Jacques Damour (one English translation calls it Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder) is a short story by Émile Zola, published first in Vestnik Evropy in August 1880, then in his short story collection Naïs Micoulin in 1884. In 1887 Léon Hennique turned it into a play.
The story is divided into five chapters and begins,
Sometimes, as he sat beside the sea, scanning the black horizon, visions of his past would flit through Jacques Damour's mind: the hardship of the siege, the savage fighting with the Commune and the final brutal wrench which tore him from his home, to land up, broken and bewildered, in this faraway Pacific island of Noumea. This was no recollection of pleasant times, of love and affection, but the dull brooding of an enfeebled mind returning, again and again, to certain unchangeable, precise facts that alone stood out amidst the general collapse of everything.
Jacques, Zola goes on, had married Félicie, "a tall and beautiful girl of eighteen, the daughter of a greengrocer in the Villette quarter of Paris, from whom he had rented a room". They had a son and daughter and, in Zola's words, "were not an unhappy family". This family however were split in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71); first they were impoverished as many of the French were in war time, and then, as the war raged on, Jacques decided to leave his family to join the army. He was taken prisoner then deported to Noumea. For a while he remained in touch with Félicie, however he soon became aware that her letters were becoming more and more infrequent until finally ceasing. He attempts to escape, and narrowly escapes with his life, but it is reported that he in fact died. When he finally returns home some years later to find Félicie, he is told she has remarried. Nevertheless he goes to see her, and her husband, and tries to reconcile.
As stories go this is a very simply one in terms of plot, but, as ever, Zola does it so very well. As with many of Zola's other novels we see the effects of the Second French Empire and its downfall with the Franco Prussian War, and how it affects an individual group or person. Jacques, to all intents and purposes, was a normal man who married and started a family, however his family and his life were torn apart by forces external to him. Unlike some of Zola's other works though it isn't without hope. Things do not turn out as Jacques would have hoped, however there is a sense of peace that Jacques finally reaches. It's an excellent story, deeply uncomfortable at times and Zola portrays the awkwardness of Jacques and Félice's meeting brilliantly. I found it also interesting to compare with The Death of Olivier Becaille, another story from Naïs Micoulin, which also involves a supposed death and its consequences on an individual and his family.
And that was my 21st title for the Deal Me In Challenge. Next week - The Queen Who Flew by Ford Madox Ford.