Publisher: Oxford World Classics
Publication Date: 2012 (1870)
The Fortune of the Rougons is the first in Zola's famous Rougon-Macquart series of novels. In it we learn how the two branches of the family came about, and the origins of the hereditary weaknesses passed down the generations. Murder, treachery, and greed are the keynotes, and just as the Empire was established through violence, the "fortune" of the Rougons is paid for in blood.
Set in the fictitious Provencal town of Plassans, The Fortune of the Rougons tells the story of Silvere and Miette, two idealistic young supporters of the republican resistance to Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte's coup d'etat of December 1851. They join the woodcutters and peasants of the Var to seize control of Plassans, and are opposed by the Bonapartist loyalists led by Silvere's uncle, Pierre Rougon. Meanwhile, the foundations of the Rougon family and its illegitimate Macquart branch are being laid in the brutal beginnings of the Imperial regime.
The Fortune of the Rougons is the first book in Zola's twenty-book family saga, yet it's the third I've read. At first I was annoyed I'd ended up commencing in the wrong order; however, it may have been for the best, since this volume did not grip me as much as The Belly of Paris or The Kill. There's nothing wrong with it per se, and things did pick up in the second half, but overall the characters and plot did not capture my imagination as much as those in the other two volumes did, so if I'd read this one first, I might not have rushed to continue with the series. As it is, I will continue and have added the next four books to my wishlist as a start. The Fortune of the Rougons is a tale of a family grasping to raise its social status by any means possible, and both luck and cunning foresight play a role in the Rougons' ascendancy as they take advantage of the political situation in the capital to gain power in their own town. Many of the characters will feature again later in future volumes, so it was interesting to see how everything started for them in this first book.