Money (L’Argent) by Emile Zola

The Pope in Jerusalem

As Zola’s The Masterpiece (reviewed here) is about art, the subject of Money is money, money, money, filthy lucre and all that.  Aristide Rougon (known somewhat mysteriously as Saccard) loves the stuff.  Saccard is an unscrupulous financier, rapist and fantasist who would sell his soul (again) to recapture his lost fortune and rule the Bourse (the nineteenth century French stockmarket).  He lives in the house of the widowed Princess d’Orviedo, who is busy deliberately impoverishing herself by pouring her money into ludicrously luxurious and pointless charitable works…”intent on being true to the vow she had made to give all her millions back to the poor, without ever again earning…

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The Masterpiece

Zola, by Manet

(by Émile Zola)* Zola wanted to say something about the art world and the seismic shift on western art wrought by impressionism, and he thought he’d plumb the lives and minds of his artistic friends in order to enrich the tragedy of the story.  Where that got a bit willing was the central character of Claude Lantier, in Zola’s phrase “a sublime dreamer paralyzed by an inborn flaw”, clearly based in some ways on the author’s lifelong friend, Paul Cézanne. It’s typical Zola, good and fast, lots of machismo, a sweet love story (Claude and Christine), many tortured artistes and arrivistes…

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Provence and the Côte D’Azur

(by J McCulloch) The South of France may have slipped down the rankings of getaways for the great and good but it is still a superb region in which to luxuriate. This beautiful guide is not only packed with information; it is packed with the right information, first-hand and canny and laced with photos that are almost better than being there.  

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Paris: A Guide to the City’s Creative Heart

(by Janelle McCulloch) A sumptuous celebration and guidebook in one, this is the refreshing literary equivalent of taking Dom Pérignon with Coupe Hélène. Janelle McCulloch isn’t just a style guru; she is an informed omnivore of culture (see her magnificent website, A Library of Design). In this book she presents the world’s favourite city in an easy, informed way, helping newbies negotiate and appreciate the profusion of arrondisements and letting old hands savour the incomparable glamour and high style of the City of Lights. No point in buying only one copy as a gift because you’ll never give it away….

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(by Duff Cooper) When told that those who fell in with Napoleon had “betrayed the cause of Europe”, Talleyrand replied that was “a question of dates”.  A legendary survivor, his apparent inconsistency seems to have less to do with a lack of morals than with the exigencies of geopolitics. This elegant biography of the wily, oleaginous and adaptable diplomat-statesman, serving French Kings from Louis XVI to Louis-Philippe, was written by Duff Cooper, who knew a thing or two about difficult men (and women).

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