Thursday, November 4, 2010

Appetite and indigestion in Le Ventre de Paris

The greet paradox at the heart of Zola's Le Ventre de Paris is that between the hero. F;orient, who lives in a state of disgust and the crushing superabundance of food surrounding him. Florent. who arrives in the book and in Paris, fainting from starvation, ends up being welcomed into the Cloud-Cuckoo Land of the Quénu charcuterie, where the greasy taste, feel, and smell of fat has seeped into everything. As Zola puts it, "tout un monde noyé dans la graiss" (an entire world drowning in fat.).

And in spite of being well fed by his brother and sister, Florent remains hungry throughout the novel, refusing to fit in with the plump, gourmand company that surrounds him:
Non, la faim ne l’avait plus quitté. Il fouillait ses souvenirs, ne se rappelait pas une heure de plénitude. Il était devenu sec, l’estomac rétréci, la peau collée aux os. Et il retrouvait Paris, gras, superbe, débordant de nourriture, au fond des ténèbres

No, hunger had not left him . He searched his memory, could not remember one hour of fullness. He had become dry, with a shrunken stomach, his skin stuck to the bone. And he found Paris, fat, proud, overflowing with food, to be un the depths of darkness.

When he is given a seafood inspector's job in the market, his disgust gets even stronger.:
Florent souffrit alors de cet entassement de nourriture, au milieu duquel il vivait. Les dégoûts de la charcuterie lui revinrent, plus intolérables. Il avait supporté des puanteurs aussi terribles; mais elles ne venaient pas du ventre. Son estomac étroit d'homme maigre se révoltait, en passant devant ces étalages de poissons mouillés à grande eau, qu'un coup de chaleur gâtait. Ils le nourrissaient de leurs senteurs fortes, le suffoquaient, comme s'il avait eu une indigestion d'odeurs.

Florent suffered then from this pile of food, amid which he lived. The disgusts from the charcuterie came back, more intolerable. He had endured stenches as terrible, but these did not come from the belly. His narrow, skinny man 's stomach rebelled, as he passed the wet fish stalls, drenched in water, spoiling from a bout of hot weather. They fed him their strong scents suffocated him, as if an attack of indigestion hiy him from just smelling
This attitude is met with incredulity among those whose life is the preparation and sale of food, essentially everyone in the novel and especially his brother and sister-in-law, who exude the fat of their trade. His very thinness becomes a point of disgust among the other inhabitants of the Halles and, by implication, that of Second Empire Paris.

His alientation from most of those around him and his attitude toward food eventually enters into his politics – where his disgust at the material world fits in well with his unhinged, utopian socialism.

The only person who can at all sympathize with Fkorent's indigestion is the painter Ckuade Lantier, who loves the market for its rich colors of its contents, subjects for his still-life, nut who also has little appetite.
Puis, je déjeune ici, par les yeux au moins, et cela vaut encore mieux que de ne rien prendre. Quelquefois, quand j’oublie de dîner, la veille, je me donne une indigestion, le lendemain, à regarder arriver toutes sortes de bonnes choses. Ces matins-là, j’ai encore plus de tendresses pour mes légumes… Non, tenez, ce qui est exaspérant, ce qui n’est pas juste, c’est que ces gredins de bourgeois mangent tout ça !

Then I break my fast here –– at least through the eyes, and that is been better than eating anything. Sometimes when I forget to dine the night before, I give myself indigestion the next day by watching all sorts of good things arriving. Those mornings, I have even more affection for my vegetables ... No, look, this is frustrating, what is unjustness
that these bourgeois scoundrels eat it all!"

But what Claude converts into art, Florent converts into anger and desire for a political purge of the excess.

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