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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Balzac's peasant scenes against her


cavil at this would be contemptibly

easy. To quote _La Terre_ against it would be uncritical, for, as may be seen later, whatever M. Zola's books are, they are not evidence that can negative anything. It would be as sensible to set against the night scene in the wood by the Devil's Pool the history of the amiable Dumollard, who, as far as fifty years' memory serves me, used, some years before George Sand's death, sometimes to escort and sometimes to lie in wait for servant-girls on the way to or from places, violate, murder, and rob them, in another country district of France. Nor would it be quite critical, though a little more so, to compare George Sand's own friend, contemporary, and in some sort counterpart, Balzac's peasant scenes against her. If, at this time, she viewed all such things _en rose_, Balzac viewed them, at this and almost all times, _en noir_. Perhaps everybody (except the wicked farmer, who insults Marie) is a little too good, and it seems rather surprising that somebody did not say something about Germain and Marie arriving next morning instead of overnight. But never mind this. The scenery and the writing of the book have real charm. The long conversation by the watch-fire in the wood, where Germain tries to break off his suit to the widow already and transfer himself to Marie, with Marie's cool and (for she has loved him already) self-denying refusal on the most atrociously rational and business-like principles, is first-rate. It may rank, with the above-mentioned discussion about Consuelo's
beauty between herself and her lover, as one of the best examples of George Sand's gift for the novel.

[Sidenote: _Francois le Champi._]

The third in the order of mention of what is usually considered her trilogy of idylls, _Francois le Champi_, if not the prettiest, is the strongest, and the most varied in interest, of the three. The shadier side of human character lifts itself and says, _Et in Arcadia ego_,[189] much more decidedly than in the childish petulances of _La Petite Fadette_ and the merely "Third Murderer" appearance of the unprincipled farmer in _La Mare au Diable_. Even the mostly blameless hero is allowed, towards the close, to exhibit the well-known _ruse_ or _madre_ characteristics of the French peasant to the extent of more than one not quite white lie; the husband of the heroine is unfaithful, tyrannical as far as he dare be, and a waster of his family's goods before his fortunately rather early death; his pretty young sister, Mariette, is a selfish and spiteful minx; and his paramour (sarcastically named "La Severe") is unchaste, malignant, and dishonest all at once--a combination which may be said to exclude any possible goodness in woman.

The only thoroughly white sheep--though the "Champi" or foundling (his cradle being the genial fields and not the steps of stone) has but the grey patches noticed above, and those acquired with the best intentions--is Madeleine Blanchet, his protectress for many years, and finally, after difficulties and her widowhood, his wife. That she is some twelve years older than he is is a detail which need not in itself be of much importance. It lends itself to that combination of maternal and sexual affection of which George Sand is so fond, and of which we may have to speak some harsh words elsewhere. But here it matters little. Arcady is a kind of Saturnian realm, and "mixtures" elsewhere "held a stain" may pass there.


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