Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Nana (Emile Zola)

Relationships are hard.  Really hard.  And I should know because I recently broke up with my girlfriend.  That was hard too.  I don't know if I did the right thing.  I thought I was when I did it, but now I'm sad and lonely and heartbroken and missing her.  Fuck.  In a lot of ways we were bad for one another but in a lot of ways we were good.  See what I mean?...this shit is hard!  Fuck.

To help drown my abundant sorrows I'm drinking a Tanqueray Bloomsbury Gin martini.  I picked a bottle of this gin up at a local liquor store since I'd never heard of it.  Turns out it's a limited edition gin from Tanqueray, based on a recipe from Charles Tanqueray’s son, Charles Waugh Tanqueray, who took over the family business after his father’s death.  Why the hell couldn't my family have been in the gin business?  Actually it's probably for the best, since if they were I'd probably be dead by now.  Anyway, this martini is quite delicious, but since it's a limited edition I'll probably never see another bottle of this gin again, which is too bad, but fortunately not fatal since there are other gins I love out there.  Are you listening, Hendrick's?

Fuck.  Heartache really sucks.  You'd think the booze would help, but it just makes the pain a little more duller rather than taking it away.  I must keep drinking...

Anyway, where was I?  Oh yeah, relationships are hard.  And when they end it's even harder.  Everyone gets their heart broken...just listen to popular music...about 75% of the songs are about heartache.  Or at least that's what it seems like to me as I type through my Tanqueray haze.  Hey, that's a good band name, Tanqueray Haze.  Except you'd get sued bigtime by the Diageo Corporation.

But you know who never gets her heart broken, and who instead breaks everyone else's hearts...and wallets?  It's Nana, the main character from Emile Zola's novel of the same name.  This book has sat on my shelf for years, and I finally decided to read it.  Good timing.  Nana takes place in Paris during the Second French Empire (1852-1870).  The novel opens in a Parisian theatre, where a mysterious new star named Nana is appearing in an operetta called The Blonde Venus.  Pre-show publicity has all of Paris talking excitedly about this Nana, but no one knows who she is.  When the 18-year old Nana takes the stage, she's not very good, and the audience is initially disappointed.  But then comes a scene where she appears as Venus, dressed in thin, see-through clothing.  At that point the audience is completely in her power.  Nana is so sexy and her body so perfect that she drives everyone insane with her sexual power.  From that point on she is pursued by many men of Parisian upper class society who want her as their lover.  And Nana is happy to oblige every one of them...for a price.  She is the hoe of all hoes of 19th century Paris.  The only real plot of the novel is how Nana uses and destroys each of the men that pursue her.  The novel is a litany of men who end up financially ruined because they gave all their money to Nana in exchange for sex.  She fucks them, uses them up, and throws them away.  They buy her houses, sell all their land to pay to go to bed with her, spend everything they own.  Then sometimes they kill themselves.  And she laughs when she breaks them.  She's certainly one of the most promiscuous characters I've encountered in literature.  She even has a fellow female prostitute as a lover.  In fact, one of the more funny scenes in the novel is when her current sugar daddy walks in on her having sex with her female friend.  He is appalled until she tells him not to worry, that all women do this to each other and it's just a thing all female friends do...they just never tell men about it.  His response is basically "Huh, OK.  Sorry I didn't know."  This book must have been a very titillating read back when it was written in 1880.  It seems much more modern than that, although it does get rather moralizing towards the end.

Nana is not a very sympathetic character.  Yet she's not totally unredeemed.  She can have this childlike innocence at times, and then this utter ruthlessness and heartlessness at other times.  She's quite emotionally damaged, and while she uses her sexuality to her full advantage I don't think she's evil at heart...she just doesn't think about the damage she's doing to the men who pursue her.  She's more thoughtless than evil.  Her attitude seems to be that it's their choice so why shouldn't she take advantage of them, which she does.  So bankruptcies occur, marriages are ruined, scandal is thrown about everywhere.  And she's an odd contradiction...she's not very smart, but she can be very cunning in her ways of managing to squeeze every last penny out of the men who flock to her.

It's obvious Zola doesn't approve of Nana or of the men who chase after her.  Yet he also seems to understand the incredible power of sex, which is why I think he makes Nana almost a caricature of female sexuality.  Men are like moths to a flame around her.  As I said, this novel seems so modern.  Not so much in the moralizing, but the realization that things haven't changed.  In Nana's time, women like her were called courtesans.  Nowadays they're called sugar babies.  There are websites today where young women can go online in search of sugar daddies...men who will pay their bills and rent, men who will "spoil" them, in exchange for sexual favors.  This novel makes it clear that's the way it's always been...older men have the money and younger women have the sexuality, and a trade is made one for the other.  Zola didn't approve, and you might not either, but it's part of the human condition and will never end.  Unlike my past relationship.  Sigh.  Time for another martini...rock on, Tanqueray Haze!!