28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Remarkable story of the department store set in late 18th C.,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Ladies' Paradise (Paperback)
"The Ladies Paradise" or "Au Bonheur des Dames" is the continuation of Zola's Rougon-Macquart series. The series' purpose, according to Zola, is to study how environment effects the character of one family line. Three "environments" have appeared in Zola's work: the first is the idyllic countryside, the second is the harsh countryside, and the third is Paris--the city. "Au Bonheur des Dames" is situated in the third of the "environments", Paris.
From his previous works, Paris is already known for its potential as a corruptionist of morality and goodness. Thus, the heroine already is facing an insurmountable task of remaining adverse to Paris' degradation of moral values. She is the ultimate martyr: her sacrifices to her younger brothers seem endless. She scrapes money together to have the youngest in a boarding house for children, and always manage to find money (even in desperate times)to give to the other spendthrift brother. All of these sacrifices she did out of love.
With such heart and of such noble spirit, she enters Paris. She is struck by the first sight she sees in Paris. A gigantic structure has swallowed an entire block of old and fading smaller stores. She is astounded, awed, and fascinated by it. Her loyalty is divided between her Uncle's small clothier and her fascination and desire to work in the store.
"Au Bonheur des Dames" has two stories: (1) the spread of the popularity of department stores and the death of smaller family owned stores in "modern" Paris, and (2) the noble heroine. Will the heroine be crushed by Paris and swallowed up by the department store? Will her nobler spirit defeat all the odds that have been predestined to be against her?
The most surprising event I find was that I did not have to answer with pessimism about "Au Bonheur des Dames". The usual gloom and sense of helplessness and resignation of being human did not reverberate in this novel. Yes, the department thrives and therefore consumed all the "moms and pops" stores along its path, but our heroine conquers that depraved city Paris with her courage, innocence, and nobility.
What a truly remarkable book, as all of Zola's magnificent work. I find this book different from any of the series, because there is more than a sense of hope for humanity in our struggle against corruption, against technological advancement, and our own weakness of spirit.