Part 4, Chapter 1 Summary
The Hennebeaus were planning to have lunch with the Gregoires and their daughter Cecile; after lunch, Paul Négrel was to have taken the women on a tour of the mine. This was simply a pretext for Madame Hennebeau’s efforts to arrange a marriage between Cecile and Négrel. It has been two weeks since December 1 and there has been no sign of a strike—until today. Everyone in authority had assumed the threat of a strike was over, but at 4:00 this morning, not one single worker went to work at Le Voreux, and most of the other mines in the area are the same.
Since then, Hennebeau has been frantically wiring the owners for direction and has sent Négrel to gather more information. When he tells his spoiled wife that he cannot attend her luncheon, she says a strike does not matter to them and they still have to eat. She insists on carrying out her plan, and Hennebeau closes his face again, a disciplined man whose heart is “used to being bruised.”
Hennebeau grew up in poverty but got a fine education that served him well; he married the daughter of a rich mill owner and they lived a quiet life of monotony in the country. His wife grew resentful of their lifestyle and her husband’s having to work for a living, and they lived virtually separate lives. When he moved her to Paris, he hoped things would improve; instead they got worse, for this was the place of her childhood visions of paradise. She had a passionate affair (this one she could not hide from her husband) that nearly destroyed her. In Montsou, the Hennebeaus began living a life of irritable boredom in separate bedrooms. Hennebeau hired his nephew Négrel despite his poor academic showing and soon Négrel was having an affair with his aunt. Now she is obsessed with the idea of marrying him off to a wealthy girl.
Négrel returns from his tour of the mines and says the villages will be sending a deputation to see him; then Négrel is called upstairs by the frivolous Madame Hennebeau and there is no more news for Hennebeau. When the Gregoires arrive, they are surprised at the news of the strike. While they all socialize, Hennebeau is reading telegrams until an agitated Deneulin, the manager, arrives to report on the strike.
They have a civilized, sumptuous luncheon, but Négrel wants the curtains drawn so the workers cannot see their guests or the extravagance of this home. Deneulin says the problem is that there has been too much prosperity recently, causing a “fatal gridlock in the system” and spoiled workers. Now the workers are finding it difficult to return to their frugal ways. The manager claims the workers refuse understand they have all had to suffer, as the owners have had a terrible time selling their stock.
Dansaert the overman arrives to say the mining contingent might arrive at any moment, and Hennebeau says he wants a report twice a day before the joking resumes at the luncheon. Hennebeau receives a telegram from Pierron in which he says he, too, has been forced to strike, and the diners are again dismissive, ridiculing the...
(The entire section is 802 words.)