Nana by Emile Zola
Read through my Daily Lit subscription.
I've been reading a lot of classics through Daily Lit. You make a TBR list of the books you want to read and they email you a tiny little snippet of it each day until you finish. The day after you finish, they send the first installment of your next book. At the present time, I have over a half dozen complete books in their own folders in my inbox and every day they send me installments of four books. Like everything else in the book world, I tend toward excess.
I like to read complete chapters, as opposed to the 2 to 5 minute increments they send them in, although, at the end of each email is a link to have the next installment sent to you immediately. I generally read these at work, while I'm stuck on hold, or between projects, whenever I've got a few minutes free. When the book has my interest, I fly through it. Then, there are the books that require a great deal of effort to keep plugging away at them. Nana was one of those. It was also my first Zola. I've got a couple on my bookshelves so I'll try not to hold it against him and will try again.
I just didn't get Nana. I mean, I understand the story. Nana is a teenage girl, who has, through her youth and beauty worked her way off the streets and onto the stage. Opening night she appears nude on stage. The men are all taken with her beauty, no one is under the impression that she has any talent. As soon as the curtain falls, the men begin to flock to the stage doors to get a glimpse of, and spend some time with, the new star in town.
As a modern woman who has taken care of herself, worked all of her adult life and pays her bills, realizing that she has responsibilities and that she's got to live up to them, I had a lot of trouble with Nana. She's barely an adult. She's got a sickly baby that she leaves with her aunt, and she's not at all concerned about living within her means. She's dependent upon the men who pass through her bedroom, practically around the clock, and what they give her. While her creditors are sitting waiting for her to come out so they can get paid, her lovers continue to pass through. Nana's goal is to get herself a rich man, not a husband. Well, she doesn't want a husband of her own, she's really looking for someone else's husband to buy her a house, get her included in the right circles and keep her in the manner she desires.
While she is bagging herself a married count, or throwing herself in the path of a prince, she is not thinking at all of security. She's not remotely concerned about any kind of future, not for herself or her child. She wants what she can get in her hand right now, money or man. The only thought she gives to the wolf at the door, is how long she can avoid it and how little she can get away with giving it to get it to go away. When the money is free flowing, she is so irresponsible with it, that her servants rob her blind.
I know that reading isn't about people just like the reader, or situations that we can relate to. I read a lot of books that I can't remotely relate to, books where I don't like or am anything like any of the characters, and I wouldn't want it any other way. For example, anything written by Vladimir Nabokov. The man was a genius, who wrote beautifully about really ugly people. Then we have Nana, a beautiful young woman who manages to capture the attention of the public, with a child to raise and, potentially a long life ahead of her. She's got no sense of responsibility, no sense of self, just this inflated idea of her prospects, and considering her past, it's kind of a stretch, and a sense of entitlement that rivals the most shallow person you have ever met. Usually, the courtesan types are very ambitious, but Nana lacks any ambition. She lived a life of deprivations, but still managed to expect pampering. it boggled my mind.
My maternal grandmother, when World War II started and the women all went to work, joined the work force. She became a career girl and it suited her. She stayed in the workforce. It was where she belonged. In fact, she continued to work, until she got shot in a robbery, but that's a whole other story. She survived the shooting. She was messed up, but she did heal completely. Then, there's my mother, she was going to see the world. Instead, she fell in love with my father, was married at 18 and had two kids by the time she was 20. When my brother and I were in junior high school, she went back to school and got her degree. When we were in high school she joined the work force.
All of my life I've been surrounded and loved by smart and capable women and men who believed that we should and could have everything that we wanted. Women like Nana, they don't make me angry, but they frustrate me and make me kind of sad. I can't wrap my head around a woman, especially in that time, who wound up with an opportunity to do something with her life and she chose to be an indolent play thing for anyone who would give her money in the hope that she would get legitimacy and respect. No matter how many of her affairs ended disastrously, she never learned to protect herself, or to take care of herself.
If you think I don't like her, that's nothing compared to the way Zola felt about her. He was very clear about how much contempt he held Nana in. I thought she would get old, her beauty would fade and she'd wind back up on the streets. I never suspected she'd meet the end she did.