Upton Sinclair, ed. (18781968). The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest. 1915.
By By Émile Zola
(French novelist, 18401902, founder of the school of Naturalism. The present is one of his later works, in which he indicates his hope of the regeneration of French society. The hero is a Catholic priest who first attempts to reform the Church, and then leaves it)
PIERRE remembered that frightful house in the Rue des Saules, where so much want and suffering were heaped up. He saw again the yard filthy like a quagmire, the evil-smelling staircases, the sordid, bare, icy rooms, the families fighting for messes which even stray dogs would not have eaten; the mothers, with exhausted breasts, carrying screaming children to and fro; the old men who fell in corners like brute beasts, and died of hunger amidst filth. And then came his other hours with the magnificence or the quietude or the gaiety of the salons through which he had passed, the whole insolent display of financial Paris, and political Paris, and society Paris. And at last he came to the dusk, and to that Paris-Sodom and Paris-Gomorrah before him, which was lighting itself up for the night, for the abominations of that accomplice night which, like fine dust, was little by little submerging the expanse of roofs. And the hateful monstrosity of it all howled aloud under the pale sky where the first pure, twinkling stars were gleaming.
A great shudder came upon Pierre as he thought of all that mass of iniquity and suffering, of all that went on below amid wealth and vice. The bourgeoisie, wielding power, would relinquish naught of the sovereignty which it had conquered, wholly stolen; while the people, the eternal dupe, silent so long, clenched its fists and growled, claiming its legitimate share. And it was that frightful injustice which filled the growing gloom with anger. From what dark-breasted cloud would the thunderbolt fall? For years he had been waiting for that thunderbolt, which low rumbles announced on all points of the horizon. And if he had written a book full of candour and hope, if he had gone in all innocence to Rome, it was to avert that thunderbolt and its frightful consequences. But all hope of the kind was dead within him; he felt that the thunderbolt was inevitable, that nothing henceforth could stay the catastrophe. And never before had he felt it to be so near, amidst the happy impudence of some, and the exasperated distress of others. It was gathering, and it would surely fall over that Paris, all lust and bravado, which, when evening came, thus stirred up its furnace.