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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Is no doubt La Petite Fadette


[Sidenote:

Its balance of power.]

One might make a few cavils at this. The exact reason of what has been called the "sacrifice" is not made clear, despite Lucrezia's soliloquy in the olive wood. If it were meant as an atonement for her ill-spent youth it would be intelligible. But there is no sign of this, and it would not be in George Sand's way. Lucrezia merely resolves that she will try to make everybody happy without trying or expecting to be happy herself. But she must know more and more that she is _not_ making Karol happy, and that the cohabitation cannot, even in Italy, but be prejudicial to her children; though, to do him the very scanty justice he deserves, he does not behave ill to them, little as he likes them.

Again, this long self-martyrdom would need no explanation if she continued to love Karol. But it is very doubtful whether she had not ceased to do so (she was admittedly good at "ceasing to love") when she left the Wood of Olives, and the cessation admittedly took place long before the ten years' torture came to an end. One is therefore, from more than one point of view, left with a sort of Fakir self-mortification, undertaken and "dreed" neither to atone for anything, nor to propitiate any Power, nor really to benefit any man. After all, however, such a thing is quite humanly possible. And these _aporiae_ hardly touch knots--only very small spots--in a reed of admirable strength and beauty. We know

that George Sand did _not_ sacrifice herself for her lovers--very much the reverse. But we know also that in her youth and early middle age she was very much of a Lucrezia Floriani, something of a genius, if not so great a one as she made her creature, something of a beauty, entirely negligent of ordinary sexual morality, but thoroughly, if somewhat heartlessly, good-natured, and (not merely at the times mentioned, but to the end of her life) an affectionate mother, a delightful hostess, and a very satisfactory friend. No imaginary Stenio or Karol, no actual Sandeau or Musset or Chopin could have caused her at any time of her life the misery which the Prince caused Lucrezia, because she would simply have "sent him walking," as the vigorous French idiom has it. But it pleased her to graft upon her actual nature something else that it lacked, and a life-like and tragical story resulted.

It is not a bad "turn over of the leaf" from this, the strongest, and in the best sense most faultless, of George Sand's novels of analysis, to the "idyllic" group of her later middle and later period--the "prettiest" division, and in another grade of faultlessness the most free from faults, in ordinary estimation, of her entire production.

[Sidenote: The "Idylls"--_La Petite Fadette_.]

The most popular of these, the prettiest again, the most of a _bergerie-berquinade-conte-de-fees_, is no doubt _La Petite Fadette_, the history of two twin-boys and a little girl--this last, of course, the heroine. The boys are devoted to each other and as like as two peas in person, but very different in character, one being manly, and the other, if not exactly effeminate, something like it. As for Fadette, she, though never exactly like the other girl of the saying "horrid," but only (and with very considerable excuses) naughty and untidy and rude, becomes "so very, very good when she is good" as to awake slight recalcitrances in those who have acquired the questionable knowledge of good and evil in actual life. But one does not want to cavil. It _is_ a pretty book, and when the not exactly wicked but somewhat ill-famed grandmother's stocking yields several thousand francs and facilitates the marriage of Landry, the manly brother, and Fadette, one can be very cheerfully cheerful, and anticipate a real ever-after happiness for both. No doubt, too, the army did knock the girlishness out of the other brother, Sylvinet, and we hope that one of the village gossips was wrong when she said that he would never love any girl but one. For it is hardly necessary to say that his agreement with his twin extends to love for Fadette--love which is quite honourable, and quite kindly extinguished by that agreeable materialisation of one of Titania's lower-class maids-of-honour.


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