The Ladies Paradise (Vizetelly Translation, Unabridged)

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This English translation by Ernest Alfred Vizetelly, was published in It's a glitzy, fast paced Parisian drama depicting life at the world's first department store, revealing its many innovative marketing concepts, fashion, glamour, lust, greed, courage, deception, human foibles, and the vision and financial risk-taking that led to a world transformation in shopping -- one that set all the little shop keepers on their heads. All this is contrasted by our heroine Denise, a young sales woman who struggles through financial hardship, back-stabbing friendships, and incredible temptations with a quiet courage that helps her rise to the top.

As she passes through fire and emerges from it unscathed, we get Zola's masterful depiction of social upheaval and feminine resistance to evil. In the BBC used the novel as the basis for an eight-part television series set in northern England titled The Paradise. A second season followed in Play Chapter 1, Part 1. Chapter 1, Part 2. Chapter 2, Part 1. Chapter 2, Part 2. Chapter 3, Part 1. Chapter 3, Part 2. Chapter 4, Part 1. Chapter 4, Part 2.

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Chapter 4, Part 3. Chapter 5, Part 1. Chapter 5, Part 2. Chapter 5, Part 3. Chapter 6, Part 1. Chapter 6, Part 2. Chapter 7, Part 1. The novel tells the story of Denise Baudu, a year-old woman from Valognes who comes to Paris with her brothers and begins working at the department store Au Bonheur des Dames as a saleswoman. Zola describes the inner workings of the store from the employees' perspective, including the hour workdays, the substandard food and the bare lodgings for the female staff.

Many of the conflicts in the novel spring from the struggles for advancement and the malicious infighting and gossip among the staff. Au Bonheur des Dames is a sequel to "Pot-Bouille". Now a widower, Octave has expanded the business into an international retail powerhouse occupying at the beginning of the book most of an entire city block. Au Bonheur des Dames has been made into a number of films, television series and plays. I randomly selected this from a shelf because it said "as seen on TV" don't know what it was on TV but it was a lovely read. Set in the beginnings of the department store it follows the time of a single girl who came to the city as her life in the country has gone south.

April 2, 1840 – September 29, 1902

What most surprised me was that this novel was originally published in This was my first experience reading Zola and I loved every minute of it. I think what I really liked about this book was that, having worked in retail it was funny to see that not much has changed since the dawn of the department store in the late 's. Even back then office politics abound with the gossip as ruthless as ever. The employs constantly try to undermine their boss in hopes of taking his position while constantly complaining about the quality of customers they are getting.

In addition, Zola also looks at how the new retail world meant the death-knell for the old trade system of small independent shops of Paris and the despair it brings to their owner.

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While Zola makes it clear that he is in favor of the new retail world he points out that not everyone would gain from it. Although the cast is filled with well-rounded characters, the real stars of the book are the goods themselves. Zola goes into painstaking detail about the different quality of cloth and silks as well as the numerous garments that were popular at the time.

If there is anything lacking in the book I would say it's the love story between Octave Mouret, the owner of Au Bonheur des Dames and Denise Baudu, the leading lady and new arrival to Paris. Its not that its bad, just that I felt it was drawn out too long and really to a back seat to Zola exploring the world of the department store. Overall it was a great read and one I say you defiantly should read if you ever worked in retail as you can laugh along with the employees of Au Bonheur des Dames going through situations you have probably found yourself in.

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This book can be approached on three levels: as a somewhat conventional 19th century love story, as a study of the inner workings of the retailing business in the late 19th century, and as an indictment of the rampant consumerism. First, the love story: Denise and her two younger brothers have come to Paris, where their uncle, a small shopkeeper, had promised her a position in his shop after their parents died.

When they arrive at their uncle's store, Denise finds that the store is suffering and her uncle is unable to offer her a position, primarily because a large and growing establishment, The Ladies' Paradise, is siphoning off his customers. Other small shops in the area are also in decline, and Denise feels fortunate to obtain a position at The Ladies' Paradise.

The owner of The Ladies' Paradise is Octave Mouret, who was featured in the previous Rougon-Macquart novel Pot Luck; however, none of the characters or events in that novel spill over to the current novel.

In the interval between the two books, Octave has married the widow of the owner of The Ladies' Paradise, she has died in an accident, and he has succeeded to sole ownership. Octave is now a wealthy womanizer, seducing and discarding shopgirls on a regular basis. Initially he is not attracted to Denise, who is described as slight, and somewhat plain, except for a magnificent mane of hair. Denise overcomes a series of hardships, including the disdain of her fellow shopgirls, and Octave gradually takes notice of her and attempts to seduce her. She resists, focuses on her work and family, and is able to work her way into positions of greater responsibility and compensation. Denise gradually comes to love Octave, but doesn't want to be another of his throwaways. She holds out for marriage, and in the end he marries her, and I guess they live happily ever after.

This story-line aspect of the novel is the weakest part of the book and the part I liked least.

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In fact, it was due to my recollection of this story-line that I almost skipped this one in my Rougon-Macquart challenge, since I had initially read it within the last 10 years. While I liked Denise's character, especially in the beginning when she felt something like Jane Eyre to me, after a while she began to grate on me as being too perfect. I found myself wondering what a Dickens heroine was doing in a Zola novel. And, as noted above, unlike any other Zola novel I've read, there's a sappy, happy ending.

It gives us an insider's view of the inner-workings of a major department store at the end of the 19th century, when surprisingly many of the retailing techniques we think of as modern were beginning to be utilized.

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We see the nitty-gritty mechanics of the business, including the living arrangements of the shopgirls in dorms over the shop , how receipts are collected and counted, how inventory is controlled, how deliveries are made, even how shoplifters are treated. In addition, we watch as Octave institutes the innovations that allow him to drive the small shopowners out of business and maximize profits.

For example, he begins partially basing compensation of the sales force on their sales receipts: "To make people do their best--and to keep them honest--it was necessary to excite their selfish desires first. He adopts a policy allowing returns, on the theory that the belief that an item can be returned will induce a customer to buy more--will be the tipping factor for whether to purchase an item or not.

He scientifically arranges the merchandise and the location of the departments so each customer will have to traverse a larger portion of the store and make impulse purchases. The grand innovation of course is the development of a store in which many categories of goods are sold, rather than just one--the "department" store. Mouret exploits the greed of his customers. He lures them in with low-advertised prices on a particular item, knowing that the enjoyment of buyers "is doubled when they think they are robbing the tradesman.

Many of the new retailing techniques are based on a low opinion of the customer. For the most part the customer is female, and as a woman she is implicitly compared to the victim of sexual seduction: "Mouret's unique passion was to conquer woman. He wished her to be queen in her house, and he had built this temple to get her completely at his mercy. His sole aim was to intoxicate her with gallant attentions, and traffic on her desires, work on her fever.

Night and day he racked his brain to invent fresh attractions. They had awakened new desires in her flesh; they were an immense temptation, before which she succumbed fatally, yielding at first to reasonable purchases of useful articles for the household, then tempted by their coquetry, then deoured. In increasing their business tenfold, in popularizing luxury, they became a terrible spending agency, ravaging the households, working up the fashionable folly of the hour, always dearer.

And if woman reigned in their shops like a queen, cajoled, flattered, overwhelmed with attentions, she was an amorous one, on whom her subjects traffic, and who pays with a drop of her blood each fresh caprice.

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  8. A brilliant book about the retail industry. It's about daring schemes to cut prices to the bone, and how that means pressure to increase turnover so that a smaller percentage of profit on many sales outweighs a larger profit on few. And it's about how it feels to work in retail, the necessary small insincerities, the infuriating situation of not being able to answer back no matter what, the office politics on the shop floor, the exhaustion and sore feet and meticulous tedium of keeping control of the stock, the mutual disdain between big store and independent shop.

    It's a negative take on the job, but recognisable. Oh, yes. There is a love story in there too. This grips me less, as the principals are exasperating. She is abused and overwrought and made a drudge by family, by bosses, workmates, customers and passing strangers.