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All That Glitters in Gold: Emile Zola's 'The Kill'


 484377. New York Public LibraryExiting the subway at 40th Street and 5th Ave, I noticed that the oasis of Bryant Park was really there. Under all metal girders, draped in white there was a park. The dismantling of the tents signaled the ending of what will hopefully be the conclusion of what had simply been business as usual in this country, like conspicuous consumption. Hopefully we can say good bye to gluttonous MacMansions and grossly oversized vehicles and the celebration of pomp without a lick of substance. If we are lucky, we can say good bye to the arrogance and unrestrained hubris, that had been the mantle of America in general, that is until the collapse this past fall of the financial world.

Contemplating the lovely Bryant Park, I had recently completed reading The Kill by Emile Zola. The Kill (La Curee 1871-72) the second book in the 20 volume Rougon-Macquart series, has been reprinted after years of being out of print. The setting of The Kill is 19th century Paris, when Paris was undergoing significant changes. Tiny medieval streets were being destroyed and redesigned into big wide boulevards. Neighborhoods were being replaced with newly minted enclaves, shiny and bright. Despite the grand plans of master designer Baron Haussmann, there existed something sinister lying just under the surface. There always is in Zola’s Rougon-Macquart series.

Zola's colorful tale is peopled with characters not unlike what we presently see in our tabloid smut, there are the Madonna types and characters like Eliot Spitzer and Donald Trump and lovely airhead beauties expounding on fashion as though their opinions were somehow worthy. Schemers, hucksters and land-grabbers decked out in the finest threads, with kid covered hands, smile and peck cheeks as though they were the epitome of civilized society. All the while Madoff type plans are being hatched, fueling the excess that is the backbone of this little treasure. It is a book for our times, showing greed at its worst. What we learn is that history repeats itself over and over again, the good times and the bad times. Fashion Week closed on a somber note, not unlike the final pages of The Kill.


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Cynthia, I think we are

Cynthia, I think we are kindred spirits. The analogy you make between our corrupt culture and Zola's 19th century Paris is an apt one. And that clean, fresh air blowing through here lately is surely due to the absence of Fashion Week. Robert

Dear Cynthia, At the end of

Dear Cynthia, At the end of the last class in my "Paris, Capital of Modernity" (literature, history, art, city planning), one of the students read from your article linking Zola's novels to today's corruption. Right on target. Edward J. Ahearn University Professor Brown University

Thank you so much for this

Thank you so much for this wonderful response. Truly it is an honor. Cynthia

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