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PETER V. CONROY, JR The Metaphorical Web in Zola's Nana In the vast fresco of the Second Empire that he painted in his series of novels about the Rougon and Macquart families, Emile Zola turned his reporter's eye and his thirst for documentation to the principal areas of life in France, even to the Parisian demi-monde. Published in 1880, Nalla, the story of Anna, daughter of Gervaise Macquart and Coupeau, depicts the nocturnal, shadowy life of the music hall and the glittering, extravagant existence of the rich 'stage-door-Johnnies' who courted its actresses . At all levels, from the aristocracy of the comte Muffat and the marquis de Chouart, through the tasteless nouveaux riches like the stock-market speculator Steiner or the husband-pimp Mignon, to the depths of Satin and her fellow lesbians and prostitutes, Zola reveals this society to be corrupt and totally immoral. His novel would probably remain a satire, an acerbic criticism of social mores, were it not for the presence of Nana herself. Against the background of social satire and documentary realism Nana stands out as a fantastic creation, less a 'real' woman based on actual and identifiable models than the Woman, the Temptress and Seducer, who lures men irresistibly to their ruin.' Recent critics have noted that an imaginative dimension, an epic breadth, a mythopoeic vein co-exists alongside Zola's more familiar realistic, naturalistic commitment. 2 As examples of this other tendency we might cite Gueule d'or fashioning a rivet in L'Assom",oi,.,' the colours and the .movements of crowds in Germinal,4 even the anthropomorphism of the Hailes in Le Ventre de Paris, or the locomotive in La Bete humaine. Gustave Flaubert was among the first to recognize this mythopoeic inspiration in Nana when, writing to Zola, he called her 'un mythe." Despite the growing number of critics interested precisely in this aspect of Zola's art, the imaginative as opposed to the realistic element in his novels (both words taken in their primary senses) is far from an exhausted topic. Indeed it has not yet received as much critical attention as it deserves. This study is therefore an examination of the metaphorical dimension in Nana, that is, Zola's handling of a few key images in the creation and presentation of his eponymous heroine. Focusing on Nana, these images spin a metaphorical web that elevates her to a mythic dimension and makes of her a staggering and impressive literary creation . UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME XLvn, NUMBER), SPRING 1978 0042.0247178/°500.0239 $01_50/0 © UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO PRESS 1978 240 PETER V. CONROY, JR I If one word, by its frequent use, its reverberations, multiple meanings, and suggestiveness pervades this whole novel, it would surely be bete. Used as an adjective, often in dialogue, it is repeated by almost all the different characters with unnatural frequency as in the phrase: 'Cest bete ... '6 Such a common and popular speech pattern prepares for other forms of bete which replace more thoughtful semantic choices. Embete,., embetemenl, embetanl, betise, as well as bete itself gradually become tool words, losing their particular meaning to take on the one demanded by the context. We can easily find at least five meanings for this semantic matrix, bete. It can mean to bore or bother: 'dites-Iui qu'i! m'embete' (1140); to make errors in judgment: 'Quand on etait jeune, on faisait des betises' (1124); or to make a foolish comment: 'Elle etait sur Ie point de lacher une betise' (1138). Embetement frequently refers to an unpaid bill or any kind of mix-up in scheduling lovers; bete can also be a term of endearment: 'Voyons, verse, grande bete!' (1211). Coloured by this amorous association, it can also mean, in a derogatory sense, the act of love: Le.matin, toutes les filles du quartier, apeine I'homme de la veiUe mis ala porte, venaient faire leurs provisions, les yellx gros de sommeil, trainant des savates dans la mauvaise humeur et la fatigue d'une nuit d'embetements. (1296) Similarly, referring to the sculptured angels on the huge bed Labordette had designed for her, Nana says, 'Tu sais, man ·cher, jamais je...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 239-258
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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