Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
The Ladies' Paradise (Oxford World's Classics) Paperback – September 1, 2008
There is a newer edition of this item:
The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things
When Jennifer vanishes, her grieving family makes dangerous—and irreversible—choices. Learn More
Frequently Bought Together
Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought
Original Language: French --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
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. Mouret plans a large-scale expansion of the store and calls upon Baron Hartman (in real life, Baron Haussmann) to allow him frontage on the new boulevard being cut through the neighborhood.
One day, Mouret runs into Denise on the street and asks her to consider returning to the Paradise, which is just as well as the store where Denise had started to work was going under. To sweeten the offer, Mouret makes her an assistant buyer in the new children's wear department. With her enhanced status, Denise is now winning admiration from her co-workers, though some backbiters remain. In the meantime, Mouret's passion for her is growing -- despite Denise not encouraging it in any way.
There are several set pieces in the novel which are a feature of Zola's fiction. They come under the heading of giant mechanisms that grind people down. In GERMINAL, it was a coal mine; in POT LUCK, an apartment building; in HUMAN BEAST, railroads; and in THE BELLY OF PARIS, the food market at Les Halles. In every Zola novel, there are scenes showing off some giant mechanism at work crushing people under it like the wheels of a Juggernaut. In PARADISE, these scenes are highly successful sales which show a crush of frenetically spending customers and overwhelmed sales clerks as Mouret keeps "pushing the envelope" of what is possible in the apparel business. Even wealthy shoppers who came "just to look" are caught up in the frenzy and leave the store having committed themselves to buy more than what they could afford.
The owners of neighboring shops feel that the Paradise is like a hungry beast that strives to devour their businesses and put them out in the street. Which is exactly what happens. Denise's cousin Genevieve dies of consumption after her lover Colomban -- the main hope of Au Vieil Elbeuf -- runs away to chase a slutty Paradise shopgirl who is one of Mouret's cast-offs, and who doesn't even want him. Aunt Baudu follows her daughter soon after. When as the result of a series of sharp moves, Mouret buys their properties, the shopkeepers are evicted; and Uncle Baudu goes to a nursing home, completely dazed and broken.
Eventually, Denise and Mouret do hook up, but on Denise's terms. The novel ends as they announce their upcoming marriage.
I have found that the ten or so Zola novels I have read have been of a uniform high quality, such that I have difficulty recommending one over the other (though I have a particular fondness for NANA). THE LADIES' PARADISE is an excellent read and paints a fascinating picture of life in the emerging Paris department stores of the late 19th century.
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? Because she has principles and morals and won't be yet another in the succession of women who traverse his bed. Because he cannot have her, he begins to want her more and more; then, he begins to respect her, then... you get the picture.
So, the story being so simple, it is all in the descriptions--rich, beautiful descriptions of the store, the sales, the merchandize, the laces, the dresses. The story revolves around the store; the characters are fleshed out as they buy, sell, count money, steal. After every sale, Octave's managers bring him the day's profits--literally, in bags of gold. The book itself is golden, beautiful, richly written. Every time I step into Nordstrom, I think about Octave Mouret: I like to think that a handsome young man is sitting up there, gold spilling over his desk and shining in his eyes.