Son Excellence Eugène Rougon is the one
existing French novel which gives the reader a fair general idea of what
occurred in political spheres at an important period of the Empire. It
is a book for foreigners and particularly Englishmen to read with profit,
for there are yet many among them who cherish the delusion that Napoléon
III. was not only a good and true friend of England, but also a wise and
beneficent ruler of France; and this, although his reign began with bloodshed
and trickery, was prolonged by means of innume-rable subterfuges, and
ended in woe, horror, and disgrace...
There is, of course, some fiction
in the book; but, again and again, page after page, I have found a simple
record of fact, just deftly adapted to suit the requirements of the narrative.
The history of the Second Empire is probably as familiar to me as it is
to M. Zola himself – for, like him, I grew to manhood in its midst, with
better opportunities, too, than he had of observing certain of its distinguishing
features – and thus I have been able to identify innumerable incidents
and allusions, and trace to their very source some of the most curious
passages in the book.
And it is for this reason, and by virtue of my own
knowledge and experience, that I claim for His Excellency the merit of
reflecting things as they really were in the earlier years of the Imperial
(Ernest Alfred Vizetelly)
More info about the Rougon-Macquart series at Wikipedia.