The Miller's Daughter by Emile Zola

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Have you guys heard of Daily Lit? I first discovered them when Melody from Fingers & Prose posted about it. Basically, Daily Lit sends you a bit of a story in your email, as often as you want. It really caught my attention, because there are many books I feel that I should but really don't want to. For me, reading is a leisure activity. I only took one English class in college. There are plenty of heavy classics that I enjoy. But there are also plenty of heavy classics that I am scared to read (such The Canterbury Tales, which I am currently receiving in my inbox). I thought this would be a good way for me to expose myself to things everyone MUST read, but which seemed too intense for my little science-oriented brain.

My first experiment into Daily Lit was The Miller's Daughter by Emile Zola. I took a French literature course in Paris, and we read some excerpts from Zola and Balzac and Proust, but all in French. They were interesting and often lovely, but very difficult. Too difficult for me to read in their entirety in French. I have been thinking ever since that I should try some translations, so this was a good place for me to start.

The Miller's Daughter is a shorter tale that begins with the celebration of the owner of the windmill's daughter's (get it?) betrothal to a foreigner, Dominique. As the celebration begins, Prussian soldiers invade and use the windmill as a fortress. They soon threaten the lives of Dominique and Pere Merlier (the father), and Francoise, the daughter, must struggle to find a way to protect her loved ones (and the mill, which is the pride of Pere Merlier's existence).

While at first I found the story a bit slow, it soon swept me up with its humanity and pathos. The Merliers and Dominique are victims of circumstance. They have been quietly living their rural lives when fighters in a conflict they hardly care about begin making life and death decisions for them. Francoise at first seems like a silly girl who is in love with the only available man in town, but her quandary soon shows her to be a resourceful, resolute woman who is willing to risk herself to save those she loves. While at first the characters seemed rather flat, their behavior in the face of opposition showed them to be good people who were willing to fight.

The language was also quite lovely at times. I don't know who did the translation, but I felt that it didn't hinder the story. My favorite line: "The selfishness of her tenderness desired that he should live before everything." We don't usually think of love as selfish, especially when it aims to preserve the beloved. However, when that survival is at the cost of honor, dignity, or the life of another, it can be, and almost is in Francoise's case.

While this story wasn't life-shaking for me, I enjoyed it, and I think it was a good gateway into more of Zola's work. I'm not in any rush to pick it up, but I am no longer afraid of it. I do think that I possibly would have gotten more from The Miller's Daughter had I read it more continuously - as I wrote this review I found there were many holes in my memory of it. However, I don't think I would have ever looked into it without Daily Lit, so I think it was a good choice overall.

Accessibility: Quite
Literary Merit/Aesthetics: 3.5
Plot: 3
Characters: 3
Personal Response: 3
Overall: 3


  1. Hey, thanks for the mention, that was nice! I'm glad you gave Daily Lit a shot. It's an interesting concept, and it has been playing out for me pretty much in the same way you mentioned--I'd like to be reading a book in a more continuous manner, but if the choice is to read it in bits or not at all...bits don't sound so bad. :)

  2. I adore Zola! I will definitely add this to my list.

  3. @Melody - no problem! I am glad you posted about Daily Lit in the first place.

    @Amanda - I hope you like it! I need to read another by him soon. I admire you for reading so many books in French, have you read any Zola in French yet?


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