Au Bonheur des Dames is the glittering Paris department store run by Octave Mouret. He has used charm and drive to become director of this mighty emporium, unscrupulously exploiting his young female staff and seducing his lady customers with luxurious displays of shimmering silks, satins, velvet and lace. Then Denise Baudu, a naive provincial girl, becomes an assistant at the store, and Mouret discovers that he in turn can also be enchanted.
With its vivid portrayal of greedy customers and gossiping staff, its lavish descriptions and sense of theatre, Au Bonheur des Dames is a rich and exciting novel. The eleventh in Zola's great cycle Les Rougon-Macquart, it is his comment on modern consumer society. In this sense it is, out of Zola's novels, 'surely the one that has most relevance for our time'.
Emile Zola (1840-1902) was the leading figure in the French school of naturalistic fiction. His principal work, Les Rougon-Macquart, is a panorama of mid-19th century French life, in a cycle of 20 novels which Zola wrote over a period of 22 years.
Robin Buss is a writer and translator who works for theIndependent on Sunday and as television critic for The Times Educational Supplement. He studied at the University of Paris, where he took a degree and a doctorate in French literature. He is part-author of the article 'French Literature' in Encyclopaedia Britannica and has published critical studies of works by Vigny and Cocteau, and three books on European cinema, The French Through Their Films (1988), Italian Films (1989) and French Film Noir (1994). He has also translated a number of volumes for Penguin Classics.
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