Fiction > Harvard Classics > George Sand > The Devil’s Pool > Criticisms and Interpretations > II
George Sand (1804–1876).  The Devil’s Pool.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction.  1917.
Criticisms and Interpretations
II. By Matthew Arnold
HOW faithful and close it is, this contact of George Sand with country things, with the life of nature in its vast plenitude and pathos! And always in the end the human interest, as is right, emerges and predominates. What is the central figure in the fresh and calm rural world of George Sand? It is the peasant. And what is the peasant? He is France, life, the future. And this is the strength of George Sand, and of her second movement, after the first movement of energy and revolt was over, towards nature and beauty, towards the country, towards primitive life, the peasant. She regarded nature and beauty, not with the selfish and solitary joy of the artist who but seeks to appropriate them for his own purposes, she regarded them as a treasure of immense and hitherto unknown application, as a vast power of healing and delight for all, and for the peasant first and foremost. Yes, she cries, the simple life is the true one! but the peasant, the great organ of that life, “the minister in that vast temple which only the sky is vast enough to embrace,” the peasant is not doomed to toil and moil in it for ever, overdone and unawakened, like Holbein’s labourer, and to have for his best comfort the thought that death will set him free. Non, nous n’avons plus affaire à la mort, mais à la vie (“Our business henceforth is not with death, but with life”).   1
  Whether or not the number of George Sand’s works—always fresh, always attractive, but poured out too lavishly and rapidly—is likely to prove a hindrance to her fame, I do not care to consider. Posterity, alarmed at the way in which its literary baggage grows upon it, always seeks to leave behind it as much as it can, as much as it dares—everything but masterpieces. But the immense vibration of George Sand’s voice upon the ear of Europe will not soon die away. Her passions and her errors have been abundantly talked of. She left them behind her, and men’s memory of her will leave them behind also. There will remain of her to mankind the sense of benefit and stimulus from the passage upon earth of that large and frank nature, of that large and pure utterance—the large utterance of the early gods. There will remain an admiring and ever widening report of that great and ingenuous soul, simple, affectionate, without vanity, without pedantry, human, equitable, patient, kind. She believed herself she said, “to be in sympathy, across time and space, with a multitude of honest wills which interrogate their conscience and try to put themselves in accord with it.” This chain of sympathy will extend more and more.   2
  It is silent, that eloquent voice! it is sunk, that noble, that speaking head! we sum up, as we best can, what she said to us, and we bid her adieu. From many hearts in many lands a troop of tender and grateful regrets converge towards her humble churchyard in Berry. Let them be joined by these words of sad homage from one of a nation which she esteemed, and which knew her very little and very ill. Her guiding thought, the guiding thought which she did her best to make ours too, “the sentiment of the ideal life, which is none other than man’s normal life as we shall one day know it,” is in harmony with words and promises familiar to that sacred place where she lies: Exspectat resurrectionem mortuorum, et vitam venturi sæculi.—From “Mixed Essays” (1877).   3



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