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"Les Paysans" was the outcome of polemical intention:
Le but de cette étude d'une effrayante vérité, est de mettre en relief les principales figures d'un peuple oublié par tant de plumes. . . . Cet oubli n'est peut-être que de la prudence par un temps où le peuple hérite de tous les courtisans de la royauté. ... On a fait de la poésie avec les criminels, on a presque déifié le prolétaire On volt bien qu'aucun . . . n'a eu le courage d'aller au fond des campagnes étudier la conspiration permanente de ceux que nous appelons encore les faibles contre ceux qui se croient les forts.
Balzac threw himself into the breach. His theme is this "Robespierre à une tête et a vingt millions de bras," who seeks possession of the soil he tills. And in accomplishing his task, in creating his Tonsards. his Fourchons, he lent his genins to the further estranging of sympathies, added his quota of bricks to the barrier of social antipathies that separate class and class, rich and poor.
Thus Balzac, if his preface may be believed, composed "Les Paysans" with an intent and purpose over and above the aims of art. George Sand equally avowed her moral, though converse, lik"rary mission.
Dans le temps où le mal vient de ce que les hommes se méconnaissent et se détestent, la mission de l'artiste est de célébrer la douceur, la confiance, l'amitié, et de rappeler ainsi aux hommes . . . que les mœurs pures, les sentiments tendres, et l'équité primitive, sont, ou peuvent être, encore de ce monde.
But before the peasant theme escaped from the hands of literary missionaries, whether propagandists of idealism or of hatred, Barbey d'Aurevilly, the strange harlequin of ultraromanticism, nine years after the publication of "Les Paysans," expended the graphic energy of his uncertain tal
ent in the composition of his decadent extravaganza "L'Ensorcelee." Here the counter-spirit of revolt, a fanatical feudal devotion, is embodied in the person of the palsied village Herodlas of his Chouan légende. idealist d'Aurevilly was not, and frequently his ultra-romanticism evinces incongruous impulses of realistic insight. Nevertheless, dwelling, according to the wont of the school he survived so long," upon the abnormal and the fantastic, carrying to aesthetic excess the juxtaposition of moral contrasts, he occasionally vindicates in his own productions his belief "que l'imagination continuera d'être d'ici longtemps la plus puissante réalité qu'il y ait dans la vie des hommes."
La ( 'lotte is only a secondary personage, yet her figure is memorable as a romantic's typical rendering of peasant character. The opening chapter of the wild melodrama is a preliminary page, as it were torn from the author's diary, in which he recounts the circumstances of his meeting with Maître Tainnebouy, who. as his road companion, retails to him the légende of l'Abbé de la Croix Jugan and Jeanne le Hardouey. The isolation of the lande when dusk overtakes the two riders, and entrapped by dense fog, "l'immensité des espaces que nous n'apercevions pas se révélait par la profondeur du silence," comes before us. a gray curtain, painted with the skill of a true artist. The modulations, from the common incidents of the road—the laming of a horse, a lost track—to the paragraph that precludes the raising of that curtain, are the work of a master of scenic effect .
Nous ne pouvions guere, dans une obscurité aussi complète, apprécier le chemin que nous faisions. Cependant les heures retentirent à. un clocher qui . . . nous parut assez rapproché. . . . L'horloge qui sonna avait un timbre grêle et clair qui marqua minuit. . . .
"Barbey d'Aurevilly died at the age of eighty iu 188».
Mais le dernier coup de minuit n'avait pas encore flnl d'osclller it nos orellles, qu'a, un point plus distant et plus eufoncfe dans l'horlzon, nous entendlmes resouner non plus une horloge de clocher, mals une grosse cloche, sombre, lente et pleine. "Entendez-vous, maltre Tainnebouy?" dis-]e un peu emu de cette sinistre clameur d'alrain dans la nuit. "On sonue a cette heure: seraitce le feu?" "Non," repondit-11. "Le tocsin Sonne plus vite, et cecl est lent comme une agonle. Attendez! voila. cinq coups! en voila. six!—sept! huit et neuf! C'est fini; on ne sonnera plus."
Truly, for we have heard the bell of Blanchelande, the ancient Abbey of Hi fame, and it rings with ominous clang for "la messe de l'abbG de la CroixJugan—une messe des morts."
Barbey d'Aurevilly, with the thread of genius that runs through his literary and moral charlantanism, could have found no fitter introduction to attune the imagination to a romance trembling always upon the brink of the supernatural; in which Jeanne le Hardouey fails a spellbound victim to a consuming passion for the Chouan AbM, "ce Balafrfe en capuchon," with his scorched and mutilated features; and the Abbe himself, re-admitted after long years to the exercise of his sacerdotal office, is shot at the altar—as the mass-bell of Blauchelande rings—by the hand of Jeanne's husband.
Framed in this old life tragedy. La Clotte—as no other among the actorsIs n portrait drawn with singular vividness and emotional veracity. Refusing In her youth the lot of a peasant's wife, Clotilde Maudult, devoured by "le regret, plus affreux qu'un remords, d'avoir perdu sa .leunesse." had become the Herodias of the Ch.lteau de rimit-Mesnil. where R6my Sang-d'Aigion gathered around him the dissolute nobles from whom Chouannerie recruited its heroes and martyrs. The old woman, outcast and alone, broods forever on that past. She has attached
herself body and soul to those who degraded her beauty, has identified her lot with their lot, has been racked with their tortures and suffered ignominy in their defeat. They are dead, the old comrades of her sins, but she, their victim and their devotee, lives on. Her face is of furrowed bronze, her tall figure distorted, her limbs crippled; her wheel stands silent, her knitting drops from the knotted fingers. Tears have long since burnt themselves from her eyes. But hour by hour, year by year, impenitent and fierce, with her gray hair "qui semblait 6tre la couronne de fer de sa sombre vieillesse," she nurses the ashes of lost passions, loves and hates, and the flame, smouldering but unextlnguishable, of an exasperated caste-worship for those criminal companions of bygone days "Ah, vous autres seigneurs, qu'est-ce qui peut effacer en vous la marque de votre race? Et qui ne recounattrait pas ce que vous etlez aux seuls os de vos corps quand ils seraient couches dans la tombe?" cries the withered fanatic to their sole survivor, the Abbe de la Croix-.Tugan. Her passionate attachment to Jeanne le Hardouey is part and parcel of the same feudal homage, for the ancient blood of the Feuardeuts runs in the veins of the farmer's wife, resentful of its abasement. And Jeanne, "l'Ensorcelee," on whose ashamed uprightness the doom of a sudden love-madness has fallen, the dreary serenity of whose heart has kindled to fire at her first meeting with the priest, "une flme de sa race." finds In La Clotte's frenzied memories the echo of her own obsession and the interpretation of her own despair. Jeanne's doom accomplishes itself: she ends a life where sanity had striven in vain for mastery. As the death-bell tolls consternation over Le Hardouey's fields. La Clotte divines that the knell, calling Importunately to those who live to plead for the soul which has gone hence, tolls for Jeanne. The weight of each stroke falls with leaden grief on the one vulnerable spot infirmity and misery have left in La Clotte's heart,
rien ... n'empechalt d'entendre les sons poignants de lenteur et brises de silence qui flnissent par un tintement f uprfime et grele comme le dernier soupir de la vie au bord de l'eternlte. .. . Les sons . . . passaient par la porte ouverte et venaient mourir sur ce grabat, oft un coeur altler qui avait resiste il tout se brisait enfin dans les larmes.. . . "Je ne suis pas dlgne de prier pour eile," tit-elle alors . . . "la pleurer, oui . . . mais prier pour eile je ne puis—Dien rlrait de m'entendre si je prials! 11 salt trop qui j'ai ete et qui je suis pour ecouter cette voix soulllee qui ne lul a jamais rien demands pour Clotilde Mauduit, mais qui lul demanderait, si eile osait, sa misericorde pour Jeaune de Feuardent."
The butchery of La Clotte at Jeanne's open grave is one of those scenes of coarse atrocity without which d'Aurevilly, in common with other romantics, seemed to feel the impression of imaginative power unattainable, as without similar crudities the greatest of French naturalists, more often than not. seems to feel the impression of reality ineffective.
To pass from "L'Ensorcelee" to Flaubert ("le dernier des romantlques, si Emile Zola n'avait pas exlste"1') in his finished study, "Un Coeur Simple," is to pass from the brilliance of literary imposture to the somewhat austere genius of pure and strict oestheticism whose sole end is the perfection of literary excellence. "Un Coeur Simple" Is a new version of the peasant theme. Not a line, not an incident, severs It from the routine of daily occurrences in the life of a farm-girl transplanted into domestic service. It Is a narrative of monotonous commonplaces. Felicity's honest love of farmhouse days, her later devotion to the children
she tends, her unrecompensed affections, her mute acquiescence in her lot of many sorrows, Is a story of Immense ignorances, immense tenderness and boundless faith. And In the combination of Fellcite's Ignorance, tenderness and faith, in a use of these qualities governed by unerring tact and reticence, Flaubert found a distinctive note for his fiction. It is the very note of homely simplicity combined with ecstatic devotion which found expression In numberless folksongs and In many a. Noel, where tbe peasant translated Bethlehem of Jndea into a Bethlehem of village life; where in the conception of a common motherhood each mother brought her dole of sympathy to the birth-night cradle of an infant God; where each peasant in the gay familiarity of common human joys, pictured himself as the Barthelemy of the old chansoa leaving his sabots outside the sacred stable ("icl je lalsse mes sabots") as he hurried in to present the Child with gifts—a thrush, a robin and a finch. Flaubert has seized the traits: crude realism, fanciful ideality, imaginative pictorialism. instinctive mysticism, such as the soul-life of the unchronlcled poor registers wherever the pageantries of Catholic belief and Catholic liturgy have passed into peasant idiom; wherever the peasant has made tentative appropriation to his own needs of the ideas and ideals of the great romanceperiod of Christianity. Flaubert's genius has caught that sub-current of visionary fervor, and varied with its tinted lights the gray monotone of Felicity's living and dying. The dim colors that haunt the peasant's soul are the heritage of the "Cceur Simple." Little indeed she knows of creed or dogma: "quand aux dogmes, eile n'y comprenait rien." She has not steeped her mind, as Emile Zola's Angeliqne." with her sensualism d rebours of hyster11 Le RATe.
ical excitement, in dreams and rhapsodies of mystical marriages and the tortured raptures of martyrdom. Féllcité's devotion is the healthful radiant vision of childhood.
Elle pleura en écoutant la Passion. Pourquoi l'avaient-ils crucifié, lui qui chérissait les enfants, nourrissait les foules, guérissait let aveugles, et avait voulu, par douceur, nattre au milieu des pauvres sur le fumier d'une étableï Les semailles, les moissons, les pressoirs, toutes ces choses familières dont parle l'Evangile, se trouvaient dans sa vie; le passage de Dieu les avait sanctifiees; et elle aima plus tendrement les agneaux par amour de l'Agneau, les colombes il cause du Saint-Esprit.
in the closing scene of that dumb and gentle spirit all the values of those elements of prose and romance that contribute to sincerity of effect are wrought out of this material. Félicité has seen, one by one, all her heart's treasures sink below the horizon. 'Hie \ children she has loved are dead or removed from her care. The mistress she has served with entire obedleuce and unbroken fidelity lies in her grave. Even Loulou, the paroquet, whose splendors of blue and green plumage focussed the admiration and affection «f the lonely woman, is now only a stuffed relic of former glories.
And Félicité lies dying, "comme Madame," she says, finding consolation in the similarity of sickness, "trouvant naturel de suivre sa maîtresse." But ■ hough the solace of religion is hers, she is troubled in spirit. The FêteDieu is at hand, the altar, the sacred resting-place it is the privilege of pious hands to decorate. is to be erected beneath her very window. There the long procession of the festival will halt awhile in its slow progress through the streets of the little town. "Félicité se chagrinait de ne rien faire pour le Reposoir. Au moins si elle avait pu y mettre quelque chose!" Then to the
sick woman, whose failing eyes are dim, comes the thought of Loulou, "sa seule richesse." it is not, as the neighbors say, "convenable," but the curé accedes to her desire. Loulou—or Loulou's remains—shall find a place among the adornments of the altar. The FêteDieu dawn finds Félicité with life fast ebbing; the priest has ministered to her departing soul the last sacraments; the women who tended her are gone—save La Simonne, ". . . La Simonne, déjeuna; u» peu plus tard elle prit Loulou, et, approchant de Félicité: 'Allons! dites-lui adieu!' . . . Elle le baisa au front, et le garda contre sa joue." Then, stuffed, worm-eaten, and brokenwinged, the bird is carried forth to do honor to the festival.
Des guirlandes vertes pendaient sur l'autel, orné d'un falbala en point d'Angleterre ii y avait au milieu un petit cadre enfermant des reliques, deux orangers dans les angles, et, tout le long, des flambeaux d'argent et des vases en porcelaine d'où s'élançait des tournesols, des lis, des pivoines, des touffes d'hortensias. . . . Loulou caché sous les roses ne laissait voir que son front bleu, pareil à une plaque de lapis. ... Le prêtre gravit lentement les marches, et posa sur la dentelle son grand soleil d'or qui rayonnait. ... 11 se fit un grand silence. Et les encensoirs glissaient sur leurs chaînettes. Une vapeur d'azur monta dans la chambre de Félicité. . . . Ses lèvres souriaient. Les mouvements de son cœur se ralentirent un il un, plus vague chaque fols, plus doux, comme une fontaine s'épuise, comme un écho disparaît: et quand elle exhala son dernier souffle. elle crut voir dans les cleux entr'ouverts, un parroquet gigantlque, planant au-dessus de sa tête.
Flaubert's solitary essay at peasantportraiture leaves the impression of the work of an artist who sees very clearly, but from very far off. Guy de Maupassant, equally conforming to the standard that acknowledges no design in fiction save aesthetic effect, treads the ground side by side with the peasants of whom he writes, aud in his many nouvelles of farm and cottage life evolves a widely different formula of representation. He indulges no speculations as to the possible; has no affirmations to controvert or certify; bis world is neither beautiful nor ugly, good nor evil; his concern is with things as they are; his art to divest the form of art—even in the conte where form is the essence of merit—of the unveracities accruing to shorthand abbreviations in scenes of life and character. The side of life visible to the author of "Le Diable," "Le Vieux." "L'ne Fille de Ferme," and many other stories, is the side visible to a tragic humorist, and the coarseness, whicb throughout literary annals has allied itself with the mnte lxiur rirr, whether in the license of culture or folk-tale, is rarely absent from his work.1" Yet, if Maupassant jests, and jests grossly, he never laughs; his farce is a farce where tragedy wears the dress comedy had heretofore donned of circumstance and incident, and the clown in his burlesques is a clown sinister in the equipment of a Danse Macabre.
Peasant themes adapted themselves with peculiar aptitude to his treatment . and he dwelt on them insistently, marking in sure outlines the features of men. women and things. Flaubert attained his effect by reticence. Maupassant, more humanely, though with no surcharging of descriptive passages, attained his by explicit exposition: the one contents himself with a suggestion. the other, with no less certain judgment, lays an emphasis. Flaubert in his "Coenr Simple" was occupied solely with one figure: all Felicity's surroundings derive their importance from her connection with them. Contrariwise, to take an example from among many, in Maupassant's "Une Fille de Ferme."
» "Clair de Lune" is a notable exception of extreme and finished perfection.
Rose seems in great measure to draw her existence from her circumstances; her personality is the outcome, not, as Felicitos, of natural temperament, but of outward compulsion and the qualities Rose develops are fashioned by exterior rather than by innate causes. Accordingly the repulsive plot is a plot of situation, a statement of facts. The action, aggressive as in "Les Paysaus," springs primarily from the element of primitive passions preserved, if not engendered, by the usages of country life. The successive phases of Rose's moods as the story proceeds, follow, never precede or occasion, the sequence of events. Her savage attack on her unfaithful lover is caused by his repudiation of his promise of marriage. The knowledge of the approaching birth of her child is the root of her dumb misery. Her passionate devotion to the child born and bred in secret, stimulates her inert and passive nature to energy and force, and is the motive actuating her attempt—the wage-earner's attempt—to raise the market price of iter labor. Hut below the energy and capacity of the handlworker the peasant's inertia survives. The farmer, her value as wife exceeding her value as servant, would compel her to marry him. She resists; yet as he tells her the banns of marriage are published.
elle ne repondft pas. Que pouvaitelle dire? Elle ne resista point. Que ponvait-elle faire? . . . Bile se sentalt enfoneee dans un trou mix bords inaccesslbles. dont elle ne pourrait jamais sortir . . . son marl lul falsait l'effet d'un homme qu'elle avait vole, et qui s'en apercevralt un jour ou l'autre. Et puis elle pensalt il son petit d'ou venait tout spn malheur, maIs d'ou venait aussi tout son bonheur sur la terre.
it needs all the exasperated despair her husband's maltreatment can evoke (his disappointed hopes of fatherhood have transformed his rough kindness into