The Drinking Den
Previously published as L’assommoir (The Dram Shop), Emile Zola’s The Drinking Den is an unflinching study of a desperate young woman struggling against the ravages of vice. This Penguin Classics edition is translated from the French with an introduction by Robin Buss.
Abandoned by her lover and left to bring up their two children alone, Gervaise Macquart has to fight to earn an honest living. When she accepts the marriage proposal of Monsieur Coupeau, it seems as though she is on the path to a decent, respectable life at last. But with her husband’s drinking and the unexpected appearance of a figure from her past, Gervaise’s plans begin to unravel tragically. The Drinking Den caused a sensation when it was first published, with its gritty depiction of the poverty and squalor, slums and drinking houses of the Parisian underclass. The seventh novel in Zola’s great Rougon-Macquart cycle, it was the work that made his reputation. And, in his moving portrayal of Gervaise’s struggle for happiness, Zola created one of the most sympathetic heroines in nineteenth-century literature.
Robin Buss’s translation renders Zola’s street argot into clear, contemporary English. This edition also includes an introduction discussing Zola’s Naturalistic method, with maps of Paris, Zola’s preface responding to his critics, notes, a chronology and further reading.
Emile Zola (1840-1902) was the leading figure in the French school of naturalistic fiction. His principal work, Les Rougon-Macquart, is a panorama of mid-19th century French life, in a cycle of 20 novels which Zola wrote over a period of 22 years, including Au Bonheur des Dames (1883), The Beast Within (1890), Nana (1880), and The Drinking Den (1877).
If you enjoyed The Drinking Den, you might like Zola’s The Beast Within, also available in Penguin Classics.
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