The joy of living, by Émile Zola

36181812Other english titles: The Joy of Life; The Zest of Life

Pauline Quenu, the daughter of shopkeepers in the Parisian business district Les Halles (see The Fat and the Thin, aka The Belly of Paris), is taken in by relatives on the coast of Normandy following the death of her parents. There, Pauline – kind and open-minded – is confronted with a gout-plagued host, his avaricious wife, and their lazy son, a morbid hypochondriac, whom she is expected to marry. While the family takes advantage of Pauline, using up the inheritance her parents left to her, Pauline is gradually transformed into a dejected and resigned young woman. Death and accident soon hang over the small house on the Norman coast… (from Goodreads)

The book was ok, but I’m going to rant a little about something that completely altered my reading experience.

I was happily reading this book when I found a footnote on page 31 (I will probable never forget the number of this page). The note, from the translator, said something like this: “We alert the reader that here and in other parts of the book we deleted details and entire paragraphs that are not related to the main action and are disgusting. These too naturalistic descriptions in which the author delights himself add nothing to the work and are what the French critics have called, properly, ‘ordures’”. WHAT. THE. HECK (the highlights are mine)

The footnote came after Pauline got her first period, an absolutely disgusting affaire, apparently.

The edition I read was from 1958, so you might think “well, that explains it”, but the book was first published in 1883, so what’s your excuse, Mr. Translator and Mr. Editor??? Ok, alright. Zola’s books were quite scandalous at his time, I know. But I still got completely outraged and I was unable to keep on reading that day. Oh, BUT, take a look at the cover, right? Ironically, it’s illustrated with a barely dressed pin-up style lady, which is of course completely unrelated to the story. Unless… Her character was deleted of the book, for being so disgusting.

I started looking for other editions to read instead, an impossible find, apparently, from my corner of the world. I looked for ebooks, and the only ones I could find were from an English translation that was, also, censored.

So yes, I ended up finishing my edition with resignation. Did I feel a difference? Well… I felt like there were little descriptions and too many dialogues, which could be explained by the lack of paragraphs that “didn’t add to the main action”.

But I can’t help but wonder… Would I had notice anything if they decided not to add that footnote? Should I be thankful that at least they let me know what they did?

Anyway, I‘m still mad.

About the story itself… I felt sorry for Pauline, ending up with such a ungrateful family, but keeping up her spirits no matter what (she reminded me a bit of Fanny Price). And Lazare? No long after I finished the book this article came out and I felt it described him perfectly.

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