First English translation of an 1840s novel that switches between a contemporary sensibility and old-fashioned preachiness as it limns the life of that so-very-19th-century phenomenon: a young man from the provinces with little money and high hopes. Sand's story scandalized French society when it appeared serially in 1842-43, for its heroine, Marthe, is a gentle barmaid who has lovers, bears a child, and yet, unlike the conventional fallen woman of the times, is not only saved by the love of a good man but ultimately prospers. Marthe is the moral foil, the stable center, that contrasts with Horace, her sometime lover who abandons her when she's pregnant and at her most vulnerable. The pair's story is told by ThÇophile, a freethinking medical student and longtime acquaintance of Marthe's who befriends Horace soon after his arrival in Paris. Set in the early 1830s, when poor and ambitious young men flocked to the city to study or to join revolutionaries plotting against the restored monarchy, the novel is a portrait of a society on the cusp. EugÇnie, ThÇophile's mistress, believes in sexual equality, while the corrupt Viscountess LÇonie, whom Horace also seduces, prefers the old orthodoxy. Horace, not yet 20, is one of those people ``who seem to be acting a part, even as they seriously play out the drama of their lives.'' And while Horace plays out his self-centered drama, friends like saintly artist Paul Arsäne and radical leader Jean Laraviniäre nearly lose their lives on the barricades, and ThÇophile nurses cholera victims. Horace has the highest ideals and great charm but manages not only to ruin himself by gambling, extravagance, and indolence, but almost to kill Marthe, whom he claims to love—until she became pregnant. Tame for today, though Horace as a type can still be foundeven if the means of self-destruction may have changed. A voice from the past with something still to say.
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