Germinal (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

Germinal (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)


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Germinal, by Emile Zola, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:
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  • Comments by other famous authors
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  • Bibliographies for further reading
  • Indices & Glossaries, when appropriate
All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works.

Émile Zola’s unflinchingly told story of a daring coal miners’ strike in northern France was published in 1885, when the prolific author was at the height of his powers. Today some readers believe this novel will prove to be his most enduring work. Spare yet compassionate, Germinal takes us from the comfortable homes of the bourgeoisie to the dark bowels of the earth, describing unbearable human suffering and exploitation in vivid and unsentimental prose.

Étienne Lantier, a poor but spirited young laborer in search of work, shares the wretched lives of the coal miners of Le Voreux, where the brutish and dangerous working conditions consume the health and prospects of young and old, one generation after another. Impoverished, ill, and hungry, the miners inspire Étienne to attempt a revolt against the Company, an overthrow of “the tyranny of capital, which was starving the worker.” They answer his desperate call for a strike that grows increasingly violent and divisive, testing loyalties and endangering Étienne’s life even as it offers the workers their only hope of a decent existence. In a harrowing climax, the unforeseen consequences of the strike threaten to engulf them all in disaster.

Dominique Jullien is a professor of French at Columbia University and the University of California–Santa Barbara, and the editor in chief of the Romanic Review. Her books include Proust et ses modèles: Les Mille et une Nuits et les Mémoires de Saint-Simon and Récits du Nouveau Monde: les Voyageurs français en Amérique de Chateaubriand à nos jours. She has published numerous articles on nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature, including several on Émile Zola.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781593082918
Publisher: Barnes & Noble
Publication date: 12/01/2005
Series: Barnes & Noble Classics Series
Pages: 544
Sales rank: 57,553
Product dimensions: 5.18(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.36(d)

Read an Excerpt

From Dominique Jullien’s Introduction to Germinal

What makes Germinal so compelling is the combination of symbolic force and factual accuracy. Zola approached each one of his novels with extensive research; he was particularly thorough in this and complemented his factual research with a visit to the real location of his story. He first read extensively—on the mining industry, the mining regions of northern France, the daily lives of miners, technical innovations in the pits, and working-class political movements. Then, at the end of February 1884, for about a week he visited the mining country. He talked to engineers, entered miners’ houses, went deep down into the mining tunnels, and observed the small mining town of Anzin, where a strike had just begun. His voluminous “Notes sur Anzin” (“Notes on Anzin”; see the Gallimard edition of Les Rougon-Macquart, listed in “For Further Reading”) form an extraordinary record of personal impressions and factual information. Zola was very careful to avoid anachronism. Between the late 1860s, when the novel takes place, and 1884, when Zola took notes for his novel, things had been changing in the coal mines, although the technical methods of extraction hadn’t altered dramatically, and the miners’ living conditions remained miserable and were made worse by rising prices and an economic slump. In Germinal we find women, as young as twelve and as old as forty, working in the mines. Women were paid half of a man’s wages. Children of eleven worked fourteen-hour days. Strikes were illegal and often ended in bloody confrontations with the army. But miners were beginning to agitate for better conditions. A series of dramatic strikes in the last years of the Second Empire shocked public opinion and inspired the strike scenes in Germinal. In 1869 the army fired into the crowd of striking miners at La Ricamarie, killing thirteen, including two women. Another fourteen died later in similar circumstances at Aubin. But slowly miners, like workers elsewhere, were organizing to improve their lot. Little by little, the labor laws restricting workers’ rights were relaxed. Workers’ associations gradually became more tolerated. Protective laws were implemented: For example, in 1874 women could no longer be employed underground, and children under twelve were not allowed to work in the mines at all. Solidarity among workers improved, as support for ill, injured, and striking workers was more effectively organized. Karl Marx’s Manifest Der Kommunistischen Partei (Manifesto of the Communist Party) was published in 1848. In 1864 Marx helped found the International Workingmen’s Association in London; this “First International” helped radicalize workers’ movements in France. And the French translation of Das Kapital (1867, first volume) was published beginning in 1875. Hard-line Marxism, with its intransigent theory of class warfare, came to dominate Labor–Capital relations. This is clearly shown in the novel. Germinal weaves the story of the hero’s political education into the background story of the miners’ plight. When Étienne Lantier first comes to Montsou, he is poor and ignorant. His mind is as barren as the dark plain of the mining country. But when he emerges from the flooded mine at the end of the novel, Étienne is poised to become a professional revolutionary, leaving behind both nihilistic terrorism and conciliatory reformism.

Zola’s novel is a fascinating document on the political movements of the time. Rasseneur, who owns the café where miners gather to drink and talk, embodiees the moderates, the supporters of cooperation between Labor and Capital. The moderates are pitted against socialist politicians like Pluchart, the hero’s role model, who is sent by the International to organize and indoctrinate miners of the northern region of France. At the heart of the novel lies the ideological rivalry between Rasseneur and Étienne and their battle for the miners’ hearts and minds. Étienne’s superior education and rousing rhetorical skills soon give him precedence over Rasseneur, who is booed by the miners when he tries to speak against the strike (part four, chapter VII). But after the catastrophic failure of the strike, it is Étienne’s turn to experience loss of popularity. When the enraged miners throw bricks at him, he is rescued by Rasseneur, who calms the mob with his soothing eloquence, and who is once again cheered as its leader. Later, the two men have a drink together and bond over their shared disillusionment with the savagery of the crowd (part seven, chapter I). Yet in the last chapter, Étienne, called to Paris by Pluchart to join the Paris section of the International, is once again reconciled with the miners. The silent handshakes he exchanges with them on the morning of his departure acknowledge that they once again accept him as their leader and count on him, rather than Rasseneur, to lead them to victory (part seven, chapter VI). Zola’s portrayal of his hero as a Marxist revolutionary in the making is masterful. He shows Étienne’s transformation from a young and rather incompetent worker to a self-taught zealot and an ambitious déclassé, who fights for the working classes but feels superior to them. (Étienne’s culture is a medley of popularized Darwinism, undigested Marxism, and elements of anarchism lifted from social theorist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin.) Zola’s ambivalence toward professional revolutionaries is obvious—Pluchart, the elusive and ambitious apparatchik, who uses the miners’ discontent for his own political promotion and spends barely enough time in Montsou to collect party memberships (part four, chapter IV), is hardly idealized. But, curiously, Étienne is not idealized either. He is “intoxicated with this first enjoyment of popularity”, and later he hardens into a sectarian collectivist when he convinces the miners at a secret meeting in the woods that the new communist society is around the corner (part four, chapter VII). He is too pleased with his own pedantry. He is an irresponsible revolutionary whose fiery speeches about a better future bring tragedy to his comrades.

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Germinal 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As an aspiring author of regional fiction ('Suomalaiset: People of the Marsh' ISBN 0972005064)who was raised on liberal politics amidst the boom and bust of Minnesota's iron mines and timber industry, 'Germinal's' featured protagonist, Etienne Lantier, strikes a chord with me. There is much about the American labor movement and the plight of American workers to be found in Etienne's story. Though conditions in our factories, mines, and in our forests have markedly improved since the days of children working the coal fields of West Virginia and the iron mines of the Mesabi Iron Range, Zola's prose and his social observations about wealth, capital, and the exploitation of the common man by those in power rings true in 21st century America. A beautifully translated work, succinctly direct, wonderfully cast, with prose that makes you sigh. One of my ten all time favorite novels.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Zola's description of the coal mine as seen from the distance will haunt you, as will those describing life underground. There are moments of humor and touching scenes of first love contrasted with brutal scenes of hunger and revenge. When Emile Zola died, those lining the streets where his coffin passed chanted, 'Germinal, Germinal.' Everyone should read this book.
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Mariamosis More than 1 year ago
This book is incredibly engrossing, and I have never been filled with so much suspense. Emile Zola was able to produce a phenomenal storyline which provides the reader with an excellent perception of what life would have been like for a coal-miner in the 19th century. Although the story focuses in particular on one struggling family, you are also given a broad scope of the small mining village in which they live. When reading this book be prepared to become completely enmeshed!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a brilliant story of life through the eyes of an 19th century French coal miner. This book gives insight into the lives of people who came before us, it also plays on the subtleties of human nature and character. This is a profound take on love life and power. It plays on what we are and the society that we live in. This work transends time and even gives insight into the times we live in.
deebee1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Considered the greatest of Zola's 20-novel Rougon-Macquart cycle, Germinal is a charge against oppression, a chilling portrayal of the inhuman conditions of coal miners in northern France in the 1860s, and the outrage which drove them to resist further repression by the capitalist owners, that resulted in unforeseen and tragic consequences. Etienne Lantier is an outsider who came into the gray mining towns looking for a job, and found one down in the pits. He is shocked by the conditions of the workers, men, women and children alike, clinging to the bare faced damp walls more than 500 meters below the ground, with very little air, exposed to dangerous gases, mud and rock slides, sudden floods, and all other unimaginable horrors every second of their time below, working like beasts for wages not even enough to feed their families. Life is brutish, and with no exception, everybody is old before their time, many are sick with all sorts of respiratory diseases, or maimed from a fall or accident. But to work is not an option. Children do not go to school, they are sent down into the mines very early. A new and devious wage structure imposed by the company is the last straw, Etienne leads a strike. The effect is contagious, from one mine, it spreads to the rest of the region. The miners hold out, bearing their hunger, sitting out their time quietly, hoping that dialogues with the administrators would result in something positive. Nothing happens, the strike continues -- small children start dying of starvation. Yet they hold out. Then the companies start sending in the police, the guards. The strike turns violent --- there is sabotage, there is killing. The strike lasted six weeks. They couldn't hold out more, or they would be dying like flies. They return to the dark and noxious depths, having paid very dearly and not achieving anything. Yet the tragedies don't end here. I couldn't put down this book --- there was so much realism in his depiction of the mines, the poverty of the families, the diseases of the miners, the hopelessness of their lives. With remarkable description, we feel we are down there too, in the depths. We are drawn to Etienne's strong, if somewhat naive convictions, to the rising fervor among the miners when they realise it's possible to have dreams of a better life, we are introduced to characters who represent the range of ideologies, from the stoic Sauverine who believes anarchy is the solution to social change, to the bar owner who from radicalism has mellowed, now believing no change is possible in a lifetime and that it is a long process, and to the social idealism of Etienne. We are introduced to individual families, to gossipy neighbors, to the petty alliances and loyalties of these families. We meet, as well, the bourgeoisie, the company lackeys, the representatives of the faceless investors in far-off Paris. The themes are bleak, depressing even, but like the title, Germinal, which refers to the 7th month of the French Republican calendar (Mar/April) which heralds spring, the coming of new life, the germination of hope, we feel like Etienne, who continued on his way, keeping the small seed of hope that the fight is not yet over, and that a glorious day will yet arrive for those who believe. As an aside, the description of hunger here and the harshness of life, is even more appalling and more gut-wrenching than in Knut's Hunger and in Solzhenitsyn's One Day....Truly a masterpiece, a grand novel in every sense of the word. I cannot praise it enough.
abclaret on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The book depicts the conditions of French miners in the late nineteenth century. Using an outsider who takes up with the miners community, the rather fetching and ideal driven Etienne. With Etienne your able to see a neat cross-section into the deprivations of the labouring classes at the time but also their sometimes emotionally driven sense of solidarity and collective purpose.The main core of the book is based on inter-personal interactions and events surrounding a labour strike, but it conveys well the political climate of the early labour movement with its nods to Marx, Bakunin and Proudhon but also the direction and purpose of a youthful Social Democracy particularly with its upbeat ending.
jwhenderson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As a teenager I found the works of Theodore Dreiser engaging and read through several including his massive novel An American Tragedy. It was only through later study of the development of the art of the novel that I learned that his style was called Naturalism, at least an American variant of the style. So it was with a sense of recognition that I began to read Zola's Germinal, the first of his novels that I read, discovering a French writer with a similar style. Emile Zola writes about Etienne, a a young man who lost his job as a mechanic for slugging a foreman, who travels to the north of France and obtains a job in a coal mine. He soon learns the ways of the poor mining families of that area, especially the children of the family with whom he lives for a while including a 15-year-old girl named Catharine, who becomes the subject of a bristling romantic rivalry between Etienne and another young miner, Chaval. Germinal chronicles the social woes of the miners and their attempts, with the help of Etienne, to better their situation. The union also enters the scene and romance is not the only source of tension for Zola's protagonist. This was an exciting book to read as I found Zola's style felicitous and lucid. While I have not read even half of the many novels in which he chronicled the lives and mores of French society I have enjoyed those like this one that I have read.
strandbooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the second Zola novel I've read, and once again I am astounded by his writing. I'm a huge fan of the naturalists in the US at the turn of the century (Theodore Dreiser, Frank Norris), but this was written 50 years prior then these writers and much of the scenes are more brutal and intense then books written in the late 20th century. The novel centers around miners in France. They are uneducated, poor to the point of starving, alcoholics, and in many cases abusive. Zola seems to be unsure if this is the innate nature of the human species or if in different circumstances they would overcome it. Yet there are a few characters that show a tinge of hope in the human spirit. These of course, are compared to the few capitalists living large while thousands around them eat bread and fried onions at every meal. Just like the miners he does have a few capitalist characters that are hardworking, but are struggling to keep the mines open with the decline of the economy. Zola uses two characters to debate socialism vs capitalism vs anarchy, and neither come to an agreement on how to improve the world. In the end the people's strike has failed, and the reader is left unsure of Zola's belief in humans.There are 2 extremely brutal scenes with horses that really unnerved me. Also, one other mob scene is extremely violent to show how quickly the people can become out of control. Zola sort of hits the reader over the head with the metaphors of the dark evil mine (capitalist symbol) eating the humans.
MIMIC880 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The very title expresses the essence of the passion of this novel: seeds are planted and will germinate into an effective revolution. The germinating of that revolution is passionately portrayed in the toil of the various mine workers and their rise against the head company, with a newcomer spearheading the effort. You begin to pity the efforts of these people who are already suffering due to their uprising but gain respect for them when you realize that the fruits of their labor will one day materialize into something magnificent.
McCaine on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is ?mile Zola's undisputed masterpiece in the Rougon-Macquart novel series. In each of the novels of this series Zola sketches in honest, human detail the life of the working class of 19th Century France; in Germinal, the center of attention is the mining industry of the far north. The story describes the experience of an ex-machinist, Etienne Lantier (who appears as such in one of the other novels) in the Voreux and other mines around the town of Montsou, situated somewhat near Valenciennes. Starving and looking for a job in a period of industrial crisis, he is introduced to the reader as he arrives at the mine. Etienne soon manages to get a job there, and gets to know the great variety of characters that make up the local mining town. But his deep-felt social activism, combined with his somewhat higher education than the local miners, sets in motion a chain of events that changes both his life and that of the reader forever. Zola's brilliant description of the reality of the struggle between classes and the effects, positive and negative, that zealous struggle for the improvement of the world can have on individual humans in dire straits is sure to haunt the reader for a long time. The author manages to describe both the miners, in their jealousy, pride, poverty and despair, as well as the local bourgeoisie in their misguidedness, personal issues and the pressures of capitalism with a deep understanding of the human psyche. The interactions between humans under pressure is described in powerful, terse dialogues and evocative passages. The political and social background of the miners' desperate struggle for a decent living is the general theme of the book, but Zola avoids stereotypes and never clearly takes sides for any particular political position, deftly avoiding preachiness or sentimentalism. The incredible hardship and difficulty of the miners' lives and the degree to which the main characters manage to maintain a sense of dignity is sure to move even the coldest-hearted person, but Germinal is not a Dickens work and tear-jerking is more an effect of the book's quality than the goal of the writer. Above all, however, Zola's best work is simply an incredibly riveting, exciting, deeply moving and tremendously powerful work of fiction. Read the rise and fall of Lantier, Maheu, Bonnemort, Deneulin, Catherine, Souvarin and the other comrades, and weep.
dkeish on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Germinal is generally considered the greatest of Emile Zola's twenty novel Rougon-Macquart cycle. Of these, Germinal is the most concerned with the daily life of the working poor. Set in the mid 1860's, the novel's protaganist Etienne Lantier is hungry and homeless, wandering the French countryside, looking for work. He stumbles upon village 240, the home of a coal mine, La Voreteux. He quickly gets a job in the depths of the mine, experiencing the backbreaking work of toiling hundreds of feet below the earth. He is befriended by a local family and they all lament the constant work required to earn just enough to slowly starve. Fired up by Marxist ideology, he convinces the miners to strike for a pay raise. The remainder of the novel tells the story of the strike and its effect on the workers, managers, owners and shareholders.Zola weaves a strong plot line along with a multitude of characters. The hallmark of this novel is the wealth of people who populate the pages. The miners are not the noble poor but men and women who live day to day, cruel in some ways, generous in others. The managers are owners are not evil, greedy men but complex characters who in some ways envy the freedom of the miners from conventional morality.As with most Zola novels, don't expect a happy ending. But the reader can expect to be transported to a world and a way of life almost unimaginable for its brutality and bleakness. Like other great works of literature, the novel explores the thoughts and actions of people who suffer the daily indignities of poverty and injustice. Germinal is different however because the thoughts and actions are not noble and the consequences of their actions are felt by all. I would strongly recommend Germinal as one of the major novels of the 19th century but one that transcends time and place. The issues evoked in the novel regarding labor versus capital are just as relevant to today's world.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
averg More than 1 year ago
Very easily the best book I've ever read. That said, it's not a particularly easy and light read. There are some very heavy, hard hitting themes that I had to keep putting the book down-- it was too much. The book can get a bit melodramatic, but at the core it never loses any of its grittiness. The Leonard Tancock translation is also probably the best of any; though it does have its slight problems, I think Tancock has very subtle nuances that really add to the story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Sitting in the 21st century one cannot give a comprehensive view of every aspect of the novel. Let us take the very detailed explaination of the mining machinary of the 19th Century;surely one is bored with the same, and at the same time but admire the tenacity of the writer in obtaining the relevant information in such precise detail. But surely mining conditions and the exploitation of workers(children) in the 3rd world continous in the same way (or worse), as amply described in the book. Indeed, the book makes a fascinating reading, very much applicable in 3rd world countries like India , China etc.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Here we are in the midst of a minning community
in 19th century France. Zola has the reader
engulfed in a rather difficult way of life.
Considering an upsetting intruder into beguiling
the inhabitants into a devasting wirlwind.
It was a pleasure to be treated to this