Today we venture to western France in the novelette, Shell-Fish (subtitled Or the Influence of Diet on Procreation) by the French author Émile Zola.
The story centers around Monsieur Chabre, a forty-five year old “retired grain merchant with a big fortune,” and his wife, Madame Chabre (Estelle), twenty-two and “adorable with her peachy complexion and golden hair.” Upon finding themselves childless after four years of marriage, the family physician advises them to go to the seaside and eat “a great quantity of shell-fish” and added “The treatment has been known to succeed.”
The travelers eventually end up in Guérande, where they chance to meet Hector Plougastel, “a giant, with broad shoulders and members already knotted with muscles.” Hector falls in love with Estelle and, two days before she and her husband were to leave for Paris, Hector uggests a trip to the rocks of the Castelle. M. Chabre, who fears the sea and getting his feet wet, chooses to walk on the crest of the bluff as Estelle and Hector explore the shoreline.
The two eventually accidentally get caught by the tide in “Madame’s Grotto,” an “excavation in a block of granite” for two hours as M. Chabre waits impatiently on the cliff above the grotto eating a basket of limpets. As Hector declares his love to Estelle she rests her head on his shoulder and “the evening bore away their sighs.”
Lo and behold, nine months after their return to Paris, Madame Chabre gives birth to a baby boy. The overjoyed M. Chabre confides in his doctor “it was the limpets, I’ll take my oath on it! Yes, a whole basket of limpets that I ate one evening under the most curious circumstances. Just the same, Doctor, I never should have believed that shell-fish possessed such properties!”
And did you know that March 31 is National Clams on the Half Shell Day? One must never underestimate the power of the lowly shell-fish!
Come to Special Collections and enjoy the story of Madame and Monsieur Chabre’s trip and the happy outcome! We are located on the second floor of the Bartle Library.