The Sin of Father Mouret

“Albine now yielded to him, and Serge possessed her.
And the whole garden was engulfed together with the couple in one last cry of love’s passion. The tree-trunks bent as under a powerful wind. The blades of grass emitted sobs of intoxication. The flowers, fainting, lips half-open, breathed out their souls. The sky itself, aflame with the setting of the great star, held its clouds motionless, faint with love, whence superhuman rapture fell. And it was the victory of all the wild creatures, all plants and all things natural, which willed the entry of these two children into the eternity of life.”
Émile Zola, La Faute de l’abbé Mouret
Film of Sins of Father Mouret

Book Cover, Sin of Father Mouret

I am now a good chunk into Emile Zola’s twenty volume Rougon Macquat series of novels. Attacking this pile of books in the recommended reading order:

  • La Fortune des Rougon (1871) (The Fortune of the Rougons)
  • Son Excellence Eugène Rougon (1876) (His Excellency Eugene Rougon/ His Excellency)
  • La Curée (1871-2) (The Kill)
  • L’Argent (1891) (Money)
  • Le Rêve (1888) (The Dream)
  • La Conquête de Plassans (1874) (The Conquest of Plassans/A Priest in the House)
  • Pot-Bouille (1882) (Pot Luck/Restless House/Piping Hot)
  • Au Bonheur des Dames (1883) (The Ladies’ Paradise/Shop Girls of Paris/Ladies’ Delight)
  • La Faute de l’Abbé Mouret (1875) (The Sin of Father Mouret/Abbe Mouret’s Transgression)
  • Une Page d’amour (1878) (A Lesson in Love/A Love Episode/A Page of Love/A Love Affair)
  • Le Ventre de Paris (1873) (The Belly of Paris/The Fat and the Thin/Savage Paris/The Markets of Paris)
  • La Joie de Vivre (1884) (The Joys of Living/Joy of Life/How Jolly Life Is/Zest for Life)
  • L’Assommoir (1877) (The Dram Shop/The Gin Palace/Drink/Drunkard)
  • L’Œuvre (1886) (The Masterpiece/A Masterpiece/His Masterpiece)
  • La Bête Humaine (1890) (The Beast in the Man/The Human Beast/The Monomaniac)
  • Germinal (1885)
  • Nana (1880)
  • La Terre (1887) (The Earth/The Soil)
  • La Débâcle (1892) (The Downfall/The Smash-up/The Debacle)
  • Le Docteur Pascal (1893) (Doctor Pascal)

The next one up was The Sin of Father Mouret (among other titles).

It was only a couple days ago that I wrote about The Ladies’ Paradise – but in actually, in the real world, I’m finishing up three books ahead – my episode has put my writing behind my reading.

One interesting thing about the Rougon Macquat novels is that even though they are about the same family (if very disparate branches of said tree) in France during the same period of time – the books are often very different from each other. The Sin of Father Mouret is particularly unique.

It is divided into three distinct sections. The first is a fairly dry (though interesting) depiction of a devout priest in a poverty-stricken rural area – hanging on by pure faith in a run-down threadbare church surrounded by a population with less than perfect spiritual lives. Eventually the stress (plus the inherited family madness that runs through all the books) causes him to crack and suffer a complete mental breakdown. He has complete amnesia and is placed in the care of a wild, almost feral, young girl that has the run of an old garden – a giant park run wild with ancient plants gone to seed. This place, Le Paradou is described in intricate detail – a place of unbelievable fecundity in the midst of a barren landscape – set off by a high stone wall. Comparisons with the Garden of Eden are obvious, along with the ideas of the knowledge of good and evil and of original sin.

Eventually, a glimpse through a gap in the stone wall brings Father Mouret’s memories back and he is faced with the choice of returning to his church or remaining in the garden.

The language and description of the couple’s life in Le Paradou is luscious, flamboyant, and prolonged. The contrast between life within the walls and without is so great it almost reads as being unreal. I took it that way – reading in as more of an allegory than as actual fact – and that made the book more enjoyable, in my opinion.

It is an interesting read. I have never soldiered through any book like it. A significant change of pace in the string of twenty books.