Posted by: Lisa Hill | January 12, 2014

Sensational Snippets: His Excellency Eugene Rougon, by Emile Zola, translated by Ernest Alfred Vizetelly


I was reading His Excellency Eugène Rougon, by Émile Zola, (No #2 in the Rougon-Macquart cycle and part of my Zola project) when I came across this passage in Chapter 9.  The repression that Rougon exacts in the name of the Emperor and the lust for power at any price made me think of Stalin …

Outside, France was hushed in fear. The Emperor, in summoning Rougon to power, had been desirous of making examples. He knew the great man’s iron hand, and had said to him on the morning after the attempt on his life, with all the anger of one who has just escaped assassination, ‘No moderation, mind! They must be made to fear you.’ He had just armed him, too, with that terrible Law of General Safety, which authorised the confinement in Algeria or the expulsion from the empire of anyone who might be convicted of a poli­tical offence. Although no single Frenchman had taken part in the crime of the Rue Le Peletier, the Republicans were about to be hunted down and transported; there was to be a general sweeping away of the ten thousand ‘suspects’ who had been passed over at the time of the coup d’état. There were rumours of contemplated action by the revolutionary party. The authorities were said to have made a seizure of weapons and treasonable documents. Already in the middle of March, three hundred and eighty persons had been shipped at Toulon for Algeria, and now every week a fresh contingent was sent off. The whole country trembled in the terror which like a black storm cloud rolled forth from the room with the green velvet curtains where Rougon laughed aloud while stretching his arms.

The great man had never before tasted such complete contentment. He felt well and strong, and was putting on flesh. Health had come back to him with his return to power. When he walked about the room he dug his heels into the carpet, as though he wanted his heavy tread to resound throughout France. He would have liked to shake the country by merely putting his empty glass down on the side-table or casting aside his pen. It delighted him to be a source of fear, to forge thunderbolts amidst the smiling grati­fication of his friends, and to crush a whole nation with his swollen parvenu fists. In one of his circulars he had written: ‘It is for the good to feel confidence, and for the wicked only to tremble.’ He revelled in playing this part of a divinity, damning some, and saving others. He was filled with mighty pride; his idolatry of his own strength and intelligence was becoming a real religion with him.

Among the new men who had sprung up with the Second Empire, Rougon had long been known as a partisan of strong government. His name was a synonym for stern repression, the refusal of all liberties; despotic rule, in fact. All knew therefore what they had to expect when they saw him called to office. To his intimate friends, however, Rougon un­bosomed himself. He did not, he said, so much hold opinions as feel a craving for power. Power had too much attraction for him, and was too essential to his appetite for him to refuse it, whatever the conditions on which it might be offered to him.

To rule, to set his foot on the neck of the crowd, was his first and immediate ambition; the rest was merely secondary matter to which he could easily accommodate himself. The one thing which he really wanted was to be chief. It so hap­pened, however, that the circumstances under which he was now returning to power made his success very pleasant. The Emperor had given him complete liberty of action, and he was at last in a position to realise his old dream of driving the multitude with a whip like a herd of cattle. Nothing filled him with greater satisfaction than to know that he was feared and disliked. And sometimes when his friends told him that he was a tyrant, he smiled, and said with deep meaning: ‘If I should become a liberal some day, people will say that I have changed.’ Rougon’s very greatest joy was to stand triumphant amidst those friends of his. He forgot France and the obsequious functionaries and the crowd of petitioners who besieged his doors, to regale himself with the perpetual admiration of his ten or twelve intimate associates. His office was open to them at any hour, he allowed them to make it a home, to take possession of his chairs, and even of his desk itself; he told them that it was a pleasure to have them always about him like a pack of faithful dogs.

 from His Excellency Eugène Rougon, by Émile Zola, in the Complete Works of  Émile Zola (Illustrated) (Kindle Locations 64059-64091). Delphi Classics. Kindle Edition.

Instructive, n’est-ce pas?


Responses

  1. Quelle coincidence! I have just finished The Fortune of the Rougons, the first novel in the series and the one which immediate precedes this one. In fact, I’ll be posting on it today. Eugene is very much in the background in the first book, although important to the story. As I explain in my post, I’ve been drifting around in the great Rougon-Marquart sea and love the series. I am glad to have gone back to the beginning to see how it all started.

    • Nancy, do please come and join us at GoodReads in the Readers’ Review group where the plan is to work steadily through the series, in the recommended order. See
      https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/37567-the-readers-review-literature-from-1800-to-1910
      I think La Curee (The Kill) will be next:)
      And also, please take a look at our new collaborative blog, The Works of Emile Zola at http://readingzola.wordpress.com/ – we would love it if you contributed i.e. cross-posted your review there too so that the site becomes a really useful site for anyone drifting around in the sea (what a lovely expression!) If you want to join, just let me know and I’ll send you an invitation:)

      • Did the GoodReads group start with The Fortune of the Rougons? I can’t commit to the group because I have already planned more reading for the year than I can handle. I have a continuing interest in Zola, however, and would be happy to cross-post at ReadingZola if you will send me an invitation. We did something similar at Feminist Classics a couple of years ago.

        • Hi Nancy, yes we did start with Fortune and are currently reading His Excellency. But we leave gaps to read other things in between so it’s not onerous.
          Invitation is on its way:)

  2. […] of heredity and environment. For a sample, Lisa at ANZ LitLovers has just published an extended excerpt from the next book in the […]

  3. […] of heredity and environment. For a sample, Lisa at ANZ LitLovers has just published an extended excerpt from the next book in the […]


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