Emile Zola’s NANA

“A bar at the Folies-Bergère” painted by Édouard Manet in 1882, shows a slice of life in the sex-obsessed Paris of the 19th-century, where a young barmaid is actually shown to be transacting “business” with a “gentleman” in a top hat. The oranges placed in front of her are apparently meant to let her audience know she is a prostitute.

NANA, published in 1880 by Emile Zola, is an interesting take on sex-obsessed Paris of the nineteenth century, the Paris that has now become a stereotype for sexual behavior in our own times.

Édouard Manet who was much taken with the description of the “precociously immoral” Nana in Zola’s L’Assommoir gave the title “Nana” to his portrait of Henriette Hauser, which he painted in 1877 before Nana was published.
The word “nana” has become, in contemporary French, “a mildly rude French term for woman, comparable to broad”.

The heroine, Nana, is both available and unavailable. She gains notoriety when she bares all and appears on the stage in the nude as Venus. She is not shy at sharing her bed with several men. Yet when these men try to claim her, to possess her as their own, she turns away, preferring to be by herself.

This is a wonderful novel until the end.

Nana’s horrific death from smallpox is described in a style of male chauvinist, moralizing, sexist claptrap, totally offensive and “uncool” (in the jargon of today’s young people.)

Which is a shame, as it spoils an otherwise great novel. Five stars for the interesting take, 1 star for the male priggery.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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