Scene from Emile Zola's L'Assommoir
Wooden base 4.5 x 34.5 x 22.5
Old label on base has peeled off
How this sculpture arrived at the Garrick Club is not recorded and must remain speculative. However the subject matter is easily identifiable. Of French design, typical of the latter part of the nineteenth century, the scene can be identified as the fight between Gervaise Macquart and Virginie from the opening chapter of Emile Zola's L'assommoir. The vicious fight takes place in the laundry where Gervaise has been working as a washerwoman:
"With almost superhuman strength she seized Virginie by the waist, bent her forward with her face to the brick floor and, notwithstanding her struggles, lifted her skirts and showed the white and naked skin. Then she brought her beater down as she had formerly done at Plassans under the trees on the riverside, where her employer had washed the linen of the garrison.
Each blow of the beater fell on the soft flesh with a dull thud, leaving a scarlet mark."
The novel's plot revolves around Gervaise's "fall" into alcoholism and despair and was adapted for the stage in London by Charles Reade, opening at the Princess's Theatre Oxford Street on February 14 1880. The novel had originally been adapted for the stage in Paris where it was seen by John Holingshead, manager at the Gaiety Theatre, who suggested Reade for an English adaptation. The resulting play "Drink" was a huge success, not only in London, but the provinces, America and even Australia. Theatrical conventions and the censor proscribed the fight scene, as indeed was the language in the first English tranlsations of Zola's novel. Perhaps this sculpture was procured as a private joke between Reade and Hollingshead, both members of the Garrick Club (Reade elected in 1839, Hollingshead in 1871).