In this novel Aristide Saccard, who followed his brother Eugene to Paris in the hope of sharing the spoils of the Second Empire (La Fortune des Rougon), was successful in amassing a vast fortune by speculation in building-sites. His first wife having died, he married Renee Beraud du Chatel, a lady of good family, whose dowry first enabled him to throw himself into the struggle of financial life. In a magnificent mansion which he built in the Parc Monceau a life of inconceivable extravagance began. The mushroom society of Paris was at this period the most corrupt in Europe, and the Saccards soon came to be regarded as leaders in every form of pleasure. Vast though their fortune was, their expenses were greater, and a catastrophe was frequently imminent. Renee, satisfied with prodigality of every kind, entered on an infamous liaison with her husband's son, a liaison which Aristide condoned in order to extract money from his wife. Rene ultimately died, leaving her husband immersed in his feverish speculations.