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The Country Doctor   By: (1799-1850)

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By Honore De Balzac

Translated by Ellen Marriage and Clara Bell

"For a wounded heart shadow and silence."

To my Mother


In hardly any of his books, with the possible exception of Eugenie Grandet , does Balzac seem to have taken a greater interest than in Le Medecin de Campagne ; and the fact of this interest, together with the merit and intensity of the book in each case, is, let it be repeated, a valid argument against those who would have it that there was something essentially sinister both in his genius and his character.

Le Medecin de Campagne was an early book; it was published in 1833, a date of which there is an interesting mark in the selection of the name "Evelina," the name of Madame Hanska, whom Balzac had just met, for the lost Jansenist love of Benassis; and it had been on the stocks for a considerable time. It is also noteworthy, as lying almost entirely outside the general scheme of the Comedie Humaine as far as personages go. Its chief characters in the remarkable, if not absolutely impeccable, repertoire of MM. Cerfberr and Christophe (they have, a rare thing with them, missed Agathe the forsaken mistress) have no references appended to their articles, except to the book itself; and I cannot remember that any of the more generally pervading dramatis personae of the Comedy makes even an incidental appearance here. The book is as isolated as its scene and subject I might have added, as its own beauty, which is singular and unique, nor wholly easy to give a critical account of. The transformation of the cretin haunted desert into a happy valley is in itself a commonplace of the preceding century; it may be found several times over in Marmontel's Contes Moraux , as well as in other places. The extreme minuteness of detail, effective as it is in the picture of the house and elsewhere, becomes a little tedious even for well tried and well affected readers, in reference to the exact number of cartwrights and harness makers, and so forth; while the modern reader pure and simple, though schooled to endure detail, is schooled to endure it only of the ugly. The minor characters and episodes, with the exception of the wonderful story or legend of Napoleon by Private Goguelat, and the private himself, are neither of the first interest, nor always carefully worked out: La Fosseuse, for instance, is a very tantalizingly unfinished study, of which it is nearly certain that Balzac must at some time or other have meant to make much more than he has made; Genestas, excellent as far as he goes, is not much more than a type; and there is nobody else in the foreground at all except the Doctor himself.

It is, however, beyond all doubt in the very subordination of these other characters to Benassis, and in the skilful grouping of the whole as background and adjunct to him, that the appeal of the book as art consists. From that point of view there are grounds for regarding it as the finest of the author's work in the simple style, the least indebted to super added ornament or to mere variety. The dangerous expedient of a recit , of which the eighteenth century novelists were so fond, has never been employed with more successful effect than in the confession of Benassis, at once the climax and the centre of the story. And one thing which strikes us immediately about this confession is the universality of its humanity and its strange freedom from merely national limitations. To very few French novelists to few even of those who are generally credited with a much softer mould and a much purer morality than Balzac is popularly supposed to have been able to boast would inconstancy to a mistress have seemed a fault which could be reasonably punished, which could be even reasonably represented as having been punished in fact, by the refusal of an honest girl's love in the first place... Continue reading book >>

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