Finding the young Angélique on their doorstep one Christmas Eve, the pious Hubert couple decide to bring her up as their own. As the girl grows up in the vicinity of the town’s towering cathedral and learns her parents’ trade of embroidery, she becomes increasingly fascinated by the lives of the saints, a passion fuelled by her reading of the Golden Legend and other mystical Christian writings. One day love, in the shape of Felicien Hautecoeur, enters the dream world she has constructed around herself, bringing about upheaval and distress.
Although it provides a detailed portrait of provincial nineteenth-century life and adhered to a naturalist approach, The Dream eschews many of the characteristics of Zola’s other novels of the Rougon-Macquart cycle – such as a pronounced polemical agenda or a gritty subject matter – offering instead a timeless, lyrical tale of love and innocence.
I consider Zola’s books among the very best of the present time.
Vincent Van Gogh
Émile Zola (1840–1902) is the foremost representative of the Naturalist school, and is best remembered for Thérèse Raquin and his twenty-novel cycle, The Rougon-Macquarts.