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The Ladies' Paradise (Oxford World's Classics) Paperback – September 1, 2008

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Editorial Reviews


Brian Nelson's lively translation of Au Bonheur des Dames, which was inspired by the revolutionary "Bon Marche" department store, reminds us that this was a ground-breaking book about a seismic shift in social behaviour and gender roles: the first shopping-and-striving epic. Boyd Tonkin, The Independent i --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Oxford World's Classics
  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford Paperbacks; 1 edition (September 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199536902
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199536900
  • Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 0.8 x 5.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (91 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #50,315 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

148 of 158 people found the following review helpful By James Paris on February 5, 2006
Format: Paperback
THE LADIES' PARADISE is a sequel to POT LUCK (POT-BUILLE), which I read last year. Both have Octave Mouret as a central character. In the earlier novel, he was a young salesman on the make, both in his profession and with the young women in his apartment building. At the end of POT LUCK, he marries the owner of a successful drapery establishment. At the start of PARADISE, his wife has died; and Octave has entered on an expansion program from drapery into a department store named the Ladies' Paradise that threatens all the other shopkeepers selling clothing and accessories in the area.

Enter Denise Baudu, a country girl from Normandy, who moves to Paris with her two brothers after one of them has gotten in trouble back home. Her uncle runs a store called Au Vieil Elbeuf, selling drapery and flannels, but is unable to give her room or a job because business is threatened by the presence of the Ladies' Paradise across the street. Denise finds a job at the Paradise at the risk of angering her relatives.

Salesgirls at the Paradise live in a dormitory on the top floor of the department store. Room and board is part of the job, plus a token wage and commissions on sales over quota. Little does Denise know she had entered into a whirlwind of gossip and backbiting. She is made fun of by her fellow workers, but Mouret resists getting rid of her because he is drawn to her. At one point, however, two of Mouret's "spies" in management come upon Denise and a young salesman from her region who has sheepishly fallen in love with her and kisses her hand as head axe-wielder Bourdoncle watches. Denise is promptly dismissed.

As Denise finds another position in a less profitable store than the Paradise, the focus turns more to Mouret, who did not know of her dismissal.
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68 of 72 people found the following review helpful By Tanya Lamnin on February 17, 2003
Format: Paperback
Au Bonheur des Dames is only one of twenty-something novels in the Rougon-Macquart series (detailing the various stories of the various members of a large family--among them a serial killer, a girl who embroiders ceremonial garments, a financier whose wife is sleeping with his own grown son, a spinster dedicating her whole life to caring for her extended family). And, personally, my favorite one, in that it is far less naturalistic and features (spoiler) a happy ending--out of the ones I've read, the only other one that does not leave a feeling of doom and dirt is The Dream (but that one has a very sad ending, actually).
I agree that there is a deep social message in the book: Octave Mouret's grand mega-store (called, of course, Au Bonheur des Dames--Ladies' Happiness, or Paradise, in this translation) eclipsing and eventually ruining small-time clothes merchants--like Denise's own uncle. But the mystery of the book is that you, as a reader, while feeling sorry for ruined lives and businesses, cannot but admire the awesome machine that Octave had built. By the end of the book, I couldn't care less about the small-time merchants. All I wanted was for Denise to give Octave the time of day. Message, shmessage.
The story is actually very, very simple. Octave Mouret, a young widower, is a man who has everything--and every woman he can possibly desire. And not because the store he had inherited from his wife (who died in an accident at its construction site, fatefully) is making him loads of money--also because he is intelligent, handsome, suave and has the eyes "the color of the old gold". But he wants Denise, the one girl he cannot have: the boring, gray, provincial sales clerk at his huge clothing store. Why?
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Diaspora Chic on April 13, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Ladies Paradise written in the nineteenth century rings true of today's consumerism. Emile Zola examines in this socialistic novel the effects of consumerism on customers and employees. The customers who are women are drawn to the items that are displayed on the tables. Octave Mouret, the storeowner, knows what women desire and sets forth to use it to bring in profits. The lace, stockings, velvet are feminine fabrics that entice women to spend money, even if they don't have it.

As a retail employee, I have dealt with customers who don't have the money to buy the items but want to get it. I am a customer who buys what is displayed because I think it is going to be an investment. I can relate to small stores like Uncle Baudu's. Businesses like his struggle to stay afloat amongst corporate expansion. They entice clients with their sales and bargains--things that I look for when I shop. Small stores can provide what the big stores don't have. One way or the other, the consumer can get some sort of balance. Working at both a community store and a corporate store, one thing that matters most to customers is service. Customers want to be treated with respect and they expect sales associate to be enthused and answer their questions; even if it is trivial.

Denise Baudu, a simple country girl, arrives in Paris to get a job at her uncle's drapery shop. To her disappointment he doesn't have a job for her because his store is losing customers to the Ladies Paradise. The mall provides goods that are cheaper than the small shops and have a selection of fabrics not only from the mother country, but imported from Asia. He suggests to his niece that she get a job there.

The store fascinates her but she does feel some betrayal towards her uncle.
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