*La Beauce (lah bohz). Extensive flat plains of central France that have historically been the country’s bread basket. The finery and wealth of its main cities, especially Chartres, Châteaudun, and Orléans, which Zola describes only occasionally, are based on a higher level of commerce, which entails a variety of associated professionals, such as lawyers and notaries. This novel reflects a different reality, one of extreme simplicity in village life and family relations that make Chartres seem distant.
Zola underlines the monotony of the Beauce plains by describing the main (indeed only) road connecting Châteaudun and Orléans as straight and flat, visible at a distance only because of its neighboring line of telegraph poles. Villages are “islands of stone,” whose only identifying marks emerging out of the wheat fields are church steeples. A few windmills, clearly important for agricultural work at harvest time, break the monotony of the flat horizon, but remain practically immobile most of the year.
Rognes (rohn). Beauce village that is the primary setting for this story of peasant family life and labors. Zola modeled Rognes on the real village of Romilly-sur-Aigre, located four kilometers east of the larger town of Cloyes. The area surrounding Rognes does not offer the same guarantees of soil fertility found in the heartland of the Beauce region. Inferior fertility earns it a separate designation in the popular mind as the “lice-ridden” Beauce.
Zola portrays Rognes itself in terms that suggest sparseness. From the distance, only a few...
(The entire section is 672 words.)