« PreviousContinue »
discarded the elaborate melodrama of oak-woods of bas Bourbonnais. Epipassion, the strained altitudes and als sode and incident are bounded by the normalisms of virtue and vice and inci- everyday conditions of common lives dent proper to the romantic. So doing spent in secluded hamlets. George her genius struck gold. How far the Sand's inevitable preoccupation is the figures of la petite Fadette, of Marie in interest of sentiment, and the sentiment “La Mare au Diable," of Brulette in of all her genre painting is that of “Les Maître's Sonneurs," are veracious homely idealism, or unveracious as studies from life mod
No such quiet to the mind els, who may say? In dealing with the
As true love with kisses kind. manners of rural Berry, she was deal
Tho' love be sweet, learn this of me, ing with a district so distinct in local
No sweet love but honesty. usage and racial temperament, SO estranged in customs from the neigh- A mere thread of a plot, a handful of boring provinces of France, that in the trivial events suffices. The characters, epoch preceding the Revolution, Mira- with hardly disguised babiliments, rebeau is reported to have counselled the peat themselves more than once. "Le King “de réunir le Berry à son empire beau garçon" (
Germain in “La Mare"), au lieu de conquérir des provinces étran- equable of temper, tenacious in slowly gères";' and George Sand herself wrote: aroused affections, clean-banded and "le Berry est resté stationnaire ... clean-minded, with the trait of irresoqu'après la Bretagne et quelques pro- luteness which Mme. Sand is apt to vinces de l'extrême midi ... c'est le ascribe to the masculine temperament, pays le plus conservé qui se puisse reappears in Landry, of "La Fadette,” trouver à l'heure qu'il est." $ But, true and in Tienet, of “Les Maîtres Sonor untrue as portraiture, the charac- neurs." The girl-heroines are stronger ters she sketched, with a touch as deli and more individual variants of the cate as it is assured, live in freshness type initiated in la petite Marie of "La and grace. They do more: in them Mare.” Fadette, the village scapegrace, she originated-as it is the sole preroga- passing from childhood to first girlhood tive of genius to originate-a type with her "allures de garçon," half which literature, in obedience to the malicious, half wistful; part savage, axiom "perfection fait école,” both ac- part will-o'-the-wisp; crying, laughing, cepted and reiterated in manifold imi. chanting her mocking-song in the dense tations and copies."
night, to the terror of wayfarers as the Her stories are wrought with the marsh-lights dance by the river, least possible expenditure of material. There is scarcely a hint of any world
J'ai pris ma cape et mon capet: beyond the confines of the low-lying
Toute fadette a son fadet, plains of Berry, where M. de la Salle assures us that "il suffit que deux per- becomes, as her heart wakens, George sonnes se rencontrent pour que l'envie Sand's formula of peasant girlhoodde danser les gagne"; or if the scene true, brave, generous, wise too, and changes it is only to cross the ascending prudent; light of word but sober of frontier-line to the wilder, well-watered mind, and above all honest of deed. 7 "Le Berry.” Par L. de la Salle. Paris,
"La Mare au Diable" gives perhaps 1900.
the clearest illustration of the author's • La Mare au Diable.
intention in her new art. Germain, * Tourguénief's "Récits d'un chasseur" are
arrived at the thirty years limit of (in said to owe something to G. Sand's example. See E. Haumant's “ Tourguénief," Paris, 1906. peasant estimation) marriageable age, has lost the wife he had loved with the light in dim, bewildering grayness; the exclusive, if tranquil devotion of a sim- night spent by the strayed trio under ple mind. He lives, still mourning his the great oaks, are described with an loss, under the farm-house roof of his unerring sense of proportion. The father-in-law. But Père Maurice, kindly three figures are always in clear relief: and sagacious, rules that Germain shall Germain dejected, incapable, in the re-marry with a fitting bride, the un- face of adverse circumstances; petite known, but well-endowed, Veuve Marie, alert, helpful, a trifle sharp of Guérin. Germain resigns himself to tongue, but ever ready of hand; comobey with the sadness of an incorrigi- rade to the man, playmate to the child; ble, inarticulate regret-when Père reproving with cheerful malice GerMaurice gave him his daughter tu wed main's lack of cheer, the quickness of "nous n'avions pas mis dans nos condi- her woman's wit giving its bright edge tions que je viendrais à l'oubier si to the soundness of her common-sense. j'avais le malheur de la perdre.” Ner. The expedition, inauspicious so far as ertheless, patriarchal authority prevails courtship of Veuve Guérin is conand Germain is despatched, an unwill- cerned, misses its aim; Germain's proing suitor, to the village home of la posal of marriage is never made, and Veuve Guérin with her comely face the farm-service, including conditions and worldly goods. Disconsolate, Ger- not in the bond, is renounced by la pemain sets out, mounted on the gray tite Marie. So the three return as they farm-horse, "songeant comme songent came, Germain to discover that life les hommes qui n'ont pas assez d'idées without petite Marie will be life withpour qu'elles se combattent entre elles, 'out the friend in need; petite Marie to mais souffrant d'une douleur sourde." hide her love and reject his suit unul He goes, but La Grise carries two, for Père Maurice sanctions his son-in-law's it chances that his neighbor, la petite marriage with the girl they have hireil, Marie, must perforce leave home to in neighborly kindness, to tend the earn a few francs in service at a farm sheep. In truth the story is of so slight not far from the village whither Ger- a texture, woven from so meagre a main is bound, and Germain, trust- skein, and colored with so few tints, worthy and kind, will see the child-for that the smallest flaw in its art would Marie is little more than a child-well have proved fatal to the whole scheme; on her way. Nor has La Grise borne but flaw there is none, the charm is inher double burden far before Petit- tact, and the scantiness of its elements Pierre, Germain's five-year-old Benja- constitutes the triumph of its simmin-a tactless associate in courtship- plicity. waylays them, and, la petite Marie aid- The transition from George Sand's ing and abetting, imposes his company well-loved Berry to the Burgundian vilupon the two. One by one the inci- lage-drama Balzac imaged in his somdents of the day are narrated with a bre novel “Les Paysans" 18 is a transilightness of touch that gives due per- tion to the reverse of the medal. It is spective to all. The frugal meal at not so much a passage from sun to Mere Rébec's cabaret, necessitated by shadow as to a total eclipse of every Petit-Pierre's devouring hunger; the re- ray of daylight. Shadows lie over tarded progress of La Grise; the dusk Pierre Loti's Celtic north; the gray that overtakes the wayfarers on the clouds that drift across the seas unfamiliar road; the mist that gathers hover over the hearts of the Breton thickly as they traverse the wood. peasantry. The mists that float shrouding the last glimmer of moon- • Part I.
across the landes give, as Barbey in her peasant fiction-she achieved d'Aurevilly points out, to the popula- it. Nothing could be farther from Baltion of la Basse Normandie, despite a zac's intention. “Un génie,” as she preponderance of material interests, "la wrote of him, orageux et puissant ... poésie . . . qui vient de la profondeur écrit avec ses larmes, avec sa bile, avec des impressions." But such shadows ses nerfs, un drame tout plein de torare, compared with Balzac's malignant tures." 11 The triumph and purpose of gloom, a mere film upon the glass. His his career was "la représentation de la is a radical transmutation; it is a pas- vie" in its integrity, and for his works sage from the spectacle of human na at large M. Brunetière claims a judgture where tints change, darken to sad- ment based on their attainment of this ness, or are gilded by transverse shafts object: "on ne peut donc pour les juger of pleasure, where men's souls respon- ... les comparer qu'avec la vie." 12 In sively reflect the chequered lights as the mammoth scheme of "La Comédie fortune's wheel turns, to a theatre Humaine," each novel constitutes but a within whose walls humanity plays its single page of the vast picture-play part dyed and blotted past erasure, Balzac designed, nor is it his fault, but smeared with splashes of mire and that of the limit of human years and blood and stained with the lees and capacity, if in the yet vaster Book of dregs of stagnant brute passions. The Life-a book without beginning or end sun may shine, the rain fall, the cold -the whole of his immense accomplishspread its chastities of frost, but the ment shrinks to a meagre compass, race Balzac summoned upon the stage reads as a least fraction of a broken in his "Comédie Humaine" will not sentence. change its spots nor any wind of Three volumes of the Comédie belong heaven purify the corruption of its lair. to the section treating “Scènes de la Vie
Balzac regards the peasant as a topic: de Campagne." "Le Curé de Village" he utilizes him as a document; his offi- and "Le Médecin de Campagne" portray cial standpoint is that of the spectator, the peasantry as the philosopher des and all that minute scrutiny can dis- mæurs conceived of village life subcover, all that a document can com- jected to the regenerating influences of municate, is crowded on to his canvas. religion and philanthrophy. The curé With George Sand the negligence of de- is himself a model of pastoral virtues, tail, local, geographical, and domestic, piety, humility, self-abnegation. His evinces a perfect familiarity with the docile flock leave no impression indiouter framework of the life she drew. vidually or collectively upon the mind. She dispensed with carefully accumu- The story is a plot of criminal intrigue: lated touches, trusting that pictures so the connection of Véronique, the micomplete in her own mind would print serly banker's wife, with a peasant themselves, without possibility of er- employé, and a consequent murder. The ror, upon her readers' imagination. execution of Véronique's lover leads the She painted her landscapes without re- secretly guilty woman to lifelong philcourse to topography, her farm-dwell- anthropic penance, under the direction ings without inventories of household of the curé, in her lover's native vilgoods, her human beings without ref. lage. These are the events upou which erence to dictionaries of psychological the story hinges. Véronique is the cenanatomy. Her aim was simplicity and tral figure; the villagers, their charac
ter and customs, are only incidentally 11 Prefatory note to “ La Petite Fadette." 19 “ Honoré de Balzac," par. F. Brunetière.
sketched. Except in one scene, when Paris, 1906.
in the village church a Mass for the
dying is said during the hour appointed impression, if not the seuse of form or for the execution of the condemned unity in structure. man, there is no vivid or concentrated That central point is the figure of the presentment of peasant thought or emo- Comte de Moncornet, the overbearing tion. The second volume of the series ex-general, a Napoleonic parvenu. His -"Le Médecin de Campagne"-presents attempt to establish his rights as landed the inhabitants of the district contigu- proprietor in his newly acquired estate; ous to La Grande-Chartreuse in a suc- the overt hostilities of the peasants, the cession of individual or family mono- covert machinations of the petite bourgraphs. Each monograph serves as an geoisie of the neighborhood, leagued object-lesson in the effects of possible against the new-comer, constitute the social and sanitary reform. The results groundwork of the plot. The Comte, of the doctor's attempts to ameliorate the wife his social ambition coveted, an the physical and moral state of his poor occasional guest, the Abbé Brossette, are discussed and expounded. Balzac, Blondin the young Parisian journalist, in his propaganda of Catholicism, roy. a familiar inmate whose presence disalism and authority, plunges into the sipates in some measure the tedium of abyss where the artist is submerged in his hostess's days: these form a sothe dogmatist when the doctor, the cially isolated group at the château des curé, the préfet and the doctor's guest, Aigues. Blondin plays the part of the. an ex-Napoleonic officer, debate at So professional observer; the curé that of cratic length the questions of suffrage, the moral commentator-as in his memof political ideals and the advantages orable phrase "avoir comment ils of religion as a police-control for the s'appuient de leur misère, on devine que populace.
ces paysans tremblent de perdre le pré"Les Paysans" 13 belongs to a jater texte de leurs débordements," And date and to a totally different method while Mme, de Moncornet indulges her of craftsmanship. The peasant, it is impulses of charity in casual alusgivtrue, is still, as in “Le Médecin," a ing to the debased and worthless supproblem, a topic, a document. It may pliants who beset her with threats and also be, as one of Balzac's most en- entreaties, a sullen conspiracy of hathusiastic critics allows, that if "il a eu tred spreads its intricate net around. un vague soupçon de ce qu'est le pay- The General-with riches, with gardes san, il ne le pénètre pas dans son es- champêtres, with the law's armed but sence cachée: la rusticité lui échappe impotent aid-is foredoomed to defeat au sens presque occulte de son fonc- in his struggles with the crouching, obtionnement." 11 But the problem has sequious, insolent force which rears its personified itself in living, moving ac- fanged head from every ditch. “Qui tors; the topic is embodied in figures terre a guerre a." The peasants, their harshly outlined with all the ruthless ancient malpractices: wood-stealing, force that lay in the brain of the great poaching, stolen pasturage and corninaugurator of naturalism. Again, if pillage, restrained by energetic measas in “Le Médecin,” there are a dis- ures of repression, are abetted by the jointed series of group-biographies, petty officialdom of justice and the ranthere is likewise an emphasized con- cors of provincial functionaries, who vergent point. The trends of oppos from divers causes seek advantage in ing passions are sufficiently consistent the General's overthrow. These, too, to give the sense of aggregate unity in are a specific group, agents in the tis18 Part I.
sue of events, through whose prompt14 H. Favre.
ings and connivance the situation
reaches its climax. Their coyetous ego- ont façonné dans le cours du temps, isms, unbridled avarice and shameless les êtres ou les lieux." The customs. duplicity, setting aside the grosser im- the appurtenances of the cabaret, are moralities of the secularized monk (le painted as carefully as its master, Maire Rigou), go far to outweigh the Maître Tonsard, and its frequenters. unredeemed sensualism, the repulsive Upon its shabby benches, set by broken brutalities and savage greed, exhibited tables where drinkers sit at ease, with by the peasant population. The whole the background of wooden cowsheds, picture is of unmitigated depravity and tool-houses and outbuildings, thieves unchequered gloom. One ray of kind- and libertines hatch their felonies and liness shines from the windows of the pursue their pleasures. There Tonsard keeper's lodge, to be quenched when plies his trade, blustering, gluttonous, Olympe Michaud's adored and adoring jovial, venomous; there la Tonsard plies husband is murdered in the perform- hers, acquiring, with Tonsard's conniance of his duty. One single peasant, vance, what gross luxuries of food and the veteran republican, père Niseron, dress she may. There the old grandstill dreams of a Utopian rule of mother and the daughters of the house liberty; the curé alone, among the add to their means of livelihood by inhabitants of the little township daily depredations: green wood cut as among the habitués of the cha- from young trees, game, illicit gleanteau, presents an example of moral ings and other spoils rified from the purity and disinterested humanity. But General's domains. The Grand-1-Vert these gleams of human affections and is a nucleus of malice, “vrai nid de human virtues are obscured and ulti- vipères, s'entretenant vivace et vénimately vanish in the environing moral meuse, chaude et agissante, la haine du darkness. With a uniformity which prolétaire et du paysan contre le maitre does not belong to life, Balzac deline et le riche." Customers and clients ates the lowest levels of vindictive ra- each in turn, as they come and go, bepacity. He does not allow one among tray their own specific baseness. The his characters even by accident to give otter-catcher, Maitre Tonsard's drunken way to those better impulses that beset father-in-law, père Fourchon, mendiunstable humanity at its worst: he has cant and rogue, resigns himself, as his totally ignored the fact that vice, no ill-gotten gains are snatched from him less than virtue, has its lapses, its self by his daughter, to be the butt and contradictions of right feeling and right prey of natures more vigorous, if not doing. Black, for him, can take no more vicious, than his own. And the other hue, nor reflect one faintest glim- innkeeper steals the last five-francmer of daylight.
piece he has detected hidden in the The château des Aigues is the citadel sodden drunkard's ragged pocket as of defence; the cabaret of the Grand-1. Fourchon, seated on the bench within Vert, the rendezvous of the enemies' the threshold, garrulously discourses on forces, is minutely portrayed by the social wrongs. Meanwhile the cabaret novelist, for whom characters exist, fills. Vermichel, concierge at the hôtel not, as with the romantics, mainly in de ville, huissier Brunet, valet Charles emotional inter-relationships, but pre- from the château, lover to Tonsard's eminently in relation to life and the ma- disreputable daughter, are assembled terial conditions of things, 15 and whose there, when, crashing through the doorinterminable descriptive passages are way with her enormous fagot of stolen toujours explicatives des causes qui boughs, Tonsard's old mother, "a hide15 F. Brunetière.
ous black parchment of age," makes