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The Fat and the Thin   By: (1840-1902)

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THE FAT AND THE THIN

(LE VENTRE DE PARIS)

By Emile Zola

Translated, With An Introduction, By Ernest Alfred Vizetelly

Let me have men about me that are fat: Sleek headed men, and such as sleep o' nights: Yond' Cassius has a lean and hungry look; He thinks too much: such men are dangerous. SHAKESPEARE: Julius Caesar , act i, sc. 2.

INTRODUCTION

"THE FAT AND THE THIN," or, to use the French title, "Le Ventre de Paris," is a story of life in and around those vast Central Markets which form a distinctive feature of modern Paris. Even the reader who has never crossed the Channel must have heard of the Parisian Halles , for much has been written about them, not only in English books on the French metropolis, but also in English newspapers, magazines, and reviews; so that few, I fancy, will commence the perusal of the present volume without having, at all events, some knowledge of its subject matter.

The Paris markets form such a world of their own, and teem at certain hours of the day and night with such exuberance of life, that it was only natural they should attract the attention of a novelist like M. Zola, who, to use his own words, delights "in any subject in which vast masses of people can be shown in motion." Mr. Sherard tells us[] that the idea of "Le Ventre de Paris" first occurred to M. Zola in 1872, when he used continually to take his friend Paul Alexis for a ramble through the Halles. I have in my possession, however, an article written by M. Zola some five or six years before that time, and in this one can already detect the germ of the present work; just as the motif of another of M. Zola's novels, "La Joie de Vivre," can be traced to a short story written for a Russian review.

[] Emile Zola: a Biographical and Critical Study , by Robert Harborough Sherard, pp. 103, 104. London, Chatto & Windus, 1893.

Similar instances are frequently to be found in the writings of English as well as French novelists, and are, of course, easily explained. A young man unknown to fame, and unable to procure the publication of a long novel, often contents himself with embodying some particular idea in a short sketch or story, which finds its way into one or another periodical, where it lies buried and forgotten by everybody excepting its author. Time goes by, however, the writer achieves some measure of success, and one day it occurs to him to elaborate and perfect that old idea of his, only a faint apercu of which, for lack of opportunity, he had been able to give in the past. With a little research, no doubt, an interesting essay might be written on these literary resuscitations; but if one except certain novelists who are so deficient in ideas that they continue writing and rewriting the same story throughout their lives, it will, I think, be generally found that the revivals in question are due to some such reason as that given above.

It should be mentioned that the article of M. Zola's young days to which I have referred is not one on market life in particular, but one on violets. It contains, however, a vigorous, if brief, picture of the Halles in the small hours of the morning, and is instinct with that realistic descriptive power of which M. Zola has since given so many proofs. We hear the rumbling and clattering of the market carts, we see the piles of red meat, the baskets of silvery fish, the mountains of vegetables, green and white; in a few paragraphs the whole market world passes in kaleidoscopic fashion before our eyes by the pale, dancing light of the gas lamps and the lanterns. Several years after the paper I speak of was published, when M. Zola began to issue "Le Ventre de Paris," M. Tournachon, better known as Nadar, the aeronaut and photographer, rushed into print to proclaim that the realistic novelist had simply pilfered his ideas from an account of the Halles which he (Tournachon) had but lately written... Continue reading book >>




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