I think this is one of the most depressing stories I have ever read. Like Jude the Obscure
, this is the kind of story that leaves you feeling cold...almost like you’ve been punched in the gut...an experience akin to a kind of betrayal. The Masterpiece
is truly an awful story, yet Zola somehow manages to infuse a kind of beauty into his prose that counteracts the harsh naturalistic point of view that typically dominates Zola’s work. To reflect the artist Claude’s internal conflicts between romanticism and realism, and realism versus naturalism, the format and progression of Zola’s novel likewise illustrates that same struggle. As you are reading you do get that sense of battle of the old vs. the new in terms of style and description. Even at the end, there is no real sense of a true victor...a kind of defeat that almost mirrors the artist’s. Whether this was intentional or not, I loved how Zola achieved this.
I loved the artist’s point of view...how art colors the prose in regards to how Paris and the country are viewed. It forces the reader to focus on little details that would typically be overlooked. It beautifully reflects Claude’s own art...those flecks of paint and color that might initially seem jarring, yet when taken together and reflected upon, it all makes sense. Initially, when I read those descriptions of Claude’s blue trees, I felt exactly like Christine...blue trees? I couldn’t picture it. Yet when I went to the new Van Gogh exhibit at the PMA this week, on top of all of those layers of paint, I couldn’t help but notice those same blue trees in many of Van Gogh’s landscapes. ;) Claude’s visions finally made sense in my mind. They were beautiful.
Zola was relentless in punishing Claude and Christine. It was savage...so horrible. And yet it is described in such a way that the reader shares and experiences everything they feel. While some of the comments Claude makes are truly evil—he is certainly not portrayed as a saintly martyr—I don’t believe he deserved all of the misery that befalls him. Since Claude was partially modeled off of Zola’s childhood friend Cezanne, I can understand why Cezanne would have wanted to part ways with his friend after The Masterpiece
Out of the other Zola novels that I have so far read, this one is markedly different. It doesn’t have that social satire present in his Octave Moret novels or the harsh addiction and vice prevalent in Nana
. There is more of a sense of tragedy here, somewhat reminiscent of the Thomas Hardy novels I love—though Zola adds his own characteristically dark naturalistic flare to the drama.