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La Fortune des Rougon

La Fortune des Rougon is a novel by Emile Zola.

In the preface to this novel Zola explains his theories of heredity, and the work itself forms the introductory chapter to the Rougon-Macquart series which deals with the life history of a family and its descendants during the second empire.


The common ancestress of the Rougons and the Macquarts was Adelaide Fouque, a girl who from youth had been subject to nervous seizures. From her father she inherited a small farm, and at the age of eighteen married one of her own labourers, a man named Rougon, who died fifteen months afterwards, leaving her with one son, named Pierre. Shortly after her husband's death she fell completely under the influence of Macquart, a drunken smuggler and poacher, by whom in course of time she had a son named Antoine and a daughter named Ursule. She became more and more subject to cataleptic attacks, until eventually her mind was completely unhinged. Pierre Rougon, her legitimate son, was a man of strong will inherited from his father, and he early saw that his mother's property was being squandered by the Macquarts. By means approximating to fraud he induced his mother, who was then facile, to sell her property and hand over the proceeds to him. Soon after he married Felicite Peuch, a woman of great shrewdness and keen intelligence, by whom he had three sons (Eugene, Aristide, and Pascal) and two daughters (Marthe and Sidonie). Pierre Rougon was not particularly prosperous, but his eldest son, Eugene, went to Paris and became mixed up in the Bonapartist plots which led to the ''Coup d'Etat'' of 1851. He was consequently able to give his parents early information as to the probable course of events, and the result of their action was to lay the foundations of the family fortune.

The scene of the book is the Provencal town of Plassans, and the tragic events attending the rising of the populace against the ''Coup d'Etat'' are told with accuracy and knowledge. There is a charming love idyll between Silvere Mouret, a son of Ursule Macquart, and a young girl named Miette, both of whom fall as victims in the rising which followed the Coup d'Etat.

Factual basis

Mr. E. A. Vizetelly, in his introduction to the English translation of The Conquest of Plassans (London: Chatto & Windus), points out that almost every incident in The Fortune of the Rougons is based upon historical fact. "For instance," he says, "Miette had a counterpart in Madame Ferrier, that being the real name of the young woman who, carrying the insurgents' blood-red banner, was hailed by them as the Goddess of Liberty on their dramatic march. And in like way the tragic death of Silvere, linked to another hapless prisoner, was founded by M. Zola on an incident that followed the rising, as recorded by an eye-witness."