Title: The Kill
Author: Émile Zola
Challenges: The Classics Club; Literary Movement Reading Challenge (Naturalism)
The Kill is the second volume in the Les Rougon-Macquart series. The setting is the yet-to-be-born new city of Paris, as it is being thought out. One of the main characters, Saccard (Aristide) Rougon, makes his mark and becomes a successful speculator, in more than just real estate. He loves wealth; money is all he cares about. And he is not alone. It permeates the very culture of people he surrounds himself with.
|Sweet Doing Nothing - Auguste Toulmouche|
French artist praised by Zola
When Saccard's first wife died, he made a business deal with a wealthy family to marry a young woman, Renée (in order to save her reputation because she was pregnant with another man's child). Saccard greedily inherited her money. Meanwhile, Renée became personally and emotionally close with Maxime, Saccard's son from his first marriage, and they recklessly developed a semi-incestuous affair.
I will stop there. The Kill started off somewhat slow for me, but half way through, Zola made up for it. As I said, Zola knows how to present all of life, including those behaviors that are difficult and uncomfortable. There was an abundance of wicked greed and selfish gain, immoral vanity, debauchery and deception, gluttony and drunkenness, and uncontrollable appetites for pleasure and sin. What a mess it all was!
|Vanity - Auguste Toulmouche|
On a personal level, I felt hints of Madame Bovary peeking through. Bovary was published in 1856, almost 20 years before The Kill. Renée was this young woman in an uncompromising predicament. She was somewhat indifferent and bored with life, and she became attached to Maxime - not for any good reason that he provided because he was an irresponsible, thoughtless, egocentric young man. However, the reader can see how Renée's lifestyle and obsession with Maxime were spinning out of control, and she was the one who was going to be ruined in the end. Meanwhile Maxime and his father, Saccard, walked away uninjured. Maxime was a chip off the old block.
I pitied Renée, especially because it was obviously commonplace that she was being swindled and misused by Saccard. For example, he devised a plan to sleep with his wife again, and he considerd,
to capture Renée by the same trick that he would have played on a prostitute. She was beset by an increasing need of money, and was too proud to ask her husband for help except as a last resort. Saccard resolved to take advantage of her first request for money to win her favors, and to resume their long-served relations in the delight brought about by the payment of a large debt.
Like Madame Bovary, Renée created her own mess and must take responsibility. Too bad she did not receive sooner the advice of her only friend, Céleste,
I would never have behaved as you did, Madame. I often said to myself, when I found you with Monsieur Maxime: 'How is it possible to be so foolish about men!' It always ends badly. I've always mistrusted them.But it was too late for Renée.