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Authors: Emile Zola

The Drinking Den

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, born in Paris in 1840, was brought up at Aix-en-Provence in an atmosphere of struggling poverty after the death of his father in 1847. He was educated at the Collège Bourbon at Aix and then at the Lycée Saint-Louis in Paris. After failing the
twice and taking menial clerical employment, he joined the newly founded publishing house Hanchette in 1862 and quickly rose to become head of publicity. Having published his first novel in 1865 he left Hanchette the following year to become a full-time journalist and writer.
Thérèse Raquin
appeared in 1867 and caused a scandal, to which he responded with his famous Preface to the novel's second edition in 1868 in which he laid claim to being a ‘Naturalist'. That same year he began work on a series of novels intended to trace scientifically the effects of heredity and environment in one family:
Les Rougon-Macquart
. This great cycle eventually contained twenty novels, which appeared between 1871 and 1893. In 1877 the seventh of these
The Drinking Den
), a study of alcoholism in working-class Paris, brought him abiding wealth and fame. On completion of the Rougon-Macquart series he began a new cycle of novels,
Les Trois Villes
Lourdes, Rome, Paris
(1894–8), a violent attack on the Church of Rome, which led to another cycle,
Les Quatre Évangiles
. While his later writing was less successful, he remained a celebrated figure on account of the Dreyfus case, in which his powerful interventions played an important part in redressing a heinous miscarriage of justice. His marriage in 1870 had remained childless, but his happy, public relationship in later life with Jeanne Rozerot, initially one of his domestic servants, brought him a son and a daughter. He died in mysterious circumstances 1902 the victim of an accident or murder.

is a writer and translator who works as a freelance journalist and as television critic for
The Times Educational Supplement
. He studied at the University of Paris, where he took a degree and doctorate in French literature. He is part-author of the article ‘French Literature' in
Encyclopaedia Britannica
and has published critical studies of works by Vigny and Cocteau, and three books on European cinema,
The French through Their Films
Italian Films
(1989) and
French Film Noir
(1994). He has translated a number of other volumes for Penguin, including Zola's
Au Bonheur des Dames


The Drinking Den

Translated with an Introduction and Notes by




Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London
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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London

First published 1876


This translation published 2000
Reprinted with corrections and new title 2003
Originally published as
The Dram Shop)

Translation and editorial matter copyright © Robin Buss, 2000, 2003
All rights reserved

The moral right of the translator has been asserted

Map by Nigel Andrews

Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject
to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent,
re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's
prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in
which it is published and without a similar condition including this
condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser



2 April Emile Zola born in Paris, the son of an Italian engineer, Francesco Zola, and of Françoise-Emilie Aubert.


The family moves to Aix-en-Provence, which will become the town of ‘Plassans' in the Rougon-Macquart novels.


Francesco Zola dies, leaving the family nearly destitute.


The rule of King Louis-Philippe (the July Monarchy, which came to power in 1830) is overthrown and the Second Republic declared. Zola starts school. Karl Marx publishes
Manifesto of the Communist Party


The Republic is dissolved after the
coup d'état
of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte who in the following year proclaims himself emperor as Napoleon III. Start of the Second Empire, the period that will provide the background for Zola's novels in the Rougon-Macquart cycle.


Zola is enrolled at the Collège Bourbon, in Aix, where he starts a close friendship with the painter Paul Cézanne.


The family moves back to Paris and Zola is sent to the Lycée Saint-Louis. His school career is undistinguished and he twice fails the


The start of a period of hardship as Zola tries to scrape a living together by various kinds of work, while engaging in his first serious literary endeavours, mainly as a poet. These years saw the height of the rebuilding programme undertaken by Baron Haussmann, Prefect of Paris from 1853 to 1869, which is reflected in several of Zola's novels, including
The Drinking Den


Zola joins the publisher Hachette, and in a few months becomes the firm's head of publicity.


Makes his début as a journalist.


Zola's first literary work, the collection of short stories,
Contes à Ninon
, appears.


Publishes his first novel,
La Confession de Claude
. Meets his future wife, Gabrielle-Alexandrine Meley; they marry in 1870.


Leaves Hachette. From now on, he lives by his writing.


Publication of
Thérèse Raquin
, the story of how a working-class woman and her lover kill her husband, but are afterwards consumed by guilt. In the Preface to the second edition (1868), Zola declares that he belongs to the literary school of ‘Naturalism'.


Zola develops the outline of his great novel-cycle,
Les Rougon-Macquart
, which he subtitles ‘The Natural and Social History of a Family under the Second Empire'. It is founded on the latest theories of heredity. He signs a contract for the work with the publisher Lacroix.


The outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War leads in September to the fall of the Second Empire. Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie go into exile in England and the Third Republic is declared. Paris is besieged by Prussian forces.
La Fortune des Rougon
starts to appear in serial form.


Publication in book form of
La Fortune des Rougon
, the first novel in the Rougon-Macquart cycle. After the armistice with Prussia, a popular uprising in March threatens the overthrow of the government of Adolphe Thiers, which flees to Versailles. The radical Paris Commune takes power until its bloody repression by Thiers in May; the events would have great importance for the Socialist Left. Zola was shocked both by the anarchy of the Commune and by the savagery with which it was repressed.


Publication of
La Curée
, the second of the Rougon-Macquart novels. Part of it had appeared in serialized form (September–November 1871), but publication had been suspended by the censorship authorites.


Publication of
Le Ventre de Paris
, the third of the cycle set in and around the market of Les Halles.


Publication of
La Conquête de Plassans


Publication of
La Faute de l'Abbé Mouret


Son Excellence Eugène Rougon
follows the career of a minister under the Second Empire. Later in the same year, the seventh of the Rougon-Macquart novels,
The Drinking Den (L'Assommoir)
, begins to appear in serial form and immediately causes a sensation with its grim depiction of the ravages of alcoholism and life in the Parisian slums.


The Drinking Den
is published in book form and becomes a bestseller. Zola's fortune is made and he is recognized as a leading figure in the Naturalist movement.


Zola follows the harsh realism of
The Drinking Den
with a gentler tale of domestic life,
Une page d'amour
. Buys a house at Médan.


appears in serial form, before publication in book form in the following year. The central character, whose childhood and adolescence were described in
The Drinking Den
, grows up to become a high-class prostitute; the novel was to attract further scandal to Zola's name.


Publication of
Les Soirées de Médan
, an anthology of short stories by Zola and some of his Naturalist ‘disciples', including Maupassant. Zola expounds the theory of Naturalism in
Le Roman expérimental
. In May, Zola's literary mentor, the writer Gustave Flaubert, dies; in October, Zola loses his much-loved mother. A period of depression follows and he suspends writing the Rougon-Macquart for a year.


Zola's next book,
, centres on an apartment house and the character of the bourgeois seducer, Octave Mouret. The novel analyses the hypocrisy of the respectable middle class.


Mouret reappears in
Au Bonheur des Dames
which studies the phenomenon of the department store.


La Joie de vivre
. Towards the end of the year,
starts to appear in serial form and is published in book form the next year. Set in a northern French mining community, this powerful novel is Zola's most politically committed fictional work.


provides a revealing insight into Parisian artistic and literary life, as well as a reflection of contemporary aesthetic
debates, drawing on Zola's friendship with many leading painters and writers. However, Cézanne reacts badly to Zola's portrait of him in the novel, and ends their friendship.


La Terre
, a brutally frank portrayal of peasant life, causes a fresh uproar and leads to a crisis in the Naturalist movement when five ‘disciples' of Zola sign a manifesto against the novel.


Publication of
Le Rêve
. Zola begins his liaison with Jeanne Rozerot, the mistress with whom he will have two children.


La Bête humaine
, the story of a pathological killer, is set against the background of the railways. Though not the best novel in the cycle, it is to be one of the most popular.


examines the world of the Stock Exchange.


La Débâcle
analyses the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War and the end of the Second Empire.


The final novel in the cycle,
Le Docteur Pascal
, develops the theories of heredity which have guided
Les Rougon-Macquart


, Zola starts a trilogy of novels, to be completed by
(1896) and
(1898), about a priest who turns away from Catholicism towards a more humanitarian creed. In December, a Jewish officer in the French army, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, is found guilty of spying for Germany and sentenced to life imprisonment in the penal colony on Devil's Island, off the coast of French Guiana.


New evidence in the case suggests that Dreyfus's conviction was a gross miscarriage of justice, inspired by anti-Semitism. Zola publishes three articles in
Le Figaro
demanding a retrial.


Zola's open letter,
, in support of Dreyfus, addressed to Félix Faure, President of the Republic, is published in
(13 January). It proves a turning-point, making the case a litmus test in French politics: for years to come, being pro- or anti - Dreyfusard will be a major component of a French person's ideological profile (with the nationalist Right leading the campaign against Dreyfus). Zola is tried for libel and sentenced to a year's imprisonment and a fine of 3,000 francs. In July, waiting for a retrial (granted on a technicality), he leaves for London, where he spends a year in exile.


Zola begins a series of four novels,
Les Quatre Évangiles
, which would remain uncompleted at his death. They mark his transition from Naturalism to a more idealistic and Utopian view of the world.


29 September Zola is asphyxiated by the fumes from the blocked chimney of his bedroom stove, perhaps by accident, perhaps (as is still widely believed) assassinated by anti-Dreyfusards. On 5 October his funeral in Paris is witnessed by a crowd of 50,000. His remains were transferred to the Pantheon in 1908.

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