Summary and Analysis
Whereas Nana was unable to play the role of a grand lady on the stage, she is "able to assume the role of an enchantress without effort." The house that Count Muffat bought her becomes, in Nana's hands, a show place filled with elegance and taste. She relies upon Labordette to help her hire the necessary personnel to look after the mansion, but by the end of the second month, the expenses for the house exceed three hundred thousand francs; therefore Count Muffat allots her twelve thousand a month for expenses. By this time, Nana has placed him on a firm understanding that he is to come visit her only at prescribed times.
Nana finally convinces Count Muffat that she will be faithful to him but then immediately decides to allow Count Xavier de Vandeuvres to become her lover. By this arrangement, Nana is able to pick up an extra nine or ten thousand francs a month.
One morning while Muffat is still in the bedroom, Georges Hugon shows up unexpectedly. Nana, however, has lost all interest in him and views him only as an amusing friend. Georges comes to see Nana every day and talks constantly of his older brother, Lieutenant Philippe Hugon, whom he thinks his mother will send to rescue him from Nana's clutches. After some time, the older brother does appear; Nana sends word to have him wait a quarter of an hour before being shown into her presence. After a short visit, everything is settled satisfactorily. In the future, the older brother is to become a regular member of Nana's circle.
In spite of all her luxury, Nana soon becomes bored. Nothing seems to divert her from her idle and useless existence. Then one day as she is riding along one of the boulevards, she sees Satin, whom she picks up and takes back to her elegant house. They soon resume the little dalliance which had previously been interrupted by the police. But on the fourth day, Satin disappears and Nana goes to a restaurant looking for her. She finds Satin in the company of Madame Robert but is able to coax her into leaving.
When Count Muffat learns about the nature of Nana's relations with Satin, he is at first disgusted and shocked. Nana refuses to see anything wrong with her behavior and tells the count he can leave if he doesn't approve. The count has to accept these vagaries also.
One night when Nana is dining at the same questionable restaurant, her old lover, Daguenet, appears. They settle their previous quarrel, and Nana promises to help him become engaged to Muffat's daughter. As a reward, she wants Daguenet to spend his wedding night in bed with her.
In order to buy Nana an expensive present and to pay some back bills, Count Muffat has to borrow money because he is afraid of selling one of his estates. Before he can give the present to Nana, she has some friends in for dinner and begins discussing her past life when she was a small child. She delights in mentioning all types of degrading experiences and challenges her guests to leave if they don't like what she is saying. Everyone, however, was willing to "accept anything she wanted."
When the men begin to tease Satin about her relations with Nana, she forces Nana to make the men leave so that they can enjoy tonight together alone. After the men leave, Nana looks about her and realizes that the power of her sex has brought her many riches. She joyously throws off her clothes in order to join Satin.
Nana's failure as a grand lady on the stage is countered by her complete success as a lady of fashion off the stage: "And the marvel was that this great creature, so awkward on the stage, so absurd in the role of a virtuous woman, was able to assume the role of an enchantress without effort." Thus, the fact that the entire society now knows Nana and a large segment of that society emulates Nana's dress, her hats, and her actions indicates the level to which it has been corrupted by Nana.
The first few pages of this chapter recall another of the naturalist's technique in writing. To make the novel have as much verisimilitude as possible, the naturalistic writer often overloads his pages with voluminous amounts of description. To prove how influential Nana has become, Zola offers pages of description of her house, clothes, servants, and so forth, until it becomes somewhat tedious.
The bargain she makes with Muffat indicates how sophisticated Nana has become. She will become Muffat's mistress and will allow him definite privileges, but in return, he must abide by certain rules and come only at specified times. This bargain is reminiscent of "proviso scenes" in Restoration dramas where characters made stipulations before accepting each other. But by this time, it should be obvious to both the reader and Count Muffat that Nana will be unable to keep her part of the bargain. She is incapable of being faithful to any man. Consequently, she is in the house only a short time before she allows Count Vandeuvres to become her lover also. Her justification is that she wants to prove to herself that she is entirely free.
From this chapter to the end of the novel, Zola begins to load each chapter with animal imagery. Nana begins to swallow and devour Count Vandeuvres' last farms, and he has a "frenzied appetite" for ruin. He later says to Nana that if he does not win money from the great race for the Prix de Paris, he will lock himself up with his horses and set fire to himself and his horses.
When young Georges comes back on the scene, his mother sends the older son, Philippe, to rescue him, but as could be expected, Philippe is also entrapped by Nana's charms. Of all the people who are ruined during the course of the novel, Zola seems to sympathize only with the Hugon family. Here is the basically good and innocent family being devoured by a force which they cannot comprehend.
As for Nana, the more she receives, the more she needs. Her desires are insatiable: "In the midst of all that luxury, surrounded by that court, Nana was bored to tears." She begins then to dip into all types of corruption so as to alleviate that sense of complete boredom and futility. Zola is now arranging his material so as to allow the reader to see the aridity of a life such as Nana's. In order to emphasize her corruption, he describes the sickness in the young son who has inherited the inner corruption of his mother. While Nana is physically a magnificent specimen, her son is physically incapable of coping with life.
Nana's corruption is emphasized by her relationship with Satin, who "becomes her vice." She learns to enjoy lesbianism. Previously, Nana had been disgusted by grand ladies who came to cheap restaurants to pick up other women, but now Nana, dressed as the lady of fashion, haunts the cheap lesbian restaurants in search of Satin. She has no qualms now about degrading herself by openly vying for Satin's affection with other women, particularly Madame Robert. Thus Nana finds herself in the position she has placed her men. Whereas she had whimsically left one man to pick up another, now Satin whimsically leaves Nana to pick up another woman in the streets.
Nana does not only degrade herself by this relationship but pulls down others with her. Count Muffat must accept lesbianism as unimportant and even learns to welcome Satin as an ally so that Nana will not be picking up other men. Others, like Count Vandeuvres, Georges, and Philippe, learn to accept Satin as a member of the household. The two women delight in being vulgar when "there were men present, as though they were yielding to an urge to impose on them the dunghill from which they had sprung." Nana, therefore, unconsciously is becoming the "Golden Fly" who willfully destroys and corrupts everything she comes into contact with.