Short summary - Les Rougon-Macquart - Émile Zola

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - Les Rougon-Macquart
Émile Zola

The novel begins a twenty-piece series dedicated to the Rougon-Maccar family. Using this family as an example, Emile Zola tracks vices and virtues that are inherited.


Plassan, a town in the south of France, early December 1851. In one of the back streets of St. Mithra, where the city cemetery used to be, the young lovers Silver and Miette met. The young man joined the revolutionary detachment, which today was supposed to join the rebel army, and now had to say goodbye to his beloved for a long time.

Thirteen-year-old Miette lived in the care of her uncle on the large estate Jas-Meifren, which bordered on St. Miter. The girl's father, a poacher, shot a gendarme in defense, and was now in hard labor. In the city he was called a murderer and a thief. Miette's uncle made a farmhand out of his niece and constantly reproached her with his father. With the departure of Silver, the girl remained completely defenseless. She regretted not being born a man.

Silver was raised by his grandmother, and his uncle taught him to "love the republic." The rest of the relatives did not communicate with the young man. Silver believed that the revolution would bring him and Miette happiness and freedom.

The lovers walked until the rebels approached Plassan.

The Marseillaise filled the sky, as if giants were blowing into giant pipes, and the song fluttered, rang like brass, flying from end to end of the valley.

The Plassane detachment was entrusted with carrying the banner. Wanting to quickly join his comrades, Silver brought Mietta to the squad. The working people began to shout for the girl to clean up - they do not need the daughter of a thief and a murderer. One of the hunters, who once knew her father, stood up for the girl, and the others supported him.

Miette was taken with them and entrusted to her to carry the banner. The girl was happy that she would not have to part with Silver.


Plassan was divided by wide avenues into three quarters - worker, bourgeois and noble. Each quarter was a separate, self-contained little world. Even during traditional Sunday walks, the residents of the neighborhoods did not mix, but formed three separate "currents".

“It was in this peculiar environment” that the history of the Rugon-Makkar family began. The first of the Rougons, a cunning and calculating peasant, married Adelaide, the half-insane daughter of a wealthy gardener, who, after the birth of her son Pierre, became even more insane and was interested only in sensual pleasures.

Soon the peasant Rougon died. Adelaide had a lover - an uncouth poacher and smuggler nicknamed McQuar the tramp, whose poor shack stood in one of the dead ends of St. Miter. From him, the widow took in illegitimate children. Son Antoine had a penchant for drunkenness and laziness, and his daughter was overly sensual.

Unlike his brother and sister, Pierre, who inherited a tenacious mind from his peasant father, attended school more or less regularly.

The peasant, realizing the need for education, becomes ferociously calculating.

Soon, greedy Pierre completely subdued his mad mother. He found a way not to share his inheritance with his brother and sister. Having sent Antoine into the army and married off his sister, he forced his mother to sell the land left over from his grandfather-gardener to the owner of Zsa-Meifren. Soon Maccar was killed by customs guards, and Adelaide moved to his shack.

Pierre married Felicite, the ambitious and envious daughter of a half-ruined oil merchant. For thirty years of marriage, Felicite gave birth to three sons and two daughters. The Rougons could not get rich, and the mother sent all her ambition to her sons. Having spent a fortune, she sent them to study in Paris, hoping that there her sons will reach unprecedented heights and make her rich.

Felicite's dreams did not come true. Her daughters got married and left Plassans, and her sons, having finished their studies, returned home. The eldest son, lawyer Eugene, was power-hungry. The youngest, Aristide, was distinguished by greed, quarrelsomeness and laziness. He married a very gluttonous girl and had to go to work as a minor official in the prefecture.

Only the middle one, Pascal, was not like Rougonov. He became a physician and a prominent physiologist. In Plassans, they did not know about Pascal's successes and considered him an eccentric, since he lived an ascetic life, healed the poor and studied the corpses dug out in the cemetery.

In 1845, the Rougons got tired of fighting and sold their business. Their rent was not enough to maintain their own house, and Pierre and Felicite had to live in a rented apartment. Looking at the living room with the old yellow furniture, Felicite grew more and more yellow.

On the eve of the 1848 revolution, Eugene left to watch his luck in Paris. The rest of the Rougons hid, ready to grab Fortune by the throat.


After the February coup of 1848, the Marquis de Carnavan began to visit the yellow salon of Rougonov. It had long been rumored in Passana that Felicite was his illegitimate daughter. The Marquis dreamed that France would become a monarchy again, and Henry V of the Orleans dynasty would become king. In this case, he hoped to regain his fortune and promised to leave everything to Felicite if she supported him. The Rougons instantly became Royalists, and a small club arose in the yellow salon.

De Carnavan, out of mercy, lived in the house of a relative who forbade taking like-minded people to his place, so the Marquis decided to settle with the Rougons. The official head of the club was Pierre, but in reality everything was ruled by a marquis, behind whom were influential people from the clergy.

There are situations from which only people with a tarnished reputation benefit.

In April 1849, Eugene arrived from Paris and stayed with his parents for two weeks, regularly attending all the meetings of the club. Before leaving, he decided to use this bunch of fools, and started a political intrigue, into which he had only dedicated his father - he planned to use his too clever mother later. As payment for his help, Pierre demanded the position of a private tax collector.

Phyllisite insisted that Pascal also visit her salon, hoping that there he would find rich clients. But the scientist felt in his mother's salon like in a zoo and watched with interest the physiology of its inhabitants.

Aristide intended to "sell himself at a higher price", at the last moment going over to the side of the winner. In the meantime, he was considered a republican and even published a republican newspaper. Sometimes Aristide's articles were too sharp. Now he regretted it and tried to find out at least something from his brother, but he forbade his father to devote the unreliable Aristide to intrigue. He knew that his brother would be able to get out.

Eugene regularly sent letters to his father with detailed instructions, which Pierre kept under lock and key. Once Felicite stole the key, read the letters and learned that Eugene was a supporter and spy of the party of the current President Louis Napoleon, who was aiming for the imperial throne. If Louis Napoleon becomes Emperor of France, the Rougons will have everything.

Felicite took an active part in the intrigue, but not noticed by her husband. Under her influence, the club sided with Prince Louis Napoleon.

In politics, the whole art is to look both ways when others see nothing.

The Marquis quickly understood the essence of the intrigue and came to terms with the fact that the time of the Orleans dynasty had not yet come.

In December 1851, the workers and peasants of the department, which included Plassans, revolted to support the Republic. Before the riot, Aristide pretended to injure his hand and could not write, and went into the shadows.

Contrary to the orders of his son, Pierre did not initiate his wife into intrigue. Felicite took offense and decided to take revenge on her husband - she arranged so that Pierre stayed in Plassans when the city was filled with rebels. Felicite hoped that Pierre would be arrested, but he managed to hide in his mother's hut.


Antoine Macquart returned to Plassans after the fall of Napoleon, hoping to receive part of the inheritance and heal as a rich man. Finding that Pierre took possession of everything, Antoine began to wander around the city in rags and vilify his brother at every corner. Having settled with his mother, he took away the last pennies from the unfortunate old woman, and she lived on bread and water.

Finally, Felicite got tired of constant scandals, and she persuaded her husband to give her brother some money, buy clothes and rent a house. When the money ran out, Antoine had to work - he began to weave rough willow baskets and sell them in the market. He did not buy rods for baskets, but cut them at night outside the city. Once he was caught doing this by a watchman, after which Antoine became an ardent republican.

For ten years Antoine was looking for “a way to live well without doing anything,” and finally married Josephine (Fina) Gavodan. This tall, strong woman, who worked like an ox at several jobs, turned out to be a timid creature, and Antoine sat on her neck. Sometimes the couple got drunk and beat each other violently.

For twenty years, the Makkars had three children. As a child, the eldest daughter was taken into the service of a neighbor and soon took her to Paris forever. The younger son and daughter grew up and started working. Antoine lived dependent on his wife and children, spent whole days in coffee houses, ranting about politics and scolding Rougonov, whom he still hated. To take revenge on his brother, Antoine decided to find an ally in Pierre's family.

Meanwhile, Antoine's sister died of consumption, and her husband hanged himself out of grief. Their older children were already settled, and the youngest son, Silver, turned out to be useless, and seventy-five-year-old Adelaide took him to her. The boy loved his grandmother and looked after her during nervous attacks, and for Adelaide, the grandson became the last affection.

At the age of twelve, Silver became an apprentice to the coachman. He read all the books that fell into his hands.

Nothing affects an immature mind so badly as such scraps of knowledge without a solid foundation.

Antoine tried to instill in his grown nephew a love for the republic and hatred for the Rougons. He told him about his grandmother's past, posing as an exemplary son, and Pierre as a villain and a thief. Silver was imbued with the ideas of freedom, but hatred never arose in the noble soul of an ardent young man with lofty dreams of freedom, equality and brotherhood. Now he not only loved his grandmother, but also pitied him.

In early 1850, Fina died of pneumonia. Makkar's children parted ways, refusing to support their quack father. Having sold all the property, Antoine again donned rags and began to weave baskets.

Antoine greeted the rebels with enthusiasm. He hoped to take Rugonov by the throat and easily convinced his Republican friends that the enemies of the people should be arrested. He personally went to arrest Pierre, but did not find him at home - he had already managed to hide with his mother.

The rebels were not supposed to enter Plassan, but their short-sighted leader decided that the people should be fed. They arrested the mayor, officials and took over the gendarmerie. During a short fight, Silver gouged out the eye of the gendarme. There was a lot of blood, and it seemed to the young man that he had killed a man.

In shock, Silver left Miette on the street and left, and the girl was found by her cousin Justin and began to insult her. This drunken guy hated his cousin because she refused to become his mistress, and had already managed to inform his father about her dates. Silver arrived in time to intercede for his beloved, and the girl no longer regretted that she had left home.

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arrested mayor showed extraordinary subtlety and fed the rebels. That same night, they moved to the capital of the department, taking with them the captured officials. Pascal joined the rebels as a doctor. Antoine, already feeling himself the master of the city, undertook to guard Plassan and settled in the city hall.


The rebels, "underdeveloped, naive and gullible," did not suspect that the whole region had already surrendered, and they were marching towards destruction. By morning, Miette was tired, began to lag behind, and Silver invited the girl to rest, and then catch up with her comrades, cutting off the path.

Until now, the love of Silver and Miette "wore a shade of brotherly tenderness", but now passion has awakened in them. Silver kissed Miette for the first time on the lips.

When lovers kiss each other on the cheek, it means that they, without realizing it, are already looking for lips. A kiss breeds lovers.

The girl was frightened by the heat of this kiss, and a foreboding seized her. They did not have intimacy that night, although Miette subconsciously desired it.

Mietta's father ended up in hard labor when the girl was nine years old. She was taken to her aunt, the wife of the tanner Rebuff. This large, domineering and stern woman, who ran everything in the house, took Miette as a servant, but soon fell in love with the girl, protected her from her husband and son, and "did not allow her to do hard work."

Justin's cousin hated Miette and in every possible way poisoned her life. When the girl was eleven years old, her aunt died, and Rebufa put all the dirty work on Miette, and Justin began to torment her with talking about hard labor and convicts and tell her father how her father is now living.

Miette could have hardened, but she was saved by a meeting with Silver. They were brought together by a well, divided in two by the wall of the estate of Jas-Meifren, at which stood Adelaide's hut. Once the well crane broke, Silver climbed the wall to fix it, and saw Miette. Since then, in the mornings, young people collected water from a well and talked, looking at each other's reflections in the dark water.

The workers in the carriage workshop told Silver about Mietta's father, and the young man decided to protect his new girlfriend. They met for two years - first at the well, and then Miette found a way to run away from home in the evenings. The lovers walked for a long time in the meadows surrounding Plassan and swam in the river.

Yet they were still children, chatting and playing like boys, and, not yet knowing the words of love, enjoyed mutual closeness ‹…› simply because their fingertips touched.

Even the winter cold and rains could not separate the lovers. They walked hugging each other and wrapped in Miette's large cloak. To restore the honor of his beloved, Silver firmly decided to marry her.

After resting, the lovers approached the city of Osher at the same time as the rebels. The city happily greeted the rebels, but in the morning of the next day it became known that a regular army was marching towards Osher.

The inexperienced leader of the rebels could not properly organize the defense, and most of them died during the massacre, the rest were in hard labor. Miette was shot in the heart, and she died in the arms of her beloved. Silver was arrested.


When the rebels left Plassan, Pierre Rougon left his mother's hut. He was afraid that the Empire would be proclaimed without him, so he gathered the members of his club, supplied them with weapons hidden in advance and went to restore order in the city.

Despite the desperate cowardice of his comrades-in-arms, Pierre quickly dealt with Antoine. The Republican squad was fast asleep and offered no resistance. It all worked out with a few random shots.

There are moments when guns in the hands of cowards shoot by themselves.

Makkar was locked in the mayor's dressing room, and Pierre, as the liberator of the city, was temporarily appointed mayor of Plassan. Rougon believed that he had achieved everything on his own, without the help of his wife. Felicite was very offended by this and decided to "repay him for everything on occasion."

The Plassans were confident that a regular army would soon enter the city. This did not happen, and rumors spread across Plassan that the Republicans had won. At night, fires were lit outside the city walls, the sound of the alarm and the sounds of the Marseillaise was heard. The townspeople decided that it was the Republicans who had laid siege to Plassan.

The next day Pierre was no longer considered a hero, the Plassans remembered his mother's past and began to call Rougon a swindler. The letter from Eugene did not come, and Pierre decided that their swindle had failed.

In the latest issue of the royalist newspaper, Felicite read an article praising the Empire. The man who publishes the newspaper, a frequenter of the yellow salon, after the coup, arbitrarily became the head of the city post office. Felicite suspected that he had opened a letter from Eugene, which announced the victory of Louis-Napoleon.

She went to the post office and got a letter, but did not show it to her husband. Thickening the colors, she painted the Rougons' position as hopeless and scared Pierre to death. He completely obeyed his wife and decided on a new intrigue.

Pierre paid Antoine to gather the Republicans who remained in Plassans and attack the mayor's office at night. Rougon organized a defense, and at night there was a "battle" - the National Guardsmen sitting in ambush killed three workers, the rest fled. Blood and corpses benefited Rougon's reputation - he became a hero again.

Aristide instantly went over to the side of the royalists, confirming this with an article in his newspaper. Pierre reconciled with his son and vowed henceforth to manage his affairs only with his wife.


Two days later, the mayor returned to Plassans, and Rougon reluctantly made way for him. Violent punitive measures swept across the prefecture. The troops were leading captive Republicans with them and in each city they shot several people.

Eugene procured for his father not only the position of a private collector, but also the Order of the Legion of Honor. The Rougons decided to borrow money and celebrate the event with a sumptuous dinner. Pierre's joy was poisoned only by the thought of his Republican nephew, Silver.

Pierre took the promised money to Antoine, who was hiding in Adelaide's hut, and found that his mother was in a fit of insanity. Pascal was released as a doctor, and now he took care of his grandmother. Pascal suggested that Adelaide saw how her beloved grandson was being shot, and now she is doomed to end her days in an insane asylum.

Pascal was right. Silver, whose soul died with Mietta, surrendered without resistance.

He thought of Miette. He saw her lying with eyes fixed on the sky, on the banner, under the trees.

Silver was shot by a gendarme, whose eye he gouged out, in a corner of St. Mithra, where he usually met with his beloved. This was seen by two - Mietta's evil cousin and Adelaide.

And the Rougons celebrated the coup d'état that started their career.