Au Bonheur des Dames

Au Bonheur des Dames (French pronunciation: ​[obɔnœʁ deˈdam]; The Ladies' Delight or The Ladies' Paradise) is the eleventh novel in the Rougon-Macquart series by Émile Zola. It was first serialized in the periodical Gil Blas and published in novel form by Charpentier in 1883.

The ladies' paradise
Au Bonheur des Dames manuscript.jpg
Au Bonheur des Dames manuscript
AuthorÉmile Zola
SeriesLes Rougon-Macquart
PublisherCharpentier (book form)
Publication date
1883 (serial and book form)
Media typePrint (Serial, Hardback, and Paperback)
Preceded byPot-Bouille 
Followed byLa joie de vivre 

The novel is set in the world of the department store, an innovative development in mid-nineteenth century retail sales. Zola models his store after Le Bon Marché, which consolidated under one roof many of the goods hitherto sold in separate shops. The narrative details many of Le Bon Marché's innovations, including its mail-order business, its system of commissions, its in-house staff commissary, and its methods of receiving and retailing goods.

Au Bonheur des Dames is a sequel to Pot-Bouille. Like its predecessor, Au Bonheur des Dames focuses on Octave Mouret, who at the end of the previous novel married Caroline Hédouin, the owner of a small silk shop. Now a widower, Octave has expanded the business into an international retail powerhouse occupying, at the beginning of the book, the greater part of an entire city block.

Plot summaryEdit

The events of Au Bonheur des Dames cover approximately 1864-1869.

The novel tells the story of Denise Baudu, a 20-year-old woman from Valognes who comes to Paris with her younger brothers and begins working as a saleswoman at the department store "Au Bonheur des Dames". Zola describes the inner workings of the store from the employees' perspective, including the 13-hour workdays, the substandard food and the bare lodgings for the female staff. Many of the conflicts in the novel spring from each employee's struggle for advancement and the malicious infighting and gossip among the staff.

Denise's story is played against the career of Octave Mouret, the owner of Au Bonheur des Dames, whose retail innovations and store expansions threaten the existence of all the neighborhood shops. Under one roof, Octave has gathered textiles (silks, woolens) as well as all manner of ready-made garments (dresses, coats, lingerie, gloves), accessories necessary for making clothes, and ancillary items like carpeting and furniture. His aim is to overwhelm the senses of his female customers, forcing them to spend by bombarding them with an array of buying choices and by juxtaposing goods in enticing and intoxicating ways. Massive advertising, huge sales, home delivery, and a system of refunds and novelties such as a reading room and a snack bar further induce his female clientele to patronize his store in growing numbers. In the process, he drives the traditional retailers who operate smaller speciality shops out of business.

In Pot-Bouille, an earlier novel, Octave is depicted as a ladies' man, sometimes inept, who seduces or attempts to seduce women who can give him some social or financial advantage. In Au Bonheur des Dames, he uses a young widow to influence a political figure–modeled after Baron Haussmann–in order to gain frontage access to a huge thoroughfare, the present day rue de Quatre-Septembre, for the store.

Despite his contempt for women, Octave finds himself slowly falling in love with Denise, whose refusal to be seduced by his charms further inflames him. The book ends with Denise admitting her love for Octave and agreeing to marry him.

The depiction of women is modern. The department store is described as a place where female customers can live out their fantasies and impulses; for the female employees, it offers the possibility of financial independence.[1]

Relationship to the other Rougon-Macquart novelsEdit

Zola designed the Rougon-Macquart novels to demonstrate how heredity and environment operate on the members of one family over the course of the Second French Empire. In this case, the environment is the department store.

Octave Mouret is introduced briefly in La fortune des Rougon. He plays a larger but background role in La conquête de Plassans, which focuses on his parents, the first cousins Marthe Rougon and François Mouret. As an innovator and risk-taker, Octave combines his mother's imagination with his father's business sense, making the department store the perfect milieu for his natural gifts.

Octave's brother is the priest Serge (La faute de l'Abbé Mouret), who served as a guardian to their mentally challenged sister Desirée.

In Le docteur Pascal, the final novel in the series set in 1872-1873, Octave and Denise are married and have three children. Octave also appears briefly or is mentioned in La joie de vivre and L'œuvre.


The novel has been adapted for film several times.

The BBC used the novel as the basis for a 2012 eight-part television series set in northern England titled The Paradise.[2] It starred Joanna Vanderham and Emun Elliott. The BBC launched a second series in October 2013.

The novel was also adapted as an Italian language television series in 2015, Il Paradiso delle Signore, which has run for several seasons and stars Giuseppe Zeno and Giusy Buscemi.

The novel was adapted for the stage, with the title The Department Store, by Justin Fleming, and was premiered at The Old Fitzroy Theatre Sydney in 2005, directed by Christopher Hurrell.

The novel was adapted into a play for BBC Radio 4 that premiered in September 2010.[3]


  • Shop Girls of Paris (1883, tr. Mary Neal Sherwood, T.B. Peterson & Bros.)
  • The Ladies' Paradise (1883, tr. Frank Belmont, Tinsley Bros.)
  • The Ladies' Paradise (1895, tr. Ernest Alfred Vizetelly, Hutchinson & Co.)
  • Ladies' Delight (1957, tr. April Fitzlyon, John Calder)
  • The Ladies Paradise (1995, tr. Brian Nelson, Oxford University Press)[4]
  • Au Bonheur des Dames (The Ladies' Delight) (2001, tr. Robin Buss, Penguin Books)[5]

See alsoEdit


  • Brown, F. (1995). Zola: A life. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
  • Zola, E. Au Bonheur des Dames, translated as The Ladies' Paradise by Brian Nelson (1995).
  • Zola, E. Au Bonheur des Dames, translated as The Ladies' Delight by Robin Buss (2002).
  • Zola, E. Le doctor Pascal, translated as Doctor Pascal by E. A. Vizetelly (1893).


  1. ^ Lubrich, Naomi (2015). “Der Vampir im Warenhaus. Eine Metapher wird lebendig in Émile Zolas Au Bonheur des Dames” in: Orbis Litterarum: International Review of Literary Studies. 70:6 (in German). pp. 474–502.
  2. ^ Walker, Tim (September 15, 2012). "'The Paradise' star says BBC show 'brought forward' to prevent new ratings battle with ITV". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved September 24, 2012. The Paradise, which stars Joanna Vanderham is an adaptation of The Ladies' Paradise, the classic novel by Émile Zola, with the action relocated from France to northern England, where the country's first department store is opened in 1875.
  3. ^ "Classic Serial - Emile Zola - The Ladies' Delight".
  4. ^ The Ladies Paradise (Au Bonheur des Dames); first trans. by Brian Nelson in 1995. Oxford World's Classics. ISBN 978-0-19-953690-0 (re-issued 2008)
  5. ^ Au Bonheur des Dames; first trans. by Robin Buss in 2001. Penguin Classics. ISBN 978-0-14-044783-5 (re-issued 2004)

External linksEdit