Finding your way through La Débâcle

‘Sir,’ explained Sambu, unperturbed, ‘we and our comrades are occupying Dieulet Wood…’
‘Dieulet Wood? Where’s that, then?’
‘Between Stenay and Mouzon, sir.’
‘Stenay, Mouzon, never heard of ’em! How am I supposed to get my bearings, with all these new names?’

Émile Zola, La Débâcle

The Debacle (1892) by Émile Zola (1840-1902)

La Débâcle (1892) by Émile Zola (1840-1902)

In reading Zola’s La Débâcle it is easy to get lost in the flurry of names and places. These maps and order of battle should help you to get a better sense of what is going on, who is where and what all the complaining is about.

La Debacle follows the fictional 106e régiment d’infanterie de ligne which is part of the VII Corps under Félix Charles Douay.

VII Corps is initially part of the optimistically named “Army of the Rhine” under Commander in Chief Emperor Napoléon III. After the initial retreat VII Corps becomes part of Marshal Patrice de Mac-Mahon‘s Army of Châlons.

The Order of Battle (organization of the armies):

Part I describes the early phase of the Franco-Prussian war. This map shows the troop movements during the entire war but is particularly useful in following the movement of VII Corps described in Part I. VII begins the novel at Belfort (in the lower right corner of the map). They rapidly retreat to Paris and almost as rapidly advance to the Ardennes, just south of the border with Belgium. Most of Part I takes place in this area (in the upper right corner of the map) and ends at Sedan.

Part II describes the Battle of Sedan. This map shows the troop positions and movements during Sedan. VII Corps is located 2-4 km north of the fortified city of Sedan along the plateau de l’Algérie from the town of Floing to Illy.

Part III takes place in the city of Paris. This map shows the investment of Paris. There are no French troop positions as the army has surrendered and the government has fallen after Sedan.

Napoleon III having a conversation with Fürst ...

Napoleon III having a conversation with Fürst Otto von Bismarck after his defeat and capture at Sedan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


~ by severalfourmany on April 17, 2013.

2 Responses to “Finding your way through La Débâcle”

  1. I have the copy at home, wish to read it very soon. Thanks for the references! Actually in the last chapter of La Bete Humaine, Zola put a train full of troops for the war in it (Franco-Prussian war). I wonder whether La Debacle would mention something of the train too… (and relates it with La Bete Humaine).

    • That was exactly the reason I started reading La Débâcle! I was planning on reading Germinal next, but the runaway train full of soldiers was just too compelling and I wanted to know if they are mentioned in the next book (they are not). Nana also ends with a crowd scene where everyone is shouting “On to Berlin!” There is definitely momentum building in the later Rougon-Macquart novels toward the war–and the climactic end of the Second Empire.

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