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Germinal

Emile Zola


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Tags: Fiction

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Description

Germinal is the thirteenth novel in Emile Zola's Les Rougon-Macquart series and is considered a masterpiece in literature. Set in France in the 1860's, Germinal is the story of a coalminer's strike, and particularly of it's central character, Etienne Lantier, a young migrant worker who gets a job pushing carts down the pit. A socialist at heart, Etienne reads a lot of literature about the working class and hangs around with a Russian anarchist called Souvarine. Told against a backdrop of extreme poverty, the lives and working conditions of the miners begins to worsen until they reach a breaking point and call a strike. By this time Etienne is a respected member of the community and is chosen to be the leader of the striker's movement. Encouraged into violence by Souvarine, the miners resist until their poverty leads them to vicious rioting, eventually leading to confrontations with the police and the army.

Zola researched the novel in part by actually going down a working coal pit.

Germinal has been published and translated in over a hundred countries, and inspired film and television adaptations.

№ 13 in the Les Rougon-Macquart series.

This book has 325 pages in the PDF version, 40 chapters, and was originally published in 1885. This is a translation by Havelock Ellis.

Production notes: This edition of Germinal was published by Global Grey ebooks on the 1st July 2021. The artwork used for the cover is 'Strike' by Stanislaw Lentz.

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Excerpt from 'Germinal'

It was the Plan-des-Dames, that vast glade just opened up by the felling of trees. It spread out in a gentle slope, surrounded by tall thickets and superb beeches with straight regular trunks, which formed a white colonnade patched with green lichens; fallen giants were also lying in the grass, while on the left a mass of logs formed a geometrical cube. The cold was sharpening with the twilight and the frozen moss crackled beneath the feet. There was black darkness on the earth while the tall branches showed against the pale sky, where a full moon coming above the horizon would soon extinguish the stars.

Nearly three thousand colliers had come to the rendezvous, a swarming crowd of men, women, and children, gradually filling the glade and spreading out afar beneath the trees. Late arrivals were still coming up, a flood of heads drowned in shadow and stretching as far as the neighbouring copses. A rumbling arose from them, like that of a storm, in this motionless and frozen forest.

At the top, dominating the slope, Étienne stood with Rasseneur and Maheu. A quarrel had broken out, one could hear their voices in sudden bursts. Near them some men were listening: Levaque, with clenched fists; Pierron, turning his back and much annoyed that he had no longer been able to feign a fever. There were also Father Bonnemort and old Mouque, seated side by side on a stump, lost in deep meditation. Then behind were the chaffers, Zacharie, Mouquet, and others who had come to make fun of the thing; while gathered together in a very different spirit the women in a group were as serious as if at church. Maheude silently shook her head at the Levaque woman's muttered oaths. Philoméne was coughing, her bronchitis having come back with the winter. Only Mouquette was showing her teeth with laughter, amused at the way in which Mother Brulé was abusing her daughter, an unnatural creature who had sent her away that she might gorge herself with rabbit, a creature who had sold herself and who fattened on her man's cowardice. And Jeanlin had planted himself on the pile of wood, hoisting up Lydie and making Bébert follow him, all three higher up in the air than any one else.

The quarrel was raised by Rasseneur, who wished to proceed formally to the election of officers. He was enraged by his defeat at the Bon-Joyeux, and had sworn to have his revenge, for he flattered himself that he could regain his old authority when he was once face to face, not with the delegates, but with the miners themselves. Étienne was disgusted, and thought the idea of officers was ridiculous in this forest. They ought to act in a revolutionary fashion, like savages, since they were tracked like wolves.

As the dispute threatened to drag on, he took possession of the crowd at once by jumping on to the trunk of a tree and shouting:

"Comrades! comrades!"

The confused roar of the crowd died down into a long sigh, while Maheu stifled Rasseneur's protestations. Étienne went on in a loud voice.

"Comrades, since they forbid us to speak, since they send the police after us as if we were robbers, we have come to talk here! Here we are free, we are at home. No one can silence us any more than they can silence the birds and beasts!"

A thunder of cries and exclamations responded to him.

"Yes, yes! the forest is ours, we can talk here. Go on."

Then Étienne stood for a moment motionless on the tree-trunk. The moon, still beneath the horizon, only lit up the topmost branches, and the crowd, remaining in the darkness, stood above it at the top of the slope like a bar of shadow.

He raised his arm with a slow movement and began. But his voice was not fierce; he spoke in the cold tones of a simple envoy of the people, who was rendering his account. He was delivering the discourse which the commissioner of police had cut short at the Bon-Joyeux; and he began by a rapid history of the strike, affecting a certain scientific eloquence—facts, nothing but facts. At first he spoke of his dislike to the strike; the miners had not desired it, it was the management which had provoked it with the new timbering tariff. Then he recalled the first step taken by the delegates in going to the manager, the bad faith of the directors; and, later on, the second step, the tardy concession, the ten centimes given up, after the attempt to rob them. Now he showed by figures the exhaustion of the Provident Fund, and pointed out the use that had been made of the help sent, briefly excusing the International, Pluchart and the others, for not being able to do more for them in the midst of the cares of their conquest of the world. So the situation was getting worse every day; the Company was giving back certificates and threatening to hire men from Belgium; besides, it was intimidating the weak, and had forced a certain number of miners to go down again. He preserved his monotonous voice, as if to insist on the bad news; he said that hunger was victorious, that hope was dead, and that the struggle had reached the last feverish efforts of courage. And then he suddenly concluded, without raising his voice:

"It is in these circumstances, mates, that you have to take a decision to-night. Do you want the strike to go on? and if so, what do you expect to do to beat the Company?"

A deep silence fell from the starry sky. The crowd, which could not be seen, was silent in the night beneath these words which choked every heart, and a sigh of despair could be heard through the trees.

But Étienne was already continuing, with a change in his voice. It was no longer the secretary of the association who was speaking; it was the chief of a band, the apostle who was bringing truth. Could it be that any were cowardly enough to go back on their word? What! They were to suffer in vain for a month, and then to go back to the pits, with lowered heads, so that the everlasting wretchedness might begin over again! Would it not be better to die at once in the effort to destroy this tyranny of capital, which was starving the worker? Always to submit to hunger up to the moment when hunger will again throw the calmest into revolt, was it not a foolish game which could not go on for ever? And he pointed to the exploited miners, bearing alone the disasters of every crisis, reduced to go without food as soon as the necessities of competition lowered net prices. No, the timbering tariff could not be accepted; it was only a disguised effort to economize on the Company's part; they wanted to rob every man of an hour's work a day. It was too much this time; the day was coming when the miserable, pushed to extremity, would deal justice.

He stood with his arms in the air. At the word "justice" the crowd, shaken by a long shudder, broke out into applause which rolled along with the sound of dry leaves. Voices cried:

"Justice! it is time! Justice!"

Gradually Étienne grew heated. He had not Rasseneur's easy flowing abundance. Words often failed him, he had to force his phrases, bringing them out with an effort which he emphasized by a movement of his shoulders. Only in these continual shocks he came upon familiar images which seized on his audience by their energy; while his workman's gestures, his elbows in and then extended, with his fists thrust out, his jaw suddenly advanced as if to bite, had also an extraordinary effect on his mates. They all said that if he was not big he made himself heard.

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