Helynne's Reviews > Mauprat

Mauprat by George Sand
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Jun 30, 09

Read in July, 1989

** spoiler alert ** Mauprat takes its title from the surname of an extensive family that lives in the French countryside. One branch of the family is noble and fine, the other quite simply, despicable. The main theme is if and how a member from the bad side of the family can change sufficiently to be accepted by the good side.
This is one of my very favorite among George Sand's many novels. Perhaps more than in any other of her works, Sand created a wide potpourri of some negative, but mostly positive male characteristics in this 1836 story, which takes place in her native Berry region of France inp the 1770s. Her message is that even the roughest men can become refined and that the most delicate of heroines can effect a positive change in a man's life and lead him to be worthy of her.
The detestable array of uncles at the infamous château of Roche-Mauprat and a few other characters represent general bad male behavior and the 18th- and 19th-century French society that condoned it. However, a different array of men—from the faithful rat-catcher Marcasse, to the kind, compassionate father figure Hubert Mauprat of Saint-Sévère, to the rustic philosopher Patience to the progressive Abbé Aubert, to the American soldier and intellectual botanist Arthur— are symbols of the kind of idealized males in the more gender-equitable society Sand envisioned for her heroine, Edmée, as well as for herself and her countrywomen.
Central to the theme of Mauprat is the role—whether positive or negative—that all of these male characters play in the development of the attitude and personality of young Bernard Mauprat, who, by the story's end has gone from a 17-year-old ruffian raised by a barrage of barbaric and amoral uncles—the poster boy, if you will, for burgeoning bad male behavior of the era— ¬to a genteel young scholar and military veteran worthy of his cousin Edmée's love. If the early Bernard is a metaphor for the egocentric man and for the society that sustains his character, seven years later, the refined and matured Bernard is a shining ideal of what men can and should become if they are molded not only by the right woman, but also by the politically and socially desirable mentors of their own gender.
The young hero and heroine come from different branches of the Mauprat family. Bernard's grandfather, Tristan Mauprat, dominates a family of seven sons, all unmarried, and all despicably crude and vile. During the 10 years before he met Edmée, Bernard, who lost his mother at age 7, is under the sole influence of this heinous group.
On the younger side of the family is Tristan's cousin, Hubert, Edmée's widowed father, who lives in the nearby Sainte-Sévère estate, and is so loved and respected by the local people that they have given him the nickname of le chevalier.
Edmée swears to the local priest she will never give in to Bernard as long as he remains a ruffian. The eavesdropping Bernard, who now realizes just how odious is his position in Edmée's life, turns and walks away. He makes a resolve to get an education, and assures Edmée the next day that she has nothing more to fear from him. However, Bernard did not hear the whole conversation between Edmée and the abbé. It is not until the end of the novel when the cousins are about to wed that the abbé lets Bernard in on what Edmée told him as they walked further into the woods—that despite her fear of Bernard's roughness and bestial passion, she was madly in love with him.
But Bernard, who does not know Edmée's true feelings, plunges into his lessons with a grim determination to become worthy of her. Patience reiterates the charge for Bernard to became educated, refined and worthy of Edmée. He proves an apt student, but his increased knowlege and awareness provoke in him a new vice—pride. Believing himself of superior intelligence, Bernard become a bavard, stirring up his aging Uncle Hubert with modern political ideals and distressing Edmée.
Bernard serves nobly in the American Revolution during the next six years, and hears only occasionally from Hubert and Edmée. He also falls under the influence of a superb military companion, Arthur, a wise, gentle botanist from Philadephia, who takes off where Patience and the abbé left off in encouraging a fellow male to seek greater knowledge. This "second education" or "social education" from Bernard was equally, if not more, important than the intellectual education offered by the Abbé Aubert and Edmée. Vareille notes that Bernard's training from Arthur lasts six years, whereas the first intellectual training took only two (440).
Further convolutions in the plot lead to a momentary lapse in Bernard's hard-earned self-control, which, in turn, leads to his being framed by one of his evil uncles for the attempted murder of Edmée. There follow exciting scenes of searing courtroom drama. Edmee's testimony in court concerning her silent, but long abiding, love for Bernard, which she had had to keep secret until he was sufficiently educated and refined for her, turns the hearts of the hostile judges.
Bernard's last words to his listeners are his vehement refusal to believe in fatality, and his conviction that training and education can triumph over instinct and genetics. He recommends individualized education geared to each person's particular needs such as that which he received from Edmée. People must correct each other, he says, "en vous aimant beaucoup les uns les autres." (382).

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