Short summary - The Belly of Paris - Le Ventre de Paris - Émile Zola

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - The Belly of Paris - Le Ventre de Paris
Émile Zola

Florent returned to Paris, from where seven years ago, in December 1851, after barricade battles in the night city, he was sent into exile in the hell of Cayenne. They took him only because he wandered around the city like a lost one and had blood on his hands - he tried to save a young woman wounded in front of his eyes, but she was already dead. The blood on the hands seemed to the police sufficient evidence. With two comrades who soon died on the way, he miraculously fled from Cayenne, wandered around Dutch Guiana and finally decided to return to his hometown, which he had dreamed of for all seven years of his torment. He hardly recognizes Paris: in the very place where a bloody woman once lay, whose blood had killed Florent, today stands the Central Market, the "belly of Paris" - fish, meat, cheese, trebuchet rows, the kingdom of food, the apotheosis of gluttony, over which, mixing, float the smells of cheeses, sausages, oils, the persistent stench of fish, light clouds of floral and fruity aromas. Hungry and emaciated, Florent almost faints. It was then that he met the artist Claude Lantier, rude but friendly, who offered him his help. Together they go around the market, and Claude introduces the newcomer to the local sights: here is the real devil Marjolen, found in cabbage, and living in the market; here is the nimble Kadina, also from the foundlings, she was sheltered by a tradeswoman; here is the finished picture - a heap of vegetables and herbs ... Florent can no longer endure this oppressive splendor. Suddenly it seems to him that he recognized an old friend: indeed, it is Gavard, who knew both Florent and his brother well. He changed his apartment, and Florent goes to a new address.

... From an early age, Florent took over all the care of his brother: their mother died when he first started studying law in Paris. Taking twelve-year-old Kenya to him and desperately struggling with poverty, Florent tried to teach something to his little brother, but he was much more successful in mastering the cooking, which he was taught by the shopkeeper Gavard, who lives next door. Kenu turned out to be an excellent cook. After the arrest of his brother, he got a job with their uncle Gradel, became a successful sausage maker, married the magnificent beauty Lisa - the daughter of the Makkars from Plassan. A daughter was born. Queneu less and less remembers Florent, considering him dead. His appearance in the sausage shop causes fear in Kenya and Lisa - however, Kenya immediately invites his brother to live and eat with them. Florent is weighed down by parasitism and forced idleness, but he cannot but admit that he is gradually coming to his senses in this house, which smelled of food, among fat, sausages, and baked lard. Soon, Gavar and Qenyu find him a place as an overseer in the sea fish pavilion: now his duty is to monitor the freshness of the goods and the honesty of the merchants in the calculations. Meticulous and incorruptible, Florent begins this work and soon gains general respect, although at first his gloom and restraint (behind which only timidity and meekness were hidden) scare away the regulars of the market. And the eternal rival of the sausage maker Lisa, the second beauty of the market - Louise Meguden, nicknamed Norman - even has views on him ... Florent fiddles with her little son Musch, teaching him to read, and the little foul-mouthed with an angelic appearance with all his soul becomes attached to him. Being drawn into the hearty, spicy, noisy life of the market, Florent meets with Claude, who comes here to paint sketches, and visits Lebigra's tavern in the evenings, where men gather in the evenings to drink and talk. They talk more and more about politics: the owner of the tavern, the silent Lebigre, sometimes hints at his participation in the events of 1848 ... The homegrown Jacobin Charvet, the long-haired private teacher in a shabby frock coat, and the evil hunchback appraiser Logre, and the peddler Lacaille, and loader Alexander. They make up the circle of Florent's interlocutors, who gradually ceases to hide their views and increasingly speaks of the need to overthrow the tyranny of the Tuileries ... The times of Napoleon III - Napoleon the Small are standing. Florent's days are monotonous, but in the evenings he takes his soul away.

The market, meanwhile, lives its nourishing, noisy life: traders intrigue, quarrel, gossip. The Norman scolds her eternal rival Lisa and spreads rumors about her and Florent. It is he who becomes the main subject of contention. The old maid Mademoiselle Saget, who feeds on the remains of the Tuileries feasts (they are distributed free of charge in the market), spreads gossip about everyone and everything, and for this she receives free tidbits. Quarrels, squabbles, clashes break out every minute in the kingdom of abundance. Florent does not want to notice all this - he is already absorbed in the thought of an uprising, which he discusses with Gavard and new friends in Lebigra's tavern. These conversations give their monotonous life, taking place in the neighborhood of a giant market, new meaning and poignancy. Mademoiselle Saget tirelessly gossips about the revolutionary sentiments of the new overseer of the fish ranks, these rumors reach Lisa, she begins to hint to her husband that it would be good to get rid of Florent, and soon the whole market is convinced that Florent is a dangerous and unrepentant "red". And without that, having made enemies for himself with honesty and directness, he becomes an outcast in the market and feels like a man only among like-minded people who listen to him, the guests of Lebigra.

... Marjolene and Kadina grow together in the market, who do not know their parents, sleeping in the same bed with the trader's aunt Chantimess since childhood. Their childhood friendship imperceptibly turns into love - or into what seems to them to be love, because by the age of seventeen, Gavard's henchman Marjolen is simply a beautiful animal, and fifteen-year-old Kadina is just as adorable and the same thoughtless animal. She sells flowers, runs around the market and here and there intercepts another yummy. One day, the beautiful Lisa decides to go to the Gavar poultry house and talk to him about dangerous political disputes at Lebigra. She did not find Gavar. Marjolen, rejoicing at the guest, took her around the bench for a long time, then jokingly tried to hug her - and Liza hit him with her fist between the eyes with full swing. The boy collapsed to the floor, splitting his head on the stone counter. Fortunately, he didn’t remember anything when he came to. He was sent to the hospital, but after the fall, he became a complete idiot, finally turning into a jubilant, well-fed animal. For Florent and Claude, he becomes a symbol of the market, his soul - or, rather, a symbol of the absence of this soul.

Florent tries in vain to captivate Claude with the political struggle. "In politics, you are an artist just like me," Claude replies casually, who is only interested in art. But Gavar is fond of politics in earnest and begins to defiantly carry a pistol with him, talking about the victory of the Republicans as a settled matter. Frightened Lisa, with the blessing of the curé, is sorting through Florent's papers in his room and learns that in his unrealizable dreams, Florent has already divided the city into twenty sectors, at the head of each he provided a commander-in-chief and even drew icons for each of the twenty detachments. This horrifies Lisa. Meanwhile, the old woman Saget learns from an accidental slip of the word from her little daughter Kenya that Florent is a fugitive convict. This rumor is spreading like wildfire across the market. Frightened Liza finally decides to go to the prefecture with a denunciation of her brother-in-law, whom she has until now passed off as a cousin to the whole market. It is here that the gloomy bald gentleman informs her that the police commissars of three cities at once reported about Florent's return from penal servitude. All his life, all his work in the Central Market was thoroughly known to the police. The prefecture only hesitated because it wanted to cover up the entire "secret society". The old woman Sazhe and even the apprentice Kenu Auguste reported on Florent ... Lisa understands that her husband is out of suspicion and, therefore, out of danger. Only here the whole senselessness of her own denunciation becomes clear to her. Now she can only wait for Florent, who has not offended the dove in his life, will be arrested.

And so it happened. They also take Gavar, sporting a pistol, and now terrified to death. Immediately after the arrest, a fight breaks out in his house for his fortune. Florent is taken from his brother's apartment, but Florent refuses to say goodbye to Quesnu, who is busy preparing blood sausage - he is afraid to feel deeply and upset him. At the trial, Florent is credited with more than twenty accomplices, of whom he barely knows seven. Logra and Lacaille were acquitted. Florent and Gavard were sent into exile, from where this time they will no longer return.

Remembering a friend, Claude Lantier walks around the jubilant, gigantic Central Market. Liza Keneu, a glittering beauty full of whiteness, lays out hams and tongues on the counter. The old woman Sazhe walks between the rows. The Norman, who has just married Lebigra, greets her former rival Lisa in a friendly way. The triumph of the womb surrounds Claude, everything around breathes with fat health, and the hungry artist mutters through his teeth: "What, however, all these decent people are scoundrels!"