Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Paris. Capital of France in which, apart from a brief section early in the novel, the entire novel is set. The initial action takes place in the cultural and social heart of the city during the 1860’s, in the section known as the “boulevards.” However, if Nana is a story of the fall of France, it is also the tale of the courtesan Nana’s rise and fall, ups and downs—literal and figurative. Nana moves widely in Paris during her career, in her pursuit of power, lost innocence, and material success.

Zola is also concerned with the ways in which traditional social distinctions have been blurred in France, how the country’s ruling classes have adopted the morality of the gutter. He frequently presents literary counterpoints, moving from places such as the swank home of the Countess Sabine on the rue de Miromesnil to Nana’s apartment. The Count Muffat de Beuville, who serves in the government, and his wife are known in Paris society as devout, virtuous Roman Catholics; however, while Muffat lusts after Nana, his wife sleeps with a theater critic. In consecutive chapters, the countess receives her elegant social circle; later, Nana presides at a drunken dinner party in her apartment. Still later, the same chapter that visits the countess in her country estate reveals that Nana has been set up in her own country place—quite nearby—by a wealthy Paris banker.

Early in the novel, Nana has an apartment on the boulevard Haussmann, not far from the home of the Countess Sabine and Muffat. Later, when she goes broke, she lives in shabby Montmartre—and still later, when she stages a spectacular triumph over men, she lives in the new, fashionable area around the Parc Monceau.

*Théâtre des Variétés

*Théâtre des Variétés (tay-at-treh day...

(The entire section is 753 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Baguley, David, ed. Critical Essays on Émile Zola. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1986. In “The Man-Eater,” Roland Barthes discusses the symbolic movement of Nana and the novel’s epic scope. He also lauds Zola’s comprehensive treatment of the Second Empire. Bibliography.

Grant, Elliott M. Émile Zola. New York: Twayne, 1966. Chapter 6 discusses one of Zola’s prevalent themes, the destructiveness of love. Grant also explores Zola’s knowledge of the world of prostitutes and Nana’s symbolic significance. Chronology, notes, and bibliography.

Knapp, Bettina L. Émile Zola. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1980. Chapter 4 discusses the role of prostitutes and coquettes in the Second Empire and Zola’s handling of them as symbolic characters. Chronology, notes, and bibliography.

Richardson, Joanna. Zola. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1978. Chapter 16 discusses the conditions under which Zola wrote Nana and the reception of the novel. Analyzes Nana’s character and Zola’s rich evocation of society. Notes and bibliography.

Walker, Philip. Zola. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985. Chapter 4, “First Great Triumphs,” explores the novel’s impact on the public, its analysis of society’s susceptibility to corruption, Zola’s painstaking efforts to make his scenes real and accurate, and Nana’s symbolic presence. Bibliography.