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Produced by Dagny; and David Widger


By Emile Zola

Edited with an Introduction by Ernest Alfred Vizetelly


'LA FAUTE DE L'ABBE MOURET' was, with respect to the date of
publication, the fourth volume of M. Zola's 'Rougon-Macquart' series;
but in the amended and final scheme of that great literary undertaking,
it occupies the ninth place. It proceeds from the sixth volume of the
series, 'The Conquest of Plassans;' which is followed by the two works
that deal with the career of Octave Mouret, Abbe Serge Mouret's elder
brother. In 'The Conquest of Plassans,' Serge and his half-witted
sister, Desiree, are seen in childhood at their home in Plassans, which
is wrecked by the doings of a certain Abbe Faujas and his relatives.
Serge Mouret grows up, is called by an instinctive vocation to the
priesthood, and becomes parish priest of Les Artaud, a well-nigh pagan
hamlet in one of those bare, burning stretches of country with which
Provence abounds. And here it is that 'La Faute de l'Abbe Mouret' opens
in the old ruinous church, perched upon a hillock in full view of the
squalid village, the arid fields, and the great belts of rock which shut
in the landscape all around.

There are two elements in this remarkable story, which, from the
standpoint of literary style, has never been excelled by anything that
M. Zola has since written; and one may glance at it therefore from two
points of view. Taking it under its sociological and religious aspect,
it will be found to be an indirect indictment of the celibacy of the
priesthood; that celibacy, contrary to Nature's fundamental law, which
assuredly has largely influenced the destinies of the Roman Catholic
Church. To that celibacy, and to all the evils that have sprang from
it, may be ascribed much of the irreligion current in France to-day.
The periodical reports on criminality issued by the French Ministers of
Justice since the foundation of the Republic in 1871, supply materials
for a most formidable indictment of that vow of perpetual chastity which
Rome exacts from her clergy. Nowadays it is undoubtedly too late for
Rome to go back upon that vow and thereby transform the whole of her
sacerdotal organisation; but, perhaps, had she done so in past times,
before the spirit of inquiry and free examination came into being, she
might have assured herself many more centuries of supremacy than have
fallen to her lot. But she has ever sought to dissociate the law of the
Divinity from the law of Nature, as though indeed the latter were but
the invention of the Fiend.

Abbe Mouret, M. Zola's hero, finds himself placed between the law of
the Divinity and the law of Nature: and the struggle waged within him by
those two forces is a terrible one. That which training has implanted
in his mind proves the stronger, and, so far as the canons of the Church
can warrant it, he saves his soul. But the problem is not quite frankly
put by M. Zola; for if Abbe Mouret transgresses he does so unwittingly,
at a time when he is unconscious of his priesthood and has no memory of
any vow. When the truth flashes upon him he is horrified with himself,
and forthwith returns to the Church. A further struggle between the
contending forces then certainly ensues, and ends in the final victory
of the Church. But it must at least be said that in the lapses which
occur in real life among the Roman priesthood, the circumstances are
altogether different from those which M. Zola has selected for his

The truth is that in 'La Faute de l'Abbe Mouret,' betwixt lifelike
glimpses of French rural life, the author transports us to a realm of
poesy and imagination. This is, indeed, so true that he has introduced
into his work all the ideas on which he had based an early unfinished
poem called 'Genesis.' He carries us to an enchanted garden,
the Paradou - a name which one need hardly say is Provencal for
Paradise* - and there Serge Mouret, on recovering from brain fever,
becomes, as it were, a new Adam by the side of a new Eve, the fair and
winsome Albine. All this part of the book, then, is poetry in prose.
The author has remembered the ties which link Rousseau to the realistic
school of fiction, and, as in the pages of Jean-Jacques, trees, springs,
mountains, rocks, and flowers become animated beings and claim their
place in the world's mechanism. One may indeed go back far beyond
Rousseau, even to Lucretius himself; for more than once we are
irresistibly reminded of Lucretian scenes, above which through M. Zola's
pages there seems to hover the pronouncement of Sophocles:

No ordinance of man shall override
The settled laws of Nature and of God;
Not written these in pages of a book,
Nor were they framed to-day, nor yesterday;
We know not whence they are; but this we know,
That they from all eternity have been,
And shall to all eternity endure.

* There is a village called Paradou in Provence, between
Les Baux and Arles.

And if we pass to the young pair whose duo of love is sung amidst the
varied voices of creation, we are irresistibly reminded of the Paul
and Virginia of St. Pierre, and the Daphnis and Chloe of Longus. Beside
them, in their marvellous garden, lingers a memory too of Manon and
Des Grieux, with a suggestion of Lauzun and a glimpse of the art of
Fragonard. All combine, all contribute - from the great classics to the
eighteenth century _petits maitres_ - to build up a story of love's rise
in the human breast in answer to Nature's promptings.

M. Zola wrote 'La Faute de l'Abbe Mouret' one summer under the trees of
his garden, mindful the while of gardens that he had known in childhood:
the flowery expanse which had stretched before his grandmother's home
at Pont-au-Beraud and the wild estate of Galice, between Roquefavour and
Aix-en-Provence, through which he had roamed as a lad with friends then
boys like himself: Professor Baille and Cezanne, the painter. And into
his description of the wondrous Paradou he has put all his remembrance
of the gardens and woods of Provence, where many a plant and flower
thrive with a luxuriance unknown to England. True, in order to refresh
his memory and avoid mistakes, he consulted various horticultural
manuals whilst he was writing; of which circumstance captious critics
have readily laid hold, to proclaim that the description of the Paradou
is a mere florist's catalogue.

But it is nothing of the kind. The florist who might dare to offer
such a catalogue to the public would be speedily assailed by all the
horticultural journalists of England and all the customers of villadom.
For M. Zola avails himself of a poet's license to crowd marvel upon
marvel, to exaggerate nature's forces, to transform the tiniest blooms
into giant examples of efflorescence, and to mingle even the seasons
one with the other. But all this was premeditated; there was a picture
before his mind's eye, and that picture he sought to trace with his pen,
regardless of all possible objections. It is the poet's privilege to
do this and even to be admired for it. It would be easy for some leaned
botanist, some expert zoologist, to demolish Milton from the standpoint
of their respective sciences, but it would be absurd to do so. We ask of
the poet the flowers of his imagination, and the further he carries us
from the sordid realities, the limited possibilities of life, the more
are we grateful to him.

And M. Zola's Paradou is a flight of fancy, even as its mistress, the
fair, loving, guileless Albine, whose smiles and whose tears alike go
to our hearts, is the daughter of imagination. She is a flower - the very
flower of life's youth - in the midst of all the blossoms of her
garden. She unfolds to life and to love even as they unfold; she loves
rapturously even as they do under the sun and the azure; and she dies
with them when the sun's caress is gone and the chill of winter has
fallen. At the thought of her, one instinctively remembers Malherbe's
'Ode A Du Perrier:'

She to this earth belonged, where beauty fast
To direst fate is borne:
A rose, she lasted, as the roses last,
Only for one brief morn.

French painters have made subjects of many episodes in M. Zola's
works, but none has been more popular with them than Albine's pathetic,
perfumed death amidst the flowers. I know several paintings of great
merit which that touching incident has inspired.

Albine, if more or less unreal, a phantasm, the spirit as it were of
Nature incarnate in womanhood, is none the less the most delightful of
M. Zola's heroines. She smiles at us like the vision of perfect beauty
and perfect love which rises before us when our hearts are yet young and
full of illusions. She is the ideal, the very quintessence of woman.

In Serge Mouret, her lover, we find a man who, in more than one respect,
recalls M. Zola's later hero, the Abbe Froment of 'Lourdes' and 'Rome.'
He has the same loving, yearning nature; he is born - absolutely like
Abbe Froment - of an unbelieving father and a mother of mystical mind.
But unlike Froment he cannot shake off the shackles of his priesthood.
Reborn to life after his dangerous illness, he relapses into the
religion of death, the religion which regards life as impurity, which
denies Nature's laws, and so often wrecks human existence, as if
indeed that had been the Divine purpose in setting man upon earth. His
struggles suggest various passages in 'Lourdes' and 'Rome.' In fact, in
writing those works, M. Zola must have had his earlier creation in
mind. There are passages in 'La Faute de l'Abbe Mouret' culled from the
writings of the Spanish Jesuit Fathers and the 'Imitation' of Thomas
a Kempis that recur almost word for word in the Trilogy of the Three
Cities. Some might regard this as evidence of the limitation of M.
Zola's powers, but I think differently. I consider that he has in both
instances designedly taken the same type of priest in order to show how
he may live under varied circumstances; for in the earlier instance
he has led him to one goal, and in the later one to another. And the
passages of prayer, entreaty, and spiritual conflict simply recur
because they are germane, even necessary, to the subject in both cases.

Of the minor characters that figure in 'La Faute de l'Abbe Mouret' the
chief thing to be said is that they are lifelike. If Serge is almost
wholly spiritual, if Albine is the daughter of poesy, they, the others,
are of the earth earthy. As a result of their appearance on the scene,
there are some powerful contrasting passages in the book. Archangias,
the coarse and brutal Christian Brother who serves as a foil to Abbe
Mouret; La Teuse, the priest's garrulous old housekeeper; Desiree, his
'innocent' sister, a grown woman with the mind of a child and an almost
crazy affection for every kind of bird and beast, are all admirably
portrayed. Old Bambousse, though one sees but little of him, stands
out as a genuine type of the hard-headed French peasant, who invariably
places pecuniary considerations before all others. And Fortune and
Rosalie, Vincent and Catherine, and their companions, are equally true
to nature. It need hardly be said that there is many a village in France
similar to Les Artaud. That hamlet's shameless, purely animal life has
in no wise been over-pictured by M. Zola. Those who might doubt him need
not go as far as Provence to find such communities. Many Norman hamlets
are every whit as bad, and, in Normandy, conditions are aggravated by a
marked predilection for the bottle, which, as French social-scientists
have been pointing out for some years now, is fast hastening the
degenerescence of the peasantry, both morally and physically.

With reference to the English version of 'La Faute de l'Abbe Mouret'
herewith presented, I may just say that I have subjected it to
considerable revision and have retranslated all the more important
passages myself.





As La Teuse entered the church she rested her broom and feather-brush
against the altar. She was late, as she had that day began her
half-yearly wash. Limping more than ever in her haste and hustling the
benches, she went down the church to ring the _Angelus_. The bare, worn
bell-rope dangled from the ceiling near the confessional, and ended in a
big knot greasy from handling. Again and again, with regular jumps, she
hung herself upon it; and then let her whole bulky figure go with it,
whirling in her petticoats, her cap awry, and her blood rushing to her
broad face.

Having set her cap straight with a little pat, she came back breathless
to give a hasty sweep before the altar. Every day the dust persistently
settled between the disjoined boards of the platform. Her broom rummaged
among the corners with an angry rumble. Then she lifted the altar cover
and was sorely vexed to find that the large upper cloth, already darned
in a score of places, was again worn through in the very middle, so
as to show the under cloth, which in its turn was so worn and so
transparent that one could see the consecrated stone, embedded in the
painted wood of the altar. La Teuse dusted the linen, yellow from long
usage, and plied her feather-brush along the shelf against which she set
the liturgical altar-cards. Then, climbing upon a chair, she removed the
yellow cotton covers from the crucifix and two of the candlesticks. The
brass of the latter was tarnished.

'Dear me!' she muttered, 'they really want a clean! I must give them a
polish up!'

Then hopping on one leg, swaying and stumping heavily enough to drive in
the flagstones, she hastened to the sacristy for the Missal, which
she placed unopened on the lectern on the Epistle side, with its edges
turned towards the middle of the altar. And afterwards she lighted the
two candles. As she went off with her broom, she gave a glance round
her to make sure that the abode of the Divinity had been put in proper
order. All was still, save that the bell-rope near the confessional
still swung between roof and floor with a sinuous sweep.

Abbe Mouret had just come down to the sacristy, a small and chilly
apartment, which a passage separated from his dining-room.

'Good morning, Monsieur le Cure,' said La Teuse, laying her broom aside.
'Oh! you have been lazy this morning! Do you know it's a quarter past
six?' And without allowing the smiling young priest sufficient time to
reply, she added 'I've a scolding to give you. There's another hole in
the cloth again. There's no sense in it. We have only one other, and
I've been ruining my eyes over it these three days in trying to mend it.
You will leave our poor Lord quite bare, if you go on like this.'

Abbe Mouret was still smiling. 'Jesus does not need so much linen, my
good Teuse,' he cheerfully replied. 'He is always warm, always royally
received by those who love Him well.'

Then stepping towards a small tap, he asked: 'Is my sister up yet? I
have not seen her.'

'Oh, Mademoiselle Desiree has been down a long time,' answered the
servant, who was kneeling before an old kitchen sideboard in which the
sacred vestments were kept. 'She is already with her fowls and rabbits.
She was expecting some chicks to be hatched yesterday, and it didn't
come off. So you can guess her excitement.' Then the worthy woman broke
off to inquire: 'The gold chasuble, eh?'

The priest, who had washed his hands and stood reverently murmuring a
prayer, nodded affirmatively. The parish possessed only three chasubles:
a violet one, a black one, and one in cloth-of-gold. The last had to be
used on the days when white, red, or green was prescribed by the ritual,
and it was therefore an all important garment. La Teuse lifted it
reverently from the shelf covered with blue paper, on which she laid
it after each service; and having placed it on the sideboard, she
cautiously removed the fine cloths which protected its embroidery. A
golden lamb slumbered on a golden cross, surrounded by broad rays of
gold. The gold tissue, frayed at the folds, broke out in little slender
tufts; the embossed ornaments were getting tarnished and worn. There was
perpetual anxiety, fluttering concern, at seeing it thus go off spangle
by spangle. The priest had to wear it almost every day. And how on earth
could it be replaced - how would they be able to buy the three chasubles
whose place it took, when the last gold threads should be worn out?

Upon the chasuble La Teuse next laid out the stole, the maniple, the
girdle, alb and amice. But her tongue still wagged while she crossed
the stole with the maniple, and wreathed the girdle so as to trace the
venerated initial of Mary's holy name.

'That girdle is not up to much now,' she muttered; 'you will have to
make up your mind to get another, your reverence. It wouldn't be very
hard; I could plait you one myself if I only had some hemp.'

Abbe Mouret made no answer. He was dressing the chalice at a small
table. A large old silver-gilt chalice it was with a bronze base, which
he had just taken from the bottom of a deal cupboard, in which the
sacred vessels and linen, the Holy Oils, the Missals, candlesticks, and
crosses were kept. Across the cup he laid a clean purificator, and on
this set the silver-gilt paten, with the host in it, which he covered
with a small lawn pall. As he was hiding the chalice by gathering
together the folds in the veil of cloth of gold matching the chasuble,
La Teuse exclaimed:

'Stop, there's no corporal in the burse. Last night I took all the
dirty purificators, palls, and corporals to wash them - separately, of
course - not with the house-wash. By-the-bye, your reverence, I didn't
tell you: I have just started the house-wash. A fine fat one it will be!
Better than the last.'

Then while the priest slipped a corporal into the burse and laid the
latter on the veil, she went on quickly:

'By-the-bye, I forgot! that gadabout Vincent hasn't come. Do you wish me
to serve your mass, your reverence?'

The young priest eyed her sternly.

'Well, it isn't a sin,' she continued, with her genial smile. 'I did
serve a mass once, in Monsieur Caffin's time. I serve it better, too,
than ragamuffins who laugh like heathens at seeing a fly buzzing about
the church. True I may wear a cap, I may be sixty years old, and as
round as a tub, but I have more respect for our Lord than those imps of
boys whom I caught only the other day playing at leap-frog behind the

The priest was still looking at her and shaking his head.

'What a hole this village is!' she grumbled. 'Not a hundred and fifty
people in it! There are days, like to-day, when you wouldn't find a
living soul in Les Artaud. Even the babies in swaddling clothes are
gone to the vineyards! And goodness knows what they do among such
vines - vines that grow under the pebbles and look as dry as thistles! A
perfect wilderness, three miles from any highway! Unless an angel comes
down to serve your mass, your reverence, you've only got me to help you,
on my honour! or one of Mademoiselle Desiree's rabbits, no offence to
your reverence!'

Just at that moment, however, Vincent, the Brichets' younger son, gently
opened the door of the sacristy. His shock of red hair and his little,
glistening, grey eyes exasperated La Teuse.

'Oh! the wretch!' she cried. 'I'll bet he's just been up to some
mischief! Come on, you scamp, since his reverence is afraid I might
dirty our Lord!'

On seeing the lad, Abbe Mouret had taken up the amice. He kissed the
cross embroidered in the centre of it, and for a second laid the cloth
upon his head; then lowering it over the collar-band of his cassock, he
crossed it and fastened the tapes, the right one over the left. He next
donned the alb, the symbol of purity, beginning with the right sleeve.
Vincent stooped and turned around him, adjusting the alb, in order
that it should fall evenly all round him to a couple of inches from
the ground. Then he presented the girdle to the priest, who fastened
it tightly round his loins, as a reminder of the bonds wherewith the
Saviour was bound in His Passion.

La Teuse remained standing there, feeling jealous and hurt and
struggling to keep silence; but so great was the itching of her tongue,
that she soon broke out once more: 'Brother Archangias has been here.
He won't have a single child at school to-day. He went off again like a
whirlwind to pull the brats' ears in the vineyards. You had better see
him. I believe he has got something to say to you.'

Abbe Mouret silenced her with a wave of the hand. Then he repeated the
usual prayers while he took the maniple - which he kissed before slipping
it over his left forearm, as a symbol of the practice of good works - and
while crossing on his breast the stole, the symbol of his dignity
and power. La Teuse had to help Vincent in the work of adjusting the
chasuble, which she fastened together with slender tapes, so that it
might not slip off behind.

'Holy Virgin! I had forgotten the cruets!' she stammered, rushing to the
cupboard. 'Come, look sharp, lad!'

Thereupon Vincent filled the cruets, phials of coarse glass, while
she hastened to take a clean finger-cloth from a drawer. Abbe Mouret,
holding the chalice by its stem with his left hand, the fingers of his
right resting meanwhile on the burse, then bowed profoundly, but without
removing his biretta, to a black wooden crucifix, which hung over the
side-board. The lad bowed too, and, bearing the cruets covered with the
finger-cloth, led the way out of the sacristy, followed by the priest,
who walked on with downcast eyes, absorbed in deep and prayerful


The empty church was quite white that May morning. The bell-rope near
the confessional hung motionless once more. The little bracket light,
with its stained glass shade, burned like a crimson splotch against the
wall on the right of the tabernacle. Vincent, having set the cruets on
the credence, came back and knelt just below the altar step on the left,
while the priest, after rendering homage to the Holy Sacrament by a
genuflexion, went up to the altar and there spread out the corporal,
on the centre of which he placed the chalice. Then, having opened the
Missal, he came down again. Another bend of the knee followed, and,
after crossing himself and uttering aloud the formula, 'In the name of
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost,' he raised his joined hands to
his breast, and entered on the great divine drama, with his countenance
blanched by faith and love.

'_Introibo ad altare Dei_.'

'_Ad Deum qui loetificat juventutem meam_,' gabbled Vincent, who,
squatting on his heels, mumbled the responses of the antiphon and the
psalm, while watching La Teuse as she roved about the church.

The old servant was gazing at one of the candles with a troubled look.
Her anxiety seemed to increase while the priest, bowing down with hands
joined again, recited the _Confiteor_. She stood still, in her turn
struck her breast, her head bowed, but still keeping a watchful eye on
the taper. For another minute the priest's grave voice and the server's
stammers alternated:

'_Dominus vobiscum_.'

'_Et cum spiritu tuo_.'

Then the priest, spreading out his hands and afterwards again joining
them, said with devout compunction: '_Oremus_' (Let us pray).

La Teuse could now stand it no longer, but stepped behind the altar,
reached the guttering candle, and trimmed it with the points of her
scissors. Two large blobs of wax had already been wasted. When she came
back again putting the benches straight on her way, and making sure that
there was holy-water in the fonts, the priest, whose hands were resting
on the edge of the altar-cloth, was praying in subdued tones. And at
last he kissed the altar.

Behind him, the little church still looked wan in the pale light of
early morn. The sun, as yet, was only level with the tiled roof. The
_Kyrie Eleisons_ rang quiveringly through that sort of whitewashed
stable with flat ceiling and bedaubed beams. On either side three lofty
windows of plain glass, most of them cracked or smashed, let in a raw
light of chalky crudeness.

The free air poured in as it listed, emphasising the naked poverty of
the God of that forlorn village. At the far end of the church, above
the big door which was never opened and the threshold of which was
green with weeds, a boarded gallery - reached by a common miller's
ladder - stretched from wall to wall. Dire were its creakings on festival
days beneath the weight of wooden shoes. Near the ladder stood the

Online LibraryÉmile ZolaLa faute de l'Abbe Mouret → online text (page 1 of 29)