Thoughts on Germinal by Emile Zola: The Classics Circuit

Thoughts on Germinal by Emile Zola: The Classics CircuitGerminal by Emile Zola
Published by on 2006-01-01
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Political
Pages: 1047
Format: eBook
Buy on Amazon

A narrative is presented that dwells on the life of miners during the Industrial revolution of France. The book gives the view of the revolution from outside. It explains not only the hideous living conditions of the labourers but also the frustration that lead to the revolution. The book beautifully balances between the individual of society and society itself.

Ah, Germinal, I have such a fun history with you. When I hear your title, I am brought back to a bland history classroom. I think of 5th period, when I learned of world revolutions and plagues, not to mention royal family trees with so few branches. I think of AP Euro, with it’s mix of football players and nerds. I remember at the end of the year, after the AP exams, since we didn’t have a Regents exam and were basically finished with the course, yet had a month of school left to finish, we watched several movies. I will never ever forget watching Germinal, and how my teacher, wonderful lady that she was, thought my class was mature enough to handle it and enjoy the film. Now, I will say I enjoyed the film. Not, for reasons any intelligent person would, but mainly because of my class. Imagine, if you will, snappy dialogue, riffing on a film which was impossible to watch at the end of the day what with senioritis and all. Oh, friends it was a blast and I still smile when I think on it.

When I saw Emile Zola had been picked for The Classics Circuit, I just knew I had to sign up and knew exactly what book I wanted to read, GERMINAL, because it has brought me so much joy. Now, here’s the kicker, Germinal isn’t exactly the most happy book, at least so far. Now that I’ve wizened up a bit, I no longer find abject poverty all that amusing, unless you count in History of the World Part 1, when they are making fun of the French Revolution and poverty lady is all “we are so poor we don’t even have a language, only a stupid accent”. Anyways, a heads up, this will not be a full review as I have not finished reading Germinal yet, curse you full time job, curse youuuu! -insert fist shaking here, much like disgruntled laborers-

Here is what I can say, Zola has a way with words which makes me covet my free time. He makes me want to drop all and journey to Coal Country, France. The thing is, I feel deeply connected with the characters I am reading about. I find myself enjoying Etienne’s character arc, although I have to keep picturing Etienne as a man and not a girl, although in my brain I see Etienne as being a girl type name. Speaking of names, I think that is my one huge complaint with Germinal by Emile Zola. The names are all French. Booo! So I can’t really keep the characters straight, especially when the husband and wife have the same name, except one name has an e at the end and then their kid’s name is the same but with an -ette at the end. Yeah, bro, I’m American and ignorant. Here in America we have plenty of names to go around, so I guess this adds to my confusion.

Anyhoo, the lives of these people is no day in the park. The people at the coal mine endure back breaking work for mere sous which are basically pennies. PENNIES to bust ass. Some of the workers decide to make Papa Smurf their hero. And by Papa Smurf, I mean Karl Marx — both have bad ass beards and are communist leaders. One is blue, one is not. A union starts — and well, that’s as far as I’ve gotten. Oh OH OH and there’s a lot of sexytime in this book. Apparently when you are poor, before the day of condams (OMGshoez), you have lots and lots of sex in the fields. You also drink a lot, until you become commie.

Yes, so I am learning lots of things and really loving Germinal so far. It’s full of awesome. I think you should pick it up.

Here’s The Classics Circuit Schedule

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April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.
About April (Books&Wine)

April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.


  1. Excellent half review! 😀 I hope you do another one when you get to the end!

    The names actually don't bother me at all since I took French for so long and know what all the different spellings and stuff mean. Like for instance, Etienne is French for Stephen. Any time you see the E with the accent over it at the beginning of a word with a t afterwards, that usually means it replaces an S. Weird, huh? So yes. Etienne = Stephen. Love that name.

    Mouque, Mouquet, Mouquette – I think those are the ones you're talking about? That's actually a joke. "et" to the end of something makes it little, like adding -ito in Spanish, and "ette" is the feminine form (like -ita in Spanish). So basically it's saying this family has no individual personalities – there's just the dad, his son-with-the-same-name, and his daughter-with-the-same-name. It also groups them together as one family. There was a lot of French wordplay in there. I guess I didn't think about how confusing that would be to people who aren't familiar with French. I absolutely loved it. 😀

  2. The names in Le Rêve confused me too. Hubert (apparently a family name) and Hubertine are married. Does that mean Mrs. Hubert's name is "Hubertine Hubert"? o_O I think Amanda's right, there's a pun or something in there that I'm missing.

  3. Grace – Yes, that's the same way. That's basically just saying "this is the wife of Hubert" and not a reflection on her real name at all. I haven't read La Reve (though I'm looking forward to it) but I wonder if these are more minor characters? That was the case in Germinal – the main characters had names, the minor ones were jokes/groupings like this.

    In much of old lit, not just in France, women were called by their husband's names. Zola is simply giving them slightly separate names based on form rather than saying essentially "Mrs. Hubert."

  4. Fun partial review! And since my daughter is taking AP Euro this year, I now have an idea of what they do in class (and what they might do after the exams in May)!

  5. Amanda, in Le Rêve there are about five major characters: Angelique, her guardians Hubert and Hubertine, her love Felicien, and his father. The Huberts have a close relationship, so maybe Zola wanted to show the bond between them.

  6. Fun review – I will have to read this. The French names are confusing and I found they made me slow down which was probably a good thing.

  7. Rebecca Reid says

    This is very fun. It's obvious that you're enjoying it — and I can totally relate to coveting free time!!