The Assommoir is a place where my ill-conceived and poorly-executed thoughts are unwisely given space to breath, move, and live. I’ll be talking about various things that fascinate me to the point of obsession – loads of things interest me (man’s relationship with the natural environment, industrial engineering, social and political history, the back roads of Lincolnshire) but not enough for me to be that bothered about them. As such, The Assommoir will consider my obsessions: a narrow furrow of topics, but this is a furrow which will be deeply ploughed.
L’Assommoir, meanwhile, is a novel by Emile Zola, published in 1877 as part of his Rougon-Macquart series. Wikipedia describes it most succinctly as “a harsh and uncompromising study of alcoholism and poverty in the working-class districts of Paris”, which will do for me. The novel traces the sorry path of Gervaise Macquart, as her husband, the petite bourgeoisie aspirations she has for her laundry, and, ultimately, her whole life are slowly corroded and destroyed by the abuse of alcohol. The title itself was a colloquial expression for a drinking parlour serving rough liquor distilled sur place; it is this liquor which provokes the calamitous downfall in Gervaise’s life.
L’assommoir is one of those terms which doesn’t really directly translate. The verb assommer roughly translates as ‘to bludgeon’: for example, “il l’a assommé avec un seul coup” would probably be translated as “he decked him with a single punch” (or “felled him with a single blow” if we’re being unnecessarily flowery about it, which I usually am). Oddly, it now reminds me of the way Stella Artois is sometimes called wife-beater (nice). L’assommoir is a place where you would get hammered – it would be rough, dirty, and generally unpleasant.
I’ll confess I’m beginning to lose sight of the link between Zola’s Assommoir and my own; what can I say, it just feels right.
So, welcome to The Assommoir: please consume in moderation.