Short summary - Madeleine Férat - Émile Zola

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - Madeleine Férat
Émile Zola

Madeleine Ferat was the daughter of a mechanic. Her father was very hardworking and saved up money, then he became a boiler master. Gradually, he expanded his business and became rich, then built a house and married an orphan girl who lived with an elderly relative. He fell madly in love with his wife. Margarita was thin, fragile, delicate. When Margarita became pregnant, the doctors warned Fer that, due to her fragility, Margarita could not bear childbirth.

Margarita really died in childbirth. They had a daughter, who was named Madeleine. The girl was very weak, she was always between life and death. The father loved his daughter very much, and Madeleine grew stronger over time. When the price of iron fell, Fera went bankrupt, but he managed to amass an rent of 2,000 francs, which he transferred to his daughter's name. Fera went to America, he left the girl to one of his countrymen, Lobrichon, whom he asked to look after his daughter. Lobrichon came to Paris in the same years as Fera, then took up the cloth trade and made a decent fortune in this business. Fera trusted him completely and asked Lobrichon to be Madeleine's father.

Fera was not destined to get to America. The ship on which he sailed was caught in a storm and crashed off the coast of France. Madeleine found out about her father's death after a long time. The day after the departure, Fera Lobrichon took the girl to the Ternes boarding house, which was recommended to him by an elderly lady, his friend, as an excellent educational institution. The guesthouse was quite comfortable. The ladies who held him received a small number of boarders and set high wages so that only girls from wealthy families could get there. They gave their students an excellent upbringing, taught them not so much catechism and spelling as curtsies and secular smiles. The girls left the boarding house as round ignoramuses, but they knew how to appear in the salon no worse than the most skillful coquette, armed with all the Parisian charms. The establishment enjoyed a very good reputation.

Madeleine was uncomfortable in this environment. She lacked flexibility and resourcefulness, she was too noisy and impetuous. Madeleine inherited from her father a clear mind, speed and consistency of decisions. Madeleine led the life of a recluse, Lobrichon only occasionally visited her. When she was 15 years old, Madeleine left the boarding house. Lobrichon retired at the age of sixty. For more than thirty years he led the life of a miser, denying himself everything and thinking how to increase his fortune. Like Madeleine's father, he worked tirelessly, but he did it for the sake of future pleasures.

Having amassed a fortune, Lobrichon found a good cook, bought a house and decided to marry his friend's daughter. Madeleine did not have any dowry, but she was a tall, beautiful, red-haired girl who fully met the ideal of Lobrichon. He hoped that he would be able to raise her for himself alone. The girl lived with Lobrichon for four years, changing one prison to another. One evening (she was barely 19 years old), Lobrichon kissed her on the lips, but she indignantly pushed him away. Then he made his way into her room and began to molest the girl, she pushed the old man away with such force that he hit the wall of the alcove and fainted.

Having run out of the house in the middle of the night, Madeleine went aimlessly. Soon she noticed that a man was following her. She told him her story, and the stranger offered the girl his hospitality. The young man rented a hotel room on Rue Souflo. The next morning, she woke up in his arms. He took pity on Madeleine, and they began to live together, but the girl did not love this man at all. For him, this connection was an adventure, for her - an accident. They lived together for a year. Before Madeleine, he had many mistresses, he did not have much respect for women. On the eve of their meeting, he received the title of military surgeon and had to leave for service from France to Cochin. He soon left.

Guillaume was born in the city of Vetey. His father, Comte de Wiargues, a chemical scientist, sat in the laboratory for days on end and was unsociable. A young frivolous woman, the wife of a Vetean notary, rushed into his arms. The forty-year-old count made the young woman his mistress and did not hide it at all. For a small town, it was an unheard-of scandal. When de Wiargues began to live openly with another man's wife, he was almost stoned to death. The husband of this fallen woman, a notary, was afraid to death of losing his place and behaved at peace for two years, during which this relationship lasted. He closed his eyes to his wife's infidelity. Soon the young woman gave birth to a son to the Comte de Wiargue. A few months later, she got tired of her lover, who spent whole days in his laboratory, and she returned to her husband, forgetting to take the child with her. The notary calmly accepted his wife back, as if she had returned from a trip. The scandal in Vetea was remembered for another 20 years.

From this strange connection, Guillaume was born. Monsieur de Wiargues' feelings for his mistress were fleeting, and he was indifferent to his son. The boy grew up all alone, his mother was never interested in him. The true mother for Guillaume was the old servant Genevieve, who raised Monsieur de Wiargues himself. She was the foster sister of the Count's mother, prim and pious. Genevieve every morning and every evening read a few verses from the Bible, which she constantly carried with her. They were harsh, harsh words, imbued with unrelenting anger. Guillaume grew up in an atmosphere of nervous exaltation. Everything contributed to the fact that he grew up weak and indecisive.

At the boarding house, he was bullied by his peers because he was illegitimate. But one day a new boy came to the boarding house - Jacques - and stood up for Guillaume. Guillaume fell in love with Jacques and they became friends. From that day on, Guillaume was left alone. He was very grateful to Jacques. The two years that the friends went to college, they were inseparable. After graduating from college, Jacques went to Paris to enter the medical faculty. Guillaume's father provided his son for life. The count did not want his son, like him, to study science. Soon, his father committed suicide, poisoned himself in his own laboratory.

Guillaume dreamed of meeting love, and Jacques did not take women seriously, he had many mistresses. Guillaume settled on East Street, in the very hotel where Madeleine lived. They met and soon became lovers. In Madeleine, he found a tender lover, whom he had long dreamed of. They got married and had a daughter, Lucy. But one day Madeleine saw a photograph of Jacques in the house. It turned out that Guillaume's friend Jacques was Madeleine's lover.

Guillaume learned of the death of Jacques. Madeleine was happy with her husband, but was afraid that he would leave her because of a recent relationship with his best friend. This thought tormented Madeleine. Guillaume soon learned that Jacques had not really died. The newspaper that Guillaume read reported incorrect information. Two people got out alive from the wreckage of the ship - a surgeon and a sailor, who were lucky enough to cling to the boat carried away by the waves. They were thrown onto the boulders with such force that the sailor crashed, and Jacques was left unconscious, with broken ribs. For about a year he was treated, and then went to Cochinchina for service. His uncle passed away, leaving his nephew 10,000 francs in rent. When Jacques was abandoned by his Cochin mistress, he decided to return to France.

Guillaume was very pleased with Jacques and invited his best friend to stay with him. Madeleine broke down and told Guillaume that she and Jacques were lovers. When Guillaume recovered from the shock, they decided to leave and live separately from Jacques. Guillaume could not come to his senses for a long time because of the thought that Madeleine went to Jacques as a virgin.

Five years later, Jacques and Madeleine met at the hotel, and she realized that fate could not escape, the past would still remind of itself. The loneliness of Madeleine and Jacques was filled with despair. Genevieve was merciless towards Madeleine. She, who lived in severe virginity, was infuriated by the thought of carnal pleasures. Madeleine was angry with her husband for not standing up for her before Genevieve. Guillaume thought that their daughter looked like Jacques, he began to feel a strong disgust for his daughter, three-year-old Lucy. The girl felt her father's attitude towards her and was very upset. Soon she fell ill with smallpox, but the doctor managed to cure the girl.

In order to somehow distract from family troubles, Madeleine and Guillaume began to revolve in high society, but it turned out that people there led a dissolute lifestyle. Madeleine and Guillaume were disgusted by their behavior. The insignificance, the stupidity of this society has tired them. Madeleine and Guillaume had a familiar de Rie family - Helene and M. de Rie, Helene led a dissolute life - her lovers were young boys, and her old, deaf and sick husband pretended not to notice anything. Soon, Helen had a young lover, Tiburtius Rouillard, he did not like Helene and used her to help arrange his career. He pretended to be a friend of the de Rie family. Helen was so disgusted with him that he began to beat her. Dying, M. de Rie asked Tiburtius to marry Helene. In secret, Mr. Rie wanted to take revenge on his wife for her betrayal. He hoped that they would get married and torment each other incessantly.

Tiburtius told Guillaume and Madeleine that Jacques Berthier was in town. Genevieve said in a letter that Lucy was seriously ill, Guillaume and Madeleine had to return from Noirede to Paris. Madeleine lied to Guillaume that she had forgotten something with Rie, and he had to return. Madeleine went to Jacques's hotel to tell her that she had become Guillaume's wife and ask that Jacques not interfere with them. Instead, she gave herself up to him and could not forgive herself for it. Madeleine made a deliberate decision to kill herself. When she returned home, Lucy was already dead. Guillaume greatly regretted his coldness towards his daughter. Madeleine felt a kind of relief to see her daughter dead. One obstacle to suicide has become less. By the will of fate, Lucy died at the very moment when Madeleine gave herself to Jacques, and Guillaume was in his father's laboratory, where no one had gone for five years.

Life became unbearable for both. Madeleine decided to commit suicide in the laboratory amid the filth and stench. She grabbed a bottle of poison from the closet. When Guillaume tried to stop her, Madeleine confessed to him that she had given herself to Jacques. Guillaume did not interfere, Madeleine drank the poison in one gulp, and death came instantly. Guillaume went mad and began to jump around the corpse with heartbreaking cries, and Genevieve said: "God the father did not forgive."