There can be no doubt
in the mind of the judicial critic that in the pages of A Love Episode (French original title: Une page d'amour the reader finds more of the poetical,
more of the delicately artistic, more of the subtle emanation of creative
and analytical genius, than in any other of Zola's works...
In all literature
there is nothing like the portrayal of the punishment of Helene Grandjean.
Helene and little Jeanne are reversions of type. The old "neurosis,"
seen in earlier branches of the family, reappears in these characters.
Readers of the series will know where it began. Poor little Jeanne, most
pathetic of creations, is a study in abnormal jealousy, a jealousy which
seems to be clairvoyant, full of supernatural intuitions, turning everything
to suspicion, a jealousy which blights and kills. Could the memory of
those weeks of anguish fade from Helene's soul?
This dying of a broken
heart is not merely the figment of a poet's fancy. It has happened in
real life. The coming of death, save in the case of the very aged, seems,
nearly always, brutally cruel, at least to those friends who survive.
(C. C. Starkweather)
More info about the Rougon-Macquart series at Wikipedia.