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4 Haussmann's Paris and the Revolution of Representation
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Haussmann's Paris and the Revolution of Representation

Le vieux Paris n'est plus (la forme d'une ville / Change plus vite, hélas! que le coeur d'un mortel).
Baudelaire, "Le Cygne"

Old Paris is no more (the form of a city, alas, changes faster than the human heart).    

On 24 November 1853, the city of Paris received a new seal. Most of the elements from the traditional emblem remained in place—the château-crown at the top, the fleurs-de-lys against a blue field to signal the monarchy, and, naturally, the three-masted ship in full sail against a red field. But the ship is no longer the proud man-of-war familiar from previous insignia. The new model displays a simpler merchant vessel reminiscent of the small boat that figured on the earliest seal of 1215, and there is a notable addition: the motto. Although Fluctuat nec mergitur—It Floats and Sinks Not—can be found in one form and another as early as the late sixteenth century, it first appears on the official city seal in 1853.

The individual who decreed the new city seal was Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann (1809-91), the prefect of the department of the Seine, and his symbolic reconfiguration came just in time to mark the first anniversary of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte's proclamations of the Second Empire and himself as emperor (it was also the second anniversary of the coup d'état that began the dissolution of the Second Republic). Haussmann thus signaled an authority over the city roughly equivalent to the Second Empire itself, from his appointment by the emperor in June of 1853, when the empire was barely six months old, to his dismissal in January 1870, only a few months before the ignominious defeat by the Prussians in September and the proclamation of the Third Republic.

Even as Haussmann launched the program of metamorphosis that would eventually bear his name, he chose to represent the city not


Plate 11. 
Seal of Paris, 1853. Just in time to celebrate the first anniversary of the 
proclamation of the Second Empire and signaling his takeover of the urban renewal 
that would bear his name, Prefect Georges-Eugene Haussmann proclaimed a new 
seal for the city of Paris. In a significant gesture of reconciliation he retained most of 
the elements from earlier emblems—the gold château-crown at the top and the gold fleurs-
de-lys against a blue field, to signal the monarchy, as well as the silver three-masted ship 
in full sail on silver waves against a red field. But Haussmann replaced the man-of-war 
familiar from many of the insignia of the ancien régime and the Restoration with a much 
simpler vessel, a merchant vessel that harks back to the boat that figured on the earliest seal of 1215.
There is a notable addition: the motto. Although  Fluctuat nec mergitur—"It  Floats and Sinks 
Not"—is found in one form and another on coins and maps and various seals as early as the late 
sixteenth century, 1853 marks its first official appearance on the city seal. Are the waters choppier 
than on earlier seals? Perhaps not, but Parisians who lived through the period of drastic and often
ruthless urban modernization during the Second Empire certainly must have thought so.
(Photograph by the University of Chicago Medical Center, A.V. Department.)


with a symbol or sign of modernity but rather with an emblem that drew upon the very oldest iconographical traditions.[1] Urban renewal at midcentury began, then, with a deliberate link to the old. With this gesture, Haussmann himself posed the problem of representation of authority that "haussmannization" would pose over and over again for his contemporaries. How to represent a city that was changing before one's very eyes? A city that was no longer recognizable? A city that defied definition as it was producing new definitions of urban life and society?

Haussmann wrote his answers to the problems of modernization in the streets. Parisians had to learn to read those answers in the city, and for many, it was a disconcerting process. The new text of the city brought traditional models of interpretation into question. Constructing modern representations of Paris required coming to terms with the new spaces and the new society signaled by those spaces. A whole new literature of articulation was a necessity. What I call a "discourse of haussmannization" attests to the pervasive sense of disruption in Paris and of the life lived there. For a writer like Flaubert, this discourse of displacement encountered the problem of representation by absence. But the fact of absence is unsettling, and ultimately, it is an impossible stance. The Paris Flaubert depicted in L 'Éducation sentimentale was disappearing as he wrote in the 1860s; he opted to fix his new literature in the past.

The next generation could not so readily elide either the Second Empire or haussmannization. Zola, twenty years younger than Flaubert, confronts the problem of haussmannization directly, and he does so by making change the subject as well as the object of his novel. If Flaubert places L 'Education sentimentale under the sign of the past—"the best that we have had" in Deslaurier's final comment to Frédéric—Zola dennes La Curée (1872) by and for the future. Frenetic activity governs Zola's Paris. Where Flaubert writes back from the Second Empire to the July Monarchy, Zola writes forward, to the Third Republic and to the Paris that Haussmann built. La Curée focuses neither on Paris past nor yet on Paris present or future but on Paris in the making, on a Paris becoming. More than any other literary text, perhaps more than any other text altogether, La Curée represents Paris in the throes of transformations as revolutionary as any the city would know.



C'est Haussmann qui a lancé Paris dans le tourbillon des grandes dépenses. Les villes ont imité Paris, les particuliers ont imité Paris.
Zola, Notes for La Curée

Haussmann launched Paris into the whirlwind of great expenses. Cities imitated Paris, individuals imitated Paris.

Haussmannization is used very loosely, to designate virtually every topographical alteration or social change that marked Paris during Haussmann's tenure as prefect of the Seine. The word itself has come to signify in shorthand any radical topographical modernization of any city. The verb appeared in 1892, and the substantive in 1926; each gave linguistic presence to a phenomenon that was recognized if not baptized by Haussmann's contemporaries. The uniform facades and long, straight avenues of the new city led Verlaine to complain about "the long boredom of your haussmanneries" (Sagesse, III, xix, 1880). Like any abstraction, haussmannization is an umbrella concept, with a variety and number of elements that can be crowded under its reach. For many observers haussmannization came to stand for everything that fit under the still more comprehensive category of urbanization, itself to be found under the most capacious classification of all—modernization. Haussmannization certainly partakes of these phenomena. But the enterprise of urban renewal on which Haussmann and others embarked in the nineteenth century is by no means equivalent to urbanization and still less to modernization. On the contrary, its advocates invariably present urban planning as an antidote to the chaos attendant upon urbanization. The model urban planner attempts to impose order on the disorder that is the inevitable consequence of dramatic social change.

Haussmannization has the further advantage of designating agency and therefore assigning responsibility for otherwise incomprehensible large-scale social phenomena. Individuals, discrete actions, and particular circumstances render the vagaries, the complexities, and the conundrums of social change more comprehensible. At the same time, attribution to an individual of that which reaches well beyond the scope of any individual risks the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. Why, as well, should one speak of "haussmannization" instead of


"napoleonization"? Why should one focus on Haussmann, the administrator, rather than on the emperor, the individual most responsible for the transformation of Paris? Napoléon III dismissed Berger, Haussmann's predecessor as prefect of the Seine, because he seemed incapable of executing the grandiose plans that the emperor had for Paris. Haussmann recounts in his Mémoires that, on his first day in office, Napoléon III presented him with a map marked in red for the new streets to be constructed. To be sure Haussmann added much, and the water supply and sewer systems were understandably his special pride. (He lamented in his Mémoires that his sewer systems went unappreciated because unseen.)

The focus on any one individual, prefect or emperor, is probably misguided. Urban renewal did not commence with Haussmann or the Second Empire. It was the Second Republic that began work on the rue de Rivoli, and earlier prefects, such as Chabrol under the Restoration and Rambuteau during the early part of the July Monarchy, had sought to modernize the city.[2] Then too, the remodeling of Paris undertaken by Napoléon III and Haussmann fits within the tradition of urban planning that began in the Renaissance and was realized in a number of eighteenth-century cities (including Bordeaux, where Haussmann spent several years as prefect). But where Versailles, for example, was built entirely according to plan from almost the very beginning, the nineteenth-century city had to dislodge centuries of the old before it could install the new.

Every attempt to redo a city is fraught with both anxiety and adventure. Descartes' scorn for the patently irrational layout of the medieval city carried an assumption of potential mastery. Utopian notions of a rationally organized urban environment made that assumption explicit throughout the Enlightenment. There is more than a little justification in reading the reworking of nineteenthcentury Paris as an amazing, and ultimately futile, attempt to impose Cartesian France on the unruly France of the romantics and the Revolution.[3] Such an ambitious enterprise had to fall short, for these visions of a reconfigured Paris demanded actual control over urban phenomena that seemed to elude human authority. But in every instance, the dream of definition also raised the specter of meaning lost in complexity, confusion, and change.


The program for the new, modernized Paris of the Second Empire differed from urban renewal plans elsewhere in the self-confidence and the practicality that lay behind the dream of definition. The age of Haussmann trusted its ability to adapt an old urban infrastructure to new demands upon space and authority. Then it did so. In imposing a new order on itself, Paris after 1850 stood out in the scope, in the centralized execution, and in the identification with a single figure that lay behind the enterprise of change. Compared to Haussmann, predecessors and successors in urban planning were timid—both in Paris and elsewhere. Of course, they also lacked the unconditional support to meet pressing new demands that Napoléon III gave his prefect.[4] Like the seal itself, Haussmann's plans tied the city to both past and future in a consciousness of overall grandiosity. The majestic spaces and broad avenues belong to a long tradition of urban planning. Haussmann's politics of nomination were calculatedly familiar in pushing his own agenda. The empire made sure to mark urban space, new and old, as its own. Just as the ancien régime named the new streets of the new Quartier Dauphine after members of the royal family, the empire baptized the splendid new boulevards with the names of the imperial family: 1854, only a year after Haussmann's appointment, saw the opening of the avenue de l'Impératrice (currently the avenue Foch), the avenue Joséphine for Napoléon III's grandmother (now the avenue Marceau), the avenue de la Reine-Hortense for his mother (avenue Hoche), and the avenue du Prince-Jérôme for his cousin (avenue MacMahon); 1857 celebrated the birth of the imperial prince the year before with the boulevard Prince-Eugène (boulevard Voltaire); and 1858 gave the boulevard along the right bank of the Seine to the emperor (now the avenues Henri-Martin, Georges-Mandel, du Président-Wilson). With the exception of the avenue du Prince-Eugène, all of these new streets lead either to the Arc de Triomphe or to the imperial playground, the Bois de Boulogne. In 1857, as Haussmann recounts it, instead of the title of duke that he did not want, the emperor accorded Haussmann the even greater consideration of his own boulevard (which crosses the site where he was born).

Contemporaries quite naturally experienced these changes as inescapable dislocation. If Descartes despaired over the jumble of the premodern city, small as it was, how much more disorderly, how much


more distressing, was the European capital of 1850 that had doubled its population in only fifty years. Or the city of 1860 that had incorporated the immediate suburbs into the city proper, doubling its area, increasing its population by one-third, and moving from the twelve arrondissements or administrative subdivisions that it had maintained since the early eighteenth century to the twenty that Paris has still today. By 1870 great numbers of apartment buildings had been torn down and replaced, and broad new thoroughfares like the boulevard Saint-Germain in the Latin Quarter had cut through the labyrinth of criss-crossing, narrow, crooked streets of old Paris. The confident discourse of placement so prominent in the works of the July Monarchy soon gave way to a discourse of displacement. Balzac's intensely creative and authoritative flâneur turned into Flaubert's bewildered artist and failed revolutionary who wanders the city with no more than idle thoughts about making it his own. If Baudelaire's flâneur was a successful artist, he was ambivalent about the city that supplied the very conditions of his creativity. This ambivalence within dislocation was a constant theme. The sense of the city as the site of the pathology of modern life was not born in Paris or in the middle of the nineteenth century, but it was there and then that the city became indissolubly associated with a pathological state.

The sense of dislocation focused on the transformations engineered by Haussmann. Not that the dislocation began or ended with the empire. From the beginning of the Arc du Carrousel in 1806 to the completion of the Eiffel Tower in 1889, Paris added monuments. The destruction of medieval Paris began early in the century. Napoleon determined to complete the Louvre early on in the First Empire and initiated numerous building projects in central Paris. One of the sites that the original Flâneur, M. Bonhomme, took in on his daily rounds was the Arc de Triomphe. But if construction on the monument began in 1806, shortly after the resounding victory over the Prussians at Austerlitz, it was not inaugurated until 1836, two regimes and thirty years after the scaffolding first went up.

Given the time that these many projects took to complete, many Parisians were well aware that they were witnessing the end of one world and the birth of another. In a note that he added to the definitive edition of Notre-Dame de Paris in 1832, Victor Hugo protested vehemently against the "vandalism" that deprived the city of many


of its most admirable medieval and renaissance buildings. A decade later, in 1844, Balzac evoked the end of the old central market. It would thereafter exist only in the work of those novelists "courageous enough to describe faithfully the last vestiges of the architecture of our forefathers."[5] Two years later in La Cousine Bette, and at a length that is exceptional even for him, Balzac painted a somber picture of the insalubrious and dangerous quarter surrounding the Louvre (where the glass pyramid of the Grand Louvre stands today). "Our nephews, ' he noted, "who will undoubtedly see the Louvre finished, will refuse to believe" that such a shameful, "barbarous" place actually existed in the heart of Paris, right under the windows of the royal palace (7:99).[6]

Balzac was right. His "nephews" did see the completion of the Louvre. The quartier that Balzac portrayed in such vivid detail disappeared without a trace, swallowed up by the magnificent rue de Rivoli in Haussmann's vast urban enterprise. At midcentury the pace and scope of urban transformation accelerated perceptibly. Demolition was not confined to one area; it occurred everywhere and over almost the entire city. Destruction and construction dominated experience of the city as never before.

So strong was the sense of a new city that Émile de Labédollière entitled his history-cum-guide book of 1860 Le Nouveau Paris. Yet another work on Paris? The author answered his own question by insisting on the absolute necessity of this one: "Paris is transfigured." Much has been done, but—and here the present tense is especially striking—"great highways are opening every day."[7] The detailed maps of every arrondissement that accompanied each section of Le Nouveau Paris used dotted lines to indicate projected new streets. Labédollière equated all of this construction with progress. The frontispiece of Le Nouveau Paris shows the towers of medieval Paris being carted away to the cheers of the workers standing by.

Others, predictably, were more reticent. The clearing of the area around the Arc du Carrousel preparatory to the completion of the Louvre moved Baudelaire to a poignant portrayal of exile. In one of his most celebrated poems, "Le Cygne" (1860), the poet mourned that "old Paris is no more (the form of a city, alas, changes faster than the human heart)." The swan that he later remembered had escaped from its cage in search of water. Flopping about miserably in the dust, the awkward bird presents the very image of exile, just as


 Plate 12. 
Frontispiece by Gustave Doré to Émile de Labédollière,
 Le Nouveau Paris  (1860). Gustave Doré's engraving 
shows old Paris being carted away past a crowd of 
cheering workers. Meanwhile, the devil looks on from 
above at the latest transformations of the city. His gaze 
focuses on the map of the new Paris held in place by the 
bespectacled author. (Photography courtesy of the Houghton 
Library, Harvard University.)


the building blocks and the debris lying about are so many signs of rupture with the past. In this poem dedicated to Victor Hugo (who had recently refused to accept the amnesty that would permit him to return from exile) the newly completed Louvre reminds Baudelaire of the disconsolate bird and "anyone who has lost that which can never be recovered."[8] However divergent their interests and their goals, both Labédollière and Baudelaire, writing in the same year, translated the drama of haussmannization. That drama of urban transformation was all the more intense, and haussmannization all the more disruptive, because they were part of the larger, still more intense drama of the economic and social transformations of the Second Empire. A "whole new society," as Jules Vallès later put it in Le Tableau de Paris, "jumped onto the stage." Paris of the Second Empire was at once product and producer of haussmannization. Like many of his contemporaries, Vallès denounced this society and criticized the Second Empire for its authoritarian government, dissolute social elite, and corrupt politics. It was the coup d'état of 2 December 1851, from which the empire emerged a year later, that prompted Marx (in the opening paragraph of The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon ) to make the celebrated observation that when history repeats itself, the first time is tragedy, the second is farce. For other critics as well, of almost every persuasion, although for different reasons, the Second Empire labored under the great disadvantage of not being the First. Victor Hugo never tired of pointing out that Napoléon the Little was not Napoléon, whatever the apparent lineage.

The discourse of haussmannization participated in a more comprehensive discourse of the Second Empire and in the transformations of French society encouraged by the government. (The Second Empire is generally identified as the "take-off" period for the modern French economy.) In a regime with minimal parliamentary politics and where the censors were ever vigilant, criticism was likely to be indirect. So much is true of any authoritarian regime. Haussmann, in the context, was an ideal target of indirection. Haussmann and haussmannization could be attacked, criticized, or simply discussed in terms distanced from but obviously related to the emperor and his regime. In a very short time, haussmannization became a recognizable metaphor for the Second Empire itself.



Mon Aristide, c'est le spéculateur né des bouleversements de Paris.
Zola, 6 November 1871, Letter to Louis Ulbach

My Aristide is the speculator born of the upheaval in Paris.

No literary work takes on the discourse of haussmannization more directly than Zola's La Curée. That La Curée (1872) does not figure among the central texts of the nineteenth-century novel alongside L'Assommoir (1877) and Germinal (1885) or among the best known works in the Rougon-Macquart series—Le Ventre de Paris (1873), Nana (1880), Au Bonheur des dames (1883), and L'Oeuvre (1886)—is only partially imputable to the somewhat scattered nature of the novel. La Curée is an ambiguous work—an ambiguity that derives ideologically from Zola's ambivalence. As in his journalistic pieces at the time, Zola condemns the Second Empire without reserve and without rest. The title announces the judgment: la curée signified the mad scramble for booty and political spoils.[9] Yet Zola simultaneously celebrates the new Paris, the beautiful city that serves as backdrop for the corrupt society he denounces. He celebrates as well, almost against his better judgment, the unscrupulous financier whose phantasmagoric speculations define the novel. Aristide Saccard reaps a fortune from his insider's knowledge of the plans for the reconstruction of the city (he has worked to effect in city hall). Notably, this consummate speculator shows no more compunction in fleecing his wife than in swindling the state. Domestic and public corruption merge in the speculator as agent of modernity.

The phenomenon of la curée is not an individual enterprise. Saccard's fraud mirrors the thorough corruption of postrevolutionary society. "My novel would have been impossible before '89." [10] By abolishing the barriers erected by caste and tradition, in Zola's view, the Revolution legitimated every ambition, sanctioned every appetite, and is ultimately answerable for the decadent society that the novelist depicts in La Curée and the other novels that take the Second Empire as their setting. Notwithstanding his unrelenting denunciation of that society, Zola cannot help admiring his protagonist's phenomenal energy and acuity. Renee Saccard, when she finally recognizes how abominably she has been used by her husband, stands in awe of the


man who is the very incarnation of willpower. He is not so much immoral as amoral, almost a force of nature, grand by his very excesses. Aristide Saccard bespeaks the contradiction and the conscious tension between the collective project of La Curée and the individual who both realizes that project and escapes it. This ambivalence captures the ambiguity of haussmannization, caught as it is between the old and the new, at once destructive and constructive, the name of a single individual and the dehumanized statement of a process.

Zola's first mention of the novel appears in 1869, when he promises his publisher a work on the "shady and unbridled speculations of the Second Empire . . . determined by the demolitions and constructions of M. Haussmann" (353). It is the moment when Haussmann's manipulation of credit and debit financing of the great works of Paris comes under increasing criticism. Zola actually starts writing a year or so later, in the spring of 1870, after Haussmann's dismissal as prefect of the Seine and just before the disastrous rout at Sedan that ends the empire in September. "The Terrible Year"—Victor Hugo's epithet for the period that extends from the declaration of war in July 1870 to the suppression of the Commune in June 1871—intervenes and turns a work conceived as a novel of contemporary society into a historical novel. As Zola indicates in the preface to La Fortune des Rougon (1871), work on the series began well before the defeat of the empire. But the logic of the work requires that defeat, "the terrible and necessary denouement of my work." La Curée, in consequence, becomes "the tableau of a dead reign, of a strange era of madness and shame."[11]

La Curée finally appears in serial form in November 1871. If one takes an admittedly rare but logical sense of the term monument— "that which serves as a document or archive"—La Curée becomes a literary monument to an old regime, an essential document in the archive on which future generations will draw for their history.[12] Zola's larger project of the social and natural history of a family under the Second Empire aims at constituting just such an archive of the parallel destinies in family and regime.

The terrible year of 1870-71 turns the urban renewal of Paris—haussmannization—into history, ties the renewal to a particular regime and a certain individual, both safely in the past. In the event, there is considerable continuity. Although Haussmann was dismissed before the end of the Second Empire, the projects that he initiated


were long-term enterprises, and many were not completed until well into the Third Republic. Garnier's splendiferous Opéra, for one striking example, was opened to the public only in 1875. Still, the Paris that took shape over the Second Empire, which is in large measure the Paris of today, was the city envisioned by Napoléon III and realized by Haussmann. It too is a monument as well as a record.

But if they are monuments, La Curée and remodeled Paris are very equivocal ones. Beyond the question of what, precisely, the monuments are to recall, there is the incongruity of a moving and dynamic monument—something of a contradiction in terms. For where monuments are (usually) stationary, these urban texts definitely are not. La Curée assumes movement—the furious rush for self-advancement. Haussmannization too, as the suffix signals, is a process—of destruction or construction, as the case may be—and, consequently, movement. Moreover, Zola like Haussmann is very much concerned with change—social, political, economic, scientific—and specifically with the emergence of a modern society. Paradoxically, the novel as monument welcomes movement of every sort, destructive as well as constructive. The one cannot be construed without the other. The marked ambivalence of contemporary as well as latter-day assessments of haussmannization has a great deal to do with whether the point of reference is the past or the future, the destruction of old Paris or the construction of the modern city.

The paradox sharpens when the text makes clear that the structuring mobility of La Curée is a function of the immobile, the stationary—namely, l'immobilier, property or real estate. Indeed, the mobilization of the immobile (the destruction of buildings, the reapportionment of property) and also the reverse, the compensatory immobilization of the mobile (that is, the translation back into real estate of the speculative profits realized from the original destruction) are what haussmannization is all about. Zola's title suggests what the novel demonstrates, namely, that this mobility concerns individuals less than it does the pattern of social practices within which those individuals necessarily operate. In every domain the fixed yields to fluctuation. L'immobilier becomes le mobilier.

Here is the significance of the speculative fever that dominates the novel. Investment in real estate (l'immobilier ) once the most conservative of investments, becomes extraordinarily volatile and immensely profitable for those able to manipulate the system (rather like invest-


ments in junk bonds in the 1980s). For the novelist this is the very stuff of drama. The government floats bonds to finance the public works, and deficit spending becomes the order of the day. In a much discussed pamphlet, "Les Comptes fantastiques d'Haussmann" ("The Fantastic Accounts of Haussmann," 1867-68, in Le Temps ) Jules Ferry plays off Offenbach's recent operetta, Les Contes d'Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann ) to denounce the financial manipulations of haussmannization. With the substitution of "Saccard" for "Haussmann," the title could serve as a subtitle to La Curée.

Saccard is not Haussmann. The prefect is a shadow presence in the novel; he never appears directly (though his boulevard is mentioned). Historically, the prefect defended himself vigorously against charges of personal profiteering, and subsequent commentators concur in this assessment. But the practices that he set in motion fostered speculation on a grand scale. As Zola sees it, "other cities imitated Paris, and individuals imitated these cities."[13] Yet if Saccard is not Haussmann, he assuredly is the projection of haussmannization. The very name suggests depredation, with its resonance of saccager ("to sack") and gens de sac et de corde ("cutthroats"), quite as much as the money bags that Aristide himself has in mind when he takes the name. In contrast to Haussmann, whose static patronymic fixes him as "man of the house," the man who presides over the construction of the new Paris without partaking of it, Saccard's name conjures up movement. However ignoble the character, Saccard's dynamism places him on the side of modernity and, for Zola, on the side of genius. In the city and in the novel the massive manipulation of texts engenders the prevailing sense of unreality. Exploitation in turn reinforces the connections between the written texts of the city and the city-text itself. A ville-texte under construction, Haussmann's Paris engenders a villefiction in Zola's novel.

A metaphor, an image, and the ubiquitous symbol of mobility, money figures the tension between the stable and the speculative that governs the novel. Money reifies the mobility that it both signifies and makes possible. Money is, first of all, in the usage that dates from the nineteenth century, a liquid asset.[14] It literally flows through the novel: a "mounting wave of speculation whose foam was going to cover all Paris . . . the hot rain of coins falling straight on the roofs of the city" (109); "the rain of gold" (111 ); "the streaming of the cash register" (164); "this river of gold" (165). However, liquidity has its dangers. Ready money is not capital and too easily flows through one's fingers.


Zola's appraisal of Saccard's assets elaborates the contradiction inherent in the metaphor: "The river of gold finally had a spring. [Saccard has just sold property to the state at a monumental profit.] But it was not yet a solid fortune, dammed up, flowing in an even and continuous stream" (324). As his less wealthy but more prudent accomplice Larsonneau points out, Saccard is much better at producing money than he is at holding onto it (326).

In Zola's imagery, money is as solid as it is liquid. Zola invokes the traditional solidity of the gold coin: "the handful of guineas" ("les poignées de louis," 164) and "the real money that he threw by the shovelful on the shelves of his iron safe" ("les vrais écus," 325). The traditional forms of money like the écu and the louis (neither current in mid-nineteenth-century France, though louis was used to designate the twenty-franc coin) reach to the ancien régime and to a long line of literary misers that stretches from Molière's Harpagon in L'Avare, compulsively clutching his purse (cassette ) to Balzac's Old Grandet of Eugénie Grandet in his obsession with the gold coins that he doles out to his daughter one by one. Zola makes it clear that this "real money" is for show, and more precisely, for the tableau vivant at the costume ball, where the riches of the earth are represented by piles of twenty-franc coins, "coins spread out, coins piled up, a multitude of coins. . . . a modern strongbox . . . in the middle of Greek mythology" (284). The more solid the money, the more allegorical, as the audience is well aware. This tableau vivant plays out Zola's allegory of haussmannization.[15]

Even more than the liquidity, the textuality of money makes wealth ephemeral in La Curée. Money, in this world of frenetic speculation, partakes at once of the materiality of an artifact that stands on its own and the immateriality of a text that must be read. Zola departs from the familiar metaphors of liquidity and materiality in his insistence on the absolutely conventional nature of money; that is, there is no necessary relation between the possession of gold or property—the solid, material assets by which a fortune is customarily gauged—and wealth. Convention and convenience determine which goods are designated as immobilier and which as mobilier. Property bought on credit is far more the latter than the former, and the banker decides. Against the standard invocations of the solidity of "real money," Zola sets the rampant textuality of modern banking paraphernalia and practices—bank notes, stock titles, promissory notes, paper sales under real and false names, evaluations of property, even marriage contracts. To


be sure, Zola is not the first novelist to deal with speculation. Balzac in fact predicts the frenzied speculation in Parisian real estate in César Birotteau   1 838), which he defines succinctly as an "abstract business, . . . whereby a man skims off revenues before they exist, . . . a new Kabbala!' (6:241-42). The difference is that, for Zola, a whole society practices what the Baron Nucingen alone ("the Napoléon of finance," 6:241) could manage forty or fifty years previously.

Its "authentic" organic origin in nature reinforces the value of gold. Because gold is irreducible to any other element (and no element is reducible to it), the value of gold is maintained by the limited nature of the substance. (The Eldorado into which Voltaire sends Candide dramatizes the destruction of that value by abundance.) Paper, however, is a composite substance, the components of which vary with the producer. Its value has no requisite connection to its composition. Paper has only the value assigned to it by use. Moreover, it can be produced at will. Saccard's genius lies in his ability to convince all of Paris that his speculations are "as good as gold." But this is precisely the fiction of all paper money. Going off the gold standard is so traumatic a move for so many in the twentieth century for the very good reason that it removes the correlation between resources in kind (gold) and national wealth.

Because Saccard's is a paper fortune ("In truth no one knew whether he had solid, clear capital assets," 163), he must turn himself into an alchemist. He must transform one substance into another, entirely different and unrelated substance. Saccard himself, more modern, likens the projected transformations to chemistry: "You'd say that the whole quartier is bubbling in some chemist's beaker" (113). Saccard must turn a manufactured product into a natural substance. Paper, itself a product of human ingenuity, is far less substantial than gold, a product of nature. Yet Zola contends in La Curée that this is the competition by which contemporary society is determined. Saccard's success tells us that, contrary to traditional economic as well as literary expectations, paper wins out.

Like the text of the novel, indeed of any work, the authority of these papers must be guaranteed. The issuing institution in mid-nineteenth-century France—the state—stands at the center of the corruption in La Curée. The preoccupation of Aristide's sister, Sidonie, with the recovery of the English debt pushes this contradiction to the extreme. The issuing institution—the Stuart monarchy—is as bankrupt as the France of Napoléon III after September 1870.


Sidonie and Aristide are two of a kind. Brother and sister alike work to convert paper into money. He succeeds where she fails, but the fixation is exactly the same. Sidonie's investment (she spends two months and ten thousand francs on research in British libraries) does not pay off, and the seventeenth-century certificates that she holds turn out to be worth no more than the paper on which they are printed. Aristide's speculations pay off because the government writes, that is, issues, the texts in question. It acts as both author and authority to legitimate the conversion of paper into money.

La Curée vividly demonstrates that the paper revolution is not the least of the revolutions of the mid-and late nineteenth century. The modern system of banking, based on credit and investment, is put in place at this time. The Société Générale du Crédit Industriel et Commercial in 1859 and the Crédit Lyonnais in 1863 are intended to provide capital for commercial development. The Crédit Foncier de France in 1852 provides the necessary momentum for the Parisian real estate market. The whole system is not unlike an elaborate fiction in which people must believe for it to work. (Haussmann becomes a political liability for the emperor when the failures of the Crédit Mobilier and the Compagnie Immobiliére in 1867 bring to light the rampant corruption on which Zola draws for La Curie. ) Aristide banks on the future, Sidonie on the past. There is no question who will win.

There is another paper revolution, one that directly concerns Zola and every writer. The discovery of a process for making paper out of cheap wood pulp cuts the cost of publication and opens the way for a vast increase in the production of books of every sort. In 1889 the Bibliographie de la France registers some fifteen thousand new book titles, almost double the seventy-six hundred titles registered in 1850. And books are only part of this paper revolution—journals and masscirculation newspapers flood the market. The overproduction intensifies the competition among writers and engenders an anxiety of failure. Octave Mirbeau, a follower of Zola, sees literary production as "more threatening" every day:

Books rise, overflow, spread; it's an inundation. From overcrowded bookstores breaks a torrent of yellow, blue, green, and red cascading from displays that make you dizzy. You have no idea of all the names torn from the depths of the unknown which this floodtide throws up for a moment on the crest of its waves, rolls about pell-mell, and then flings away onto a forgotten corner of the beach, where no one passes, not even beachcombers.[16]


Like every writer in this ongoing and increasingly aggressive paper revolution, Zola is a speculator. Like Saccard, Zola has a paper fortune, which he works to translate into capital assets. A few years after the publication of La Curée, the runaway success of L Assommoir would make Zola close to a millionaire. In a classic move of the translation of valeurs mobilières into valeurs immobilières, with his royalties from L 'Assommoir, Zola buys property. The house at Médan that becomes the meeting place of Zola and his disciples in the 1880s is the unequivocal sign of success in convincing readers of the authority of certain kinds of paper and the peculiar alchemy involved in writing.

Zola is and is not Saccard. Despite the condemnation of the regime, he clearly identifies with the "artist's love" that propels his creature into one deal after another and turns the simplest matter into a "gothic drama" (251). The Aristide Rougon who could not quite figure things out in La Fortune des Rougon, the first novel in the Rougon-Macquart series published just before La Curée, comes to Paris and transforms himself into Aristide Saccard, thanks to the opportunities offered by the new Paris in the making. The parallels with Zola are striking. Both Saccard and Zola come from Provence to lay siege to Paris. Like Saccard who learns about the city through a minor but key post in the municipal administration, Zola enters literary life in a subordinate position in the Hachette publishing firm. Zola too transforms himself by dint of hard work and genius from the unsuccessful student, hard-pressed journalist, and struggling author into the writer who laid claim to the legacy of Balzac.

Finally, quite as much as Saccard, Zola needed the Second Empire, and, like Saccard, he profited by its corruption, by its venality, by its immorality. "The Rougon-Macquart," he tells us in the preface to La Fortune des Rougon, "tell the story of the Second Empire through their individual dramas, from the ambush of the coup d'état to the betrayal of Sedan." Without the end that brought the fervently anticipated Third Republic but also without the beginning that established the despised empire, Zola would not have had the twenty volumes of the Rougon-Macquart cycle. Without the depredations of haussmannization and the corruption of Saccard, there would have been no La Curée. The creator's fascination with his character and beyond, with the urbanist, gives to this novel an ambiguity that belies the explicit moral and political condemnation.[17]



Paris est comme la statue de Nabucodonosor, en partie or et en partie fange.
Voltaire, to the comte de Caylus, January 1739

Paris is like the statue of Nebuchadnezzar, part gold and part filth.

The physical remodeling of the city topography—the buildings torn down and rebuilt, the grand boulevards cut across the maze of streets—are only the most visible manifestations of a more profound transformation of urban society. Haussmann's Paris is revolutionary because it is modern, and it is modern because, with individuals continually crossing geographical and social boundaries and with the boundaries themselves shifting, it requires movement on so many levels. Modernizing society breaks down customs and practices of every sort. If it does not eliminate social barriers altogether, it certainly obscures the familiar boundaries between one domain and another. The greater the movement across boundaries, the less fixed, the less defined those boundaries seem. Continual movement, or mobility, necessarily brings a crisis of identification for the individuals concerned and also for the collectivity. What is the city in an urban society defined by movement and flux? Such are the questions posed in and by the Paris constructed by Haussmann and the haussmannized Paris represented by Zola. Topographical transfigurations in Zola's descriptions intersect on every level with social transformations in his plot. Furthermore, the vitality of this nexus owes everything to the essence of haussmannization at work in the actual city, in the continuous erasure and remarking of spatial and social boundaries. Zola's novel and Paris meet over streets where none previously existed, over easier circulation across the wide boulevards that replace the convoluted, narrow streets of the past, and over a general destruction of the past that enables the future to dominate the present.

Perhaps the most striking example of the obliteration of boundaries in the city itself comes more subtly with the annexation of the immediate suburbs in 1860. The pen, in the redistricting, proved as mighty as the bulldozer. An administrative decree more than doubled the area of the city and increased its population by one-third.

That population was itself changing. The reconstruction of Paris needed workers, and those workers came from the provinces. The


migration of unskilled and semiskilled labor into Paris augmented the lower-class population. These inhabitants were concentrated in certain quartiers, and notably in the faubourgs. When Zola chose la Goutte d'or in Belleville as the setting for L'Asssommoir, he had just these social differences in mind. When Gervaise Macquart and Lantier arrive from Provence in the early 1850s, they settle in Belleville, which was then outside the city proper. For Gervaise and the whole neighborhood (with the exception of one bourgeois), Paris looms in the distance, "over there" ("là-bas"), definitely foreign territory. Zola enacts the correlation of physical distance and social distance in the trip of Gervaise's wedding party into central Paris. Not only do the faubouriens get lost in the Louvre, they themselves become the spectacle for the bourgeois habitués of the museum. When the group climbs the column in the Place Vendôme, their bird's-eye view reveals nothing except their own neighborhood, which they locate only with considerable difficulty, outside the city. As Zola makes clear, the integration of Belleville into the city proper can only intensify the already dramatic contrasts within Paris.

La Curée stages the topographical and demographic mobility of Second Empire Paris. The mobility encouraged by the transformation of the city governs Saccard and provides the model for relations in every domain. The multiple mobilities of the novel blur boundaries of every sort—sexual, social, and spatial. Zola's moral geography, in sum, equates mobility with transgression.

The most fundamental of these transgressions is sexual. Sexual license defines the novel—the ubiquity of shady financial practices tolerated by the state is mirrored in the promiscuity of Second Empire elite society, where the reader can hardly keep track of all the liaisons in the making and unmaking. The reader is unsure how many lovers to attribute to Renee Saccard. The "whirlwind of expenditures" that Haussmann unleashes on Paris is personified, dramatized, and amplified by this rampant promiscuity. This novel, as Zola indicated in the preface with an image to which he would return more than once, showed "this life of excess" ("la vie à outrance"), which converted the whole regime into a bawdy house ("mauvais lieu").

But Paris goes beyond that bawdy house. The sexuality that pervades the novel signals a more fundamental perversion, a corruption of nature. Mobility in the realm of sexuality can only mean sexual ambiguity. The degeneration of the entire Rougon-Macquart family,


and of the society that they incarnate, is rooted in the physiological degeneration of "a race that has lived too fast and which ends in the man-woman of corrupt societies." Sexual ambiguity pervades the entire novel. Maxime, Saccard's son from his first marriage, is a "strange hermaphrodite . . . in a society that was rotting" (152). If Maxime is the "man-woman" with "a temperament of a courtesan" (269), with the "indulgences of a neuter being" (211) Renee is his counterpart. For Zola their liaison is not just incestuous, but profoundly unnatural in the reversal of the most basic roles that nature creates. At the Café Riche, the scene of the seduction, Maxime finds Renée "original. At times he wasn't really sure of her sex; the great wrinkle that crossed her forehead, the pouting of her lips, her indecisive nearsightedness, made her a tall young man" (184). Appropriately, Renée seduces Maxime and continues to dominate him until the stronger force of his father prevails.

And theirs is not by any means the only such instance of sexual mobility. Zola marks the blatant lesbianism of "the Inseparables," Mme d'Espanet and Mme Haffner, Renée's two friends from the convent, and the homosexuality of Baptiste, Saccard's valet, as further symptoms of a society so confused that it no longer recognizes the most elementary classifications. And lest we forget the necessary connection between these sexual deviations and the financial mobility, Zola shows us "the Inseparables" at the costume ball: "Gold and Silver [their costumes] were dancing together, lovingly" (317). In Second Empire Paris, Zola tells us, deviation is the norm. It is also completely reified in the ubiquitous social construct of money as gold and silver intertwine in full public view.

So great is the force that mobility exerts on sexuality that Aristide Saccard himself puts all his energy into his speculations, taking mistresses primarily because spending money on women is part of his plan of conspicuous consumption. But Aristide prefers money (156) and intrigue. Similarly, Sidonie has invested all her sexual energy in myriad transactions, deals, trades: "The woman was dying in her; she was no longer anything but a broker" (95). Aristide recognizes her "appetite for money" as his own. But in her case "the common temperament" had produced "this strange hermaphrodism of a woman who had become neuter, all at once businessman and procuress" (96).


The incest of Renée and Maxime that directs the novel provides a striking llustration of the pervading sexual license while offering the most flagrant manifestation of the breakdown of the family. This disintegration in turn, in the customary synecdoche, signals as it produces the disintegration of society. Marriage becomes one more speculation, and family ties offer little more than a privileged access to potentially profitable connections. Both brothers plan to change their names, Aristide after some prodding by Eugène: "We will bother each other less" (87). (Eugène Rougon in fact keeps his name.) Elsewhere, the relations between father and son depend on the use each can make of the other. Ever the speculator, Saccard "couldn't for long be near a thing or a person without wanting to sell it, somehow to profit by it. His son wasn't yet twenty before he thought about how to use him" (160).

Zola invokes commercial practices to characterize the deviant family unit formed by Aristide, Renée, and Maxime. They are not a family at all but Saccard Ltd—a company of limited responsibility, Saccard et Cie S.R.L. (Société à responsabilité limitée ) "The idea of a family was replaced for them by the notion of a sort of investment company where the profits are shared equally" (152). Renée finally realizes just how limited that responsibility is. She is herself one more element in Saccard's financial strategies: "Saccard had thrown her down like a bet, like an investment . . . She was a stock in her husband's portfolio" (312). The ending of the novel, which sees the reconciliation of Saccard and Maxime over a financial transaction and the elimination of Renée, can be reconstrued in financial terms as the reassertion of patriarchy with the transformation of Saccard et Cie into Saccard Père et fils, following nineteenth-century commercial custom.

Symptomatic of the general decadence is the absence of a mother worthy of the name to anchor the family. Saccard's first wife Angèle dies at an opportune moment and in any case was never a significant figure. Not surprisingly in a novel that dramatizes the tension between the immobilier and the mobilier, she is likened to "a troublesome piece of furniture" (82). Angèle and Aristide's little daughter, Clotilde, is shipped off to her uncle in Plassans as soon as her mother dies. Saccard accepts Renée's unborn illegitimate child as his for a fee—her dowry and for the step up the social ladder he takes by marrying into the solidly established Parisian upper bourgeoisie. Further, his


"honor" remains intact, since Renee, as predicted by Sidonie (100, 111), has a well-timed miscarriage. Renée's maternal solicitude for Maxime (230-31) is a denatured love. The only true nurturance comes from the Seine, the mother substitute for the orphaned Renée and her sister Christine: "The Seine, the giant . . . [Renee] remembered their tenderness for the river; their love of its colossal flow . . . opening around them . . . in two arms . . whose great and pure caress they could still feel" (338). But the river offers no real refuge, contributing instead to the symbolism of movement and mobility that structures the novel as a whole. The image of the Seine that dominates the novel comes earlier: "And it seemed, at night . . . that the Seine was carrying, in the middle of the sleeping city, the filth of the city" (162).

As no mother nurtures in La Curée, no father governs. Aristide seems totally unaware of the customary bond between father and son. The authority that he exercises derives from the power of his purse. Maxime is an associate; he and Maxime are comrades, united by "a familiarity, an abandon" (156) that leads them to frequent the same demi-mondain milieu, to share the same pleasures and the same women—and this well before Renée takes up with her stepson. Vice is "the persistent perfume of this singular home" (158). Renee, abandoned by Maxime, cannot stand to see father and son together. She takes revenge by forcing Saccard to acknowledge the incest: "Now she would no longer see them making fun of her, arm in arm, like comrades" (327). But the final image of them in the novel brings father and son together again, in the Bois de Boulogne as the emperor passes, smiling at Aristide's "Vive l'empereur!" The relationship is more depraved still since the "man-woman" Maxime is "a kept man" ("entretenu," 312), and he is kept by his father. Zola had not read Marx, but Maxime's status recalls the end of The Eighteenth Brumaire, where Marx cites Delphine de Girardin's quip that France, for the first time, has a government of "kept men" ("hommes entretenus").

The blurring of boundaries, the confusion of identities, and the transgressions of norms that preside over the moral economy of the novel are at once sign and symptom of a complex interplay between moral and physical space. From the omnipresent mirrors to the tableaux vivants at the end, the theatricality of the novel dramatizes the confusion between public and private. The obscuring, to the point of


obliteration, of the boundaries between inside and outside has significant moral implications. The Bois de Boulogne is a boudoir, the Saccard apartment an extension of the rue de Rivoli. "The street came up into the apartment, with its rumbling carriages, its jostling stranger., its permissive language" (153). Given the promiscuity that attends its transformation, Haussmann's Paris is an active agent in Renee's degradation, madness, and death; and this same "complicitous city" (338) is also the necessary setting for the corruption of the Second Empire. The merging of outside and inside is symptomatic of the larger ideological confusion between public and private. The society of La Curée, Saccard in the lead, can make no distinction between the two. Typically, Saccard manages to get himself named to the commission d'enquête charged with evaluating property to be expropriated by the state for the city, in which capacity he is able to give his own property (owned under a fictitious name) an astronomical assessment.

La Curée scarcely mentions old Paris. The Second Empire redefines the royal palace by completing the Louvre. The Communards who burn the Tuileries in 1871 attack not the bastion of the monarchy and vestgie of the ancien régime but the new Louvre, the work of the Second Empire. But the true monument to this regime and to this city, the true repository of their archives, is the extravagantly sumptuous home that Saccard builds off the Parc Monceau, constructed on property "stolen from the city" (163). This hôtel is notable for more than the highly eclectic architecture and the incredibly lavish furnishings that have all Paris agog. The same identification with the regime that leads Saccard to acclaim the emperor in the Bois de Boulogne leads him to turn his own home into a "small version of the new Louvre" (53). The extravagance and the excess deployed in this construction preside over the regime itself.

The nouveau Louvre and Saccard's hôtel raise equivalent monuments to the Second Empire. Both represent the public as private—Saccard's theft of his property from the city, the financial dealings that take place at the dinners he gives—but also the private as so very public. All of Paris—le tout Paris in any case—knows virtually everything about the Saccard hôtel, from the salons and the traditionally public rooms to Renee's bedroom, her dressing room, and even her bathtub. "People spoke about 'the beautiful Madame Saccard's dressing room' just the way they speak about 'The Hall of Mirrors, at Ver-


sailles'" (209). Zola faces the problem of any historical novelist—how to deal with the necessary famous personages—by turning the Saccard hôtel into the Louvre in miniature. He does not need to show us the court around Napoléon III (he will do so a few years later in Son Excellence Eugène Rougon ) the goings-on in and around the Saccard hôtel convey by metonymy the depravation of the regime as a whole. Like the ruins of the petites maisons that serviced Louis XV's sexual appetites, the Saccard hôtel will one day stand as a reminder of a society that is no longer. Of the one and the other, distant observers will say, following the respectable businessman looking at what is left of the petites maisons, "What odd times those were" (325).

The new city under construction makes the public so very private. Like all the other couples in the novel, Renée and Maxime live their liaison in public. The seduction occurs half in public, in a private room ("cabinet particulier") in the Café Riche. More generally the lovers had the "love of the new Paris" (228), which they turned into their personal—but scarcely private—space. Their "carriage seemed to be rolling over a rug. . . . Every boulevard became a corridor of their hôtel" (229); "the Bois de Boulogne was their garden" (332). The Parc Monceau next to the Hôtel Saccard is "the necessary flower bed of this new Paris" (229), Renee's special domain to which she has her own key. The greenhouse (la serre ) in the hôtel itself offers the ideal site for Renée and Maxime's adulterous affair, a cross between a bordello and a hothouse. The strangely beautiful but also frighteningly exotic flowers exist only to mimic and stimulate desire (7680, 218-20). Renee herself becomes the most exotic flower in the greenhouse (80) and in the city that the greenhouse recalls. If the greenhouse evokes a bordello, the city—the bawdy house—reaches back to the hothouse. Renee is the "strange, voluptuous flower" that could grow only in this city under this regime (205-6).

Tradition survives in one place only, in the Hôtel Béraud on the Ile Saint-Louis. But this part of the city is of another time, placed under the sign of Henri IV, not Napoléon III. The ile, like the Hôtel Béraud, is a product of Henri IV's first Parisian urban renewal at the beginning of the seventeenth century. As Saccard's hôtel reproduces the new Louvre, the courtyard of the Hôtel Béraud presents a smaller version of the Place Royale, the center of court life under Henri IV (125). No wonder that Renee and Saccard find it "a dead house"


(126) in "a dead city" (124), "a thousand leagues away" from their promiscuous new Paris of light and noise and warmth.

No wonder either that Renée's father complains that "the city is no longer made for him" (234). His rare ventures off the ile take him to the Jardin des Plantes (another creation of the ancien régime), which, topographically and socially as well as horticulturally, lies at virtually the opposite end of Paris from the stifling greenhouse of the Hôtel Saccard, the Parc Monceau, and the new boulevards that demarcate the Paris of his daughter and son-in-law. M. Béraud Du Châtel's refusal to visit the Parc Monceau strikes the one note of political opposition in the entire novel. And it is, as it must be, altogether ineffectual. Renée's father offers silent opposition that holds out no alternative. After the death of his sister, he walls himself off—"cloistered" is Zola's term (336)—from any human contact. For if the new Paris is associated with vice, Zola's images, his similes and metaphors, again and again also associate this city with light, with the sun, with flames, heat, and color, with the din of incessant activity, in a word, with life.

Fueled by the heat of these images, Zola's modern Paris must expand, and life must win. The Hôtel Béraud and the Ile Saint-Louis may provide the geographical and moral center of the city; they could not be further from the social and political center. The Hôtel Béraud conveys a vision of the past, and Monsieur Béraud Du Châtel is a man marked for another age, by his rectitude, by his austerity, and above all by the privacy that he guards so zealously.


L'habit ne fait pas le moine.
French proverb

For the apparel oft proclaims the man. Hamlet (I, iii, 72)

The success of the new Paris, the exploits of Saccard and the society that he keeps in constant turmoil, are condensed during Renée's last promenade in the Bois de Boulogne in Saccard's cry of "Vive l'empereur!" as Napoléon III passes in "a triumphal parade" (336). That triumph has its costs in the maladies that are on public view. The sickness of the emperor, seen twice, each time weaker, is the obvious


exteriorization of the illness that will bring down the regime. The emperor who ages noticeably over the two years of La Curée will turn into the totally bewildered old man facing certain defeat at the hands of the Prussians whom Zola portrays in La Débâcle (1892). But Renee's own disease, her vice, and her crime center the novel. If the emperor manifests the sickness that saps the Second Empire, Renee brings that disease to the city itself. Her beautiful shoulders are twice characterized as the pillars on which the empire rests: "Admit outright," Maxime tells her, "that you are one of the pillars of the Second Empire" (45, cf. 205). Her malady and her fever will be its malady and its fever. But the same scene immediately ties Renée to the city. Those bared shoulders and décolletage so impress the public officials in attendance at the ball that Eugène Rougon knows he will have little trouble the next day voting another loan for the city.

With Renée, Zola elaborates two familiar images of Paris: the city as woman (and particularly as courtesan) and the city as the head, le cerveau, l'intelligence, la tête du monde. From the beginning to the end of the novel Renee is characterized as an intelligence gone awry. Her nervous disposition will easily turn into madness. And so it does. "La folie" becomes an ever more frequent notation as the novel progresses. This insanity implicates the city as a whole: "Maxime himself was beginning to be frightened by this head where madness was spreading, and where he thought he could hear at night, on the pillow, all the uproar of the city lusting after pleasure" (241).[18] When, predictably, Renée dies, her illness is acute meningitis—that is, brain fever, which once again stands for the madness of the city itself: "In the feverish sleep of Paris, one could sense the breakdown of the brain, the golden and voluptuous nightmare of a city crazed by gold and flesh" (163). Paris realizes the predictions of Saccard, "pure madness, the infernal gallop of millions, Paris intoxicated and knocked out flat" (114).

This is the Paris of the hunt, and more precisely of la curée, that is, the most dramatic moment in the very public spectacle of the hunt. Although the figurative sense of his title dominates (the race for political spoils), its literal meaning invariably brings the original sense of the hunt into play. Zola takes care to specify that the wedding of Aristide and Renée occurs at a time when "the passionate rush for spoils [la curée ] filled a corner of the forest with the yelping of the hounds, the cracking of the whips, the flaming of the torches" (162).


Plate 13. 
La Curée  by Gustave Courbet (1856). The hunt was a favorite 
subject for Courbet. Here the painter focuses on the final moment, when 
the entrails of the quarry are to be thrown to the hounds. The hunter 
leaning against the tree is curiously detached from the death he has caused, 
quite as Aristide Saccard in Zola's novel  La Curée  dissociates himself 
from his wife's descent into madness and eventual death even though 
he too has loosed the hounds on the victim. The painting would have 
been familiar to many readers through the lithographic reproduction that 
appeared in the literary review  L'Artiste.  (Photograph courtesy of the 
Henry Lillie Pierce Fund, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.)


The hunt provides both a general image for the novel and one specific to Renee. The associations with animality throughout the novel—her hair, the fur and velvet skating outfit, the bearskins on which she and Maxime make love, the fur wrap with which she covers herself at the ball, and especially the dress embroidered with all the motifs of a deer hunt—turn her into the quarry (la curée ) in the original sense of the term, the part of the animal fed to the hounds that have run it to the ground.[19] The image would have been familiar to contemporaries from Courbet's painting of La Curée, exhibited in the Salon of 1857 and reproduced in a lithograph in L'Artiste the following year.[20] When Renée finally "sees" herself naked, she understands that she is trapped and that Saccard has directed the hunt from the beginning, putting out his traps "with the refinements of a hunter who prides himself on capturing his prey with style" (251). One might further connect Courbet's strangely passive and detached pipe-smoking hunter-artist and the piping huntsman to Saccard and Maxime strolling in the Bois de Boulogne at the end of the novel, puffing on their cigars, altogether as indifferent to Renée's plight as Courbet's huntsmen are to the dead roebuck hanging in the opposite corner of the painting.

Saccard has despoiled Renée of her entire fortune and thrown her to the hounds just as he has attacked Paris. In a key scene early in the novel, Saccard surveys the city from the heights of Montmartre, and "with his outstretched hand, open and sharp like a cutlass," he sketches in the air the projected transformations of the city (13). Saccard later recalls his prediction with great satisfaction: "There lay his fortune, in those famous slashes that his hand had made in the heart of Paris . . . a slash here, then on this side, another slash, a third slash in this direction, another in that . . . slashes everywhere" (1314)—all in all a very apt description of Saccard's calculated attack on Renee. His was not the original rape of Renee, and his was not the idea for the transformation of Paris. It was the emperor who traced the original plan on the city map. When Saccard surreptitiously consults the famous map marked up by the emperor for the prefect, he sees that "these bloody lines of a pen slashed Paris even more deeply" than had his own hand (1 16). But Saccard, not Haussmann, is everywhere at once. Saccard rushes in the same day from the construction site of the Arc de Triomphe to that of the boulevard Saint-Michel, from the excavations on the boulevard Malesherbes to


the embankment work at Chaillot. "The central city was being slashed all over, and [Saccard] had a hand in all the slashes, in all the wounds" (142). The Crédit Viticole founded by Saccard—his "purest glory" (143)—"held the City of Paris by the throat" (276).

The clear connection between Renée and Paris, the responsibility that Saccard bears for Renée's debasement, his parallel responsibility for the "disemboweling" of Paris, would seem to constitute an unequivocal condemnation of Saccard and by extension of Haussmann and his great works. But the novel is nowhere nearly that simple. If Renee dies, Paris lives on in the Third Republic from which Zola writes, having recovered from its "fever," its "wounds" having healed. What then of the denunciation of la curée and of the transformations of the city that let loose the hounds? The contradiction is only apparent. Renée is not a Balzacian metaphor of the city as woman, but an exemplum of a very particular society. The associations Zola establishes with Paris are with a Paris that disappears, the Paris of the Second Empire, which dies along with, if somewhat later than, Renée. The moment of la curée, we must remember, signals the end of the hunt.

Renée is, for that matter, rather too obviously the incarnation of that society. Her sickness—"her sick heart" (47), her "morbid air" (49), her "madness" (56)—does not end the novel but begins it, and the explicit association that Renée herself makes with Phèdre brings to mind Racine's opening description of his heroine, "a dying woman seeking death" ("une femme mourante, et qui cherche à mourir"). Renee's other associations are with the artificial. At one point she is likened to "an adorable and astonishing machine that is breaking down" (247). At several other instances her image is of a statue, a  she poses at Worms' studio (139), in the tableaux vivants at the costume ball, and elsewhere (206, 270, 308). Similarly the connection with dolls. In the mirror she sees a "strange woman in pink silk . . . who] seemed made for the love affairs of marionettes and dolls. She had come to this, a big doll whose torn chest only lets out a stream of sawdust" (311); and when she finds one of her old dolls in the attic of the Hôtel Béraud, the body limp from all the lost sawdust, the painted head still smiling, she bursts into sobs.

Paradoxically, Renée is most fully herself as the nymph Echo in the tableaux vivants staged during an evening at the Hôtel Saccard. For she is the Echo of the Second Empire. Her unsatisfied desires are


those of all the other characters; in her malady resonates the madness of the Second Empire. As Echo she acts out her desire for Maxime-Narcissus. Rejected by Narcissus as she will be by Maxime, Renee stages her own death. Powdered from head to toe, as one of the spectators rather maliciously observes, she looks dead. The insatiable desires of the Second Empire will lead to its downfall as Renée's ever greater desires will lead to her death. Understandably, the audience does not much like the final tableau, which depicts the deaths of Echo and Narcissus. Although the audience cannot appreciate the complexities of the allegory, the identification with the wealth in the earlier tableau has been too strong for them not to reject the depressing denouement.

This "textuality" sets Renee apart and makes her a product of this society rather than of a Paris for all time. Renee's texts are, indisputably, her dresses, her "rags" ("chiffons"), as Saccard calls them (17). The continually changing outfits that astound all Paris situate Renée within the same economy of mobility and ephemera that governs Saccard. Moreover, the debts that she accumulates for the clothes that allow the perpetual transformations of self, the vast sums that she owes the great designer Worms, offer an exact parallel of the debts incurred by the city for its continual transformations. In both cases the solid bourgeoisie pays: Renee's father, not her husband, pays Worms' bill of 257,000 francs just as the run of ordinary citizens ultimately will finance the loans floated by the city.

Beyond the overwhelming extravagance that they proclaim, the individual outfits are virtually the only manifestation of Renee as an individual, which is also her definition by society. Clothes, in this instance, express and make the woman. Just as Saccard would not exist without his masses of papers, so too Renee has no social existence apart from her closets full of "rags." Hence the burden borne in the novel by the particular ensembles. What distinguishes Zola's descriptions from the fashion reporting on which he drew for these descriptions is, paradoxically perhaps, their significance. These clothes signify Renée, and beyond Renée they signify the Second Empire. The two most striking examples are the costumes that Renee wears for the tableaux vivants—an allegory within the larger allegory of the performance: "The nymph Echo's dress was a complete allegory all by itself" (280) and the ball dress, "that famous satin dress the color of bushes on which a complete deer hunt was embroidered, with all its features,


powder horns, hunting horns, broad blade knives" (226). Her very dress identifies Renée as the quarry, la curée.

The factitiousness of Renée's wardrobe that marks her as uniquely a product of society contrasts with the garb of the Seine. The river not the woman wears the most beautiful dress in the novel, a dress that owes nothing to Worms (but everything to Zola): "The Seine had put on its beautiful dress of green silk flecked with white flames; and the currents where the water eddied added satin ruffs to the dress, while in the distance, beyond the belt made by the bridges, streaks of lights spread out panels of material the color of the sun" (338). The "changing dresses" of the Seine "went from  blue to green, with a thousand hues of infinite delicacy" and from afar resembled "the enchanted gauze of a fairy's tunic" (128). The view from the turret of the Hôtel Béraud reveals a Paris outside fashion and outside history, a mythic Paris whose "soul" is the Seine, "the living river" that flows "in tranquil majesty" (128). As a young girl Renée easily tires of this immense horizon; as a woman, sick unto death, she comes too late to prize this "old friend" (338), this Paris far from the frenetic new Paris of the boulevards and the Bois de Boulogne. Unlike Renée, caught in the maelstrom of a particular historical period whose movement she is unable to discern (her myopia is telling in this regard), this eternal Paris, nourished by the Seine, will recover from the "fevers" of the Second Empire.


Saccard montrait, dans toute cette affaire, un amour d'artiste.
Zola, La Curée

In all this business Saccard showed an artist's love.

But the Paris that survives will be the legacy of the Second Empire, Haussmann's Paris, Saccard's Paris—and Zola's Paris. La Curée offers Zola's solution to the representation of the modernizing city. The portrayal of haussmannization partakes of a larger effort to convey the essence of contemporary society in the making. In the Paris of La Curée, Zola proclaims his aesthetics—the aesthetics of modernization. Saccard, in effect, stands as the greatest artist of the novel because he most fully realizes the force and the vision of modern life. That this vision comprehends material destruction and social disorder and the


accompanying sickness, madness, and immorality gives Zola's measure of modernity. The Saccard who plunges Paris into disarray constructs that modernity, or more accurately for Zola, writes it. For "in all this business Saccard showed an artist's love" (251), he creates movement and, like Zola in this novel, creates life out of destruction.

Other artists in La Curée amplify the definition of revolutionary art, of a modern art, by which Zola creates the Paris of the Second Empire. The most obvious representative of art in the novel is the great couturier Worms. Almost a caricature of the romantic artist, Worms keeps all the women in thrall, makes his customers wait for hours, and produces an outfit only when truly inspired. Contemplating his client, "he reflected further, seemed to descend to the very depths of his genius, and, with the triumphant grimace of a Pythian oracle . . . , finished [his pronouncement]" (139). Yet the ideas come from Renée—the "prodigiously original and graceful dress" that she wears to the Tuileries is her "real discovery" that comes to her one sleepless night (166),just as her "daring imagination" leads her to "risk" the "famous" hunting scene gown.

In this partnership, Worms is the artist who offers Renée, and the society of which she is part, a privileged means of expression and Zola a privileged mode of characterization. Her dresses put Renée on display: her excess (the Tahitian tunic that leaves her virtually nude), her plight (the dress embroidered with the deer hunt), her fragility (the black and white dress she wears for her first visit to the Tuileries turns her into "a flower for the picking, a mysterious white and black carnation," 168), her growing disequilibrium (her "crazy outfits," 217), and her increasing ignominy ("the nymph Echo's dress . . . spoke of the game that she had accepted, for the singularity of offering herself to Maxime in public," 313).

Clothes both make and express the woman and, beyond the woman, the society. Worms is the representative artist of the Second Empire because his medium so perfectly captures its frivolity, its excess, its extravagance—and also its mobility and impermanence. Like Saccard's account books that appear and disappear throughout the novel, Worms' outfits make up the archives of the Second Empire. Renee's deer hunt gown plays on the double sense of la curée, since it figures her own situation as quarry and also the larger hunt that designates the regime as a whole. Then too, Worms, like Saccard though without specific intention, is responsible for Renée's


downfall—his bills and they alone push her into ever greater debt. Artist to the hunt, Worms takes his place in the pack of hounds that Saccard unleashes against Renée.

There is one more artist in La Curée, a slightly ridiculous figure all too easily dismissed by his contemporaries in the novel and most likely by readers as well. Yet, still more directly than Worms' creations Hupel de 1a Noue's tableaux vivants figure this society and the woman who is at once its quarry and its model. A prefect in the provinces who manages to spend eight months of the year in Paris, where he likes to tell scabrous stories and seduce women as much as anyone else, M. Hupel de la Noue is very much a man of this world. And the man of this world achieves his art. The election that this prefect orchestrates in the provinces is "a veritable heroic-comic poem" (246). But his finest moment is the staging of the tableaux vivants, "The Love of Handsome Narcissus and the Nymph Echo," at the costume ball given by the Saccards. He writes his poem not with words but "with ingenious combinations of fabrics and poses chosen from among the most beautiful" (273). All the women have appropriate roles, from the "Inseparables" as "a reminder of Lesbos" (279) in one corner of the first tableau, to Renée as Echo and Maxime as Narcissus in all three tableaux. Hupel de la Noue intends Echo's pose to show "the sorrow of unsatisfied desire" (280), and the nymph dies of those unsatisfied desires.

The second tableau presents the other side of the Second Empire, Saccard's side: "After the temptation of flesh, the temptation of gold." The ploy is classic, as one of the men remarks, adding the ultimate compliment, "You know your times, Monsieur le Préfet" (283). The "Inseparables" costumed as Gold and Silver and clothed in real gold and silver, the other women covered with the precious stones that they at once embody and represent, and especially the great pile of twenty-franc pieces spilling all over the stage—these elements overwhelm the drama of Echo and Narcissus in the foreground much as la curée obscures the drama of Renee and Maxime.

The conversations in the audience between scenes, which are all about the financing of the new Paris, replay the work taking place on the stage. The two industrialists need no tutoring in the classics to read the allegorical tableau with absolute accuracy: to them, the money on stage suggests all the money necessary to tear down the city and build it up again. The parallel does not escape Saccard's brother


the minister Eugène Rougon: "We would do great things if M. Hupel de la Noue minted currency for us" (286). The complicated allusions in the tableaux to Ovid's Metamorphoses and to classical mythology, which Hupel de la Noue tries to explain at length, are beyond the audience, their competence and their interest. If these sensible and essentially practical men and women (290) instinctively reject the final tableau that portrays the death of Echo and Narcissus, they respond enthusiastically to the first two tableaux, effortlessly recognizing their world in the reality of the scene as well as in the temptation that scene represents.

The final transformation of this society will not come for some time. But it will come. For Zola, finishing La Curée under the Republic, it had come. Hupel de la Noue, like Zola, takes the measure of his time. But the prefect-poet is, as Zola is not, the prisoner of this society. He can only proceed by allegory, whereas Zola, as he tells us, adopts "the realist's lens," "a simple window pane that claims to be so perfectly transparent that the images go through it and are then produced in all their reality."[21] Zola refuses the distancing classical allegory. He takes reality not at one remove but directly. Zola, the text tells us again and again, is the greatest artist of the Second Empire. The classics in La Curée serve as the sublime backdrop from the past against which the present is measured and found wanting: Racine's Phèdre consciously replayed by Renée and Maxime, Ovid's Metamorphoses translated by Hupel de la Noue for modern times in the tableaux vivants, the Pythian oracle turning up as Worms, Renée as a "gigantic Messalina" (220), the vulgar demi-mondaine Blanche Müller as the heroine in Offenbach's operetta La Belle Hélène, itself a semiparodic appropriation of classical models for modern times. If Marx saw in the Second Empire history replayed as farce, Zola saw literature replayed as parody. Yet that parody serves Zola well, for it supplies the foundation on which he builds his history and his novel.

Saccard is the greatest artist in La Curée because he is on Zola's side, on the side of energy, of creation, of mobility, in a word, of modernity. Zola's modern art moves, and he, the omnipresent artist, moves with it. The protean writer encompasses every artistic role—architect, couturier, stage designer, interior decorator—and master of the new city. Zola well recognizes the costs of that modernity—Renée's fate is exemplary—but he squarely faces the challenge and accepts those costs. Renée herself has to acknowledge her husband's


superiority as an agent of a new world. He is less an individual than a will to power; he is totally oblivious of personal danger, at work in a forge, indeed practically a forge unto himself (he is the "color of iron," his laugh is like "a pair of tongs") (311). How could Zola not be drawn to the winner of this arduous steeplechase, "chewing on his 20-franc pieces as he runs" (312)? For Saccard has brought forth a new city and a tomorrow that will long outlive the individual.


So too Zola. "We are the men of tomorrow, our day is coming," Zola wrote his friend and disciple Paul Alexis in February 1871. Haussmannization and the Second Empire itself have taken necessary steps in the march of progress. With this perspective of the past as the future in the making, Zola joins the Victor Hugo of Paris-Guide discussed in chapter 2. Written just three years before La Curée, this introduction to the collective work on Paris collapses the whole of the nineteenth century into the movement of revolution. Zola wrote a very different nineteenth century, but he too wrote the revolution, the revolution of modern urban society. For this reason Haussmann presides over La Curée, his hand everywhere. The evident depravity of the emperor, the corruption of the regime, and the dissoluteness of its subjects condemn this society. But Zola faces the future. The preface to the Rougon-Macquart, written in 1871, relegates the Second Empire to "a dead reign, a strange era of shame and madness." Yet from that dead reign Zola will bring a living literature; from that era of shame and madness, he will create a scientific analysis, the literature of tomorrow, the literature of the republic. If haussmannization was a moment to be denounced, the city that emerged from that moment yet raised a monument to the eternal city of light, the capital of the world. Another revolution that made the world we live in.

Revolution has become permanently inscribed on the modern landscape. But it never entirely escapes the ambiguity of the relationship with tradition, with the past. This tension, between past and present, between fixity and movement, quite as much as any particular phenomenon, conveys the sense of modernity, the sense of great social movement—modernization—for which, to all intents and purposes, one can posit no end. To see oneself as "modern" means to


see oneself as "revolutionary," to recognize the continuing significance of disruption in everyday life. Modernity forces the connection between the ever-changing material conditions of postrevolutionary society and the consciousness of change. The particular bent of modernity, the explanations of change, will naturally vary. Where Zola fixed on haussmannization as the paradigmatic manifestation of this postrevolutionary society, Marx indicted capitalism. Yet the two contemporaries were not as far apart as their divergent political agendas might lead one to assume. Their imaginations occupied similar terrain. The purpose of interpretation differs greatly, but surely Zola would have recognized his own imaginative context, including the vision of La Curée, in Marx's contention that, with the advent of modern industry, "all bounds of morals and nature, of age and sex, of day and night, were broken down. Capital celebrated its orgies."[22]

Zola worked with and from this understanding of revolution as change, to the straining toward the new and the destruction of every boundary. At the same time, his novel, like every interpretation, aims at fixing experience, at arresting movement, at making connections to the known, to the familiar, to the past. As Haussmann reached to the past for the seal of Paris, so Zola wove his work about revolutionary change around interpretive devices from the past—the somewhat forced invocation of Phèdre, the association of woman and city, the dense metaphorical structures, and most strikingly, the image of the hunt. But revolution is a process and, like the other social processes of mid-nineteenth-century Paris, urbanization and modernization, it cannot so easily be contained. The modern condition speaks to just this acute sense of the ambiguity and ultimately to the impossibility of containment.


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