‘So Aika, what are you reading now?’ Sarita, my friend who is also the founder of the BookStop Sanaa asked me a few weeks ago, and I responded, “The Ladies Delight by Emile Zola’, ‘Wow’, she continued, ‘you are reading him? He is one of the known left classic literature writers…good stuff’. Indeed Emile Zola is a classic writer of the left leaning, who in a very clever, amusing, and impressively coherent way has exposed the painful bangs of capitalism. Capitalism, with all its fancies and glory, only benefits a few at the cost of many leading to pain, humiliation, and even death. However, truth must be told, behind capitalism there is hard work, smartness, and action more than words. Doing more than talking is what distinguishes capitalism from its critics (including me, may be?).
Well, in a creative and artistic way, Zola has managed to explain the rise of capitalism and its successes through hard work and exploitation of others by using a story of a new department store and a love story between the owner of the store, Mouret, and the lowly worker, Denise. In this brief note, I want to reflect on this two aspects- Capitalism and Love- both of which are “all-powerful”. (Btw, the book’s last words are all-powerful).
(Before that, a note on writing- Zola’s has artistically placed his characters in a way that brings them into life- this is an art of writing that I mostly love…I think my best character (apart from the obvious Mouret, who kept turning me (my mind) on) was Pauline…classic!!..all in all, this novel, based on my little knowledge on film studies, could fit well into Hollywood classic type movie adaptation—as the end was a happy one despite lots of misfortunes and suffering that had occurred in the story)
Capitalism produces what looks fancy, glamorous, and glorious. Of course behind such products there is hard work, thinking, and genius minds. But there is also exploitation and sacrifices of many at the benefit of only a few. The department store, Au Bonheaur des Dames was very successful with millions of francs turnover making his owner, Mouret, super rich through his ideas, genius, and hard work – ‘day and night, he racked his brain, searching for new ideas (p.231). But to be that successful, Mouret had to deploy tactics that we still see in the 21st century although he was operating in the 19th century. The working style in the Au Bonheaur des Dames was of classic sweetshops. Salesmen worked many hours with little compensation and poor lifestyles. They were not even allowed to be pregnant (what we have seen in many factories including the recent Apple scandal). In p. 350, Zola narrates ‘the management would stand for such accidents, maternity was forbidden, on the grounds that it was inconvenient and indecent; at a pinch, marriage might be permitted, but children were forbidden.’ This paragraph reminded me of real stories from Mexico maquiladora that I used to teach and discuss in the International Political Economy class at the University of Nottingham. I was thus amazed by how Zola captured this in a fiction. Indeed he must have done a very good research as the translator noted in the introduction.
The store further killed all other small draperies and shops around the area. The drapers could not compete with the low prices that the store managed to set due to mass selling. The drapers such as Uncle Baudu and Bourras, even with much unwavering resistance, could not stop the expansion of the store that ended up buying and demolished the buildings that hosted their small shops. The sad part was, this process of merciless expansion was considered natural – ‘this was a natural evolution of trade, no one could stop things where they had to go…’(see p. 191) , this same feeling many people still have on capitalism in the current age. I want to say, capitalism is not natural…it’s a stage in the mode of production…ouch (my secondary school history memory applied here).
As much as I am tempted to reflect on the Capitalism and Women as implied in the book, I will overcome the temptation, so as to urge my readers to read the book…but ‘women were Mouret’s gold mine…see discussion between him and investor, Baron Hartmann in pp.74-75. He also thought women were powerless in front of advertising (p. 232) …nevertheless the power of a woman, as he later on realized in a very hard way…lied somewhere else…as reflected below!
In an extremely creative way, Zola has coherently narrated a love story that shows the power of love and, more so, a ‘poor’ woman amidst all power and wealthy that capitalism creates. Denise, who was an orphan, virgin, and a village girl became the most powerful woman in the store and in the lives of Mouret due to her values, dignity, and the awareness and sense of who she is. The more Denise said No to the powerful and rich Mouret, the more Mouret became weaker and saw his millions as meaningless. I am not going to say much here…but the sweetness of this story and the Woman’s worthy can only be captured if you read the book…
Indeed, Denise was all-powerful than capitalism…
Women!! Let’s wake up and know our power…we are powerful…I don’t fancy feminism because it fails to capture where exactly the power of a woman lies…not in being equal to men…NO, but in knowing our values and power in the very thing that is considered weak…
I AM ALL-POWERFUL! #Kyeku