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His Masterpiece

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Emile Zola was a French novelist who wrote in the school of naturalism and is noted for his work in revolutionizing France. The Rougon-Macquart series brought Zola literary fame and is considered his life work. It took 25 years to finish the 20 volumes. The idea of writing the social history of a family encompassing several volumes probably came from his reading the works Emile Zola was a French novelist who wrote in the school of naturalism and is noted for his work in revolutionizing France. The Rougon-Macquart series brought Zola literary fame and is considered his life work. It took 25 years to finish the 20 volumes. The idea of writing the social history of a family encompassing several volumes probably came from his reading the works of Balzac. Zola shows how people in a family who appear to be quite individualistic are actually quite similar. Heredity and proximity determine who we are and how we act. His Masterpiece is the story of Paris and art. It begins "CLAUDE was passing in front of the Hotel de Ville, and the clock was striking two o'clock in the morning when the storm burst forth. He had been roaming forgetfully about the Central Markets, during that burning July night, like a loitering artist enamoured of nocturnal Paris. Suddenly the raindrops came down, so large and thick, that he took to his heels and rushed, wildly bewildered, along the Quai de la Greve. But on reaching the Pont Louis Philippe he pulled up, ragefully breathless; he considered this fear of the rain to be idiotic; and so amid the pitch-like darkness, under the lashing shower which drowned the gas-jets, he crossed the bridge slowly, with his hands dangling by his side."


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Emile Zola was a French novelist who wrote in the school of naturalism and is noted for his work in revolutionizing France. The Rougon-Macquart series brought Zola literary fame and is considered his life work. It took 25 years to finish the 20 volumes. The idea of writing the social history of a family encompassing several volumes probably came from his reading the works Emile Zola was a French novelist who wrote in the school of naturalism and is noted for his work in revolutionizing France. The Rougon-Macquart series brought Zola literary fame and is considered his life work. It took 25 years to finish the 20 volumes. The idea of writing the social history of a family encompassing several volumes probably came from his reading the works of Balzac. Zola shows how people in a family who appear to be quite individualistic are actually quite similar. Heredity and proximity determine who we are and how we act. His Masterpiece is the story of Paris and art. It begins "CLAUDE was passing in front of the Hotel de Ville, and the clock was striking two o'clock in the morning when the storm burst forth. He had been roaming forgetfully about the Central Markets, during that burning July night, like a loitering artist enamoured of nocturnal Paris. Suddenly the raindrops came down, so large and thick, that he took to his heels and rushed, wildly bewildered, along the Quai de la Greve. But on reaching the Pont Louis Philippe he pulled up, ragefully breathless; he considered this fear of the rain to be idiotic; and so amid the pitch-like darkness, under the lashing shower which drowned the gas-jets, he crossed the bridge slowly, with his hands dangling by his side."

30 review for His Masterpiece

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    Strange how life imitates art in so many ways. When Zola wrote his artist novel, he could look back on decades of creative pain, shared with the painters of the era, and most notably with his childhood friend Paul Cézanne. Would Zola have been THE realist writer of his time if he hadn't attempted to describe the struggle of the emerging impressionist movement in at least one of his installments of the Rougon-Macquart series? Would he have been Zola if he hadn't succeeded in describing it in such Strange how life imitates art in so many ways. When Zola wrote his artist novel, he could look back on decades of creative pain, shared with the painters of the era, and most notably with his childhood friend Paul Cézanne. Would Zola have been THE realist writer of his time if he hadn't attempted to describe the struggle of the emerging impressionist movement in at least one of his installments of the Rougon-Macquart series? Would he have been Zola if he hadn't succeeded in describing it in such a way that the realism of the fictional characters reminded readers of the actual people he was surrounded by? Would Cézanne, on the other hand, have been the sensitive, self-conscious and obsessively engaged artist if he hadn't taken the novel badly, seeing only himself and his supposed failure in the character Claude Lantier? Somehow, Zola had to write the story of the unhappy artist and his striving for the perfect painting, and somehow Cézanne had to respond by breaking the lifelong friendship and correspondence: "Mon cher Émile, I’ve just received L’Œuvre, which you were kind enough to send me. I thank the author of the Rougon-Macquart for this kind token of remembrance, and ask him to allow me to wish him well, thinking of years gone by. Ever yours with the feeling of time passing, Paul Cézanne" However, despite time passing, both Zola and Cézanne have stayed, and enjoy a posthumous success they may not have been able to imagine in their wildest dreams and hopes. Theirs is a heritage of literature and art in perfect companionship, showing the 19th century world in transition - from different angles and perspectives, in different colours and textures. To conquer Paris with an apple, was Cézanne's idea, to analyse humanity with the narrow perspective of one single family in all their ugly facets, was Zola's. They both succeeded through reiterated and passionate failures. They sacrificed everything - including friendship, and felt the pain of Claude Lantier in different ways. But they did not end like the tragic literary character, and that is the main difference between life and art. A novel or a canvas can be brought to an end, but the creators continue their struggles and failures. The symbolic suicide of Lantier in front of his work of art clearly sets him off from real artists (with the exception of Van Gogh, maybe, whose life took on mythological dimensions after his violent end), and moves him into the realm of classical literature. His friends, the surviving characters, sum it up at the end of the novel: he dared to be consequential in his knowledge of ultimate failure regarding the pursuit of the perfect masterpiece, while they liked their bodies too much to follow through to the bitter end. "Allons travailler", their closing remarks after Lantier's suicide, can be placed halfway between Voltaire's positive message in Candide, celebrating private work and thrifty engagement as a means to escape the madness of the world ("Il faut cultiver notre jardin"), and Sartre's existentialist Hell in Huis clos, suivi de Les mouches, where the last sentence: "Continuons", symbolises complete surrender and hopeless frustration. Zola's characters are not forced into their painful eternal situation like Sartre's love triangle - they choose it because they believe in the importance of their message, failure or not. Zola's literary synthesis of the birth of the modern art movement, including elements of Monet, Manet and of course Cézanne, is a masterpiece within his ambitious novel project, a perfect mirror of the times and ideas. And it is the dramatic nucleus for his failed friendship in real life - the point of no return, where Zola chose to be a writer more than anything else, at any cost. In that respect, he showed himself to be a Claude Lantier! One of my favourite Zolas! Recommended!

  2. 4 out of 5

    MJ Nicholls

    You have this friend, a writer. He’s written this terrible bildungsroman about his tedious student exploits, I Want Vagina. You tell him tactfully that a 900-page, unspellchecked homage to sexual frustration doesn’t fly in the marketplace. Your friend scurries off and signs up for a Creative Writing MA at Dorset Polytechnic, taught by Vernon D. Burns. He returns, a few months later, with a new 900-page spellchecked homage to sexual frustration, I Want to Squeeze Bosoms. You arrange for him to lo You have this friend, a writer. He’s written this terrible bildungsroman about his tedious student exploits, I Want Vagina. You tell him tactfully that a 900-page, unspellchecked homage to sexual frustration doesn’t fly in the marketplace. Your friend scurries off and signs up for a Creative Writing MA at Dorset Polytechnic, taught by Vernon D. Burns. He returns, a few months later, with a new 900-page spellchecked homage to sexual frustration, I Want to Squeeze Bosoms. You arrange for him to lose his virginity so his art might progress by dialling a friendly helpline for that purpose (Callgirlz2nite). He returns a year later with a new epic, I Love Sleeping With Whores. His prose abounds in loving descriptions of thighs and calves and thighs, but lacks a greater purpose. A novel needs something more than loving exudations of prozzies to be successful (a few classics notwithstanding). Your friend trundles off. He rents a box room and starts his masterpiece, A Novel With Substance, Truth & Power. You tell him to rethink the title, but he tells you to shut up, he knows what he’s doing. So: skip twelve years, past the four breakdowns, nine marriages, one suicide attempt, to the final draft of his masterpiece. You sit down to read this dense marsh of unreadable prose, despairing at each spontaneous MUMMY that looms from the text (often LOVE ME MUMMY), and watch a sitcom instead. The message? All artists are fucked up. Some are—as they say in the US army—fucked up beyond all recognition. Uplifting passage, spoken by the character based on Zola: “From the moment I start a new novel, life’s just one endless torture. The first few chapters may go fairly well and I may feel there’s still a chance to prove my worth, but that feeling soon disappears and every day I feel less and less satisfied. I begin to say the book’s no good, far inferior to my earlier ones, until I’ve wrung torture out of every page, every sentence, every word, and the very commas begin to look excruciatingly ugly. Then, when it’s finished, what a relief! Not the blissful delight of the gentleman who goes into ecstasies over his own production, but the resentful relief of a porter dropping a burden that’s nearly broken his back . . . Then it starts all over again, and it’ll go on starting all over again till it grinds the life out of me, and I shall end my days furious with myself for lacking talent, for not leaving behind a more finished work, a bigger pile of books, and lie on my death-bed filled with awful doubts about the task I’ve done, wondering whether it was as it ought to have been, whether I ought not to have done this or that, expressing my last dying breath the wish that I might do it all over again!” (p259-60)

  3. 5 out of 5

    Rakhi Dalal

    'Ah! life! life! to feel it and portray it in its reality, to love it for itself, to behold in it the only real, lasting, and changing beauty, without any idiotic idea of ennobling it by mutilation. To understand that all so-called ugliness is nothing but the mark of individual character, to create real men and endow them with life, yes, that's the only way to become a god!' Perfection is the sole intention of an artistic endeavor striving towards greatness. In this effort lies the innate desire 'Ah! life! life! to feel it and portray it in its reality, to love it for itself, to behold in it the only real, lasting, and changing beauty, without any idiotic idea of ennobling it by mutilation. To understand that all so-called ugliness is nothing but the mark of individual character, to create real men and endow them with life, yes, that's the only way to become a god!' Perfection is the sole intention of an artistic endeavor striving towards greatness. In this effort lies the innate desire of an artist to conquer the imaginative world of his creation. To conquer it in such a way that his creations are perfect portrayal of those ideas which his mind perceives and of those which he lives by too. Even when he realizes that perfection in reality is unattainable; it is still the only impetus that drives his passion. A passion fueled by the long coveted glory in the real world. If his passion is continuously thwarted when confronted with real world, the artist may fall into that ruinous abyss from which there is no escape - from which he doesn’t really wish to escape since for him it is only his art which matters, which is real, and everything else is inconsequential. He may rather die for his art than live for something else in the world. 'Yes, I belong to that god; he may do what he pleases with me. I should die if I no longer painted, and I prefer to paint and die of it. Besides, my will is nothing in the matter. Nothing exists beyond art; let the world burst! L'Oeuvre or His Masterpiece from the series Rougon-Macquart by Emile Zola, set in second half of the nineteenth century Paris, is a striking rendition of the life of such an artist in the City of Light. Claude Lentier is a revolutionary painter who produces paintings after paintings only to be rejected by the Salon every year. He knows that it is because he doesn’t follow the traditional style, he would rather starve than compromise his art. Finally, the rejections take its toll on the painter who, after struggling too much, loses the very art which he wants to perfect. More he works on his paintings, more he spoils them in his zealousness. Till in the end, after losing everything, he dies for his art. This work, which is the fourteenth book in a series of twenty volumes, is not only one part in the story of two families followed through generations by Zola but it is also a work which stands apart for its own literary merit. I haven’t read any other volume but have read somewhere that L'Assommoir and Germinal are the best in the series. Surely, L'Oeuvre has inspired me to read other volumes too. It is well known that many of the characters of this work were drawn from real life artists. Ernest Alfred Vizetelly, in the preface to work, provides an account of various people and incidents which went into the creation of this novel; two major characters being the protagonist Claude Lantier (inspired by Cezanne and Manet) and his closest friend Sandoz (based upon Zola himself). In the words of Alfred: Claude Lantier, the chief character in the book, is, of course, neither Cezanne nor Manet, but from the careers of those two painters, M. Zola has borrowed many little touches and incidents. The poverty which falls to Claude's lot is taken from the life of Cezanne, for Manet was the only son of a judge and was almost wealthy….Whilst, however, Claude Lantier, the hero of L'Oeuvre, is unlike Manet in so many respects, there is a close analogy between the artistic theories and practices of the real painter and the imaginary one. Several of Claude's pictures are Manet's, slightly modified. For instance, the former's painting, 'In the Open Air,' is almost a replica of the latter's Dejeuner sur l'Herbe ('A Lunch on the Grass'), shown at the Salon of the Rejected in 1863. Again, many of the sayings put into Claude's mouth in the novel are really sayings of Manet's. And Claude's fate, at the end of the book, is virtually that of a moody young fellow who long assisted Manet in his studio. A Lunch on the Grass by Manet. Being a Parisian, Zola had acquired that artistic fervor which throbbed as life in the pulse of the artistic City. Owing to his friendship with painters of the time, the ideas which hence found an expression in the writing of this work by Zola are rendered akin to masterly strokes in a painting by a painter. Here the city is itself seen through the eyes of a painter as Claude walks in the streets of city looking out for an inspiration. Quoting Alfred again: From a purely literary standpoint, the pictures of the quays and the Seine to be found in L'Oeuvre are perhaps the best bits of the book, though it is all of interest, because it is essentially a livre vecu, a work really 'lived' by its author. The work ‘Lived’ in the sense that the thoughts and philosophical ideas occupying the minds of both Claude and Sandoz, are those of Zola himself. The exasperation felt by Claude, after being frustrated with his work, while roaming the streets of Paris, was that felt by an unemployed Zola too. His writing delves into Naturalism as well as impressionism as he illustrates the life of Claude and his paintings. His promotion of the school of “Open-Air” can be distinctly identified with the title of Claude’s first painting “In the Open Air” exhibited by the Salon of Rejected. He was an ardent admirer and supporter of Edouard Manet, the first real master of Open Air School, and had anticipated the significance of painter’s principles and methods. It is these methods and principles which he associates with Claude here. In the voice of Sandoz, a novelist, Zola puts his own words when he expresses his views regarding the futility of extreme efforts taken by Claude at the expense of his family and his life. 'Look here, old man, I, whom you envy, perhaps, yes, I, who am beginning to get on in the world, as middle-class people say. I, who publish books and earn a little money as well, I am being killed by it all. I have often already told you this, but you don't believe me, because, as you only turn out work with a deal of trouble and cannot bring yourself to public notice, happiness in your eyes could naturally consist in producing a great deal, in being seen, and praised or slated. Well, get admitted to the next Salon, get into the thick of the battle, paint other pictures, and then tell me whether that suffices, and whether you are happy at last. Listen; work has taken up the whole of my existence. Little by little, it has robbed me of my mother, of my wife, of everything I love. It is like a germ thrown into the cranium, which feeds on the brain, finds its way into the trunk and limbs, and gnaws up the whole of the body. As a protagonist, Claude is not a very likeable character. He fails as a painter, as a husband and even as a father. His extreme step of committing suicide doesn’t really surprise nor does it evoke anger or any pity. This according to me is the triumph of Zola as a writer. It is his straight forward style as a realist and naturalist writer which succeeds in the life like description of an artist struggling in a city where the custodians of art adhere to long accepted traditional styles and where the audience of such art follows the popular opinions tossed about by a handful of average artists. (view spoiler)[The only thing that shocked me while reading this novel was the painting -“The Dead Child” by Claude which was at last accepted by the Salon. The description of this painting came right after the death of Claude’s son (who died for utter neglect on the part of his parents) and for a brief moment I felt stupefied at the thought that the painting could have been painted by Claude right after his son died. Since we do not witness any mourning for the child by his parents, it appeared as a possibility that Jacques’ death could have provided Claude with a picture to paint. Ironically, this is the picture accepted finally by Salon which proves a precursor to Claude’s death. (hide spoiler)]

  4. 5 out of 5

    Alice Poon

    Including L’Oeuvre (The Masterpiece), I’ve so far read five of the twenty-volume Rougon-Macquart series by Emile Zola (the other four being: La Curee (The Kill), L’Assommoir (The Dram Shop), Nana (Nana) and Le Ventre (The Belly of Paris)). All five are set in kaleidoscopic Paris. The period is some time during the semi-aristocratic and semi-bourgeois Second Empire epoch. I love that each of the five portrays a different and unique social and cultural aspect of the times. In the Preface, Ernest Al Including L’Oeuvre (The Masterpiece), I’ve so far read five of the twenty-volume Rougon-Macquart series by Emile Zola (the other four being: La Curee (The Kill), L’Assommoir (The Dram Shop), Nana (Nana) and Le Ventre (The Belly of Paris)). All five are set in kaleidoscopic Paris. The period is some time during the semi-aristocratic and semi-bourgeois Second Empire epoch. I love that each of the five portrays a different and unique social and cultural aspect of the times. In the Preface, Ernest Alfred Vizetelly tells us that Zola draws from the real life experiences of the famous French painters Paul Cezanne (Zola’s childhood friend) and Edouard Manet (whose art Zola tirelessly championed) to develop the characterization of the protagonist Claude Lantier. Sadly, this would subsequently cause Cezanne to break up his friendship with Zola. Claude Lantier is a descendant by blood from the Macquart line and presumably suffers from hereditary mental illness. The story follows Lantier through his initial ambitions as a young rebellious painter and his subsequent self-perceived failures, which lead to a gradual tragic descent into abject poverty and ultimate despair about life. Cheered on by a circle of fellow artists, including his best friend and budding writer Pierre Sandoz (Zola himself), Lantier at first nurtures a megalomaniac dream of conquering the art scene of Paris one day with his new concept of “open air” painting. He even balks with audacity at the jeers of the public on his first creative piece “In the Open Air” which he submits to the newly opened and supposedly more liberal Salon of the Rejected. He then falls in love with a modest young woman from Clermont who adores him. The couple lives happily in the countryside for a few years before returning to Paris. As time wears on, each of his once loyal supporters has found success in varying degrees, some by unscrupulous means, and he feels left behind in face of consecutive rejections of his works by the conservative but still authoritative Old Salon. In the end, neither his beloved wife nor his most loyal friend Sandoz is able to lift him from the psychological dumps. Zola paints the Paris art scene with equal doses of realism and romanticism, of derision and compassion, of insight and scorn. But all in all, I can feel his consuming love of the city of Paris, which is also my favorite city. In this novel as well as in L’Assommoir (The Dram Shop), he takes us on a leisurely stroll through all the boulevards and avenues in the center of Paris. In this novel, he dwells amorously on the scenery surrounding L’Ile de la Cite and makes it the subject of the protagonist’s last masterpiece. People see it every day, pass before it without stopping; but it takes hold of one all the same; one’s admiration accumulates, and one fine afternoon it bursts forth. Nothing in the world can be grander; it is Paris herself, glorious in the sunlight.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Edward

    Introduction Note on the Translation Select Bibliography Chronology --The Masterpiece Explanatory Notes

  6. 5 out of 5

    David Lentz

    "The Masterpiece" is itself a masterpiece from Emile Zola about the utter anguish of an artist over the gap between life and art. Claude is a French artist living in Paris when naturalism was just beginning to give way to Impressionism. By a naturalist we mean "one who studies nature" itself in the same way in which Seamus Heaney wrote in "The Death of a Naturalist" and the depiction of nature in a strictly natural way: that is, the quest of the artist was to show life within nature through a ph "The Masterpiece" is itself a masterpiece from Emile Zola about the utter anguish of an artist over the gap between life and art. Claude is a French artist living in Paris when naturalism was just beginning to give way to Impressionism. By a naturalist we mean "one who studies nature" itself in the same way in which Seamus Heaney wrote in "The Death of a Naturalist" and the depiction of nature in a strictly natural way: that is, the quest of the artist was to show life within nature through a photographic verisimilitude or realism. Imagine being Paul Cezanne, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Edouard Manet at the outset of the Impressionist Movement, which at the time of this novel, was widely considered as laughable. In this novel the protagonist, Claude, has devoted his entire life to the creation of a masterpiece of art accepted by the Salon, patrons, art dealers, art critics and general public of Parisian society. Claude meets with artistic rejection at every turn as portrayed by his friend, Sandoz, an up and coming novelist, who is thinly veiled as Zola himself. Novels like the painting of the day were judged by standards of realism: the work was of the highest quality only if it captured life itself in a realistic and natural setting. For example, Henry James wrote his works at the same time as Zola and the literary styles seek to capture the nuances of setting and characters and action in realistic ways. Sentences flow in traditional style with subjects and predicates nicely arranged and without stylistic breakthroughs which would follow from James Joyce. Claude is obsessed with perfection in his art and is willing to go to any artistic length to seek to achieve it. He and his family endure the most dire poverty in pursuit of his aim and his wife suffers more than he does in support of his artistic ambitions. But poor Claude is rejected everywhere by most who fail to recognize the real artistic genius which his fellow artists and Sandoz clearly see as luminous within him. He wonders if it is better to live and die unknown than to suffer the sacrifices he has made for his art. "Immortality at present depends entirely on the average middle-class mind and is reserved only for the names that have been most forcefully impressed upon us while we were still unable to defend ourselves," Zola writes. A painting that he has produced for exhibition by Salon society in Paris causes howls of laughter by those observing it. He has little faith that posterity will judge his art more kindly: "Suppose the artist's paradise turned out to be non-existent and future generations proved just as misguided as the present one and persisted in liking pretty-pretty dabbling better than honest-to-goodness painting! What a cheat for us all, to have lived like slaves, noses to the grindstone all to no purpose." What about those whom the public deem to be great artists? Will their work survive them? "There is only one way of working and being happy at the same time, and that is never to rely on either good faith or justice. And if you want to prove you're right, you've got to die first." The critics are always throwing brickbats, not only at Claude, but also at Sandoz who after a terrible review by a close friend who is an editor responds by telling him: "Since my enemies are beginning to sing my praises, there are only my friends to run me down." At one point toward the end of his life Claude laments the pointlessness and futility of his artistic genius: "It's so pointless, isn't it? And that's what is so revolting about it. If you can't be a good painter, we still have life! Ah, life, life!" But there is little Claude can do except to continue to paint: "Art is the master, my master, to dispose of me as it pleases. If I stopped painting it would kill me all the same, so I prefer to die painting. My own will doesn't really enter into it." He has a vision of a style of art which is to come and dominate the art world but which no one else of his era can see and so he is compelled to suffer for it: "Will people understand that anyone who produces something new, and that's an honor that doesn't come to everybody, anyone who produces something new is bound to depart from received wisdom." Zola's dim and dire tale based upon his own suffering but ultimate success of his novels during his own lifetime seem to affirm: "Nothing is ever completely wasted, and there's simply got to be light!...We are not an end: we are a transition, the beginning only of something new." "The Masterpiece" is an imperfect work but so is all art, as Sandoz (Zola) writes as the narrator of the entire story: " You have to make do with half-measures in this life... My books, for example: I can polish and revise them as much as I like, but in the end I always despise myself for their being, in spite of my efforts, so incomplete, so untrue to life." This is the story of a painter whose paintings remain un-hung, whose life becomes unhinged and whose whole being ultimately is a crucifixion. In the natural world this is the way of life and a realistic portrait of the artist in Paris according to Zola who did not live long enough to see the glorious realm of French Impressionism come into full bloom.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Luís C.

    This is a classic of the universal literature of French expression. These series had always its works translated in all the languages and that still very little time were transformed into films and series that were seen by all the world. This work is a good example of literature in the service of causes in the case of Édouard Manet's work of 1863. In defense of this reference of the Impressionists and one of the initiators of the contemporary world of art, he wrote this work, in 1886, in his las This is a classic of the universal literature of French expression. These series had always its works translated in all the languages and that still very little time were transformed into films and series that were seen by all the world. This work is a good example of literature in the service of causes in the case of Édouard Manet's work of 1863. In defense of this reference of the Impressionists and one of the initiators of the contemporary world of art, he wrote this work, in 1886, in his last years of life.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    There's a character in this novel who decides to embark on an ambitious project to write a series of novels that "scientifically" demonstrate the effects of heredity and environment on a large family living during the regime of Napoleon III. (Whatever happened to Napoleon II?) The idea is that each book will examine some specific aspect of society and feature one member of the extended family as main protagonist. Which is odd, because Zola wrote a series of 20 books that examine the effects of e There's a character in this novel who decides to embark on an ambitious project to write a series of novels that "scientifically" demonstrate the effects of heredity and environment on a large family living during the regime of Napoleon III. (Whatever happened to Napoleon II?) The idea is that each book will examine some specific aspect of society and feature one member of the extended family as main protagonist. Which is odd, because Zola wrote a series of 20 books that examine the effects of environment and heredity on the fictional Rougon-Macquart family who live during Napoleon III's time in power...Yes, having abandoned (in practice if not by admission) his "scientific" plan fairly early in the 20 volume project, by the time Zola gets round to examining the world of artistic endeavor in Paris, he is entirely willing to model aspects of his characters on himself - and on his friends amongst the Impressionists, who, upon reading the book, variously, never spoke to him again, got really angry or found it flattering or funny. Zola in this series is talking about a world only slightly in his past, that he lived through, and all of its members that I've read feel very believable in terms of the society and atmosphere portrayed, if possibly somewhat exaggerated, but in this one he is talking directly about his own experiences which differentiates this from the others in the series in a way beyond just that of being a separate plot about a seperate character in a different stratum of French society from the others - which is, of course, what they have in common. If you are interested in that kind of game you could spend hours pondering exactly which aspects of which characters are taken from which real-life world-famous Impressionist painters. Strangely, the world of art portrayed seems entirely familiar; paintings used as investments, people trying to manipulate the market for profit, resultant hyper-inflation of prices. The public ridiculing works that later generations see as genius. Young artists spouting revolutionary theories about art and society, an old-guard establishment who try to keep the new-comers and their radical ideas down. The main protagonist, Claude (yes, after that Claude) is the leader of just such a group of young, ambitious, would-be (art) world-changers. His battles with the establishment and his own flaws and genius are affectingly set out over the course of the book and leads to an end that many readers of other Rougon-Macquart novels can probably guess early. Other recognisable Zola themes are to be found; for instance promiscuity amongst the poor and attempts to describe the passionate aspects of romance explicitly that outraged many contemporary readers. A challenge as to what was permisable still being fought by D.H. Lawrence many decades later. The style is also instantly recognisable, even across at least three different translators of his novels in the 6-10 Zola books I've read. The narrative voice, dramatic mood-swings and slow build-up (that can leave one bogged-down in the middle third) to a moving climax are all typically Zola. Despite the description of a man tortured by his obsessions and self-doubt, this member of the series was not for me as powerful as some of its more famous brethren, such as Germinal, The Earth or La Débâcle. Worth reading, then, but not the one to pick as one's first or even perhaps fifth work by Zola.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Gill

    This is the 14th novel that I've read in the Rougon-Maquart series, and the first that I have given five stars to. It hasn't moved me as much as some of the other books that I've given five stars to in the past, but I still think it deserves that rating. Here's why: The descriptions of Paris are excellent. I enjoyed them so much. I felt that the characters in this novel are more rounded and multi dimensional than in some of the other novels I've read in the series. I felt that Zola had more sympat This is the 14th novel that I've read in the Rougon-Maquart series, and the first that I have given five stars to. It hasn't moved me as much as some of the other books that I've given five stars to in the past, but I still think it deserves that rating. Here's why: The descriptions of Paris are excellent. I enjoyed them so much. I felt that the characters in this novel are more rounded and multi dimensional than in some of the other novels I've read in the series. I felt that Zola had more sympathy for the characters in this novel than in some of his others. I enjoyed that there is a character based on Zola himself. This gave a bit of an insight into how he thought and worked. I really enjoyed the descriptions of art and artists at the time the impressionists were starting their paintings. It was also nice to recognise some of the paintings and people who were being spoken about. The sections that showed how friendships change over time were very evocative. I thought that the two main characters in the book were Paris, and art and the meaning/purpose of art. All in all I'm very glad I read this one. Onward and upward to the following six, and the end of the series!

  10. 5 out of 5

    WhatIReallyRead

    This book has absolutely WRECKED me. This review is written by a pile of ashes. The Masterpiece is populated by artists, passionate, ambitious and young, feverish with their ideas and ideals. They are immersed in the world of literature and art, contribute to it, fight against it and for it. They crave glory and kill themselves with work, striving to rise above mediocrity. And people who love them have to deal with all of that, and it's a lot. It was fascinating and heartbreaking, really. The wri This book has absolutely WRECKED me. This review is written by a pile of ashes. The Masterpiece is populated by artists, passionate, ambitious and young, feverish with their ideas and ideals. They are immersed in the world of literature and art, contribute to it, fight against it and for it. They crave glory and kill themselves with work, striving to rise above mediocrity. And people who love them have to deal with all of that, and it's a lot. It was fascinating and heartbreaking, really. The writing was amazing. I fell in love with the characters and empathized with a lot of what they felt and thought. Zola is now one of my favorite writers. "The Masterpiece" is a work of pure genius. I picked this book up as a tie-in for my non-fiction read of Degas, because the main character, a fictional artist Claude Lantier, is also a XIX-century impressionist making a career in Paris. Though it is said Lantier was actually based partly on Cezanne, partly on Manet, who were friends with Zola.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Marija

    I think this is one of the most depressing stories I have ever read. Like Jude the Obscure, this is the kind of story that leaves you feeling cold...almost like you’ve been punched in the gut...an experience akin to a kind of betrayal. The Masterpiece is truly an awful story, yet Zola somehow manages to infuse a kind of beauty into his prose that counteracts the harsh naturalistic point of view that typically dominates Zola’s work. To reflect the artist Claude’s internal conflicts between romant I think this is one of the most depressing stories I have ever read. Like Jude the Obscure, this is the kind of story that leaves you feeling cold...almost like you’ve been punched in the gut...an experience akin to a kind of betrayal. The Masterpiece is truly an awful story, yet Zola somehow manages to infuse a kind of beauty into his prose that counteracts the harsh naturalistic point of view that typically dominates Zola’s work. To reflect the artist Claude’s internal conflicts between romanticism and realism, and realism versus naturalism, the format and progression of Zola’s novel likewise illustrates that same struggle. As you are reading you do get that sense of battle of the old vs. the new in terms of style and description. Even at the end, there is no real sense of a true victor...a kind of defeat that almost mirrors the artist’s. Whether this was intentional or not, I loved how Zola achieved this. I loved the artist’s point of view...how art colors the prose in regards to how Paris and the country are viewed. It forces the reader to focus on little details that would typically be overlooked. It beautifully reflects Claude’s own art...those flecks of paint and color that might initially seem jarring, yet when taken together and reflected upon, it all makes sense. Initially, when I read those descriptions of Claude’s blue trees, I felt exactly like Christine...blue trees? I couldn’t picture it. Yet when I went to the new Van Gogh exhibit at the PMA this week, on top of all of those layers of paint, I couldn’t help but notice those same blue trees in many of Van Gogh’s landscapes. ;) Claude’s visions finally made sense in my mind. They were beautiful. Zola was relentless in punishing Claude and Christine. It was savage...so horrible. And yet it is described in such a way that the reader shares and experiences everything they feel. While some of the comments Claude makes are truly evil—he is certainly not portrayed as a saintly martyr—I don’t believe he deserved all of the misery that befalls him. Since Claude was partially modeled off of Zola’s childhood friend Cezanne, I can understand why Cezanne would have wanted to part ways with his friend after The Masterpiece was published. Out of the other Zola novels that I have so far read, this one is markedly different. It doesn’t have that social satire present in his Octave Moret novels or the harsh addiction and vice prevalent in Nana. There is more of a sense of tragedy here, somewhat reminiscent of the Thomas Hardy novels I love—though Zola adds his own characteristically dark naturalistic flare to the drama.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth (Alaska)

    This is Zola's most autobiographical novel and is the world of art and artists he knew well. His life long friend from school age was impressionist painter, Paul Cezanne. When he and Paul left Aix-en-Provence for Paris, Zola was introduced further into the art world and, in fact, was an art critic in his early years. Edouard Manet was so appreciative of an article favoring the new style of art that he painted Zola. As to this novel, there can be no doubt that the novelist Sandoz represents Zol This is Zola's most autobiographical novel and is the world of art and artists he knew well. His life long friend from school age was impressionist painter, Paul Cezanne. When he and Paul left Aix-en-Provence for Paris, Zola was introduced further into the art world and, in fact, was an art critic in his early years. Edouard Manet was so appreciative of an article favoring the new style of art that he painted Zola. As to this novel, there can be no doubt that the novelist Sandoz represents Zola himself, when he says: 'So I have found what I wanted for myself. Oh, it isn't much, a little corner of study only, but one that should be sufficient for a man's life, even when his ambition is over-vast. I am going to take a family, and I shall study its members, one by one, whence they come, whither they go, how they re-act one upon another - in short, I shall have mankind in a small compass, the way in which mankind grows and behaves. On the other hand, I shall set my men and women in some given period of history, which will provide me with the necessary surroundings and circumstances, - you understand, eh? a series of books, fifteen, twenty books, episodes that will cling together, although each will have a separate framework, a series of novels with which I shall be able to build myself a house for my old days, if they don't crush me!'This novel is more about a painter whose life long friend is the novelist Sandoz. While he is not Cezanne, nor Manet, apparently, Zola surely drew on his knowledge of their world and its characters to create the world in this novel. Artists who are also geniuses are apparently tortured people. This is nearly 5 stars. I've been thinking lately that when I've read all 20 in the series, after a little break, I might take them up again with some of the newer translations.

  13. 4 out of 5

    kate

    First of all, I understand that Zola - and this novel in particular -- do not appeal to all readers. However, The Masterpiece is a fantastic tour of the French art world in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Zola's main character is a synthesis of Cezanne/Manet/Monet -- a trained eye will recognize that Lantier's opening painting closely resembles the aesthetic of Manet's Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe, that his city "sketches" recall Monet's urban series work, and that Lantier's eventual frust First of all, I understand that Zola - and this novel in particular -- do not appeal to all readers. However, The Masterpiece is a fantastic tour of the French art world in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Zola's main character is a synthesis of Cezanne/Manet/Monet -- a trained eye will recognize that Lantier's opening painting closely resembles the aesthetic of Manet's Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe, that his city "sketches" recall Monet's urban series work, and that Lantier's eventual frustration and abandonment of the figure mirror Cezanne's own struggle. (Though Zola's autobiographical character -- Sandoz -- is slightly self-indulgent, as most semi-autobiographical characters tend to be.) Also, the snapshot Zola gives of the Paris Salon illustrates a particularly significant point in art history, when the Ecole des Beaux Arts and its antiquated ideals butt heads with newly emerging Realist and Impressionist sensibilities. Zola keeps up this fantastic attention to detail and correlation with real-life artistic issues while also maintaining his trademark naturalism -- not everyone's cup of tea, but I'm into it. Just don't expect a happily ever after.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Gary Inbinder

    This is a story about how a creation destroys its creator, and the fine line between genius and madness. In that regard, it reminded me of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein." Zola's descriptions of late 19th century Paris are astounding; you see, breathe, taste, and feel it. His characters are flesh and blood men and women. They leap off the page and bore into your consciousness. His observations of the human condition are compelling, his philosophical musings on the creative life profound. But it's a This is a story about how a creation destroys its creator, and the fine line between genius and madness. In that regard, it reminded me of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein." Zola's descriptions of late 19th century Paris are astounding; you see, breathe, taste, and feel it. His characters are flesh and blood men and women. They leap off the page and bore into your consciousness. His observations of the human condition are compelling, his philosophical musings on the creative life profound. But it's all hard, bleak, and raw, a portrait of misery and depression with only the tiniest glimmer of hope in its final line, spoken in a cemetery: "Let's go to work."

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jason Furman

    This book is a masterpiece, so to speak. It centers around the "open air" (i.e., impressionist) Claude Lantier and his struggles to create a masterpiece. The counterpoint is his depressing and tragic relationship with Christine, who ends up a near-martyr to his art. Claude is surrounded by a La Boheme-like group of artists, writers, journalists, and others--including a character based on Zola who is writing a cycle of novels like the Rougon-Macquart cycle. Zola sets out to write a naturalistic, s This book is a masterpiece, so to speak. It centers around the "open air" (i.e., impressionist) Claude Lantier and his struggles to create a masterpiece. The counterpoint is his depressing and tragic relationship with Christine, who ends up a near-martyr to his art. Claude is surrounded by a La Boheme-like group of artists, writers, journalists, and others--including a character based on Zola who is writing a cycle of novels like the Rougon-Macquart cycle. Zola sets out to write a naturalistic, scientific observation but can't help making it a true novel with a well-structured beginning, middle and end, and a certain amount of melodrama along the way. He also sets out to write a criticism of impressionism and the art world, but ends up making it more of an accidental tribute. More than the other two Zola novels I've read, this one truly is about Paris. The peripatetic characters traverse much of Paris, with Zola describing all the streets and landmarks they pass in their wanderings. And Lantier's attempted masterpiece is an enormous painting of the Île de la Cité, which is described from every angle and at every time. It is also much more of a novel of ideas, with long debates on the nature of art and its role in society. It is also a riveting, moving story from beginning to end.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Karyn

    Bravo, M. Zola! The Masterpiece ranks at the top of the Zola oeuvre with clarity and trademark grand drama.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Greg Brozeit

    I must confess to having somewhat of a schoolboy crush with Zola’s writing. Or more precisely, because of my age, it’s probably more of a compulsive yearning to recapture something I missed in my youth. Surely, if my younger self knew how much his writing would one day mean to me, I would have taken my French studies much more seriously and not abandoned them. As with the other Zola novels I have read, this one starts slowly, almost ponderously, only to hit its stride with a compelling narrative I must confess to having somewhat of a schoolboy crush with Zola’s writing. Or more precisely, because of my age, it’s probably more of a compulsive yearning to recapture something I missed in my youth. Surely, if my younger self knew how much his writing would one day mean to me, I would have taken my French studies much more seriously and not abandoned them. As with the other Zola novels I have read, this one starts slowly, almost ponderously, only to hit its stride with a compelling narrative that reaches a tragic conclusion. In this Rougon-Macquart novel, we are confronted with the unrecognized, passionate genius of art. Claude Lantier, who we first meet briefly in The Belly of Paris lives meagerly off the interest of his inheritance to pursue his passion; to create a new type of painting. Even a brief episode of happiness with his love Christine, who completely devotes herself to Claude and his art, cannot deter him from his single-minded quest. Not even the birth of their son, born with an obvious deformity, can intrude into their world. His friendship with Pierre Sandoz, the fictionalized version of Zola himself, seems to be the one link he has to reality. All in all, another satisfying, thought-provoking work that fits perfectly into the Rougon-Macquart cycle. Zola poses eternal questions and even offers some sobering conclusions that continue to be pertinent today. This is not the best of Zola’s novels, but it’s well worth a read if you’ve read a few already.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Bbrown

    The first five chapters of The Masterpiece are some of the best pieces of Zola I've read (pieces, plural, because Zola's practice of publishing these chapters in serialized form makes itself felt here), but the rest of the book is less interesting and less impactful. I think it's because, while Zola's writing and story structure mask it at first, The Masterpiece eventually reveals itself to be a rather by-the-numbers story of a tortured artist. Strong scenes and imagery, along with Zola's charac The first five chapters of The Masterpiece are some of the best pieces of Zola I've read (pieces, plural, because Zola's practice of publishing these chapters in serialized form makes itself felt here), but the rest of the book is less interesting and less impactful. I think it's because, while Zola's writing and story structure mask it at first, The Masterpiece eventually reveals itself to be a rather by-the-numbers story of a tortured artist. Strong scenes and imagery, along with Zola's characteristic exploration of Paris and his subjects, can't make up for fundamental unoriginality. And, when you consider that the subject matter of this book, perhaps more than any other work in the Rougon-Macquart cycle, is directly in Zola's wheelhouse, there isn't much in the way of interesting insight into the arts on display here either. It's one of those little things that make life so interesting that Zola was childhood friends with Cézanne, made even more interesting by Zola having chosen to base The Masterpiece's central character on Manet more so than Cézanne. Nevertheless, Zola's relationship with Cézanne is clearly deeply influential to this book and the character of Claude, an artistic genius in theory more than he is in practice. The Masterpiece opens with Claude a young artist in Paris, already the leader of a band of young artists that hunger to topple the stagnant artistic establishment with bold new ideas. The first few chapters follow Claude's time with his friends in Paris, but more importantly explore his budding career as a painter, where Claude showcases obvious brilliance but also constant creative blocks and periodic failures of confidence. The early chapters (from the very first) also introduce the other twin thread of this narrative in the form of Christine, a woman whose relationship with Claude spans the gamut during these first few chapters. This beginning third culminates in the Salon des Refusés and Claude's exhibition of one of his early major works. As I've already said, up to this point the book is excellent. Then, for understandable but unsatisfying reasons, Claude and Christine move out into the countryside for a few years and have a child, Claude putting his painting career on pause for a while and breaking with many of his old friends (all this occurring over the course of a single chapter). Then it's back to Paris, where things have moved on in his absence. This time skip separates the beginning third from the rest of the work, the first third being the story of a young, ambitious artist struggling to make something of himself, the last two thirds being the story of a middle-aged artist dealing with work and his personal life, eventually becoming a starving artist and having to deal with his professional and artistic frustrations. This latter part at times felt trite, without the forward momentum of the first part that may have disguised a similar triteness. An artist neglecting his family for his work, the true artist rotting away in obscurity while those that pander to the crowd get rich and famous, the artist sticking to his principles and living in poverty while his old friends sell out, the artist struggling to create something he has in his head but is unable to put on paper, it's paint-by-numbers for a story like this more than it is original. And, considering the experience that Zola had with this world, there should be more originality at play here. I think my largest problem with the book is that, after the skip forward in time, I always knew how the narrative was going to go long before it actually happened. Claude touching the principal of his inheritance, the parents yelling at the child, the wife's posing, it's hard not to be one or two steps ahead of the story once these elements are introduced. Perhaps that's because I've read four Zola books before this, so that I know he favors tragedy and downward spirals, but I'm betting most people who haven't read Zola before could also pick up on the same things. When The Masterpiece becomes predictable it becomes notably less interesting, and unfortunately it's predictable more often than it's not. There are other noteworthy things about The Masterpiece, both good and bad: in the former category, Zola avoids having any clear villains or cheap morality lessons. In Zola's books, parents aren't true monsters even when they let their child die of neglect, they're just people with flaws. I also appreciated the range of artists that Zola populates the book with, some successes, some that change occupations, others that get what they wanted but find out it isn't what they bargained for, etc. The side characters thus served to liven up the book, showcasing different facets of the artistic experience at the time. As I mentioned, many of the descriptions are excellent, sometimes a step above Zola's standard (appropriately enough, since we're getting Paris through artists' eyes). On the bad side of things, Zola has a blatant self-insert in this book, which isn't always terrible on its own, but Zola makes himself the most kindhearted and ultimately most successful out of the entire group of artists, and the only true friend of Claude's. I dislike such self-aggrandizement. Some sections of the book drag on far longer than they should as well. Also, though Zola himself was an artist, the discussions of the creative process are a long way from intriguing or impressive. A frustrating work, all said and done. Great opening chapters, but then the book morphs into something that isn't very special. Oh well, they can't all be masterpieces. Luckily Zola has plenty of other books in the Rougon-Macquart cycle, and I look forward to sifting through them for brighter gems than this.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Eve Kay

    Masterpiece Sure, I had some kind of an inkling of what the story might be about when I started reading. And I kinda guessed right. Also, the ending was pretty good. It was kind of a surprise but also, not. You see whilst reading where the characters are all heading. At times, the story is boringolo, I'm just gonna be frank about this. It felt like it was just a repetition of itself over and over but the circumstances got worse and worse. It's pretty Zola, I mean that kind of recurring theme thro Masterpiece Sure, I had some kind of an inkling of what the story might be about when I started reading. And I kinda guessed right. Also, the ending was pretty good. It was kind of a surprise but also, not. You see whilst reading where the characters are all heading. At times, the story is boringolo, I'm just gonna be frank about this. It felt like it was just a repetition of itself over and over but the circumstances got worse and worse. It's pretty Zola, I mean that kind of recurring theme throughout the book. I just wasn't in the mood for it right now. There was alot on art, which is excellent, I like how he has these different topics for each book. And in this one you get to see the ones who succeed and the ones who don't and the ones who seem to succeed in the eyes of others but in reality aren't succeeding at all. I got really annoyed with most of the characters so eventually it became a chore. I didn't relate to any of them although I like to think there's a little artistry in me. I'm just not an obsessive person about my art and I'm so totally not a perfectionist. I don't put myself down for accomplishing something, I put myself down if I don't. But I think that's the major difference between me and the characters. I've never accomplished anything so it's very difficult for me to understand what it might be like. These people live and breathe their work where as I have a boring-ass job I have to go to in order to be creative in my free time. If I didn't have the boring-ass job (for money) I betcha I'd be like these characters too.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    For most of us who know a little about Zola’s life, the man is a hero. He is famous for denouncing the anti-Semitic persecution of Dreyfus, and he’s a literary lion for his championing of a realism which portrayed French life warts and all – and bravely spent a lifetime cocking a snook at the regime into the bargain. But in The Masterpiece he bares his soul and shares the struggle that underlies all work in the creative arts. He shows us the loneliness of innovation and the despair that accompan For most of us who know a little about Zola’s life, the man is a hero. He is famous for denouncing the anti-Semitic persecution of Dreyfus, and he’s a literary lion for his championing of a realism which portrayed French life warts and all – and bravely spent a lifetime cocking a snook at the regime into the bargain. But in The Masterpiece he bares his soul and shares the struggle that underlies all work in the creative arts. He shows us the loneliness of innovation and the despair that accompanies the quest to make the object match the imagination. It’s a superb book… First published in 1886 when Zola was forty-six, The Masterpiece has also been translated as A Masterpiece or His Masterpiece and this is, it seems to me, a rare example of a translated title being better than the original. Zola called this book L’Œuvre, a word which translates somewhat clumsily as ‘the body of work’, (which is why English has appropriated the French word oeuvre as a more elegant option). But Zola’s novel isn’t really about a ‘body of work’ or an oeuvre, it’s more about an artist’s obsession with capturing one symbolic image on canvas, which would be his masterpiece. Perhaps Zola was being ironic… Anyway, the story begins with the optimistic young Claude Lantier arriving in Paris to take it by storm. The art world was astir with the birth of Impressionism and the Paris Salon was exercising its power to humiliate the brash young artists who created strange ‘unfinished’ pictures of unheroic life. (You can read more about the battle between the conservatives and the innovators in Ross King’s The Judgement of Paris, see my review). Lantier doesn’t care: he is certain that ‘old’ art is dead and that the light-filled beauty of the new will sweep it away. But Lantier, first introduced to readers of the Rougon-Macquart cycle as a very young artist in The Belly of Paris (1873) and briefly alluded to as the son sent away to his uncle in Plassans in L’Assommoir (1877), is the son of Gervaise, as doomed as she is by her fatal flaws. To read the rest of my review please visit http://anzlitlovers.com/2015/05/17/th...

  21. 5 out of 5

    J.M. Hushour

    One of the weaker R-M novels, but that doesn't carry the resonance it might have for another author since it's still quite superb. This is Zola's account of the rise of Impressionism and the stirrings of the ideas of the "modern" and the "new" in art during the Second Empire. He used his friendship with Cezanne and the lives of Manet, Monet and a few others to populate this book, which apparently pissed them all off! The poor schmuck of the titular obsession is Claude Lantier (Nana's half-brothe One of the weaker R-M novels, but that doesn't carry the resonance it might have for another author since it's still quite superb. This is Zola's account of the rise of Impressionism and the stirrings of the ideas of the "modern" and the "new" in art during the Second Empire. He used his friendship with Cezanne and the lives of Manet, Monet and a few others to populate this book, which apparently pissed them all off! The poor schmuck of the titular obsession is Claude Lantier (Nana's half-brother; kid of Gervaise), a struggling painter who has all the visionary ideas but can't quite get his shit together. Consumed by his desire to fashion a monstrous masterpiece that will reshape art as everyone knew it, he pretty much destroys himself and his family, reduced down to obscurity and insanity. There's a lot of good stuff in this book: Claude's obsessive nature and his madness are well-drawn and the characterization is spot on largely because the characters are confined to a small and interactive, if mutually destructive, group of artist friends; the sheer poetry of Zola's account of descent into darkness due to the human inability to depict the world as anything other than what it is; and weird sexualities, namely Claude's desire for the nude in his mammoth canvas that used to be his tortured, ignored wife but that has now turned into some sort of demon goddess. The public is mocked and Zola himself appears as the character Sandoz, one of the few sympathetic to Claude. But the overwhelming weight of descriptive meanderings around Claude's head tends to get a little stifling here and there and there are long stretches of the book of what feels like repetitive encounters with some of Claude's more shitty friends. Zola has a grace to his minutiae when dealing with Paris and its social world, but in this work it feels a little strained, the language a little forced. I'd say, if you're a R-M completist read it (it even has the very rare cameo of other members of the family from other novels!); otherwise you might could give this one a pass.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Bettie

    Project Gutenberg Zola by Manet Opening: CLAUDE was passing in front of the Hotel de Ville, and the clock was striking two o'clock in the morning when the storm burst forth. He had been roaming forgetfully about the Central Markets, during that burning July night, like a loitering artist enamoured of nocturnal Paris. Suddenly the raindrops came down, so large and thick, that he took to his heels and rushed, wildly bewildered, along the Quai de la Greve. But on reaching the Pont Louis Philippe he Project Gutenberg Zola by Manet Opening: CLAUDE was passing in front of the Hotel de Ville, and the clock was striking two o'clock in the morning when the storm burst forth. He had been roaming forgetfully about the Central Markets, during that burning July night, like a loitering artist enamoured of nocturnal Paris. Suddenly the raindrops came down, so large and thick, that he took to his heels and rushed, wildly bewildered, along the Quai de la Greve. But on reaching the Pont Louis Philippe he pulled up, ragefully breathless; he considered this fear of the rain to be idiotic; and so amid the pitch-like darkness, under the lashing shower which drowned the gas-jets, he crossed the bridge slowly, with his hands dangling by his side. He had only a few more steps to go. As he was turning on to the Quai Bourbon, on the Isle of St. Louis, a sharp flash of lightning illumined the straight, monotonous line of old houses bordering the narrow road in front of the Seine. It blazed upon the panes of the high, shutterless windows, showing up the melancholy frontages of the old-fashioned dwellings in all their details; here a stone balcony, there the railing of a terrace, and there a garland sculptured on a frieze. The painter had his studio close by, under the eaves of the old Hotel du Martoy, nearly at the corner of the Rue de la Femme-sans-Tete.* So he went on while the quay, after flashing forth for a moment, relapsed into darkness, and a terrible thunder-clap shook the drowsy quarter. * The street of the Headless woman.—ED. Paul Cézanne, Paul Alexis reading to Émile Zola, 1869–1870, São Paulo Museum of Art L'Œuvre was first serialized in the periodical Gil Blas beginning in December 1885 before being published in novel form by Charpentier in 1886.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Matthew White

    The Masterpiece is many things, but standing clear above its winding threads of ideas and creativity are two main pillars of meaning that serve as a testament to the importance of Zola’s writing. The first is seemly arbitrary; an exploration of the bohemian lifestyle as a means to an end. Artists of various modes are the players in this story, and their successes and failures are sporadic, reflecting the uncompromising and unpredictable metropolitan backdrop of Paris. Zola tackles criticism of a The Masterpiece is many things, but standing clear above its winding threads of ideas and creativity are two main pillars of meaning that serve as a testament to the importance of Zola’s writing. The first is seemly arbitrary; an exploration of the bohemian lifestyle as a means to an end. Artists of various modes are the players in this story, and their successes and failures are sporadic, reflecting the uncompromising and unpredictable metropolitan backdrop of Paris. Zola tackles criticism of art in a seemingly semi-autobiographical way, trading his pen for paintbrush and stepping into the role of his muse by way of the struggling protagonist. Above the taunts and non-acceptance from the audience is a conscious belief in a singular artistic vision, with Zola’s vicarious refusal to adhere to pressures of contemporary fashion. The second pillar or message is an advocacy of the pursuit of inspiration. Focus and distraction are the warring factions in the artist’s mind, with this opposition being meticulously deconstructed, watching, observing and understanding in the third person. Flashes of inspiration are delivered through beautiful passages of description, which are read concurrently with the artist’s crystallisation of ideas. With a casual manipulation of duality, Zola drags these vitalising thoughts away just as swiftly as they are wrought, by crafting and enveloping that idea with the obstructive happenings of life. Inspired and relevant, The Masterpiece is proof that a unique, yet downplayed approach to creation is intrinsic to its mark of endurance. It never overindulges or panders, and the result is a timeless and impressive piece of modern literature.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Adelizzi, Jr.

    I wanted to hate this book because I had read of the life of Cezanne and genuinely liked the artist, the man. I had read of Cezanne's childhood friendship with Emile Zola, a friendship which continued well into adulthood - until Zola published this book. I had read of the sensitivity of Cezanne, his dedication to his work, to his art and how he maintained that dedication in spite of very little positive feedback from society at large. I had read how Zola, flush with success from his novels seeme I wanted to hate this book because I had read of the life of Cezanne and genuinely liked the artist, the man. I had read of Cezanne's childhood friendship with Emile Zola, a friendship which continued well into adulthood - until Zola published this book. I had read of the sensitivity of Cezanne, his dedication to his work, to his art and how he maintained that dedication in spite of very little positive feedback from society at large. I had read how Zola, flush with success from his novels seemed to lose himself in the trappings of success, ultimately perhaps flattening his childhood friend under the wheels of artistic license. I wanted to hate this book. But I didn't. It adeptly captured not only the feel of Paris and her surrounds of the era but also the complete subjugation of a dedicated artist's self to his or her work, to the point where the distinctions between art and reality, between art and artist are erased. It was also interesting to see Zola almost defending himself or apologizing for his success in the character of the novelist Sandoz. Perhaps that characterization did sway me. The distinctions between Claude Lantier and Cezanne, between Zola and Sandoz, are now too blurred for me to know what is real. Was Zola wrong to harvest a novel from a childhood friendship? Was his novel an attack on Cezanne, or was it artistic license? Damn it, I liked the book. My apologies to Mr. Cezanne.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Gabe

    In 'The Masterpiece,' Zola makes clear what he thinks of the Parisian art scene in the mid 19th century- of the young artists who, in their effort to capture the truth in 'Art' and 'Nature,' lose grasp of what is real, of the museum curators and art dealers who turn art into a commodity for their status and financial gain. For the first half of the book, I thought that this was Zola's critique of the artist's ego-centrism. However, as I kept reading, I was reminded that with Zola there are no vil In 'The Masterpiece,' Zola makes clear what he thinks of the Parisian art scene in the mid 19th century- of the young artists who, in their effort to capture the truth in 'Art' and 'Nature,' lose grasp of what is real, of the museum curators and art dealers who turn art into a commodity for their status and financial gain. For the first half of the book, I thought that this was Zola's critique of the artist's ego-centrism. However, as I kept reading, I was reminded that with Zola there are no villains, only victims. 'The Masterpiece' is Zola's contemplation of the artist's struggle with posterity- the crippling obsession to produce a body of work that will render him/her immortal. Sadly, it's not just artist who lose their senses in their obsession with posterity.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Andy

    This is my ninth Rougon-Macquart novel. All of Zola's novels are pretty dark, but this one was heartbreaking and depressing, more affecting perhaps because the characters felt very real and sympathetic. I'd put this just below "Germinal," and on par with "The Drinking Den." I'd put it just above "The Earth" and "The Human Beast," with the rest I've read below that. ("The Kill," "The Fortunes of the Rougons," "His Excellency Eugene Rougon" and "Nana.") In brief, the novel follows idealistic artist This is my ninth Rougon-Macquart novel. All of Zola's novels are pretty dark, but this one was heartbreaking and depressing, more affecting perhaps because the characters felt very real and sympathetic. I'd put this just below "Germinal," and on par with "The Drinking Den." I'd put it just above "The Earth" and "The Human Beast," with the rest I've read below that. ("The Kill," "The Fortunes of the Rougons," "His Excellency Eugene Rougon" and "Nana.") In brief, the novel follows idealistic artist Claude Lantier who wants to revolutionize painting, and his small circle of friends. As the years pass Claude continues to struggle to gain any sort of recognition for his art, while some of his friends find success in more practical pursuits. Claude's obsession with producing a masterpiece drags him down, and his wife with him. This theme of disillusionment is big. Ultimately real talent isn't what matters, art is a business like anything else. Claude gradually becomes disillusioned with his friends as well. When he returns to Paris after being away for a few years he can sense the bond between his idealistic friends has broken: "Claude felt plainly now that some link with the past was broken, and he wondered whether they were really gone for ever, those hectic, friendly meetings he used to enjoy before anything had come between then and none had desired to monopolize all the glory. Today the battle was on, and each man fighting greedily for himself." This reminded me of Gissing's "New Grub Street" which I read recently, featuring a writer who also refuses to compromise or follow the more practical paths of his friends. Balzac's "Lost Illusions" came to mind a bit as well, especially in the sections where the influence of the press is criticized. In the seventh chapter the older, established artist Bongrand rages against the stupidity and bad taste of the general public, and journalism promoting bad art and making stars overnight of amateurs. Zola doesn't seem overly enthused for success in the arts in general. In the ninth chapter Claude tells his writer friend Sandoz how he met a master painter who is now forgotten and living in a hovel. The man has become feeble and seems haunted by his past glory. Sandoz then remarks how it might be better to "die unknown." He remarks, "What a cheat for us all if this glory we talk about existed no more than the paradise promised in the Catechism and which even children don't believe in nowadays! We've stopped believing in God, but not in our own immortality!" He goes on to say that even though he's making a success of his writing he is perpetually plagued by doubts, and he cannot focus on anything else, it's always in his head. In chapter seven, the artist Bongrand sees his earlier achievements as a curse. He rages that "the greatest satisfaction was not being at the top, but in getting there." The excitement quickly wears off and you're expected to stay on top, or fade into obscurity. Zola explores the cynical world of the Salon of the Académie des Beaux-Arts which annually judges submitted art. This is especially done in the tenth chapter. The Salon is full of political wheeling and dealing and intrigue. In one particularly hilarious moment the chairman of the committee remarks on a canvas, "Who the devil produced this monstrosity?" only to look at the signature, realizing it is one of his friends he straightens up and exclaims, "Beautiful!" and votes it high marks. But even those who seem to make a success of it aren't far from failure themselves, Zola gives us glimpses of the cracks in the facade. Claude's friend Fagerolles who gets rich by adopting, and watering down the "open air" school of painting which Claude has promoted, invites Claude into his home in chapter ten and we learn that on the exterior he is living in luxury, but is actually deeply in debt. Fagerolles agrees to paint exclusively for Naudet, an art dealer and speculator, and he pushes Fagerolles to go deeply into debt to control him. We see more of this in the following chapter where one of Claude's friends with the most practical turn of mind and with what _appeared_ to be the most promising future of them all ends up a pitiful sight that Claude doesn't even want to contemplate. As the book begins Claude has 1,000 francs a year coming to him from an inheritance, so unlike most characters in Zola's novels there's no reason for him to overly suffer like many of them do. But without giving anything away, Claude manages to screw up that sustainable arrangement, at which point I knew things are going to start going downhill for sure. And they did. Zola's talent for description of scenes comes through well here, with a bit more of an artistic eye than in other books. One extended passage of note is in chapter four where Claude and Christine take a winter walk, the sun casting it's long evening shadows, and the city is taking on a sort of mellow, bittersweet nostalgia. This is one of the most moving of Zola's novels, so heartbreaking. It's one of those books you feel a weight on your shoulders after finishing it for a while.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy Williams

    Probably my favourite Zola novel so far because it ticks so many boxes. I'm fascinated by the city of Paris, by the French Impressionists, and, indeed, Emile Zola himself so this was a joy to read. As a contemporary (and acquaintance) of this group of artists, the book provides some great insights into what was going on as 'the open air school' attempted to establish itself amid the conservative and reactionary forces that prevailed at the time. The main character, Claude Lantier (the son of Ger Probably my favourite Zola novel so far because it ticks so many boxes. I'm fascinated by the city of Paris, by the French Impressionists, and, indeed, Emile Zola himself so this was a joy to read. As a contemporary (and acquaintance) of this group of artists, the book provides some great insights into what was going on as 'the open air school' attempted to establish itself amid the conservative and reactionary forces that prevailed at the time. The main character, Claude Lantier (the son of Gervaise, L'Assommoir) is loosely based on the characters of Zola's childhood friend, Paul Cezanne, and his friend in adult life, Edouard Manet. The publication of the book apparently caused a rift between Cezanne and Zola.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sandra Miksa

    This book really resonated with me. The mania. The frustrations. The art. Sure; they are some long and tedious parts. But I liked it. I actually sympathize with all of the characters, sure, sometimes they're rude and cocky and self-absorbed but at the end they were all striving and starving artists; sculptors, painters, writers, etc. Maybe it's because I self-identity that I can pass less of a judgment on them than non-artisticly oriented people? Overall, a fascinating read on striving surrealist This book really resonated with me. The mania. The frustrations. The art. Sure; they are some long and tedious parts. But I liked it. I actually sympathize with all of the characters, sure, sometimes they're rude and cocky and self-absorbed but at the end they were all striving and starving artists; sculptors, painters, writers, etc. Maybe it's because I self-identity that I can pass less of a judgment on them than non-artisticly oriented people? Overall, a fascinating read on striving surrealist artists.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Deborah Morris

    Zola really captures the interplay between social relationships, class, and personal struggles. I felt so swept into the anxieties of all the characters. Not a pleasant read but definitely worth reading.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Stuart

    I thought I would check out some Zola after reading Madame Bovary, and Last of the Mohicans. Might as well wallow in the same century for a while, right? The book is set in Bohemian Paris of the mid-19th century. Zola was a renowned art critic before he was a famous writer, and he knew this world intimately. It's about a group of young artists and writers who come to Paris thinking they're going to take it by storm, and the book traces this circle from their youth to middle age. (And yeah, I was I thought I would check out some Zola after reading Madame Bovary, and Last of the Mohicans. Might as well wallow in the same century for a while, right? The book is set in Bohemian Paris of the mid-19th century. Zola was a renowned art critic before he was a famous writer, and he knew this world intimately. It's about a group of young artists and writers who come to Paris thinking they're going to take it by storm, and the book traces this circle from their youth to middle age. (And yeah, I was that guy a long time ago, and know that feeling) The first half is roughly a fictionalization of the creation of the Manet masterpiece, Dejeuner Sur Le Herbe, when Manet basically said to the Paris art establishment, "Here, Paris: Naked Lady! In Your Face!" A gesture that was not appreciated by the Academy or the public. If you're an art buff, this book provides fascinating detail about the Salon des Refuses of 1863, and the world of critics, art dealers, artists and society of that era. Snoring yet? Don't, because it's about a lot more than that. If you've ever aspired, even for a moment, to write a great novel or paint the ultimate painting, or make THAT movie or THAT song, you should read this novel, because you will see your own impulses described in a way that will make you nod your head and say, "Thank God somebody gets it!" If you've ever wanted to understand those people, or the whole artist-in-the-garret cliche, definitely read this book. It is, literally, about an artist in a garret, but written in a way that makes it real and comprehensible, rather than cliched. Some haunting and unexpected vistas: the older Master of the established style, who constantly receives compliments on his amazing masterpiece of 20 years before, and withers every time, because he lives in fear of never being able to equal it again. Zola's depiction of himself as the writer with the dream of capturing all of life in a massive series of novels, and parallel to that, the main protagonist's obsessive desire to capture somehow a view of Paris with all its real light and life, to create something more than a painting, something alive, a "machine" that delivers the living essence of the city. Yeah, got that one loud and clear. Any serious artist has failed at that again and again and again. But besides art, this book is about life: how people hold out or sell out, about loyalties and deceptions among friends as the years go by, about compromises that turn out very differently than you hoped, or turn out exactly as you hoped, which can be even worse. There's a whole lot of life here that transcends the art world, and, as with Flaubert, you'll recognize these people in your own group of friends. I loved this book, although I did find it a bit tedious at times. I felt like, "yeah, Zola, you can describe that view of the Quai in Paris to me all you like, but it's just words, dude, and I'm going to see or smell only so much." I didn't expect him to text it in to me, but Flaubert was a lot more precise and purposeful in his description. My feeling is there are certain things words cannot do, no matter how good you are with them. Words can suggest, but like some obnoxious bore that doesn't know when to stop talking, after a while you tune them out. But it's forgivable for the depth of character and the insight that Zola delivers. Very much worth reading, especially if you're interested in the arts.

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