George Sand: Her Life & Writings
1848 George Sand And The Provisional Government
Her Pastoral Novels
IN 1846, George Sand published Le Peche de M. Antoine. It was a very dull story of a
sin, for sins are not always amusing. The same year, though, she published La Mare au
Diable. People are apt to say, when comparing the socialistic novels and the pastoral
novels by George Sand, that the latter are superb, because they are the result of a
conception of art that was quite disinterested, as the author had given up her preaching
mania, and devoted herself to depicting people that she knew and things that she liked,
without any other care than that of painting them well. Personally, I think that this was
not so. George Sand's pastoral style is not essentially different from her socialistic style.
The difference is only in the success of the execution, but the ideas and the intentions are
the same. George Sand is continuing her mission in them, she is going on with her
humanitarian dream, that dream which she dreamed when awake.
We have a proof of this in the preface of the author to the reader with which the Mare au
Diable begins. This preface would be disconcerting to any one who does not remember
the intellectual atmosphere in which it was written.
People have wondered by what fit of imagination George Sand, when telling such a
wholesome story of country life, should evoke the ghastly vision of Holbein's Dance of
Death. It is the close of day, the horses are thin and exhausted, there is an old peasant,
and, skipping about in the furrows near the team, is Death, the only lively, careless,
nimble being in this scene of "sweat and weariness." She gives us the explanation of it
herself. She wanted to show up the ideal of the new order of things, as opposed to the old
ideal, as translated by the ghastly dance.
"We have nothing more to do with death," she writes, "but with life. We no longer
believe in the neant of the tomb, nor in salvation bought by enforced renunciation. We
want life to be good, because we want it to be fertile. . . . Every one must be happy, so
that the happiness of a few may not be criminal and cursed by God." This note we
recognize as the common feature of all the socialistic Utopias. It consists in taking the
opposite basis to that on which the Christian idea is founded. Whilst Christianity puts off,
until after death, the possession of happiness, transfiguring death by its eternal hopes,
Socialism places its Paradise on earth. It thus runs the risk of leaving all those without
any recourse who do not find this earth a paradise, and it has no answer to give to the
lamentations of incurable human misery.
George Sand goes on to expose to us the object of art, as she understands it. She believes
that it is for pleading the cause of the people.
She does not consider that her confreres in novel-writing and in Socialism set about their
work in the best way. They paint poverty that is ugly and vile, and sometimes even
vicious and criminal. How is it to be expected that the bad, rich man will take pity on the