‘Her slightest movements fanned the flame of desire, and with a twitch of her little finger she could stir men’s flesh’
Born to drunken parents in the slums of Paris, Nana lives in squalor until she is discovered at the Théâtre des Variétés. She soon rises from the streets to set the city alight as the most famous high-class prostitute of her day. Rich men, Comtes and Marquises fall at her feet, great ladies try to emulate her appearance, lovers even kill themselves for her. Nana’s hedonistic appetite for luxury and decadent pleasures knows no bounds – until, eventually, it consumes her. Nana provoked outrage on its publication in 1880, with its heroine damned as ‘the most crude and bestial sort of whore’. Yet the rich atmosphere and luminous language of this ‘poem of male desire’ transform Nana into an almost mythical figure: a destructive force preying on a corrupt, decaying society.
George Holden’s lively translation is accompanied by an introduction discussing Nana as a key work in Zola’s Rougon-Macquart cycle, representing a powerful critique of France’s Second Empire.