It was not absolute reality and the everyday details of the peasants’ habits and customs that she wanted to show us, but the poetry of the country, the reflection of the great sights of Nature in the soul of those who, thanks to their daily work, are the constant witnesses of them. The peasant certainly has no exact notion of the poetry of Nature, nor is he always conscious of it. He feels it, though, within his soul in a vague way. At certain moments he has glimpses of it, perhaps, when love causes him emotion, or perhaps when he is absent from the part of the world, where he has always lived. His homesickness then gives him a keener perception. This poetry is perhaps never clearly revealed to any individual, not to the labourer who traces out his furrows tranquilly in the early morning, nor to the shepherd who spends whole weeks alone in the mountains, face to face with the stars. It dwells, though, in the inner conscience of the race. The generations which come and go have it within them, and they do not fall to express it. It is this poetry which we find in certain customs and beliefs, in the various legends and songs. When Le Champi returns to his native place, he finds the whole country murmuring with the twitter of birds which he knew so well.
“And all this reminded him of a very old song with which his mother Zabelli used to sing him to sleep. It was a song with words such as people used to employ in olden times.”
In George Sand’s pastoral novels we have some of these old words. They come to us from afar, and are like a supreme blossoming of old traditions.
It is all this which characterizes these books, and assigns to them their place in our literature. We must not compare them with the rugged studies of Balzac, nor with the insipid compositions of the bucolic writer, nor even with Bernadin de Saint-Pierre’s masterpiece, as there are too many cocoanut trees in that. They prevent us seeing the French landscapes. Very few people know the country in France and the humble people who dwell there. Very few writers have loved the country well enough to be able to depict its hidden charms.
La Fontaine has done it in his fables and Perrault in his tales. George Sand has her place, in this race of writers, among the French Homers.
THE ‘BONNE DAME’ OF NOHANT THE THEATRE—ALEXANDRE DUMAS FILS—LIFE AT NOHANT
Novelists are given to speaking of the theatre somewhat disdainfully. They say that there is too much convention, that an author is too much the slave of material conditions, and is obliged to consider the taste of the crowd, whilst a book appeals to the lover of literature, who can read it by his own fireside, and to the society woman, who loses herself in its pages. As soon, though, as one of their novels has had more success than its predecessors, they do not hesitate to cut it up into slices, according to the requirements of the publishing house, so that it may go beyond the little circle of lovers of literature and society women and reach the crowd—the largest crowd possible.