MACQUART (GERVAISE), born 1828, was a daughter of Antoine Macquart, and
was slightly lame from birth. She was apprenticed to a laundress, but at
an early age had two children to a journeyman tanner named Lantier.[*]
Soon after the death of her mother, in 1850, she ran off to Paris with
Lantier and her children, Claude, a boy of eight, and Etienne, aged
four. La Fortune des Rougon.
The party had only been in the city a few weeks when Lantier ran off
with a girl named Adele, leaving Gervaise and the children unprovided
for. She got work in the laundry of Madame Fauconnier, and not long
after received an offer of marriage from Coupeau, a respectable
zinc-worker, which after some hesitation she accepted. The marriage
took place, and for a considerable time things prospered, one child, a
daughter named Nana being born. An accident to Coupeau, who fell from
a roof and was seriously injured, led to a gradual change; formerly
temperate and industrious, he became unwilling to work, and began to
spend his time in public-houses. Gervaise had meantime taken a shop with
money borrowed from the Goujets, and had started a laundry in it. She
was at first successful, but in time grew lazy and fond of good living,
while Coupeau continued idle and became increasingly intemperate.
Business began to go, and Gervaise became more careless, even taking
more drink occasionally than she had been wont to do. About this
time Lantier, her former lover, appeared again, and made friends with
Coupeau, who agreed to take him into the house as a lodger. After that,
the descent of Gervaise was rapid. Lantier never paid anything for his
support, Coupeau drank more heavily than ever, and Gervaise, who was
gradually drifting into intemperance, resumed her old connection
with her lover. All the time work was being neglected, and debts were
accumulating with alarming rapidity. Eventually Madame Virginie Poisson
took over the shop, and with it Lantier, who transferred his affections
along with the lease, and the Coupeaus removed into a small house high
up in the same building. Coupeau suffered from repeated attacks of
delirium tremens, and eventually died in an asylum. Gervaise continued
to sink still lower, until no work was too menial or too repulsive for
her to undertake for the price of drink, and one day in the winter of
1869 she was found dead in a garret of that great tenement house where
she had passed so much of her life. L'Assommoir.
Her sister, Lisa Quenu, the pork-butcher, did not come to her
assistance. Lisa did not like people who were unfortunate, and she was
ashamed that Gervaise should have married a workman. Le Ventre de Paris.
Her son Etienne sent her small sums of money from time to time while he
was in a situation at Lille. Germinal.
[*] These two are the only children of Gervaise and Lantier
mentioned by M. Zola in _La Fortune des Rougon_,
_L'Assommoir_, _L'Oeuvre_, and _Germinal_. In _La Bete
Humaine_, however, the hero, Jacques Lantier, is stated to
have been a child of these parents.