HER studies of the peasantry of Berry are probably George Sands most permanent contribution to literature. They show a feeling for nature, exquisite and till then unparalleled in French fiction. Delicate in style, admirable in composition, deeply poetic, yet simply realistic, La Mare au diable, François le champi, La Petite Fadette, and most original of all, Les Maitres sonneurs, have the perpetual charm that belongs to every union of truth and beauty.
Her view of the novelists art made it essentially the expression of lyric passion. Nothing is strong in me, she said, but the necessity of love; and when this is in question, she will be thoroughly romantic, however realistic she may be elsewhere. Her passion varies, however. It is at first personal, then social and humanitarian. Her central impulse is always an emotion, not an idea, and this is reflected in the composition of her novels, where she is apt to conceive her situation and let her pen trot with no clearly defined goal. So the beginning of each story is apt to be the best, and the body of the work better than its close, which occurs, not from any structural necessity, but only because the subject has written itself out in her mind, from which, indeed, she was wont to let it pass so completely that if she chanced to read her own novels after an interval, she found she could not recall so much as the names of the characters.
This composition at haphazard, finishing one novel and beginning another on the same evening, was sustained by a fertile imagination that loved to cradle itself in a rosy optimism. She delighted in superior beings, in whose magnanimity, gentleness, and passionate devotion the glowing sympathies of her heart alone found satisfaction. Hence her heroes and heroines become less real, and so attract us less than the more genuine creatures of earth that surround them. And here, curiously enough, her strength is just where Balzac, her greatest contemporary, is weakestin the aristocracy and in her young girls. You write the Comédie humaine, she says to him; I should like to write the époée, the eclogue of humanity. For such real flesh and blood girls as hers, we must go back to Marivaux if not to Molière. Not the child nor the young wife, but the budding woman, naïve, gentle, timid, with her ingenuous coquetries, her comic little vexations, her timorous ventures, her invincibly romantic disposition, and her constant bashfulness at showing it, her long silent hopes, and discreet waiting, the tempestuous heart and the calm face; all that little world so thrilling, so concentrated, so manifold. All fail here, and George Sand, too sometimes, but not always.1
She thought herself extremely feminine in the inconsequence of her ideas and absolute lack of logic. But she was sensible, though not profound. The romantic girls who took her heroines literally got no comfort from her. Lélia is not I, she writes to one of them; I am a better woman than that. It is only a poem, not a doctrine. She could not have spoken more truly. She is preeminently the poet among the novelists of the century. Standing between the romantic novel of adventure and the realistic study of manners, between Dumas and Balzac, she renews the idyl, wins back the lyric from its extreme individualism, unites poetry to reality, and, if she left few descendants in France to walk in her via media, the seeds she scattered found fruitful soil in England, and especially in Russia, whence in these last days they have found an acceptance in France that augurs an approaching revival of her own popularity.From Modern French Literature.