Saturday, March 13, 2021

La Petite Fadette: the novel by George Sand and the silent movie with Mary Pickford

"La Petite Fadette" is a novel by George Sand published in 1849. I'm reading it now after watching a 1915 silent film, "Fanchon, the Cricket," loosely based on the book. I'm a fan of the silents shown on TCM on Sunday night. In "Fanchon," Mary Pickford plays the lead. She was a darling of Hollywood at the time and in 1919 formed United Artists with D.W. Griffith, Douglas Fairbanks, and Charlie Chaplin. She plays Cricket, named for her small stature and hyperactive nature. Some people in the village consider her a witch because that's how the villagers saw her grandmother. Fadette and her little brother Grasshopper live with her in a tumbledown cottage out in the woods.

The cinematic Fanchon falls in love with the local hottie named Landry and scandal erupts because he is from a "good" family and she is not. Common plot line for many books and films. In the end, romance prevails and the two are married. The end.

As the credits rolled, I noticed that it was based on Sand's book. Wonder what the book is like? Despite my time as an English major, I never read any of Sand's numerous works. She's not really a part of the canon, at least when I was in grad school. Women authors were a few in the 1980s version of the big list. An oversight, as she was a woman author when that was very rare, author of many novels (one of my grad school mentors had the 28-volume English language set in his library). Sand was born Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin and called Aurore by friends and family. She lived the bohemian life in Paris, wore men's clothing, smoked, and had numerous affairs with the literati and some musicians, Chopin, for one. Victor Hugo liked her work. Sand spent time on the barricades during the 1849 revolution. 

No surprise but "La Petite Fadette" is quite different from the Pickford film. In the novel, Fadette is small and describes herself as ugly, obviously no Mary Pickford, although Fadette is not always reliable in describing herself. She is dirty and wears tattered clothes. Still, she exerts a strong presence. Landry protects her during the village's feast day and even dances the bouree with her, which scandalizes the bourgeoisie. I was taken with the character. She's more outspoken than I expected, less a victim than a young woman trying to find her way in the world. Like her grandmother, she is endowed with mysterious healing powers, which she utilizes late in the novel with Landry's twin brother, Sylvinet. 

The prose is a overwrought, keeping with the style of the era. Long passages of dialogue and description. The author inserts her own opinions. She obviously wrote at a brisk pace which left little time for editing. Chapter 20 seemed to go on forever as Fadette and Landry critiqued each other. By that point, I was attached to the main characters and into the story.  

I am a strong advocate of editing and revising. But sometimes we lose some of the sloppy humanity that's a part of all good books. Think about Dickens and Tolstoy. Dickens was paid by the installment as his work appeared serially over weeks and months. Tolstoy, well, if you've read "War and Peace," you are familiar with endless descriptions of formal balls, philosophical discussions, and Napoleon's very, very long siege of Moscow. It also was first published serially in The Russian Messenger. W&P is wordy and unwieldy. Tolstoy didn't even call it a novel, saying that "Anna Karenina" was his first novel. What can I say -- I see it as a novel.  

George Sand wrote 59 novels and 13 plays. The Russians, especially Dostoevsky, were crazy about Sand's work during her lifetime. She's been featured in at least four Hollywood movies. "A Song to Remember" with Merle Oberon as Sand and Cornel Wilde as Chopin. I can't say I'll read more of her books, although not all are available in English. I have read one, which should please my English professors. It pleases me, too. Oh, and I saw the movie.

No comments: