The devil’s pool by George Sand

The Devil’s Pool starts with a contemplation about nature in paintings and farmers in the natures hand. She ends the second chapter with:

I knew the young man and the beautiful child; I knew their history, for they had a history. Everybody has his own, and could make the romance of his life interesting, if he could but understand it. Although but a peasant and a laborer, Germain had always been aware of his duties and affections. He had related them to me clearly and ingenuously, and I had listened with interest. After some time spent in watching him plow, it occurred to me that I might write his story, though that story were as simple, as straightforward, and unadorned as the furrow he was tracing.

[…]

I mean, if possible, to save from oblivion the furrow of Germain, the skilled husbandman. He will never know nor care, but I shall take pleasure in my talk. – II

Here she presents the theme and type of story. This is a pastoral short story. It’s a story written by a woman living in the city about the nature she admires from afar. Germain, the main character, is a farmer and is nothing but good. The story, after the introduction, is about how he must marry again a few years after the death of his wife. He is shown as missing his wife, compassion for his children, yet he will marry again because he knows he has to. Germain can do no wrong and in the story he won’t. Germain is like the nature, perfect because he is untainted by the city.

Hans_Holbein_d._J._-_The_Plowman_from_Dance_of_Death_-_WGA11613
The Plowman – Hans Holbein the Younger

The Devil’s Pool places itself in a time and place where some of the gentry in the city was reacting to the city-culture. They were looking to nature and the people living in the country, untouched by the city. They were othering.

Othering is the process where one groups defines another group, creating an “us” and “them”. The othering in The Devil’s Pool is romanticising, unlike other othering that can talk about “barbarians” or “lower beings”.

Apparently George Sand (Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin) was inspired by Dance of the Death, a collection of prints among others this picture “The ploughman”. Here the ploughman is followed by death and living with death as his only rewards. George Sand felt this harsh picture too cruel and didn’t fit her middle(upper)-class view of the farmers of her time. While George Sand isn’t directly mean,

she is painting the “other” in a light that can be seen as almost infantile. Germaine can’t do anything wrong, he can’t fail, he isn’t allowed to be human.

“And why did you refuse to let them in?” said Germain, angrily. “People are very suspicious in this country, where nobody opens the door to a neighbor.”

“But you see,” answered the maid, “in a house as rich as this, I must keep my eyes open. When the master is away, I am responsible for everything, and I cannot open the door to the first person that comes along.”

“It is a bad custom,” said Germain, “and I had rather be poor than to live in constant fear like that. Good-by to you, young woman, and good-by to your vile country.” – XII

All that being said, it’s still interesting to read this kind of story because this is a part of our literary history. Writing was often reserved for the middle or upper class (and white, cis, straight men). Othering happened all the time and it’s important to remember that class is another way of othering. We are used to thinking of othering in a mean way,

frontispiece
An Etching By E. Abot

turning people of colour to brutes and queer people to sinners. It’s important to remember that othering in a positive way, turning farmers into simple saints and women into Madonna, is just as wrong. I would recommend the Devil’s Pool due to it’s simplicity. Showing this trend in all it’s naiveté. George Sand is also good at painting a picture of a place and a time. The end scene where our main hero is hardly visible is a good way of building a world. While the world isn’t real, it shows that the story we have just read is just a part of a bigger picture. Romanticized as it is this is a good literary trait to highlight the imagined “realness” of it all.

The devil’s pool is a love story, both a love letter to an imagined farming community, but also within the story itself. While I do think she turned the characters into children in her behaviour, there was something about the simplicity of the love story I liked. It’s not the be all end all that love stories often are. It’s small and involves only the people whom are in love and the people close to them. It’s surprising because of the overall romanticism, or maybe because the overall romanticism, that the romance is so believable.

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