Émile Zola died in 1902 and gives us a social overview of France, people caught between all kinds of pressures and changing circumstances and disruptions.
La Curée (1871–72; English translation: “The Kill”) is the second novel in Émile Zola’s 20-volume series Les Rougon-Macquart. It deals with property speculation and the lives of the extremely wealthy nouveau riche (“new money”) of the Second French Empire (1852-1870), against the backdrop of Baron Haussmann’s reconstruction of Paris in the 1850s and 1860s.
The Second French Empire, (officially the French Empire, French: Empire français), was the regime of Napoleon III from 1852 to 1870, between the Second Republic (1848-1852) and the Third Republic (1870 to 1940).
Zola’s other novels such as L’Assommoir (“The Drinking Salon”) also have various kinds of “urban renewal” as backdrop.
Baron Haussmann, who died in 1891, was the “czar” of Parisian urban renewal and the speculation fever and real estate manipulating and maneuvering were echoes of Haussmann Paris.
Think of Robert Moses in New York a few decades ago and his remaking of NYC to fit automobiles and Jane Jacobs’s bitter struggle against Moses with her cars-should-adjust-to-the-city and not cities-to-cars view.
In Japan, in recent decades, real estate “nouveaux riches” are called “tochi narikin” (Japanese: 『土地成金』, “land rich”) and are similar to Zola’s “little foxes” since the way money was made was to know in advance via insider knowledge where railroads (say) were slated to be built and which stretches of land would be therefore needed and acquired by the government at any price (in the absence of “eminent domain”).
The debates and tensions raging around the Baron Haussmann Parisian bulldozing were obviously not about cars but the nature of the tensions was similar. Another dimension of these urban renewal “revolutions” was the impact on renters.
Thus Zola and his “society and social novels” do have “echoic” lessons for us and are “raw material” for “then and now” thinking which is a pillar of meta-intelligence (i.e., perspective-enhancing).
Then and now thinking helps students get some sense of long-term trends or resonances and to get away from history-started-this-morning myopia.