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Madeleine Ferat is a fictional account of a woman's  life.  She is very young when her only remaining parent, her father, dies and she is sent off to boarding school with her care entrusted to her father's friend.  She is very beautiful and the friend decides, despite the fact that he is old enough to be her grandfather, that he wants her for himself. He tries to take her and she escapes straight into the arms of her first love. She lives with him for a year then he decides to go off to China and leaves her where she is.  She does have an income left to her by her father and soon enough she meets another man with whom she co-habits, eventually marries and they have a child. Her husband, William had a very bad time at boarding school and was bullied relentlessly until he meets an older boy who prevents this.  They become fast friends and enjoy a lot of good times together.  This friend eventually goes off to China - yes it's the same man - and is feared dead but returns.  He has no idea that Madeleine is married to William and William, naturally does not know about James.  Then Madeleine finds out that the friend who was feared dead and has returned is James and her shame knows no bounds.  She is eventually forced to tell her husband  and he is as horrified as she is shocked. The bulk of the book is then taken up with their suffering and boy do they suffer.  James never finds out that Madeleine is married to William but he does meet her again a couple of times. 

 

This was written in 1868 and we are dealing with the morality and sexism of the time period. Which is why both Madeleine and William suffer so. Their love, we gradually find out is an obsessive suffocating kind of love and they were happy for the first five years of their marriage, secluded in the remote country house left to William by his father. His father also left him a fortune so neither of them had to work.  William is a weak individual who sits back and lets things happen and Madeleine is eventually ground down by his evangelistic servant who guesses her secret and quotes the bible at her relentlessly.

 

It's an intense novel and can be heavy going at times because of this intensity but it's incredibly well written and Zola clearly has a full understanding of the minds of the people about whom he's writing.

 

I enjoyed it immensely and would recommend it but realise that it's not for everyone.

Edited by lunababymoonchild
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