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Émile Zola: Vulcan in service to Mars


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Émile Zola: Selections on war


Émile Zola
From Labor (1901)
Translator not identified


Under the moonlike rays of the electric lights, through the shadows thrown by the sheds, the tower for tempering newly forged cannon, the cementation kilns, and all kinds of other conical constructions devoted to this barbarous worship of the god of gain, a little locomotive was slowly moving, uttering shrill whistles, that it might not run over any one…

Men were loading a car with a great piece of machinery, something to be used by a torpedo-boat destroyer, which had been finished that very morning, and which the little locomotive was to carry away. And as it steamed up whistling, Luc had to dodge it, and by following a path that seemed to lead between the rails and the smelting-furnaces, he found himself at last in a building where there were many furnaces, many puddlers, and many men to run off the molten metal. This building, one of the largest in the place, was never silent; by day it had a fearful hum of working machinery. But at this time of the night the machinery was silent. More than half the great place was in utter darkness; and, out of ten puddling furnaces, four only were lighted. These were provided with two hammers of less power.

Here and there feeble gas-jets wavered in the wind, the light of which was just enough to show great shadows in the place, and, overhead, immense smoke-stained beams that sustained the roof could be indistinctly made out. A noise of splashing water could be heard in the darkness; the earth floor, with cracks and lumps in it, was in some places a sodden mass of fetid mud, in others it was all coal-dust, and everywhere it was covered with rubbish. The whole place was an example of the filth and disorder induced by grinding labor, labor without care, with out mirth – labor hated and execrated by those engaged in it, carried on in a den full of smoke, black smuts flying about in the air, in a place filthy and dilapidated.

In some little sheds made of rough planks the out door clothes of the workmen were hung up on nails, and with them were thick cloth jackets and leathern aprons. This miserable, dark place was never lighted unless a master-puddler opened the door of his furnace and sent forth a blinding rush of flame, which illumined the whole dark building for a moment like a ray of light from some planet in the heavens.


Then would come the work of taking the crucibles out of the fire and emptying them, the most murderous work of all. And as he walked up to another furnace, where the men who tended it, armed with long iron rods, had just found the fusion to be complete, he recognized Fauchard in the man whose business it was to draw out the crucibles. He was pallid and withered, with a face like leather; but he had preserved his legs and arms, which were those of a Hercules. He was physically deformed by his terrible work, which was always monotonous, and in which he had been employed for fourteen years; but he suffered more from the consciousness that he was losing his intelligence, that he had become a mere machine, doing eternally the same thing – that he was a veritable automaton – a human element struggling for supremacy with fire. It was not merely that he felt what he had physically lost – his bent back, the impaired action of his lower limbs, his eyes burned out of his head, their color grown pale from gazing into the flames – he was conscious that he had deteriorated intellectually, that his intelligence was trembling in the balance, and was now nearly extinct, trodden under the terrible hoof which turned him into a blind beast, crushing him under work that first had poisoned, and then would destroy him.

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