La mare au diable

By George Sand

3,248 ratings - 3.45* vote

Un jeune veuf, Germain, vit avec ses beaux parents et ses trois enfants. Son beau-père le pousse à se remarier pour le bien des enfants. Germain accepte de rendre visite à une veuve d’une région voisine qui cherche un nouvel époux.Il accepte d’accompagner Marie, une jeune fille qui a trouvé une place dans une ferme de la même région. Un des enfants de Germain, Petit-Pierre Un jeune veuf, Germain, vit avec ses beaux parents et ses trois enfants. Son beau-père le pousse à se

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Book details

Paperback, 221 pages
April 24th 2001 by Grand Caractère

(first published 1846)

Original Title
La Mare au diable
2744404551 (ISBN13: 9782744404559)
Edition Language

Community Reviews

Ivana Books Are Magic

La mare au diable (Devil's Pool) is a pastoral novel written in a romantic style. Simple and easy to read, it is not without its charms. In particular, the descriptions of the pastoral life have something genuine and warm about them. I enjoyed the author's explanations of the country life and the characters. Devil's Pool (an actual place where characters get stuck during their travel) offers some interesting symbolic reading. The characters themselves are a bit black and white, they aren't developed in depth but are likable. The plot is simple and predictable, for most part it isn't terribly interesting as such. However, there are some really touching moments in this story, for example the way Germain cares about his children. Moreover, this is a book one can enjoy, mostly because it is written economically and sensibly. I quite enjoyed following this narrative to its end.

The novel opens up with Germain, a young widower who upon a request from his father in law considers taking a new wife. Germain is a hard worker and a good man, appreciated by his in-laws who want him to find happiness again. Germain is a sympathetic man, very devoted to his children but not used to expressing his desires or even considering them. He seems to obey his father in law in everything and even if Maurice seems like a good man, this makes Germain seem quite passive. At times a reader might feel frustrated with him, but I actually think the mental slowness and clumsiness Germain sometimes experiences makes sense in the context of his character. Germain is capable of strong emotion but not really used to thinking for himself.

At the heart of a novel is a love story featuring Germain and a quite predictable one. The love story didn't capture my heart, I guess I'm not terrible romantic that way, but on overall I did enjoy this short novel. It praises nature and the people that work the land, but not in a silly way the way some literature of the Romantic period does. It is a very traditional setting that Sand describes, a village life where people respect their elders.

Soon Germain travels to a nearby place to visit the young widow his father in law wants him to marry. He doesn't really want to remarry but sees that it can bring benefits to his family. Upon a request from her mother, Germain takes Marie (a young neighbour who is about to start her first employment) to ride with him. When his son joins them he doesn't have the heart to send the little boy away so they all ride on the mare. It must have been quite a horse to stand three people with no complains. I'm not being sarcastic, there are breeds that are quite strong, especially those really used to work the land. Still, the horse did have some complaints for he runs away, we never do learn is it because of the weight he had to carry but most probably it is just the case of being scared of new territory.

During their travel, the tree of them lose their way in the fog and surrounded by water. Marie, the poor girl, proves amazing resourceful and Germain is impressed with how well she takes care of him and his son. Used to a hard and poor life, Marie easily finds solutions to all their problems and never complains. Germain starts to have doubts about his possible future wife. Will she be as good with children? That's where the love story starts to develop. Marie (Mary) claims she doesn't see Germain in that light because he is older than her (she is only sixteen and he is twenty seven) but is she speaking from the heart or just wanting him to marry well? Will Germain have the strength to fight for his heart or will he listen to the opinions of others? Read and find out.


Strikes a slightly odd note between fairytale and a record of the poetic side of rural life. I didn't feel that any of the characters were really given a chance to come alive. There's a lot of expositional dialogue: "'Germaine ... you really must make up your mind about finding a new wife. You've been a widower for two years since you lost my daughter, and your son is seven. You're coming up to thirty, my lad, and you know that once you've passed that age, round these parts, a man is considered too old to start a new household. You have three lovely children, and up until now they've been no bother to us. My wife and my daughter-in-law have looked after them as best they could, and ..." blah, blah, blah. It all seemed to get in the way.


This read was for the 2011 French Female Writers Throughout the Ages reading challenge, 19th century novel.

This novel is one of the French classics you are meant to study in school so I am not quite sure how it happened that I had to wait for Céline's reading challenge before I got around to reading it!

La Mare au Diable can be acquired in pretty much any French bookstore from your tiny local one to the big Fnac and should not cost you over two Euros. Quite a nice change from the other books I had to track down for this challenge and it's also a nice proof (if any was needed) that Amantine Aurore Lucile Dupin, aka George Sand, is a writer that has left its impact on French readers and literature.

I think many foreigners have heard of George Sand, a woman ahead of her times, if perhaps not for her literary talent, at least for her unconventional lifestyle (namely cross-dressing and extramarital affairs). In fact, I think her life is as fascinating as her fiction but that would really be the topic of another post so let's get back on track.

La Mare au Diable is a short novel, part of a series that is referred to as George Sand's "champêtre" novels, set in the countryside of her native Berry region which was dear to the author. The novel is a criticism of certain simplistic and stereotypical perception of countryside folks and clearly aims at giving a more accurate and flattering portrayal of farmers and people raised and living in rural environments. Over the course of 130 pages, George Sand depicts these people as experiencing a wide range of complex emotions, emphasizing the notions of justice and morality. It's worth mentioning that this of course ties in perfectly with George Sand's socialist views as she had very liberal political views.

The novel opens on the depiction of an engraving by Holbein and the author's reflections on the land, the balance between nature and death. The narration then zooms in on a young farmer, Germain, widower, father of three, who works hard on his father-in-law's land. Germain is a handsome fellow in his late twenties who sincerely mourns his wife, Catherine, and has so far expressed no desire to remarry. However, his father-in-law, Father Maurine, who appears as the omnipresent, god-like father figure in the novel, is always ready to strike a good deal. Father Maurice has a lady in mind, and should Germain find her to his liking, the resulting union could bring some more than welcomed assets to the family. Since Germain has no financial wealth of his own and that his three children are being raised by their aging grandmother and Catherine's sisters and sisters-in-law, he accepts to go and meet this woman, who's also a widow and who lives several kilometers away. Germain is a good natured man, quite happy to surrender to his father-in-law's keen sense of business and profit, provided the lady pleases him. He also sees how remarrying would benefit his children and release his mother-in-law and sisters-in-law of the burden of raising them. On the day prior to his departure, it is decided that Germain will also travel with sixteen year old Marie who's to start working in a farm close to where Germain is heading, as her mother and herself desperately need the money.

As they set off, events take an unexpected turn. Germain and Marie are delayed by the appearance of little Pierre, German's eldest son who is about seven years old. Little Pierre disobeyed his grandfather and run off as he was too upset at the idea of being left behind by his father. The group's progression is slowed down by the presence of this uninvited fellow and because Little Pierre soon grows hungry they stop in a tavern, adding further delay to their journey. The travelers then come across a pond and decide to stop for a rest, again on Little Pierre's account as the child now grows tired. As the boy falls asleep, Marie and Germain start chatting and the reader can only presume that the characters have reached the pond that is referred to as the devil's pool. Indeed, the landscape's changed and acquired a nearly supernatural element (veiled moon, fog, etc.). Later, as the travelers try to set off again and walk for several hours before ending up right where they'd started, at the devil's pool. As it seems best to wait for daylight before setting off again, they decide to spend the night near the pond.

Germain spends a difficult night torn between his growing feelings for Marie, which has turned out to be very resourceful during this trip, taking care of Little Pierre, all the while putting together a decent meal when all is thought lost. Witty, clever and down-to-earth Marie appears as a nothing short of a good fairy. However, Germain's feelings appear to be one-sided as he confesses his love to the young girl. The novel takes drastic turn, while during its first half, Germain's quest seemed to be dominated by reason, the second half sees his feelings taking over.

As it is later revealed, Marie is also undergoing an inner transformation although she's trying very hard not to give in to her feelings. During this trip, Marie will grow from young girl to woman. This is perhaps pure speculation on my part as I have not read nearly enough titles published around that period to properly claim this, but it certainly feels like George Sand is somewhat feminizing the traditional quest by adding Marie's perspective and personal growth to the narrative.

By the time Germain reaches his destination (he's parted ways with Marie and left Little Pierre in her care for a few hours), his quest has clearly changed and we don't expect him to find anything where he's headed. And indeed, the widow Guérin is presented as a haughty and spoiled woman who already has quite a number of suitors. Seeing this, Germain lies about his presence there, claiming he's only in town to purchase a pair of bulls for his father-in-law. I admit that while I understand the reasons why the widow has to be depicted in a negative light so as to make the reader regret Mary, I grew slightly annoyed at what Germain's held against her. The widow Guérin is lucky enough to have a second chance at life, after the death of her husband and if we assume that her first marriage was not one of love, as it was often the case, one can certainly understand why she would be taking her time this time around, exploring all of her options. But all these reasons do not seem to make it in Germain's reflection as all his thoughts are bent towards Marie as he keeps opposing Marie's simple manners to the widow Guérin's fake sophistication.

Meanwhile, Marie is experiencing some trouble of her own. Still accompanied by Little Pierre, Marie soon flees her new employer, who clearly had other things on his mind when he hired her and who's portrayed as the devil himself. The little group is reunited again at the pond, although Marie's employer has followed them. If he is the devil, Marie appears as the Virgin and Germain as the figure of Saint George. His confrontation between the two men feels like the reenactment of the mythical between Saint George and the dragon. This marks the social elevation of Germain's character and also coincides with Marie's realization of her feelings for Germain which she'll admit at the end of the novel. At any rate, Saint George is a strong figure in rural folklore, especially for George Sand as she's taken on his name.

An old lady also makes an appearance, her description will inevitably remind the reader of that of a witch but she's the one to name the pond and explain that none will find their way away from it at night.

Once they find their way home safely, despite social obstacles, Marie and Germain find their way to one another. Thanks to Little Pierre's intervention (who on more than one occasion seems to stand for divine intervention with his angelic features) and thanks to Germain's father-in-law's kindness and understanding, their marriage is celebrated by the entire village.

La Mare au Diable includes a strange mix of pagan ideology (witches, fairies and supernatural setting) and Christian elements. In many ways, it's an idealized depiction of farmers but a very liberal one nevertheless considering the fact it was written in 1846. It's social aim is clear, so is its spiritual and mystical aim, with its strong focus on morality and pious values, and its romantic sensibility that implies that an individual can be at one with nature.


By the 1840s, George Sand's novel-writing career had progressed beyond her decade-long "anti-matriomonial" period, and she began to write (among many other projects) some more upbeat and happy love stories about the peasants of her native Berry region in central France. La Mare au Diable or The Devil's Pool is probably the best known of her popular trio of "pastoral novels" that includes La Petite Fadette and Francois le Champi.Again, Sand shows her respect for the working peasants of her area, and sees great dignity in the hard, agricultural work they were forced to do for day-to-day survival. The hero of this story is a hard-working widowed farmer, Germain, who is nearly 30, handsome, and in need of a wife to help out with his three motherless children. His late wife's parents encourage the reluctant Germain to travel to the next town to meet a rich widow, whom they hope he will court and marry. As he sets out, a neighbor asks Germain to take along her 16-year-old daughter Marie, who is headed for a new job at a nearby farm. Germain's nine-year-old son insists on going along as well. As one can guess, Marie begins to enchant Germain, especially as the trio becomes lost in the forest, and must stop for the night beside the "devil's pool," where local folklore kicks in, and the mist, fog, and local sprites appear to fill Germain's head with a love he hasn't known in a long time. Unfortunately, Marie believes her duty is to her mother, and Germain's to his presumed future wife, and . . . This is a sweet story with a happy ending, and Sand proves in this book that she is just as capable of telling happy love stories as she is of creating sad, cautionary tales about how her society portends misery for the married woman.


I fell in love with this book immediately upon starting.

In her Introduction 'Author to the Reader', Sand describes a painting by Hans Holbein the Younger. I knew I was in for a treat when I thought that this story would be based on that picture. At the very least, I became familiar with the picture and the inscription beneath it:

"In toil and sorrow thou shalt eat The bitter bread of poverty. After the burden and the heat, Lo! it is Death who calls for thee."

As Sand continues to state:

"I have allowed myself to be drawn into this digression for the sake of a laborer; and it is the story of a laborer which I have been meaning to tell you, and which I shall now tell you at once."

The Story
Sand espies the skilled husbandman, Germain, as he plows a field. Germain is a widower with three children. His inlaws care for the children, but inform Germain they would wish him to find a wife to care for them because with their own responsibilities, they will no longer be able to do it. Germain is sad, but follows his father-in-laws wishes. He sets out to the home of a widow who is entertaining thoughts of re-marriage. Germain takes along with him, a young neighbor girl who will be taking on a new job as a shepherdess at a farm near the widow's. Need I say more? A conflict of emotions will surely enter into the picture.

The Appendix
Is a wealth of information on the cultural aspects of marriage in France during this time period.

I had read Indiana by Sand and was not that impressed. This little story was a complete surprise. Very tenderly written, it describes love in its innocent stage. At 90 pages, a short read and very entertaining.

5 stars

Elizabeth (Alaska)

A quick little read.

The book is divided into three parts: Introduction from the author; a story that is somewhat of a parable or fairy tale; appendices that provide information about rural life.

The introduction is a commentary on painting of a ploughman, in which a devil dances waiting for the ploughman's death. Using this, Sand complains that too much of literature is religious, and that it should be about love.

The story is a love story as can be expected and the outcome very predictable. I suspect Sand didn't think we couldn't see that predictable ending.

If you are interested in family history, and have family who lived in the provinces of France 200 or more years ago, the appendices are essential reading. They describe wedding traditions and I found them very interesting even though my family is not from that area.

Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ...

When I read that Poet Charles Baudelaire had this to say about George Sand, I knew I would in all likelihood enjoy her book.

"She is stupid, heavy and garrulous. Her ideas on morals have the same depth of judgment and delicacy of feeling as those of janitresses and kept women.... The fact that there are men who could become enamoured of this slut is indeed a proof of the abasement of the men of this generation."

I can't say that I knew the word "slut" was used in the 19th Century. But the quote proved to me that Baudelaire is not a man I would have liked, and that Sand was a woman I could admire.

Thanks to my Goodreads friend, Celia, for bringing this one into my vision. I enjoyed it very much. It was sweet and quiet and beautifully written.

Czarny Pies

The big question about George Sand has always been how could anyone so extravagant write such dull books.


Well, it was short and that's something positive I can report. Read in English.