Summary and Analysis
After opening night, Nana sleeps late in the apartment provided for her by a rich Moscow merchant who had paid the first six months' rent. The apartment "told the story of a girl too early abandoned by her first serious protector."
When Nana awakens, she calls her maid, Zoé, and they make arrangements for Nana's two paying visitors. The arrangements must allow time for Daguenet to sleep with Nana. Of more serious consequence is the fact that Nana is now nine months behind in her rent. Other creditors are also plaguing her. Her greatest worry is her two-year-old child, Louis, who is with a wet nurse whom Nana has never been able to pay. Her Aunt Lerat is supposed to go that day and get little Louis, but Nana needs three hundred francs to pay the nurse. Just as she is about to despair, Madame Tricon, a procuress, arrives with a proposition whereby Nana can receive four hundred francs. Nana accepts with relief.
Francis, Nana's hairdresser, arrives with Fauchery's favorable review of The Blond Venus. She is pleased and decides she will repay the critic someday. An elderly friend, Madame Maloir, arrives, and the three women talk until it is time for Nana to keep her appointment. While Nana is away, admirers from the preceding evening begin to arrive. These include such diverse people as the young seventeen-year-old Georges Hugon, the rich banker Steiner, and the aloof Count Muffat de Beuville with his father-in-law, the Marquis de Chouard. So many people arrive that Zoé has difficulty finding places to put them.
Nana is so late returning from her engagement that her aunt has to postpone the trip. She gives her aunt three hundred fifty francs and keeps only fifty for herself, explaining that the afternoon's experience was exceptionally difficult. She refuses to see any of her admirers until she learns about the count and the marquis. She receives them in her dressing room.
With attempts at formal dignity, the count explains that they represent a charity committee collecting money for the poor in the district. Nana notices that each man is visibly excited by her presence, and as she gives them her last fifty francs the count trembles as he takes the money from Nana's soft sensuous hands. As they leave, the count feels "dizzy from having been in that small dressing room with its overpowering odor of woman and flowers."
Nana then tells Zoé to send the rest of the callers away, even the rich banker, Steiner, because she is tired of men. As she opens the door to a small unfurnished room, she discovers young Georges Hugon sitting on a trunk holding a bouquet of flowers. As Nana takes the flowers, Georges tries to embrace her. Nana scolds him mildly and sends him away.
Alone in her dressing room, Nana hears that admirers are arriving constantly. Even though she still refuses to see any of the men, she is delighted to have so many come to pay court to her. She borrows a hundred francs from her hairdresser, giving as security for the loan the obvious presence of numerous admirers. As she leaves for the theater, she looks forward to sleeping an entire night alone.
Chapter 2 shifts from the public view of Nana and shows her in her own private surroundings. Nana's apartment tells the story of the type of person that she is. There is a gaudy luxury about it which indicates the career of a girl who has to accept lovers of any sort in order to keep the apartment.
Throughout the novel, there is a certain aura of comic confusion as Nana must constantly make arrangements to keep one lover from running into another one. The morning after the theatrical performance, Nana is mostly concerned about how she can keep her two paying customers away long enough so that she can enjoy sleeping with Paul Daguenet, who just lost his fortune in a drop in the stock market. The introduction of Daguenet's name as Nana's lover prepares the reader for one of the many interrelations throughout the novel. Later, she will use her influence with Count Muffat to arrange for her lover Daguenet to marry Count Muffat's daughter, Estelle.
The arrangements that Nana makes become a type of motif which is picked up by many of the courtesans in the novel. The quick letter to lovers — "Sorry darling, not tonight, impossible" — is constantly being sent to a non-paying lover when paying customers show up. Nana must send this type of letter that day to Daguenet, who has just left her bed.
Regularly in the novel, the scene will shift from a large crowd scene to a scene in Nana's bedroom. This chapter, therefore, opens in Nana's bedroom as she arranges her lovers and receives her hairdresser. Another constant worry to Nana is the matter of small sums of money. She seems to get large sums of money from people, but she is constantly without small sums with which to pay tradesmen. Today, she needs only three hundred francs in order to pay the wet nurse who is taking care of her young son. But she can't find this sum. Whenever this happens in the novel, Nana always resorts to either going on the streets and picking up someone or else contacting Madame Tricon, a famous procuress. This time, Madame Tricon appears just as Nana needs the money and tells Nana of a chance to pick up four hundred francs that afternoon. Thus, by this method, Nana is always able to solve her temporary need for small amounts of money.
When Francis brings in the review of The Blond Venus, Nana feels very appreciative to Fauchery and casually thinks that she will repay him someday. This is just another case of Zola's irony because later Fauchery will write a bitterly sarcastic piece about Nana, and later she will repay him by taking him on as lover and causing him to sell some valuable property to provide her with money.
The appearance of Madame Tricon is part of Zola's total picture of the corruption of the age. More ironical is the fact that Zoé stays with Nana in the hope of saving enough money so that she can someday take over a business like Madame Tricon's.
Several of the people who will become Nana's lovers at various stages appear that day to congratulate her on her performance. Among these are Georges Hugon, the young boy who called out during the performance that Nana was wonderful; Steiner, the fat German-Jew banker who is later to be ruined by Nana; and most important, Count Muffat and his father-in-law, the Marquis de Chouard.
Zola uses many instances of irony here as he has Nana return from her engagement with a paying customer then to receive a supplication from Count Muffat for a donation to the poor in the district. The donation which Nana gives is the last fifty francs she had just earned through prostitution Further irony involves the fact that in their first encounter she gives Count Muffat fifty francs; later she will take hundreds of thousands from him.
The attention paid to Muffat reveals that beneath his stiff dignity, he is seething with passion for Nana's body. Each time he is around her, Zola uses the same image and description to depict his inner state: "He needed air; he was overcome from a dizziness from having been in that small dressing room with its overpowering essence of woman and flowers." These images suggest that he will later be totally captivated by Nana's sexuality, and most of his encounters with Nana will like this one be either in small theater dressing rooms or in Nana's dressing room.
Since so many callers have come, Zoé has been sticking them into all available space. Nana, now tired from her afternoon's experiences, seeks a place to be alone and discovers young Georges Hugon in one of the rooms. Even though Nana is only eighteen years old, she considers the seventeen-year-old Georges to be a mere child. But she responds here spontaneously to his gift of flowers even though she will not let him embrace her. Henceforward, he will become one of her most devoted admirers until he stabs himself in the final chapters. But we must notice that, with both Daguenet and Georges, Nana is capable of responding spontaneously to another person even though she usually sells herself. By these responses, Zola tends to humanize Nana and not leave her just a symbol of corruption. These responses tend to make Nana a more believable and likable character in spite of her characteristics.
Zola, the strict naturalist and objective writer, does seem at times to entertain romantic notions. It does not seem highly realistic that so many people are "lined up on the stairs" waiting to pay their adulation to Nana. Zola's point, however, is to suggest the degree to which Nana has already captivated the public after one appearance.