2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
An Excellent Novel of the Franco-Prussian War,
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Debacle: (1870-71) (Classics) (Paperback)
‘The Debacle’ is the penultimate book in the twenty book saga of the life and times of the Rougon-Macquart family, published by Zola to great acclaim in 1892. One of the central characters of this story is Jean Macquart, thus continuing the saga. However, all the books are complete in themselves and readers should not feel deterred from reading this classic of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 out of sequence. Zola was able to talk to many who had been involved in the war and undertook research in the area of Sedan, the scene of the major battle sequences in the book. In addition Zola was himself caught up in the Paris Commune of 1871 which followed the investment of Paris by the Prussians after the war. He was in considerable danger during this turmoil but was an eye witness to the destruction and horrors of the short lived Commune that features in the final third of the novel. Thus the book is generally regarded as a classic of historical writing and reliable in its detail.
The book is a nineteenth century work and does rely upon somewhat incredible coincidence, but this device is simply used by Zola as a tool to be able to describe different aspects of the momentous actions taking place as the French and Prussian armies manoeuvred and then smashed into each other in the environs of Sedan. The first section of the book does contain some longueurs as Zola establishes the marching and counter-marching and dispiriting confusion of the French Army under incompetent leadership, but readers should not despair once action is joined the narrative races along in graphic detail to provide some of the very best battle scene writing in literature as we read of the destruction and capture of the French Army of Chalons. Zola introduces a number of the real leaders into the narrative including the Emperor, Napoleon III, to great effect.
As mentioned earlier the narrative moves to the siege of Paris and the establishment of the Commune. Again the writing of Zola is very graphic and his description of these tragic events provide a good corrective to some of the rather fanciful left-wing ‘glory’ surrounding these events. Whilst being in sympathy with the Left Zola had no time for the wanton destruction and violence of the Commune.
A classic work of its type and perhaps one of the best ways to understand the real nature of the Franco-Prussian War, and a very entertaining read.