I saved my copy of ‘Valentine’ for quite some time, because I was sure from the start that it would be special, that it was a book to save for exactly the right moment. And when I read ‘Valentine’ I realised that I had been right, that I was reading a classic work by the finest of authors.
I was transported to rural France, I was captivated by the story, the romance, by everything that the author had to tell me …. I was torn between wanting to rush through the pages and wanting to linger, to in this world, in this story, for as long as I could.
‘Valentine’ tells the story of the love between Valentine de Raimbault, the daughter of the chateau, and Bénédict Lhéry, the nephew of one of its tenant farmers. When they met they feel in love, swiftly and deeply. That love was tangible, the characters lived and breathed, their whole world came to life. It was wonderful, but it was impossible.
“He could not take his eyes from Valentine’s; whether he leaned over the bank or ventured on to the loose stones or on to the smooth and slippery pebbles in the river-bed he inevitably met Valentine’s glance, watching him, brooding over him, so to speak, with tender solicitude. Valentine did not know how to dissemble; she did not consider on that occasion there was the slightest occasion for her to do so.”
Benedict had been brought up by his aunt and uncle, and it was understood that he would marry their adored – but spoiled – only child, Athénaïs.
Valentine’s sister, Louise, had been cast off by her family when a love affair produced a son out of wedlock, and that left Valentine to marry well. A marriage had been arranged with a man of high rank; but a man who was dissolute and in need of the fortune that Valentine would bring to pay his gambling debts.
It was impossible, but the bond between them was unbreakable.
The story rises and falls because Valentine and Benedict have different temperaments. One is reluctant to cause hurt and tries to follow the path that was planned for them, and one is ready to do anything for the two to be together.
And of course their are other influences. A spouse who will not be undermined. A lover sore after rejection. A loving sister, whose own feelings and interest may conflict with sisterly love ….
George Sand constructed and managed her plot beautifully, attending to every single detail;she brought the countryside to life with wonderfully rich descriptions; and she made her characters’ feelings palpable.
She gave me a wonderful story, full of wonderful drama, and so many real emotions.
And it was a story with much to say, about the separation of social classes, about the lack of education and opportunity for women of any class.
“Every day, in the name of God and society, some clown or some dastard obtains the hand of an unfortunate girl, who is forced by her parents, her good name or her poverty to stifle in her heart a pure and sanctified love. And before the eyes of society, which approves and sanctions the outrage, the modest, trembling woman, who has been unable to resist the transports of her lover, falls dishonoured beneath the kisses of a detested master! and this must go on!”
There is so much depth, so much richness in the characters, in the relationships, in the way that story plays out, but I am wary of saying too much.
I have to believe that George Sand was an author who put her head her heart and her soul into her work. And now, of course, I want to read everything that she ever wrote.
It’s difficult to place her ….
…. imagine Thomas Hardy, transformed as Virginia Woolf transformed Orlando, sitting down to rewrite Romeo and Juliet and drawing inspiration from Shakespeare’s other works too ….
I can’t quite explain.
I just know that I loved this book.
(Translated by George Burnham Ives)