a symbolically out of control train to their doom on the Front at the end of the book, and will later ferry the huge armies of two world wars and the civilian victims of genocide to their deaths at an even greater and unfathomably huge industrial level. If anything, in this acute novel, Zola underestimates the true bestiality of the human animal when the urge to kill, unsublimated in sex, is unleashed by governments, here presaged by the cynical and selfish magistery, on a wide human expanse. Zola shows us not what man would like to be, or even what man is, but what man is capable of being and doing when the human beast is unconstrained. The novel also has relevance today in that it is the sexual abuse of two teenage girls, which precedes the action and results in the death of one victim, that is the catalyst for the first murder, showing how the sexual appetites of a powerful man towards vulnerable females can result in devastating consequences. That Grandmorin's crimes do not of themselves justify his murder, however, is apparent because it is the jealousy of Séverine's husband, Roubaud, when he finds that his wife is 'damaged goods' married off and provided for by the court president that drives him to kill after he has violently beaten her for the guiltless crime of being a victim of Grandmorin's abuse. He does not attack her or kill Grandmorin out of any sense of justice, but out of jealousy and rage that another has possessed her first. The murder is an assertion of his masculinity, and, indeed, once he has killed, when his interest in the woman he once loved actually wains, he becomes complicit through apathy in her taking a lover, because it is the base urge to kill itself that is all consuming and emotionally sating not the demand for and pursuit of justice or even revenge. Indeed, as the trial at the end of the novel reveals, when Roubaud is convicted of the murder of Grandmorin for the wrong reasons and both he and an innocent quarryman are found guilty of Jacques' murder of Séverine, justice offers no absolutes but is merely a discourse in which the outcome satisfies political and social appetites. Justice is just one more relativistic value in which humans drape themselves to obscure the true nature of their primordial desires and compulsions. In the world of assumed civilised discourse and interaction, the urge to kill is more powerful, and as Jacques later shows, more satisfying than the urge for sex, and predominates in behaviour before the constructs of law, civility, and ethics. The human beast, when it succumbs to its passions, is a destructive more than a creative animal, and in its urge for sex it reveals and revels in the unconscious urge to possess and to kill. Sex and death are but two parts of the same whole fused together through the medium of life, life which can be created, or not, through sex, and can be annihilated through the murderous impulse which lies in the heart of the human animal. For Zola's characters, murder is an urge whose compulsion and satisfaction supersedes that of the equally bestial desire for sex.

 

Author: Martin Jones

Rating: 4

Review: La Bete humaine reminds me of the Thomas the Tank Engine books. There are a lot more stabbings, suicides and sex in La Bete humaine, but essentially Emile Zola and the Rev W. Awdry are writing about the same thing. They both parallel human life with steam trains and the rail systems they run on. Awdry presents his engines as having personalities of their own, who have to accept the direction of their driver if they are to find happiness and fulfillment. The Thomas story that made the biggest impact on me as a youngster was a story about Gordon, the most powerful and proudest locomotive of them all. I recall one time he had a new paint job, and was so pleased with it that he steamed into a tunnel and refused to come out, not wanting the weather to spoil his lovely blue paint. Eventually the Fat Controller walls Gordon up in his refuge, and only allows him out when confinement in the tunnel had reduced him to a stiff, grimy, rusty shell of an engine. That’s one way to punish the sin of pride. In la Bete humaine the trains are also presented as having personalities. La Lison is a good, dependable engine, who until a terrible night of overwork in a snowstorm, has a loving relationship with her driver. Engine 608 is a headstrong youngster who needs careful handling. Like Awdry, Zola draws parallels between the life of steam engines, struggling against or cooperating with their drivers, and the lives of human beings, who struggle against or cooperate with the forces shaping their destiny. The difference between Zola and Awdry lies in the nature of the driver, the controlling influence. In the Thomas stories, we don’t really ever get to know the drivers. They are an anonymous guiding presence whose wisdom in the end has to be accepted. In Zola’s novel, the drivers can sometimes provide wise and gentle guidance. At other times, they can be maniacs and drunkards who fight over women on the footplate. Zola’s novel is much more modern and challenging in that sense. It’s Thomas the Tank Engine for grown-ups. However, in the final analysis I still think that Zola can offer the same reassurance as Awdry, the same sense that in accepting life, things can turn out right. In the early pages, there is a short section where the order of a rail network somehow emerges out of chaos: “It was all a jumble at that murky twilight hour, when it seemed as though everything should collide, and yet everything passed, and slid by, and emerged all at the same gentle crawl, vaguely, in the depths of the dusk.” When I got to the end of the book, after Zola had pulled me through the most snarled of jumbles, I like to think the demoralised reader can at least remember those early lines where order somehow emerges out of chaos.

 

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