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November 22 , 2009

The Ladies' Delight


Au Bonheur des Dames (the original french title for The Ladies’ Delight or The Ladies’ Paradise) is the eleventh novel in the Rougon-Macquart series by Émile Zola.
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DENISE était venue à pied de la gare Saint-Lazare, où un train de Cherbourg l’avait débarquée avec ses deux frères, après une nuit passée sur la dure banquette d’un wagon de troisième classe. Elle tenait par la main Pépé, et Jean la suivait, tous les trois brisés…

The novel is set in the world of the department store, an innovative development in mid-nineteenth century retail sales. Zola models his store after Le Bon Marché, which consolidated under one roof many of the goods hitherto sold in separate shops. The narrative details many of Le Bon Marché’s innovations, including its mail-order business, its system of commissions, its in-house staff commissary, and its methods of receiving and retailing goods.

The Ladies’ Delight is a sequel to Pot-Bouille. Like its predecessor, this book focuses on Octave Mouret, who at the end of the previous novel married Caroline Hédouin, the owner of a small silk shop. Now a widower, Octave has expanded the business into an international retail powerhouse occupying, at the beginning of the book, the greater part of an entire city block.

The book has a very strong underlying theme of “survival of the fittest”, as is carried over from and through the rest of the series. The main character’s shop, through hard work and determination, is known to throw other people out of business through competitive sales and merchandising. There are also themes of romance and drama, but the series does rely very heavily on details of the growing business in the age, and hard work leading to great success.
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