This volume, "Therese Raquin," was Zola's third book, but it was the
one that first gave him notoriety, and made him somebody, as the saying
While still a clerk at Hachette's at eight pounds a month, engaged in
checking and perusing advertisements and press notices, he had already
in 1864 published the first series of "Les Contes a Ninon"--a reprint of
short stories contributed to various publications; and, in the following
year, had brought out "La Confession de Claude." Both these books were
issued by Lacroix, a famous go-ahead publisher and bookseller in those
days, whose place of business stood at one of the corners of the
Rue Vivienne and the Boulevard Montmartre, and who, as Lacroix,
Verboeckhoven et Cie., ended in bankruptcy in the early seventies.
"La Confession de Claude" met with poor appreciation from the general
public, although it attracted the attention of the Public Prosecutor,
who sent down to Hachette's to make a few inquiries about the author,
but went no further. When, however, M. Barbey d'Aurevilly, in a critical
weekly paper called the "Nain Jaune," spitefully alluded to this rather
daring novel as "Hachette's little book," one of the members of the firm
sent for M. Zola, and addressed him thus:
"Look here, M. Zola, you are earning eight pounds a month with us, which
is ridiculous for a man of your talent. Why don't you go into literature
altogether? It will bring you wealth and glory."
Zola had no choice but to take this broad hint, and send in his
resignation, which was at once accepted. The Hachettes did not require
the services of writers of risky, or, for that matter, any other novels,
as clerks; and, besides, as Zola has told us himself, in an interview
with my old friend and employer,[*] the late M. Fernand Xau, Editor of
the Paris "Journal," they thought "La Confession de Claude" a trifle
stiff, and objected to their clerks writing books in time which they
considered theirs, as they paid for it.
[*] He sent me to Hamburg for ten days in 1892 to report on
the appalling outbreak of cholera in that city, with the
emoluments of ten pounds a day, besides printing several
articles from my pen on Parisian topics.--E. V.
Zola, cast, so to say, adrift, with "Les Contes a Ninon" and "La
Confession de Claude" as scant literary baggage, buckled to, and set
about "Les Mysteres de Marseille" and "Therese Raquin," while at the
same time contributing art criticisms to the "Evenement"--a series of
articles which raised such a storm that painters and sculptors were in
the habit of purchasing copies of the paper and tearing it up in the
faces of Zola and De Villemessant, the owner, whenever they chanced to
meet them. Nevertheless it was these articles that first drew attention
to Manet, who had hitherto been regarded as a painter of no account, and
many of whose pictures now hang in the Luxembourg Gallery.
"Therese Raquin" originally came out under the title of "A Love Story"
in a paper called the "Artiste," edited by that famous art critic and
courtier of the Second Empire, Arsene Houssaye, author of "Les Grandes
Dames," as well as of those charming volumes "Hommes et Femmes du 18eme
Siecle," and many other works.
Zola received no more than twenty-four pounds for the serial rights of
the novel, and he consented at the insistence of the Editor, who pointed
out to him that the periodical was read by the Empress Eugenie, to draw
his pen through certain passages, which were reinstated when the story
was published in volume form. I may say here that in this translation,
I have adopted the views of the late M. Arsene Houssaye; and, if I have
allowed the appalling description of the Paris Morgue to stand, it is,
first of all, because it constitutes a very important factor in the
story; and moreover, it is so graphic, so true to life, as I have seen
the place myself, times out of number, that notwithstanding its horror,
it really would be a loss to pass it over.
Well, "Therese Raquin" having appeared as "A Love Story" in the
"Artiste," was then published as a book, in 1867, by that same Lacroix
as had issued Zola's preceding efforts in novel writing. I was living
in Paris at the time, and I well recall the yell of disapprobation with
which the volume was received by the reviewers. Louis Ulbach, then
a writer on the "Figaro," to which Zola also contributed, and who
subsequently founded and edited a paper called "La Cloche," when
Zola, curiously enough, became one of his critics, made a particularly
virulent attack on the novel and its author. Henri de Villemessant, the
Editor, authorised Zola to reply to him, with the result that a vehement
discussion ensued in print between author and critic, and "Therese
Raquin" promptly went into a second edition, to which Zola appended a
I have not thought it necessary to translate this preface, which is
a long and rather tedious reply to the reviewers of the day. It will
suffice to say, briefly, that the author meets the strictures of his
critics by pointing out and insisting on the fact, that he has simply
sought to make an analytic study of temperament and not of character.
"I have selected persons," says he, "absolutely swayed by their nerves
and blood, deprived of free will, impelled in every action of life,
by the fatal lusts of the flesh. Therese and Laurent are human brutes,
nothing more. I have sought to follow these brutes, step by step, in the
secret labour of their passions, in the impulsion of their instincts,
in the cerebral disorder resulting from the excessive strain on their
EDWARD VIZETELLY SURBITON,
1 December, 1901.
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