Summary and Analysis
The Count and Countess Muffat de Beuville arrive for a visit at Madame Hugon's country house. Their hostess is exceptionally pleased to see them but is somewhat puzzled that suddenly everyone who has previously turned down her invitations is now accepting them. After several delays, Georges has arrived for a visit and has invited the drama critic, Fauchery, and also Monsieur Daguenet and Monsieur de Vandeuvres.
Madame Hugon tells the count and countess that the banker Steiner has just bought a house two or three miles away and has given it to an actress. Her gardener tells her also that the actress, Nana, is expected to arrive that very day. She decides that if she happens to meet Nana, she will content herself with not speaking to her.
That afternoon, Georges tells his mother that he is suffering from a headache and plans to retire to his room and sleep through the night. As soon as possible, he climbs out the window and heads for Nana's house.
Meanwhile, Nana arrives at her new house. She has wanted to come ever since Steiner bought it for her.
However, Bordenave would not release her from the theater until September the fifteenth. On the twelfth, she decides that she will slip away and have a few days alone at her house. When she arrives, she runs about the place like a child, examining every room and even the grounds. In the back of the house, she finds a patch of strawberries, which she begins to pick even though it is raining. Suddenly, she sees Georges, who is wringing wet. He was afraid that Nana would scold him for coming and explains that he fell into a stream while coming to see her. She takes him into the house and makes him wear some of her clothes while his are drying by the fire. After they find something to eat, Georges tries to embrace Nana, but she feels too motherly toward him to even consider him as a lover. But gradually during the evening, with Georges dressed as a young girl, Nana begins to feel like a young innocent virgin and finally does consent to sleep with Georges.
The next day, Georges is the last to come down for lunch. Meanwhile, other guests have arrived from Paris, and again, Madame Hugon brings up the subject of Nana. Everyone is surprised to hear of Nana's early arrival, but none of the men reveal their astonishment. Count Muffat decides to go to Nana's house that evening, and as he leaves the house, Georges follows him for a while and then takes a short cut. He jealously accuses Nana of planning an affair with the count, but she denies this and sends him upstairs to wait for her.
When Count Muffat arrives, he is obsessed with Nana, but she tells him that Monsieur Steiner is there. When the banker appears, Count Muffat is forced to leave after some polite conversation. Pretending to be ill, Nana joins Georges in her bedroom. For a week, she is true to young Georges and feels as though she were once again a fifteen-year-old girl. Meanwhile, Count Muffat comes every evening and leaves in a highly agitated state.
After a week, all of Nana's friends from Paris descend upon her for a visit. She makes plans for them to visit an old abbey and forces Georges to promise to accompany her. He is afraid that his mother will find out about their relationship but finally yields to Nana's insistence. Nana rents five carriages, and as they are on a small road, the entire procession meets Madame Hugon and her guests, who are out for a stroll. As they pass, Madame Hugon recognizes Georges sitting opposite Nana. Her great distress forces her to take Count Muffat's arms, and the count now realizes that the young boy is more important to Nana than he is.
The excursion to the abbey proves to be long and tedious. The high point is that they pass by the famous chateau of a courtesan of the previous century who now lives in regal grandeur. That evening, Georges is forced to remain at home, and Count Muffat goes to Nana's house, where he is led to her bedroom by a Labordette. Nana, deciding it is time to be practical, puts Georges out of her mind and coldly gives herself to Count Muffat.
In Chapter 6, Zola juxtaposes scenes of the aristocrats with scenes of the courtesans. Previously, he had only shown how Nana's name intruded upon parties and receptions given by the Muffats. Now, in the same chapter, he presents an oblique encounter of the two factions, first by placing the action in Madame Hugon's house, then in Nana's house, and finally by having Nana's party cross the path of Madame Hugon's walking entourage.
The opening scene in Madame Hugon's house carries several comic implications. Madame Hugon is so innocent and naive that she cannot understand why so many visitors are coming in September since that month is not the best time for a visit. She cannot possibly associate the fact with the impending arrival of Nana, who lives only a few miles away. In fact, in her innocence, she even mentions that Steiner has bought a house nearby for an actress, and she is shocked at this knowledge. She is one person in the novel who is not worldly and consequently is the person most pathetically destroyed by Nana's destructive actions, which cause the death of one Hugon son and the disgrace of the other.
Each man who comes for a visit — Fauchery Daguenet Georges, Count Vandeuvres, and Count Muffat-comes because he knows that Nana is scheduled to arrive the next day, and each one has some secret desire to renew an acquaintance with Nana or to begin one with her. Consequently Nana's influence now spreads itself to almost every action in the novel. We even hear that the Count Muffat has twice delayed his visit, causing perplexity in the countess, but we soon learn that the count's whimsical behavior was caused by the fact that Nana kept altering her intended departure.
Nana's corrupting influence is first seen in this chapter through the actions of young Georges Hugon. He lies to his mother for the first time and deceives her by pretending to have a severe headache. He then slips over to see Nana. Zola depicts Georges as a young and innocent boy who is afraid of being scolded by Nana. To blend with this general pastoral scene, he also depicts Nana as responding to her new house with all the enthusiasm of a child. Georges and Nana's actions together evoke much that is innocent and childlike, thereby lessening the corrupting aspect. For example, Nana dresses Georges in some of her clothes so that he looks like an innocent young girl. Together they seem supremely peaceful: "Nana was moved and felt like a child again." At first she resists Georges because she feels it is wrong to seduce one so young. Then "that woman's nightgown and negligee made her laugh again as though a girl friend were teasing her." Under this influence, she yields to young Georges.
In this seduction scene, Zola has subtly introduced the innocent element, but also, in concentrating upon Georges dressed like a woman, he prepares the reader for the later lesbian activities which Nana practices. But at least, for the present moment, Nana can respond to a human emotion with warmth and sincerity. She refuses to sleep with Muffat and Steiner because she is enjoying the sensation of being true to young Georges. Zola, however, undercuts Nana's sincerity when he lets the reader know that she can't be true for longer than a week. This was the length of her fidelity to Georges. Looking forward in the novel, this is the only time that Nana has what might be called a wholesome relationship. While it is true that she will be faithful to Fontan for a longer time, that relationship is permeated with brutality and ugliness.
This chapter also presents the beginning of the irony connected with the Daguenet-Nana-Muffat relationship. Daguenet had originally come for the visit thinking that he would renew his relationship with Nana, but when he discovers the amount of Estelle's dowry, he changes his strategy. He begins to seek ways of winning Estelle as a wife, and the final irony is that only when Nana intervenes will the engagement become definite.
Count Muffat's path to degradation is further emphasized. This chapter presents a good picture of the repressed individual struggling and losing to the powers of sexuality. The fact that Nana cannot yield to him as he had expected only excites him more and more. He becomes almost animal in his moaning and tearing at his pillow. Even his close religious adviser, Monsieur Venot, cannot soothe his burning passion. No pious conversation can ease the burning desire he now feels for Nana. After Georges is forced to remain at home, the count has an open field, and Nana, deciding to be practical, accepts the count as her lover.
The expedition taken by Nana and her friends turns out to be a dreadful failure. First, they pass the group from the Hugons', who ignore them except for the fact that Madame Hugon recognizes young Georges as a member of the party. Then the ride and walk are extremely tedious. The only interesting aspect is that they see the grand residence of an ex-courtesan of the last generation. Nana and the other females marvel at the "glorious idea of woman" which could accomplish such grandeur. However, this favorable picture is colored by the fact that they all know that they will never achieve such lasting success. Essentially, the outing proves that Nana and her friends can function only in houses and theaters. The simple outdoor life is dull and tedious.