Book summary: The Country Waif

1977 BY GEORGE SAND

The Country Waif (Françoise le Champi) is the second of the three pastoral novels which rank along with George Sand's autobiographical writing as her finest work. Although simple in themselves, these tales have behind them much of the complex experience of her extraordinary life. As Mrs. Zimmerman writes in the introduction, they reflect Sand's "youthful romanticism, her later championing of the working classes, and her desire to record in fiction that was both poetic and factual the lives of the people and the region she knew best."

Set in the countryside of the author's native province of Berry, The Country Waif tells the story of François, an orphan boy placed in a rural foster home, and Madeline, the miller's wife who befriends him. Sand's contemporary, Turgenev, wrote that it was "in her best manner, simple, true, affecting." The book has been admired by writers as diverse as Willa Cather (she found it "supremely beautiful") and André Malraux, who considered it a masterpiece.

As well as examining the setting, language, and narrative mode of the novel, the introduction looks at Sand's life, in part from the feminist perspective, with attention to the sociopolitical background of the post-Napoleonic era, when Aurore Dudevant felt impelled to rebel against her status as a country wife and to become George Sand.

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