The Death of Olivier Becaille by Émile François Zola (late 1800s)
Tuesday’s Tale of Terror December 8, 2015
Her kisses were the last. Olivier Becaille is dead. His wife Marguerite drops to her knees beside his bed and covers his hands with kisses. “Olivier, answer me. Oh, my God, he is dead, dead!”
But Olivier thinks, no, death is not complete annihilation. He could still hear and think, but could not move a single muscle or utter a single sound. Olivier desires to say to Marguerite, “No, my darling I was only asleep. You see I am alive and I love you.”
A doctor arrives and confirms it. The man is indeed dead and funeral and burial preparations are made.
I wanted to cry out that I was not dead! My last hope vanished. If I did not wake before eleven on the morrow I should be buried alive. The coffin had been dragged into the center of the room.
What is more terrifying than being buried alive? This story by Émile Zola is truly a tale of terror. You might recall another famous story by Poe The Premature Burial, another somewhat gruesome tale on this literary theme (catalepsy, a physical condition that mimicks death). This story, I promise you, has high emotional suspense. The ending is heart-breaking; I dare you not to gasp.
Paul Cezanne reading to Émile Zola
Émile Zola, a Nobel Prize nominee in 1901 and 1902 was a writer who exemplified 19th century literary realism, known as naturalism (everyday reality as opposed to Surrealism or Romanticism). One of Zola’s more famous quotes: “I am little concerned with beauty or perfection. I don’t care for the great centuries. All I care about is life, struggle, intensity.”
You can read The Death of Olivier Becaille at Gutenberg.org.
For the ultimate appreciation of this author (and since there is no audio version of The Death of Olivier Becaille) I found an audio by Librivox of Zola’s Jean Gourdon’s Four Days. This is an exquisite short story of four singular days, in spring, summer, autumn, winter, in Jean’s life and his love of Babet. Tender romance, war, tragedy, family trials, and the famously wild Durance River. The pastoral descriptions are vivid, the prose evocative by a writer who clearly is a master of naturalism literature. I absolutely loved this story for its deep expression and the arc of one man’s life told in a space of four days. Please sit back and have a listen to what is probably Zola’s finest piece of fiction.
Listen to Jean Gourdon’s Four Days by Librivox (1.75 hours), at YouTube.com.
Read Jean Gourdon’s Four Days (1880) at OnlineLiterature.com (novella length, about 80 pages)
If you’d like to actually see the famous Durance River and have a heart-stopping visual of this river in France, visit this YouTube video link for a 4-minute ride on its rapids. La Durance
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