Abbé Pierre’s JourneyGül Tekay Baysan
This article is about Émile Zola’s Three Cities: Lourdes (1894), Rome (1896) and Paris (1898), in which the author describes the eponymous cities through the eyes of a Catholic priest. This trilogy is not only about Pierre’s journeys and his wanderings inside the three cities, but it also reveals his spiritual, sentimental, and intellectual path. The protagonist is marked by two influences: charity and the need for truth and justice. Guillaume, the priest’s scientist brother and his family members, in time become his role models. Women have an important role in this journey. First of all, there are two devout women: Pierre’s mother, who made him choose the clerical state, and Marie, his platonic childhood love. Also, two independent women help him find his real vocation. These are Madame Leroi, the grandmother of his nephews, and Marie, an educated young girl with whom Pierre will fall in love. The abbot finally decides to leave the cassock. This cycle, which seems to be forgotten nowadays, deserves to be accepted among the great works of Zola because it is based on accurate documentation and it displays distinguished aesthetic qualities. Furthermore, Pierre and Marie’s children will be the protagonists of the author’s final cycle of novels, Les Quatre Évangiles (The Four Gospels).
Le parcours de l’abbé PierreGül Tekay Baysan
Cet article étudie Les trois villes, trilogie d’Émile Zola dont les romans Lourdes (1894), Rome (1896) et Paris (1898) décrivent les villes éponymes de l’optique d’un prêtre catholique. Il s’agit des déplacements que l’abbé Pierre Froment effectue entre et dans les trois villes et de son trajet spirituel, intellectuel et sentimental. Le parcours du protagoniste est empreint par deux influences : la charité et le besoin de vérité et de justice. Le prêtre prend pour modèle son frère Guillaume, un scientifique, et la famille de ce dernier. Les femmes jouent un rôle prépondérant dans ce voyage ; tout d’abord deux femmes dévotes, sa mère qui lui fait embrasser la carrière ecclésiastique et Marie, son amour platonique d’enfance. Ce sont surtout deux femmes émancipées qui lui servent de guide, Madame Leroi, grand-mère de ses neveux et une autre Marie, jeune fille cultivée que Pierre aime. L’abbé renonce enfin à la soutane. Pour conclure, Les Trois Villes qui semblent être tombées dans l’oubli de nos jours sont dignes d’être reconnues parmi les grandes œuvres de Zola ; cet avant dernier cycle romanesque de l’écrivain repose sur une documentation minutieuse et affiche, en même temps, des qualités esthétiques. En outre, ce sont les enfants de Pierre et Marie qui seront les protagonistes des Quatre Évangiles, dernier cycle du romancier.
In his second cycle of novels Les Trois Villes - Three Cities: Lourdes (1894), Rome (1896) and Paris (1898), Zola has for a protagonist a Catholic priest named Pierre Froment. The reader visits the three cities of the fin de siècle through the eyes of Pierre and witnesses his loss of faith. Some of the topics covered by this cycle include his visit to Lourdes and his thoughts about the pilgrimage and miracles; his bitter feelings on the exploitation of the ill and hopeless; his New Rome, a book on the primitive purity of Christianity and its condemnation by the Congregation of Index; his journey to Rome and his observations on the papacy, especially on the political and financial ambitions of the high clergy; and his reflections on the social and political corruption, iniquity, and rise of violence in Paris. Zola debates, through the series, many social issues contemporary to the production of these novels. These include infamous financial scandals, unemployment, anarchic attacks, and urban renewal projects carried out to the detriment of both the environment and working-class residents.
The trilogy is a basis for discussion of dogmas, the vows of celibacy and chastity, the natural inclination for love and procreation, and the virtue of science and labour. Furthermore, the author emphasizes his disapproval both of terrorism and the death penalty and underlines the absurdity of the conflicts between the theoreticians of numerous social doctrines.
Each novel based on a city describes two cities separated by class conflict. These novels are not only about Pierre’s journeys and his wanderings inside the three cities, but they also reveal his spiritual, sentimental, and intellectual path. Guillaume, the priest’s scientist brother, and his family members become, in time, his role models in his research for truth and justice. The women around him also have an important role in his journey. First of all, there are two devout women: his mother, who made him choose the clerical state, and his platonic childhood love, a paralyzed girl whose faith-healing makes him think about miracles. Finally, two independent women help him find his new path: the grandmother of his nephews, an exemplary character of strength and honour, and Marie, an educated young girl with whom he falls in love. The cycle ends with Pierre replacing the notion of charity with that of justice and leaving the Church. If Pierre cannot cure all ills during his travels between the three cities and his comings and goings between two urban poles, he will have, at least, given up the double life of an agnostic priest that he had led just to be able to heal some social injury.
Today, the last novels of Zola, especially those of the trilogy of the cities, are not as well-known as his Rougon-Macquart books. Zola critics explain this unfamiliarity with various and sometimes contradictory reasons: the author’s being a celebrity whose popularity might have advanced his work; his becoming an object of hate, especially after the Dreyfus Affair; his severe criticisms of the iniquities of the Third Republic regime; and some scholars’ finding the last novels idealist and didactic, therefore incompatible with Zola’s naturalism and his conception of the experimental novel.
In fact, although Zola explicitly exposes his own ideas and feelings in these novels, it is also important to note that they are based as much, perhaps more on reality than his previous works. It isn’t about a recent reality like that of The Natural and Social History of a Family under the Second Empire; on the contrary, the events that take place in these cities and the author’s writing about them are almost simultaneous. Zola depicts Lourdes and Rome according to his travel notes. As for Paris, he knows his birthplace very well, as attested by some of his previous works, famous especially for their urban descriptions. The preparatory notes for the novels as well as the author’s correspondence also witness the exactitude of the reality depicted in the trilogy.
To conclude, Lourdes, Rome, and Paris are as important as the previous novels of Zola both for the accurate documentation on which they are based and for the distinguished aesthetic qualities that they display. Last but not least, Pierre and Marie’s sons will be the protagonists of the author’s utopian novels, Les Quatre Évangiles (The Four Gospels), the tetralogy that was unfinished because of his sudden death.