Friday, March 16, 2012

La Petite Fadette—George Sand


"La petite Fadette rougit beaucoup, ce qui l'embellit encore, car jamais jusqu'à ce jour-là elle n'avait eu sur les joues cette honnête couleur de crainte et de plaisir qui enjolive les plus laides; mais, en même temps, elle s'inquiéta en songeant que la Madelon avait dû répéter ses paroles, et la donner en risée pour l'amour dont elle s'était confessée au sujet de Landry." (167)

[Roughly translated: Little Fadette blushed mightily, embellishing more, for never until this day had she had on her cheeks such honest color of fear and of pleasure which adorns even the most ugly ones; but, at the same time, she worried in thinking that Madelon had had to repeat her words, and to make her a laughing stock for the love that she had confessed about Landry.]

It's been a while, I must say. I haven't had as much time to read as I'd like with my recently crazy work schedule, but I'm back!

A bit of back story on this particular book choice: I minored in French in university. I had never studied French prior to that minor, and since I graduated a bit over three years ago, I haven't had much occasion to utilise my skills. This is true to the point that they're not so much skills as a muscle that has now atrophied due to disuse. My comprehension is passing, but when it comes to actually speaking French, I don't even try - mostly because I'm all too aware that I'll offend someone with my horrible sentence construction and verb conjugation. (Especially knowing that I find few things more offensive than negligently poor grammar.) So every once in a while I'll pull out a French book (most of which I purchase for between $1.00 and $5.00 at Half Price Books) and pretend that I understand more than the 75% of it that actually makes sense.

Truthfully, this is the first time that I've read an honest-to-goodness French novel (255 pages!) Previously I had spent some time with Petit Nicolas (written by Goscinny), a character who is amusing but is written for children, and with Le Petit Prince, again a book for French children. (Although I guess I did co-read L'etranger by Camus in college.)

I was a bit impressed with myself for understanding as much as I did, I have to be honest. While there was some vocabulary that I did have to look up, for the most part I was able to suss out what was going on.

I'm so glad that I selected this particular book. What a lovely story. In the beginning, we meet Landry and Sylvinet at their beginning (aka their birth). They are twins, and their parents are warned to make sure to differentiate between them and separate them as much as possible so that there aren't problems with attachment later in life. Their parents decide not to take this advice. Fast forward to their teen years (starting at about fifteen) and, although the twins look very similar, if you spend some time with them you'll start to notice differences. Landry is stronger, both physically and emotionally, and Sylvinet is more reliant on his brother and a bit more tenderhearted.

[Warning: There is quite a bit of plot explanation below. If you don't want to read spoilers, or if you simply don't want to be bored, please feel free to skip to the end. Mostly it's included because I was excited that I had been able to figure it out. I certainly could have made it more concise had there been less excitement.]

Around this time, Landry is sent away to a neighboring farm in order to assist the owner, and, although they see each other all of the time, Sylvinet becomes incredibly withdrawn. Then Landry develops a romantic interest for the niece of the owner, Madelon. Through a series of events, he also encounters Fadette (although that is not her given name, but merely a nickname that the village had bestowed upon her). The village considers Fadette to be a witch because her grandmother has taught her how to utilise herbs in order to help people and animals recover from illnesses. Once again, an instance of people being afraid of what they do not understand.

On a particular day, Sylvinet had been missing for some time and Landry was out looking for him, in a panic. He meets Fadette on the road and she says that she will help him find Sylvinet, but he must give her something in return. He readily agrees, his thoughts only of finding his brother. She never comes to collect her prizes (some farm animals that belong to Landry's family). About a year later, it is late and Landry is crossing a river and gets stuck and she comes to his rescue, saying that she will help him as long as he promises to dance seven dances with her at the Sunday sockhop. (Okay, obviously not a sockhop, but it made for some nice alliteration.) Again, he agrees, she helps him, and he goes along his merry way. But she actually wants to collect on this particular favor, which becomes a problem when Landry realizes that he has promised to dance with Madelon.

The night of the dance, Landry, an honorable young man, follows through on his promise to Fadette. He is sorely disappointed in his friends when they do nothing but taunt and ridicule her. At the end of their seven dances, she leaves in tears, and he follows her - after first standing up to his friends and admonishing their horrendous behavior. Madelon additionally is full of attitude, and informs him that she doesn't need him, and that any young man would be more than happy to take his place. Landry begins to doubt his "love" for her.

When he runs after Fadette, he finds her and talks to her, really for the first time. He realizes that she is not a witch (obviously) - she is, in fact, an incredibly faithful, thoughtful, intelligent, and caring young woman. She admits to him that she knows she is ugly, and could never hope that he would be interested in her, and was happy just to get the seven dances. He asks if he can kiss her, after a particularly flattering bit of moonlight shines on her, and she refuses. She tells him that if he were to kiss her tonight he would regret it in the morning. And he realizes in the morning that she was right.

One day, Fadette shows up and has had a makeover. Her hair is more organized and her clothing is no longer in rags. Landry has realized at this point that Madelon is shallow and mean, and has given up on her - meanwhile, he's been thinking more and more about Fadette. He sees her in church following her makeover and seems to have a revelation. They begin to spend more time together, and gradually fall in love.

Once Landry's family discovers this, they tell Landry that he absolutely cannot marry Fadette because of her family reputation. She leaves the village in order to make a name for herself. Around this time, Landry is sent away in order to lessen the intense bond between himself and his brother. Fadette returns about a year later when her grandmother (who had raised her) dies. She goes to visit Landry's family, mostly to ask his father for advice, and learns that Sylvinet is sick. She nurses him back to health (essentially by telling him that he's being ridiculous, and is not physically sick so much as lazy and stubborn) and he falls in love with her. Once Landry returns, he and Fadette get married, and Sylvinet leaves to join the military, planning to never get married.

Definitely more exposition of the plot than I usually include, but I thought it might be fitting for this particular occasion.

It's a great love story, and not too incredibly difficult to understand. Most of the verbs were ones that I was already familiar with, and what I didn't immediately understand was generally obvious after reading a bit farther and working out the context. I'm glad I took the time to read this beautiful story and flex my French muscle.