The Fortune of the Rougons, by Émile Zola

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And at the same time, whilst the past came back to their hearts full of a delightful savour, they fancied they could plunge into the unknown future, see their dreams realised, and march through life arm in arm – even as they had just been doing on the highway – warmly wrapped in the same cloak. Then rapture came to them again, and they smiled in each other’s eyes, alone amidst all the silent radiance.

Suddenly, however, Silvere raised his head and, throwing off the cloak, listened attentively. Miette, in her surprise, imitated him, at a loss to understand why he had started so abruptly from her side.

Confused sounds had for a moment been coming from behind the hills in the midst of which the Nice road wends its way. They suggested the distant jolting of a procession of carts; but not distinctly, so loud was the roaring of the Viorne. Gradually, however, they became more pronounced, and rose at last like the tramping of an army on the march. Then amidst the continuous growing rumble one detected the shouts of a crowd, strange rhythmical blasts as of a hurricane. One could even have fancied they were the thunderclaps of a rapidly approaching storm which was already disturbing the slumbering atmosphere. Silvere listened attentively, unable to tell, however, what were those tempest-like shouts, for the hills prevented them from reaching him distinctly. Suddenly a dark mass appeared at the turn of the road, and then the ‘Marseillaise’ burst forth, formidable, sung as with avenging fury.

‘Ah, here they are!’ cried Silvere, with a burst of joyous enthusiasm.

Forthwith he began to run up the hill, dragging Miette with him. On the left of the road was an embankment planted with evergreen oaks, up which he clambered with the young girl, to avoid being carried away by the surging, howling multitude.

When he had reached the top of the bank and the shadow of the brushwood, Miette, rather pale, gazed sorrowfully at those men whose distant song had sufficed to draw Silvere from her embrace. It seemed as if the whole band had thrust itself between them. They had been so happy a few minutes before, locked in each other’s arms, alone and lost amidst the overwhelming silence and discreet glimmer of the moon! And now Silvere, whose head was turned away from her, who no longer seemed even conscious of her presence, had eyes only for those strangers whom he called his brothers.

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The Fortune of the Rougons (French: La Fortune des Rougon), originally published in 1871, is the first novel in Émile Zola‘s monumental twenty-volume series Les Rougon-Macquart. The novel is partly an origin story, with a huge cast of characters swarming around – many of whom become the central figures of later novels in the series – and partly an account of the December 1851 coup d’état that created the French Second Empire under Napoleon III as experienced in a large provincial town in southern France. The title refers not only to the “fortune” chased by protagonists Pierre and Felicité Rougon, but also to the fortunes of the various disparate family members Zola introduces, whose lives are of central importance to later books in the series. More…

Listen to a recent BBC documentary about the Rougon-Macquart cycle, about the life, work, and suspicious death of Émile Zola. All 20 of the series are being adapted by the BBC for a major 24 part radio series.

Image: Ralliement de la Garde nationale lors du coup d’état du 2 décembre 1851de Lacoste Pierre-Eugène

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