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Ãmile Zolaâs unflinchingly told story of a daring coal minersâ strike in northern France was published in 1885, when the prolific author was at the height of his powers. Today some readers believe this novel will prove to be his most enduring work. Spare yet compassionate, Germinal takes us from the comfortable homes of the bourgeoisie to the dark bowels of the earth, describing unbearable human suffering and exploitation in vivid and unsentimental prose.
Ãtienne Lantier, a poor but spirited young laborer in search of work, shares the wretched lives of the coal miners of Le Voreux, where the brutish and dangerous working conditions consume the health and prospects of young and old, one generation after another. Impoverished, ill, and hungry, the miners inspire Ãtienne to attempt a revolt against the Company, an overthrow of Âthe tyranny of capital, which was starving the worker.â They answer his desperate call for a strike that grows increasingly violent and divisive, testing loyalties and endangering Ãtienneâs life even as it offers the workers their only hope of a decent existence. In a harrowing climax, the unforeseen consequences of the strike threaten to engulf them all in disaster.
Dominique Jullien is a professor of French at Columbia University and the University of CaliforniaÂSanta Barbara, and the editor in chief of the Romanic Review. Her books include Proust et ses modÃ¨les: Les Mille et une Nuits et les MÃ©moires de Saint-Simon and RÃ©cits du Nouveau Monde: les Voyageurs franÃ§ais en AmÃ©rique de Chateaubriand Ã nos jours. She has published numerous articles on nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature, including several on Ãmile Zola.
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