They are very poor novels, and it would be a waste of time to attempt to defend them. They are not to be despised, though, as regards their influence on the rest of George Sand's work, and also as regards the history of the French novel. They rendered great service to George Sand, inasmuch as they helped her to come out of herself and to turn her attention to the miseries of other people, instead of dwelling all the time on her own. The miseries she now saw were more general ones, and consequently more worthy of interest. In the history of the novel they are of capital importance, as they are the first ones to bring into notice, by making them play a part, people of whom novelists had never spoken. Before Eugene Sue and before Victor Hugo, George Sand gives a _role_ to a mason, a carpenter and a joiner. We see the working-class come into literature in these novels, and this marks an era.
As to their socialistic influence, it is supposed by many people that they had none. The kind of socialism that consists of making tinkers marry marchionesses, and duchesses marry zinc-workers, seems very childish and very feminine. It is just an attempt at bringing about the marriage of classes. This socialistic preaching, by means of literature, cannot be treated so lightly, though, as it is by no means harmless. It is, on the contrary, a powerful means of diffusing doctrines to which it lends the colouring of imagination, and for which it appeals to the feelings. George Sand propagated the humanitarian dream among a whole category of men and women who read her books. But for her, they would probably have turned a deaf ear to the inducements held out to them with regard to this Utopia. Lamartine with his _Girondins_ reconciled the _bourgeois_ classes to the idea of the Revolution. In both cases the effect was the same, and it is just this which literature does in affairs of this kind. Its _role_ consists here in creating a sort of snobbism, and this snobbism, created by literature in favour of all the elements of social destruction, continues to rage at present. We still see men smiling indulgently and stupidly at doctrines of revolt and anarchy, which they ought to repudiate, not because of their own interest, but because it is their duty to repudiate them with all the strength of their own common sense and rectitude. Instead of any arguments, we have facts to offer. All this was in 1846, and the time was now drawing near when George Sand was to see those novels of hers actually taking place in the street, so that she could throw down to the rioters the bulletins that she wrote in their honour.
GEORGE SAND AND THE PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT--
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.