This, then, was the secret of that working up of the style, until it became a mania with him and developed into a torture. We all know of the days of anguish which Flaubert spent in searching for a word that escaped him, and the weeks that he devoted to rounding off one of his periods. He would never write these down until he had said them to himself, or, as he put it himself, until "they had gone through his jaw." He would not allow two complements in the same phrase, and we are told that he was ill after reading in one of his own books the following words: "Une couronne _de_ fleurs _d_'oranger."
"You do not know what it is," he wrote, "to spend a whole day holding one's head and squeezing one's brains to find a word. Ideas flow with you freely and continually, like a stream. With me they come like trickling water, and it is only by a huge work of art that I can get a waterfall. Ah, I have had some experience of the terrible torture of style!" No, George Sand certainly had no experience of this kind, and she could not even conceive of such torture. It amazed her to hear of such painful labour, for, personally, she let the wind play on her "old harp" just as it listed.
Briefly, she considered that her friend was the victim of a hopeless error. He took literature for the essential thing, but there was something before all literature, and that something was life. "The Holy of Holies, as you call literature, is only secondary to me in life. I have always loved some one better than it, and my family better than that some one."
This, then, was the keynote of the argument. George Sand considered that life is not only a pretext for literature, but that literature should always refer to life and should be regulated by life, as by a model which takes the precedence of it and goes far beyond it. This, too, is our opinion.
The state of mind which can be read between the lines in George Sand's letters to Flaubert is serenity, and this is also the characteristic of her work during the last period of her life. Her "last style" is that of _Jean de la Rocke_, published in 1860. A young nobleman, Jean de la Roche, loses his heart to the exquisite Love Butler. She returns his affection, but the jealousy of a young brother obliges them to separate. In order to be near the woman he loves, Jean de la Roche disguises himself as a guide, and accompanies the whole family in an excursion through the Auvergne mountains. A young nobleman as a guide is by no means an ordinary thing, but in love affairs such disguises are admitted. Lovers in the writings of Marivaux took the parts of servants, and in former days no one was surprised to meet with princes in disguise on the high-roads.
George Sand's masterpiece of this kind is undoubtedly _Le Marquis de Villemer_, published in 1861. A provincial _chateau_, an old aristocratic woman, sceptical and indulgent, two brothers capable of being rivals without ceasing to be friends, a young girl of noble birth, but poor, calumny being spread abroad, but quickly repudiated, some wonderful pages of description, and some elegant, sinuous conversations. All this has a certain charm. The poor girl marries the Marquis in the end. This, too, is a return to former days, to the days when kings married shepherdesses. The pleasure that we have in reading such novels is very much like that which we used to feel on hearing fairy-stories.
"If some one were to tell me the story of _Peau d'Ane_, I should be delighted," confessed La Fontaine, and surely it would be bad form to be more difficult and over-nice than he was. Big children as we are, we need stories which give food to our imagination, after being disappointed by the realities of life. This is perhaps the very object of the novel. Romance is not necessarily an exaggerated aspiration towards imaginary things. It is something else too. It is the revolt of the soul which is oppressed by the yoke of Nature. It is the expression of that tendency within us towards a freedom which is impossible, but of which we nevertheless dream. An iron law presides over our destiny. Around us and within us, the series of causes and effects continues to unwind its hard chain. Every single one of our deeds bears its consequence, and this goes on to eternity. Every fault of ours will bring its chastisement. Every weakness will have to be made good. There is not a moment of oblivion, not an instant when we may cease to be on our guard. Romantic illusion is, then, just an attempt to escape, at least in imagination, from the tyranny of universal order.
It is impossible, in this volume, to consider all George Sand's works. Some of her others are charming, but the whole series would perhaps appear somewhat monotonous. There is, however, one novel of this epoch to which we must call attention, as it is like a