This is the initial volume of the Rougon-Macquart
series. Though it was by no means Zola's first essay in fiction, it was
undoubtedly his first great bid for genuine literary fame, and the foundation
of what must necessarily be regarded as his life-work.
The idyll of Miette and Silvère is a very
touching one, and quite in accord with the conditions of life prevailing
in Provence at the period Emile Zola selects for his narrative. Miette
is a frank child of nature; Silvere, her lover, in certain respects foreshadows,
a quarter of a century in advance, the Abbé Pierre Fromont of Lourdes, Rome, and Paris.
The idea of writing the "natural and social
history of a family under the Second Empire," extending to a score
of volumes, was doubtless suggested to M. Zola by Balzac's immortal Comédie
Humaine. He was twenty-eight years of age when this idea first occured
to him; he was fifty-three when he at last sent the manuscript of his
concluding volume, Dr. Pascal, to the press. He had spent
five-and-twenty years in working out his scheme, persevering with it doggedly
and stubbornly, whatever rebuffs he might encounter, whatever jeers and
whatever insults might be directed against him by the ignorant, the prejudiced,
and the hypocritical. Truth was on the march and nothing could stay it...
(Ernest Alfred Vizietelly)
More info about the Rougon-Macquart series at Wikipedia.