Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*La Beauce

*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...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Grant, Elliott M. Émile Zola. New York: Twayne, 1966. Includes an extensive discussion of Earth and concludes that the central concept of the novel concerns the cycle of birth, growth, decay, death, and rebirth. Also includes poetic descriptions of La Beauce and informative discussions of dramatic action, subthemes, comedy, character, religion, and politics in the novel.

Hemmings, F. W. J. Émile Zola. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1966. Intelligent discussion and criticism of Zola’s life and works. Sees Earth as Zola’s novel of Nature, with its emphasis on French peasants’ passionate and erotic love for the earth. Concludes that the character Buteau is transported to madness by this lust for the soil.

Knapp, Bettina L. Émile Zola. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1980. Handbook-style summaries and analysis of the Rougon-Macquart cycle. Describes the purpose of Earth as a depiction of the reality of the life of French peasantry. Zola contrasts love of the soil with avarice, possessiveness, immorality, and cruelty. Knapp also discusses the outraged public and critical reaction to the novel.

Turnell, Martin. The Art of French Fiction. New York: New Directions, 1960. Contains a long, informative chapter on Zola. Discusses naturalism and themes of the Rougon-Macquart cycle. Also includes an analysis of Earth’s fertility imagery.

Wilson, Angus. Émile Zola: An Introductory Study of His Novels. New York: William Morrow, 1952. A comprehensive examination of Zola’s life, principles, influences, and themes. Wilson finds Earth the most complete of Zola’s novels, bringing together strands of emotions and methods of expression from individual novels in the Rougon-Macquart series.