Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Everything's great - a George Sand idyll

Everywhere I look, in everything I read, things are going great. Or they go great for a while, but then something bad happens. Or they're going great now, except that things are a little weird, because something bad happened a long time ago. For some reason, I have been reading a lot of idylls.*

Herman Melville, Adalbert Stifter, Theodor Storm, Longfellow in Evangeline, Eliot in Adam Bede - they all build their stories around some sort of idealized rural setting, always with some sort of threat (even in Arcadia, am I, says Death) hidden somewhere. In Evangeline and Adam Bede, a tragedy disturbs the idyll, while in Stifter and Storm the sorrows lie in the past.

George Sand's The Devil's Pool (1846)** is an especially idyllic idyll. A young farmer, a widower, is going to visit a nearby village to meet an eligible widow. By chance, he is accompanied by a poor, pretty shepherdess; his adorable seven year-old son comes along as well. They all get lost in the woods. The sheperdess is really pretty. And good with children. And she secretly gathers chestnuts while they walk, and has an exta bottle of wine, all of which turns out to be kind of handy when lost in the woods. That widow does not have a prayer.

Sand begins the short novel by invoking a Holbein print, from The Dance of Death. See left. That's Death striking the horses. She describes the image only to reject it:

"So it was that I had before my eyes a picture the reverse of Holbein, although the scene was similar. Instead of a wretched old man, a young and active one; instead of a team of weary and emaciated horses, four yoke of robust and fiery oxen; instead of death, a beautiful child; instead of despair and destruction, energy and the possibility of happiness." (Ch. I)

That young man's story is the one Sand chooses to write. "I might write his story, though that story were as simple, as straightforward, and unadorned as the furrow he was tracing." Curious that she feels she has to justify it like this. I don't understand French Romanticism.

More, the best part of The Devil's Pool, tomorrow.

* Well, not anymore, now that I'm reading Cousin Bette, a vulgar and chaotic anti-idyll.

** La Mare au Diable. I've also seen it translated as The Haunted Pool, and as The Devil's Pond.


  1. Enjoyable blog. I'm sure I'll find more than a few reading ideas to follow through on.

  2. Thanks. There's been a lot of interesting stuff at Five Branch Tree lately - Hardy, Hamsun, and your walk through Paterson.

  3. Funny, I was just saying to someone the other day that everything feels really like a Thomas Hardy novel all of a sudden -- everything could work out just fine, happily-ever-after, except that one little thing goes wrong and it all ends up terribly.