Home > 1900, 20th Century, Novel, Ramuz Charles-Ferdinand, Swiss Literature > They walked back to the village, a volcano in their heart

They walked back to the village, a volcano in their heart

Aline by Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz. 1905. 144 pages. Not translated into English, sorry, sorry, sorry…

 Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz (1878-1947) is a French-speaking Swiss writer. Aline is his second novel, written in 1905. Born in Lausanne, Ramuz spent 14 years in Paris and came back to Switzerland in 1914, before the war started. His work is centred on country life in the Canton de Vaud.  

Aline is a short tale about a tragic love story in rural Switzerland. Julien, only son of the richest man of the village, is infatuated with Aline, a seventeen year old peasant. She lives alone with her ageing mother Henriette. It is summer, the heat is almost unbearable. Julien and Aline meet on a trail as they go back home from work in the fields. Julien flirts and persuades her to meet at night, when her mother is asleep. She accepts and they start dating secretly in the woods. Their affair lasts several months and their love follows opposite paths. While Julien progressively falls out of love with Aline, Aline’s love grows to passion. Julien is a young womaniser and for him, she’s nothing more than a summer romance. It was true love for her. The ingredients of a tragedy are all there.  

Aline reminded me of Félicité (A Simple Heart by Flaubert) and of Emma Bovary. Like Félicité, she’s good and loving. She’s a simple heart, ill-prepared to face life and inconstant boys. Like Emma, she gives herself away, as Flaubert said. She’s overwhelmed by her feelings. I don’t think Julien can be compared to Rodolphe though; he just grew tired of Aline and didn’t realize she was so deeply in love with him.  

Ramuz writes with simplicity about peasant life. Aline’s heart is pure and simple and Ramuz’s language is as pure as a mountain spring. His style comforts our image of Aline, an adolescent experiencing feelings she fails to understand and tame.

Et elle était devenue bien jolie ; ses joues étaient plus roses, ses lèvres plus rouges, ses yeux plus bleus. C’est la jeunesse qui vous sort du cœur, parce que le cœur est content, et elle est devant vous comme le matin des prés. And she had become really pretty; her cheeks were pinker, her lips redder, her eyes bluer. It’s youth pouring out of your heart, because the heart is contented and it lays in front of you like a morning on the fields.

Ramuz brings to life the village, the people, their way of life, the gossips. He points out the difference between boys and girls: when the affair is known, everybody blames Aline and Julien remains unscathed. A girl can’t fall in love but a boy can seduce whomever he wants, it’s sport.  

I didn’t know Ramuz had influenced Giono but I truly heard Giono when I read Aline. And also Pagnol. I could feel the summer heat, smell the scent of wet grass after the rain, imagine the blue sky, the fields and the bushes.  

Avril avait paru, poussant devant lui ses petits nuages comme des poules blanches dans un champ de bleuets. April had shown up, pushing before him his small clouds like white hens in a cornflower field.

It’s evocative. His description of nature reminded me of paintings by Van Gogh (Wheatfield with Crows or The Sower) or Monet (Poppies Blooming). Simple words and forceful images. It’s set in Switzerland but it could be in France. I thought of the innocence of life before the horrors of the trenches and lives untimely ended by war, throwing everyday life off balance in towns and villages.

I’m not usually fond of bucolic novels. I couldn’t finish La Gloire de mon Père by Marcel Pagnol, I thought it was mushy. However, I liked Regain by Jean Giono (Harvest) and Aline reminded me of this book. It is fresh and lovely and I’m sorry it isn’t translated into English. For readers who can/could read French or would like to speak French again, it’s easy to read and short. For other readers I recommend Regain by Giono, it has the same flavour.

PS : The perfect soundtrack for this book is La Chasse aux papillons by Georges Brassens. I borrowed a line for the title of this post.

  1. May 17, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    You make Ramuz sound quite good.

    Do you know the blog Incurable Logophilia? Michelle, its host, is actually working on translating Ramuz, although I do not remember which work, exactly. She has had at least one of her Ramuz translations published in an English-language journal.


    • May 17, 2011 at 3:36 pm

      Thanks. I really enjoyed this book.
      You seem to read a lot of French literature. If you haven’t read Giono yet, I recommend him.

      I don’t know Michelle’s blog. Thanks for the link, I’ll visit her site. I’ve looked for a translation but couldn’t find any.


      • May 17, 2011 at 5:27 pm

        Yes, Giono sounds good, too. I have, unfortunately, only “seen the movie” – The Horseman on the Roof with Juliette Binoche.


  2. May 17, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    In my book on the history on French Literature that we used at uni there is a chpater called “Les saveurs de la vie” and in that chapter Colette, Ramuz and Giono are mentioned together. All three have, to a certain extent, a bucolic side. I think Colette is the most sophisticated of the three but I like the two others as well. I like Pagnol too, though. I’m not fond of mountains, therefore I prefer other landscapes than the ones described by Ramuz. Especially the one in La grande peur dans la montagne… They give me the creeps (the mountains). He captures them masterfully, the way they seem to wait for something…
    I haven’t read this book by Ramuz but some others and was quite impressed with it. I would not mind reading this at all. It would be quite a coincidence if Michelle was translating it.
    I wonder whether it has really changed, would Aline be less blamed nowadays?


    • May 17, 2011 at 4:43 pm

      I’ve never read Colette, I can’t tell. In Aline, there aren’t any descriptions of mountains. Like you, I’m not fond of mountains, I would have mentioned it.

      The only Pagnols I disliked were La Gloire de mon Père and Le Château de ma mère. Too naive. I’ve had a Pagnol period when I was a teenager and I loved Marius, Fanny and César.

      Aline would be less blamed today, at least in Western Europe and some things that happened to her in the book could be avoided after 1960.


  3. May 17, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    The plot reminds me of something but I can’t remember the title….


    • May 17, 2011 at 10:30 pm

      A film perhaps?
      En français on dit “je l’ai sur le bout de la langue” quand on n’arrive pas à se rappeler du nom de quelque chose.


  4. May 17, 2011 at 11:38 pm

    On the tip of my tongue is the phrase here.

    Yes it’s a film but I’m fairly sure it’s based on a book. The plot involves a lowly servant who becomes involved w/ an upper class man. She becomes pregnant and seeks him out, and for him it was just a passing fancy whereas she’s ruined. It’s set in the 19th C.


    • May 17, 2011 at 11:42 pm

      I think I know that film too but I can’t remember the title. Maybe Caroline will if she reads this.


  5. May 18, 2011 at 7:32 am

    I e-mailed Michelle from Incurable Logophilia and she confirms Aline has never been translated into English.

    Now, if someone can convince Pereine Press to publish dead writers, this book seems to be what they usually publish. (novellas in translation if I’m correct)


  6. May 18, 2011 at 6:34 pm

    Looks like there are several films based on the books.


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