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January 14 , 2009

The Ladies' Paradise


One of the most important, though controversial, French novelists of the late nineteenth century, and founder of the Realist movement, was Émile Zola (1840-1902). In 1871 Zola began to his most notable series of novels, the "Rougon-Macquart Novels," that relate the history of a fictional family under the Second Empire. As a strict naturalist, Zola was greatly concerned with science, especially the problems of evolution and heredity vs. environment. However, unlike Honoré de Balzac, whose works examined a wider scope of society, Zola focused on the evolution of one, single family. "The Ladies' Paradise" is the eleventh novel in this series, and begins exactly where "Pot-Bouille" left off. Octave Mouret has married and now owns a department store where twenty year old Denise Baudu, who has come to Paris with her brothers, takes a job as a saleswoman. The novel reflects symbolically on capitalism, the modern city, changes in consumer culture, the bourgeois family and sexual attitudes.

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