Sunday, 14 April 2013

Short Story Sunday - Rene Bazin

Rene Bazin - What the Wind Replied and The Birds in the Letter-Box

To continue the April, French theme, I read two stories by Rene Bazin, this week. 

Rene Bazin (1853 - 1935) was a law professor at the Catholic University in Angers and a novelist of provincial life. He had a traditionalist outlook and his works show a love of nature and the simple, pastoral life. In his day, he was an influential member of the group of traditionalist, Catholic writers that also included: Maurice Barres, Georges Bernanos and Francois Mauriac. I was rather disturbed to find his works described as "obsolete" by the Encyclopaedia Britannica; the two stories I read both had simple and enduring themes which in no way renders them "obselete". 

What the Wind Replied is about a young boy and his mother. The beginning of the tale finds the family living in a house by the sea. As the boy grows up he becomes attached to the idea of a life at sea as his father before him had (his father was a sailor who died at sea). The boy's mother wants to protect her son from the dangers of the sea, so the family moves inland and she seeks to entertain him with new pursuits and a love of the forest, hoping that he will forget about his passion for the sea and his desire to live his life on the ocean waves. The boy pines for his first love and eventually falls ill. Despite the loving attentions of his mother and the professional care of a doctor, the health of the little boy does not improve. The mother comes to realise that she cannot protect her son from his desires and the dangers of the world; if she wants him to recover she needs to give him the thing he wants most - a return to the sea. 

In The Birds in the Letter-Box an aged, country priest lives out his life surrounded by his fecund kitchen garden and the numerous birds that steal his fruit. One summer, he discovers that a family of tits are nesting in his letter box, he doesn't think that the birds will cause a great deal of inconvenience as, like the rest of the village of St Philemon, the priest sends more letters that he receives. 
"The postman had little to do on his rounds but to eat soup at one house, to have a drink at another, and, once in a long while, to leave a letter for some conscript, or a bill for taxes at some distant farm."
However, just at this time the bishop in the chief town of the region meets with his assistants to discuss forthcoming appointments and promotions. He nominates the priest of St Philemon as the new priest of another parish in recognition of his years of virtuous service. The bishop sends a letter requesting a response to the offer as soon as possible. Of course, the priest at St Philemon does not receive this letter for weeks, as he refrains from checking the letter-box until the fledglings have flown the nest.

As soon as the priest receives the important missive he rushes off to the bishop's palace to explain the situation. He returns to his parish without a promotion, and, although he had never been ambitious, he says to his housekeeper, "Next year, Philomene, if the tomtit comes back, let me know. It is decidedly inconvenient."

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