Monday, July 18, 2011

"Story of a Madman" by Emile Zola

This week, I returned to Dead Men Tell No Tales and Other Stories by Emile Zola.  "Story of a Madman" (1868) is reputed to have many plot similarities to his novel Therese Raquin, published just a year earlier. The first paragraph captured my attention, touted similarities appeared in the second, and by the third paragraph, I had no doubt where the story was headed.

Forty year old Isidore-Jean-Louis Maurin marries the 18-year-old blonde daughter of one of his tenants, but Henriette soon begins to cheat on him with a young doctor from the flat upstairs.
"Their close proximity, the fact that they were separated from each other by nothing more than the thickness of a ceiling, sharpened their desire still more. At night, the lover could hear the husband coughing in bed."
After a few weeks, Henriette ran out of excuses for visiting the second floor and a plan to get rid of Maurin was hatched.
"They were reluctant to resort to violence or crime. How could you possibly slit the throat of such a tame sheep? Besides, they were afraid of being found out and sent to the guillotine. In any case, the doctor, who was an ingenious young man, hit on a less risky by equally effective method, the bizarre nature of which fired the young woman's romantic imagination."
Henriette staged several incidents which suggested her husband's madness. Compounded by gossip of neighbors, all of Maurin's actions are eventually construed as those of a madman, and he is taken away.

Forcible confinement of the allegedly insane was a timely issue in the late 1800's, and still evokes strong feelings today. Zola utilized the themes of madness and guilt very successfully in Therese Raquin and would return to them again in parts of the later Rougon-Macquart novel La Conquete de Plassans of 1874.

Unfortunately, I was not able to find "Story of a Madman" online, but if the plot interests you, I would strongly recommend reading Therese Raquin. My thoughts on that novel can be found here.

Short Story Monday is hosted by John Mutford at The Book Mine SetKaren and Tamara are the hosts of Paris in July.


  1. When you talk about confinement of the "mad" I think of The Yellow Wallpaper. Love these kinds of stories.

  2. A fascinating topic indeed! And like Sandy I immediately thought of The Yellow Wallpaper.

  3. Ha! I thought exactly what Ana and Sandy said..I feel smart today!! I want to read it!

  4. I'm trying to think of a similar type book I once read??? This one does interest me -- nice post!

  5. Sandy - Me, too! And it's funny because John wrote about The Yellow Wallpaper this week.

    Nymeth - Quite a coincidence that John wrote about The Yellow Wallpaper. Here's his post:

    Staci - Too funny! Check out John's post (link above)

    Diane - This type of plot always interests me, too.


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