Summary and Analysis
One day Count Muffat drops in unexpectedly on Nana and finds young Georges Hugon in her arms. She is annoyed at having been found out and promptly admits her error, promising never to deceive again. But the count's illusion has been broken and he "no longer believed in her sworn fidelity."
During this time, Nana "flared upon Paris with redoubled splendor." She dominates the city, which copies her hats, her dresses, and her entire style of living. But nothing could remain in Nana's hands without becoming spoiled: "Her path was strewn with nameless debris, twisted shreds, and muddy rags." Even Nana is amazed at the amount of money she spends; although men pile gold upon her, they can never fill the "hole that grew deeper and deeper beneath her house."
With nothing else to do, Nana decides to order the grandest bed that has ever been constructed. It is to be "a throne, an altar, to which all Paris would come to adore her sovereign nudity." The bed will cost over fifty thousand francs and Count Muffat is to pay for it. But even while she is ordering the bed, Nana cannot understand why she does not have a hundred francs to pay the butcher or the baker. She constantly asks Philippe Hugon to bring her small sums. When she announces her name day, Philippe brings her an expensive present, which she breaks through carelessness. At first he is crushed by her indifference, but finally he also begins to laugh about the triviality of money. At the end of the evening, she asks him to bring her two hundred francs, and he promises to try. Suddenly he asks her to marry him, but Nana only laughs at him.
Georges Hugon has heard the entire conversation from outside the door and flees to his room at home in a fit of terrible anguish and jealousy. He decides he has to die or kill his brother.
The same day, Madame Hugon learns that Philippe has been accused of embezzling twelve thousand francs of his regiment's funds. Thinking that she has lost her oldest son, she feels that she still has her youngest, and without thinking what she is doing, she dresses and heads for Nana's apartment to rescue Georges.
Meanwhile, Nana has been annoyed the entire day with creditors. Even though she has bought Satin a new twelve-hundred-franc dress, she does not have enough money for the baker and butcher. But when the designer and Labordette tell her that her bed could be made more magnificent by a nude figure costing six thousand francs, Nana immediately agrees to this change, knowing that Count Muffat will pay for it.
As her creditors begin to pester her, Nana prepares to go out to find Madame Tricon in order to earn five hundred francs. As she is leaving, she meets Georges and asks him if Philippe sent her the money she asked for. He tells her "no" and then asks her to marry him. Suddenly she realizes that the two brothers are mad and she explains to Georges that she is about to go out to another man in order to earn five hundred francs. She leaves him briefly, and when she returns he again begs her to marry him. When she refuses, he stabs himself twice with her scissors. Just as he falls to the floor, Madame Hugon enters the room. Nana tries to justify herself by saying that if Philippe were there he could explain it all, and Madame Hugon has to reveal that Philippe is in jail. She insists upon having Georges removed even at the risk of his life.
Count Muffat finds Nana distraught by the proliferation of catastrophe. She sends him to find out how Georges is faring, and later he reports that Georges will probably live. In spite of the near tragedy, Count Muffat is secretly glad to be rid of a youthful rival.
Gradually the relations between the count and Nana become more and more strained. She no longer conceals the fact that she takes other people to bed with her. The count will have to accept this fact or get out. When he fails to give her enough money, she reminds him that with his looks he has to pay heavily to get a girl to go to bed with him, and she demands that he secure some money for her immediately.
Nothing, however, satisfies Nana. In her boredom, she returns to picking up strange men from the street simply to amuse herself. Wild parties are held in her house, and Count Muffat pretends to be ignorant of Nana's promiscuity. The house falls into a state of general confusion and soon servants are being fired and replaced by new ones, who are soon fired. Each servant begins to take advantage of the chaos and steals wildly from Nana.
One night a music hall baritone with whom Nana has become infatuated leaves her. She tries to commit suicide in a fit of gloomy sentimentality. She becomes horribly sick, but nothing else happens. By this time, Count Muffat welcomes the relations between Nana and Satin because at least when she is sleeping with Satin, she will not be sleeping with some strange man. But Nana soon begins deceiving Satin in the same way she deceives the count. She even goes to "infamous houses," where she "witnesses spectacles of debauchery that relieved her boredom."
Gradually Nana begins to devour all the men with whom she comes in contact: "A ruined man fell from her hands like a ripe fruit, to rot on the ground. . . . She devoured everything like a great fire: the thefts of speculation and the earnings of labor. This time she finished Steiner; she brought him to the ground." Then she turns to la Faloise, who has to sell his farms one by one to satisfy Nana's passion: "Nana devoured an acre with each mouthful." She then ruins Fauchery by making him liquidate a newspaper he had begun to publish.
Through it all, Count Muffat still retains his passion for Nana, who now has "an instinctive urge to debase everything." One night she makes him get down on all fours and pretend to be a bear. At first it is just a game, but soon the game turns into bestiality as Nana begins to treat him like an animal, "beating him and kicking him around the room." The count even liked "his baseness, he savored the enjoyment of being a beast. He longed to descend still lower." Nana then has him bring his distinguished chamberlain's uniform, which she has him utterly debase by all types of obscene actions.
Nana's bed does not arrive until the middle of January. It is "a throne broad enough to enable Nana to spread out the royalty of her naked limbs, an altar of Byzantine richness, worthy of the omnipotence of her sex, which she was now displaying in the religious immodesty of an idol held in awe by all men." One day Count Muffat arrives unexpectedly; he goes into the bedroom and is shocked to find his father-in-law, the old Marquis de Chouard, in bed with Nana. This last night of love has left the marquis totally senile, and he never regains his sanity. Count Muffat is horrified beyond all measure. As he falls babbling to himself and calling on God to save him, Monsieur Venot arrives and takes the count away. After Muffat learns that the Countess Sabine has run off with some clerk, his collapse is so complete that he is totally in Monsieur Venot's care.
Shortly after the breakup with the count, Nana discovers that Zoé is leaving her, that Satin is dying in a hospital, and that Georges is already dead. She dresses to go to the hospital to visit Satin, maintaining that all men are dirty and responsible for anything that happens to them.
As indicated by the profusion of detail, Zola is now loading his final chapters with as much material as possible. One devastating event follows another with amazing rapidity. In general, Zola shows Nana reaching the heights of her own particular world and then shows it rapidly crumbling about her even though she shows no concern about it
For the first time, Count Muffat discovers someone else in Nana's arms. He had known previously that she was not faithful to him, but earlier he had simply closed his eyes to her infidelities. Now as he catches Georges Hugon in Nana's arms, he is torn with jealousy. His hurt will later cause him to be secretly relieved when young Georges stabs himself, thus removing a rival. At last, however, Count Muffat knows definitely that Nana can never be trusted. As Zola points out, "nothing remained in her hands, everything broke, withered, or became soiled between her little white fingers. Her path was strewn with nameless wreckage, twisted shreds, and muddy rags."
At this time, Nana orders a luxurious bed which symbolizes all of her own sexuality. It was to be "a throne, an altar, to which all Paris would come to worship her sovereign nakedness." The bed and the sexuality still occupy the foremost attention in Nana's mind. However, even though Zola the naturalist presents the above image as a part of Nana's desires, a closer reading will easily show that it is Zola the moralist making the statement about Nana's corrupting influence.
The motif established earlier in the novel showing that Nana was constantly without small sums of money is still emphasized. Perhaps by now the idea begins to lose some of its credibility. That is, in view of the fact that Zola represents Nana as receiving hundreds of thousands of francs in gifts and also many valuable diamonds, it does not seem entirely convincing that she cannot sell a diamond or locate a few hundred francs.
The idea, however, is that everything around Nana is beginning to fall into chaos. Her servants are stealing from her, her creditors are in league with the servants in cheating Nana, and in general, there is no order about the house. Even the small gift which Philippe could not afford yet bought anyway is carelessly and senselessly broken by Nana. She can attach no value to anything, person, or object.
Consequently, in the midst of untold luxury, she goes out to keep an appointment with one of Madame Tricon's customers.
This act on Nana's part brings about part of the destruction of the Hugon family. She has drained Philippe until he has now been arrested for stealing army funds. Georges, having discovered Nana's intention to see a customer, stabs himself. At the same time, Madame Hugon arrives to take her son away. The objective reader might say that these circumstances do not comply with Zola's pronounced scientific realism, but Zola maintained that the artist has the right to step out of the role of observer to manipulate his characters at certain times.
After the Hugon catastrophe, Nana begins to feel the extreme boredom of her life. She picks up men from the street, and not satisfied with this, she entices young sluts home with her. She even debauches herself in houses of infamy. But she seems to take the most pleasure out of totally destroying and debasing Count Muffat: "She had an instinctive urge to debase everything. It was not enough for her to destroy things, she also dirtied them." She forces Count Muffat to go naked about the house and to crawl on his knees like an animal while "she treated him like an animal, beating him and kicking him around the room." She even forces him to bring his chamberlain's costume and then in her presence to defile it: "It was her revenge, the unconscious family rancor bequeathed to her with her blood." Her thirst for bestiality and devourment cannot be satiated.
The final part of Chapter 13 also shows Count Muffat's complete reversion to the bestial instincts which lay dormant in his makeup. He even learns to enjoy his own debasement and to look forward to the moments of bestiality: "He liked his baseness, he savored the enjoyment of being a beast. He longed to descend still lower." Zola is here emphasizing that Muffat and Nana's relationship can exist on no other plane than that of vulgar bestial sexuality. His desire to possess Nana is so strong that he is most anxious to discard all remnants of civilized behavior in order to cope with Nana's animal behavior. This total degradation is seen in his willingness to defile his chamberlain's uniform.
Muffat can only break away from the animal when he discovers Nana in bed with the Marquis de Chouard. He has known for some time that she slept with other men, and he accepted this fact in the abstract. But to discover her in bed in such a degrading manner with his own father-in-law leaves Muffat totally defeated. He returns to his earlier solace and calls on God. He allows himself to be carried away like a child by his old friend, Monsieur Venot.
The animal imagery in this final chapter dominates almost everything else. As Nana takes on man after man and destroys them, Zola presents her as an animal devouring men as would some large predatory beast: "A ruined man fell from her hands like a ripe fruit, to rot on the ground." She can "devour" a farm with each mouthful: "She consumed everything like a great fire." The men who fall because of her sexuality come from every part of society, and the money spent on her reaches untold sums. Finally, her influence affects the Countess Sabine, who begins to act the part of the slut. Nana's "work of ruin and death was accomplished."