It was the summer of 1910. Wispy cirrus clouds skittered nervously across a pale sky as Lily Briscoe, brush in hand, stood before her easel at the edge of the lawn in front of the Ramsay’s house. From where she was standing she had a clear view of the sea and the rocky coastline of the Isle of Skye, and then, at some distance from the shore and standing out starkly in the soft summer light, the lighthouse, a tall, solitary pharos on a rock barely the size of a tennis court. But her canvas was empty…
A report by Caleb Sivyer on the first BookTalk of the 2015/16 season, which took place on 19 Nov 2015: a “dark listening” of Emile Zola’s turgid tale of sexuality and insanity, La Bête humaine.
But by now every telegraph bell along the line was ringing, and every heart beat faster at the news of this ghost train that had just been seen passing through Rouen and Sotteville. People were afraid: there was an express travelling further up the line, it would surely be caught. Like a wild boar charging through a forest, the train continued on its way, oblivious to red signals and detonators alike. At Oissel it nearly collided with a pilot-engine; it brought terror to Pont-de-l’Arche, for its speed showed no sign of slackening. Once more it vanished, and on it raced, onward and onward into the dark night, bound they know not where, simply onward. What did it matter what victims it crushed in its path! Was it not, after all heading into the future, heedless of the blood that was spilled?— Émile Zola, La Bête humaine (1890), ch. 12
In the frenzy of his desire to have her, and excited by her caresses, Jacques, having no other weapon, was already stretching out his fingers to strangle Severine when she herself, from habit, turned and put out the lamp. Then he took her, and they lay together. It was one of their most passionate nights of love, and best of all, the only time when they had felt completely merged together, completely obliterated each in the other.— Émile Zola, La Bête humaine (1890), ch. 11
Left on his own, Jacques remained where he was and continued to gaze at the still, slumped heap, which appeared no more than a blurred mass in the dim lamplight cast along the ground. And the inner agitation that had quickened his steps, the horrible fascination that kept him standing there, culminated in one piercing insight that burst from the depths of his being: that man, the one he’d seen with the knife in his fist, he had dared! that man had travelled the distance of his desire, that man had killed! Oh! to stop being a coward, to have the satisfaction at last, to plunge the knife in! And what about him, who’d spent the last ten years desperately wanting to do just that! There was, in the midst of his fevered interest, a measure of self-contempt, of admiration for the other man, and above all the need to see the thing for himself, an unquenchable thirst to drink in the spectacle of the tatter of humanity, the broken puppet, the limp rag, to which a living creature is reduced by the mere stab of a knife. What he only dreamt about that other man had done, and there it was. If he were to kill, that’s what would be lying on the ground. His pulse raced madly, and his violent itch to kill grew fiercer, like a sexual urge, at the sight of this sorry corpse. He took a step forward, drew closer, like a nervous child coming to terms with its fears. Yes! He would dare, he too would dare!— Émile Zola, La Bête humaine (1890), ch. 2
On 19 November 2015, we’ll be hosting our first 2015/16 BookTalk event: a ‘dark listening’ of the ninth episode from the Season 1 of the BBC’s forthcoming radio adaptation of Émile Zola’s Rougon-Macquart novel series. Find out more here!