The novel is principally the story l’Assommoir PDF Gervaise Macquart, who is featured briefly in the first novel in the series, La Fortune des Rougon, running away to Paris with her shiftless lover Lantier to work as a washerwoman in a hot, busy laundry in one of the seedier areas of the city. L’Assommoir begins with Gervaise and her two young sons being abandoned by Lantier, who takes off for parts unknown with another woman.
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Though at first she swears off men altogether, eventually she gives in to the advances of Coupeau, a teetotal roofing engineer, and they are married. However, later in the story, we witness the downward trajectory of Gervaise’s life from this happy high point. Coupeau is injured in a fall from the roof of a new hospital he is working on, and during his lengthy convalescence he takes first to idleness, then to gluttony and eventually to drink. In only a few months, Coupeau becomes a vindictive, wife-beating alcoholic, with no intention of trying to find more work. The home is further disrupted by the return of Lantier, who is warmly welcomed by Coupeau – by this point losing interest in both Gervaise and life itself, and becoming seriously ill. The ensuing chaos and financial strain is too much for Gervaise, who loses her laundry-shop and is sucked into a spiral of debt and despair. Eventually, she too finds solace in drink and, like Coupeau, slides into heavy alcoholism.