May. 26th, 2017

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The Ladies' Paradise
by Émile Zola

This novel recounts two stories of late-nineteenth century Paris. The first is the rise of the large modern department store, and the other is a rags-to-riches tale of love across socio-economic classes. Octave Mouret, and enterprising widower, creates the Ladies' Paradise, a large department store that sells fabric, trimmings, ready-made clothes, and other sundries necessary to a fashionable lady. It eventually swallows up an entire city block, employs over 2000 people, and drives the smaller local shops out of business. Denise Baudu, a shopgirl from the country, gains employment at the ladies' Paradise just as it is on the rise. As the store expands, Denise and Octave fall in love, almost reluctantly, causing very different crises of conscience to each of them.
One of the best things about The Ladies' Paradise is the way Zola describes the workings of the store - the piles and displays of goods, the movements and behavior of the crowds of shoppers, the labor and maneuvering of the shop assistants. It's all very sensual and swirling and lively. It's almost velvety the way his prose flows. It's a very seductive yet clear-eyed look at the workings of capitalism.


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