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Jean Gourdon’s Four Days

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Jean Gourdon’s Four Days

by Emile Zola

Genre: Drama
Format of Original Source: Novella
Recommended Adaptation Length:

Candidate for Adaptation? Not Reviewed


Then they returned among the leaves. Their brown jackets formed patches in the verdure. And the women, bareheaded, with small blue handkerchiefs round their necks, were stooping down singing. There were children rolling in the sun, in the stubble, giving utterance to shrill laughter and enlivening this open-air workshop with their turbulency. Large carts remained motionless at the edge of the field waiting for the grapes; they stood out prominently against the clear sky, whilst men went and came unceasingly, carrying away full baskets, and bringing back empty ones.

I confess that in the centre of this field, I had feelings of pride. I heard the ground producing beneath my feet; ripe age ran all powerful in the veins of the vine, and loaded the air with great puffs of it. Hot blood coursed in my flesh, I was as if elevated by the fecundity overflowing from the soil and ascending within me. The labour of this swarm of work-people was my doing, these vines were my children; this entire farm became my large and obedient family. I experienced pleasure in feeling my feet sink into the heavy land.

Then, at a glance, I took in the fields that sloped down to the Durance, and I was the possessor of those vines, those meadows, that stubble, those olive-trees. The house stood all white beside the oak-tree walk; the river seemed like a fringe of silver placed at the edge of the great green mantle of my pasture-land. I fancied, for a moment, that my frame was increasing in size, that by stretching out my arms, I would be able to embrace the entire property, and press it to my breast, trees, meadows, house, and ploughed land.

And as I looked, I saw one of our servant-girls racing, out of breath, up the narrow pathway that ascended the hill. Confused by the speed at which she was travelling, she stumbled over the stones, agitating both her arms, and hailing us with gestures of bewilderment. I felt choking with inexpressible emotion.

“Uncle, uncle,” I shouted, “look how Marguerite’s running. I think it must be for to-day.”

My uncle Lazare turned quite pale. The servant had at length reached the plateau; she came towards us jumping over the vines. When she reached me, she was out of breath; she was stifling and pressing her hands to her bosom.

“Speak!” I said to her. “What has happened?”

She heaved a heavy sigh, agitated her hands, and finally was able to pronounce this single word:


I waited for no more.

“Come! come quick, uncle Lazare! Ah! my poor dear Babet!”


Zola has structured a short novella based on four days in the life of his hero, covering the span of his life. Courting a girl; serving in the army; the birth of a son; the death of a beloved. Zola’s close-ups on nouns and small actions are interesting from a literary standpoint, but don’t really add up to theatricality. You might borrow the conceit, and invent new characters/details.


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