While we’re all still buzzing about Twilight, it’s been a while since anything new has really hit the romance genre. But now that Crazy Rich Asians has come out and dazzled the box office, it’s time for other stories to shine. Or at least get a mention in the same sentence as the incredible adventures of Bella and co.
While the literary world was busy digesting the complexities of Charlie Chau’s story, an entirely different kind of phenomenon had begun. On his Instagram account, actor Robert Pattinson had quietly been posting behind-the-scenes snaps from the set of the film. And, as it turns out, he had a whole lot more to share. So much, in fact, that he decided to give his followers an insight into what it’s like to be the subject of a bestselling novel. Or rather, a whole series of bestselling novels.
The British actor and his Instagram followers have been eagerly anticipating the release of his eagerly anticipated new book, Bel Ami, since he first unveiled the title and stunning cover art in June 2018. The book is the romantic story of Émile Zola’s famous 1877 novel Nana, about a wealthy marriage broker who helps lonely men find the women of their dreams. While many fans were initially drawn to Nana because of its incredible female characters, it turns out that the character that they most associate with is not even in the book!
Émile Zola’s original title for Nana was simply Nanette, and while it is a rather plain and basic name, it’s not as innocent as it seems. In fact, Émile Zola’s Nana is a rather explicit novel about a courtesan named Nanette who has a very distinct appeal. Not unlike Pattinson’s own appeal as a Hollywood A-lister.
It might come as a shock to read that Émile Zola’s original title for Nana was Nanette rather than Nana. The former is a much more suitable and humble name for this novel. It wouldn’t be the first time that an author had changed the name of a character or a place in a novel due to its unpopularity. In Great Expectations, for example, the name of the town is changed to Dolby because it was the name of the company responsible for the great majority of the technological innovations that enabled the characters in the book to hear better. This was almost certainly the result of a marketing or editorial decision, not the work of an individual with a severe hearing impairment.
Blurring Genre Lines
When Émile Zola wrote Nana, the novel was seen as a serious threat to conventional gender roles and notions of propriety. In the story, the working class Nanette poses a direct challenge to the wealthy marriage broker and his associates. She flouts social conventions and publicly exposes their hypocritical attitudes. While many of Émile Zola’s novels have been banned, none of them have been more controversial than Nana. So it should come as no great surprise that Nana was initially titled Nanette rather than Nana. In fact, the publisher’s decision to go with the original title might even have been a marketing decision. After all, if somebody was going to challenge conventional gender roles and hypocrisies, it’s quite likely that they’d be interested in the book. But, ultimately, it’s Émile Zola who deserves the credit.
What Is Miele’s Advice for a Young Woman Seeking to Marry Well?
The advice that Miele offers to young women in the hope of finding true love is both practical and somewhat unconventional. She encourages them to aim for a life that is as open-minded as possible, and that is not afraid to experiment. She also recommends that they look for men who are kind and thoughtful rather than rich and powerful. Finally, she cautions them to avoid any man who doesn’t have a good sense of humor. It’s refreshing to see a leading woman in a romance novel give such sound advice, rather than the usual fare of shallow compliments and coy innuendos. This is a woman who knows what she’s talking about.
The Importance of Title and Cover Art
While Émile Zola’s original title for Nana was not as provocative as its infamous cover art, the novel is still considered by many to be the first modern coming-of-age story. In addition to being the author’s first success, the novel is also significant for being one of the first to be published to cater to a wide audience and blur the boundaries of genre. Émile Zola would go on to write 27 other novels, many of which are considered classics in their own right. In terms of literary style and technique, Nana is also significant for being among the first novels to use stream of consciousness as a narrative technique. This is quite probably why Émile Zola’s original title for Nana was changed to Nana. It was quite a risky decision to publish a novel with such strong sexual content about a young woman, and Émile Zola might have felt a little more protected by titling it Nana.
When discussing Émile Zola’s Nana, it’s important to remember that the novel is not primarily concerned with the courtship of Nanette and Alexandre. It deals, rather, with the transformation of a young girl named Lola into a woman, and it does so through the prism of the society that surrounds her. It is the nature of these societies and their conventions that Émile Zola explores with such extraordinary insight and wit, and provides such rich and colourful descriptive phrases. This is the great French author at his best.
Nana is, in many ways, the ultimate ‘empty basket’ character. She has no fixed personality, and exists purely as a means to an end. She is a reflection of the materialistic society around her – vain, superficial and promiscuous – and she flaunts this fact. She is, in many ways, the French version of the iconic nouveau riche character in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. What is interesting, however, is that Wilde based his novel on a true story, and the character of Dorian Gray in his novel is directly inspired by the image of Lord Alfred Douglas, the man who would become the famous poet and writer Oscar Wilde. It seems that Douglas was infatuated with Gray, and the two men were not shy about expressing their affections for each other in the public sphere. Much like the characters in Nana, Douglas and Gray were both publicly exposed as a result of their respective proclivities. But while Wilde’s Dorian Gray is a tragic figure whose beauty is, in many ways, an affront to the human condition, Émile Zola’s Lola is anything but. She is, at least initially, a source of amusement in the story. She is shallow and flippant, and she craves attention. She is, however, a cunning and scheming character who is not above using her body to attact wealthy, important men. It’s quite a volatile mixture, this blend of amusement and danger. This is, ultimately, why Émile Zola’s Nana is a fascinating work. It is both an incredible feat of imagination, and an important exploration of how the world will look from a young woman’s perspective.