The Belly of Paris

The Belly of Paris by Émile Zola Page B

Book: The Belly of Paris by Émile Zola Read Free Book Online
Authors: Émile Zola
Tags: France, 19th century, European Literature
returned. On his saint's day, Quenu would take him a bouquet of flowers and Gradelle would hand him a ten-sou coin. Florent, always proud, hated the way Gradelle would peruse his threadbare clothes with the worried, suspicious glance of a miser who feared being asked for a free dinner or a hundred sous. One day, without intending anything in particular, Florent asked his uncle to change a hundred-franc bill, and ever after that the uncle was less apprehensive when he sighted the “youngsters,” as he called them. But still the relationship never progressed.
    To Florent, the years passed like a bittersweet dream. He tasted all the bitter joys of parenthood. At home there was nothing but love. But out in the world, with the humiliations of his students andthe shoving and pushing of the streets, he felt himself souring. He was embittered by his crushed ambition. It was a long time before he could accept his fate as a plain, poor, and ordinary man. To escape turning mean, he embraced idealism and took refuge in principles of truth and justice. It was then that he became a republican, 2 entering republicanism the way a heartbroken girl enters a convent. If he could not find a republic warm and peaceful enough to numb his troubles, he would invent one. Books no longer pleased him; all the marked-up paper with which he was surrounded reminded him of the stinking classroom, the boys' chewed-up spit-balls, the agony of long, sterile hours. Besides, books spoke only of revolution and pride, and he felt an overwhelming need for peace and withdrawal. To soothe and still himself, to dream that he was serenely happy, that the entire world was reaching this same state, to construct in his imagination the ideal republican city in which he would like to live, became his recreation, the work of his leisure hours. He no longer read except what was necessary for teaching, preferring to wander the rue Saint-Jacques all the way to the outer boulevards, sometimes going even farther, returning by the barrière d'Italie with his eyes toward the Quartier Mouffetard, all the time working out measures of great moral import, humanitarian legal projects, that would transform this suffering city into a city of bliss.
    When the days of February bloodied Paris, he became distraught and ran to all the “clubs,” 3 demanding that they atone for the bloodshed with “the eternal embrace of republicans the world over.” He became an enraptured orator, preaching revolution as the new religion, full of gentleness and redemption. It took the dark days of December 4 to break him from the doctrine of the brotherhood of man. But he was unarmed and let himself be taken like a sheep and was then treated as though he were a wolf. When he was awakened from the grip of the brotherhood of man, he found himself starving on the cold stones of a cell in Bicêtre.
    Quenu, only twenty-two years old at the time, was overtaken with burning anguish when his brother did not come home. The following day, he went to look for him at the Montmartre cemeteryamong the dead from the streets, who had been lined up and covered with straw, their heads sticking out grotesquely. Quenu's courage failed, his eyes became blinded with tears, and he had to make a second pass along the row. Finally, after eight long days, he found out at the Prefecture of Police that his brother had been imprisoned. He was not allowed to see him, and when he tried to insist they threatened to arrest him. So he ran to Uncle Gradelle, whom he saw as a man of influence, hoping that he could help Florent. But Gradelle flew into a rage, saying that it served Florent right, that the idiot had no business being mixed up with those lowlife republicans. Then he added that he had always known that Florent would turn out badly, that it was written all over his face.
    Quenu cried out every tear in his body, nearly choking. His uncle, feeling a bit ashamed, felt that he should do something for the young man and offered to

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