Even after staring at the same book cover for weeks (slow reader), nothing prepares you for rounding a corner and seeing the real thing. The jacket designer for Zola’s The Earth selected a detail from Millet’s Man with a hoe that in 1980 (when this edition was published) was still in private hands. Now, thanks to the deepest collecting pockets in the world, it is part of the Getty collection in LA.
While the book cover’s slightly blurred figure captures the crushing inevitability of a peasant’s life, the original painting places him in a far wider landscape: rich farmland behind, stones and hard labour out front. Zola and Millet, both struggling to drag reality from the cloying embrace of romanticism.