Laura: A Journey into the Crystal, George Sand

No, I didn’t read it in French, I just preferred this French cover. Laura: A Journey into the Crystal (1864) is the 44th of Sand’s 60 odd novels/novellas. I have previously reviewed Sand’s The Devil’s Pool and Elizabeth Berg’s fictionalized and very readable bio, The Dream Lover, if you want more details of Sand’s life. In his 1910 biography, Rene Doumic writes, George Sand wrote for nearly half a century. For fifty times three hundred and sixty-five days, she never let a day pass by without covering more pages than other writers in a month. Her first books shocked people, her early opinions were greeted with storms. From that time forth she rushed head-long into everything new, she welcomed every chimera and passed it on to us with more force and passion in it. Hence the 60 books.

The book’s thesis is that the crystal interiors of geodes have “landscapes” mimicking those of the exterior/real world, and that the story’s narrator Alexis can be transported into these interior landscapes by his cousin Laura. Brona – who kindly sent me her copy of this work – asks is this Science Fiction or is it dreams? (here) The answer is probably that in the early days of SF the two were indistinguishable.

One clue is on p.30. Laura is describing to Alexis what they can see around them

Here is mad labradorite, the reflections from its facets by turn colourless and pearly, and adventurine with silver rain that displays its polished flanks, while the fires of red, warm almandine, whose praises were once sung by a seer called Hoffman, are concentrated around the centre of its austere mountain.

The Hoffman she refers to is ETA Hoffman (1776-1822), a German/Prussian author of fantastical stories (hence Tales of Hoffman). I have been, slowly/intermittently, reading his Master Flea thanks to Jonathon/Intermittencies of the Mind (here).

From Wikipedia I get: Historian Martin Willis argues that Hoffmann’s impact on science fiction has been overlooked, saying “his work reveals a writer dynamically involved in the important scientific debates of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.” Willis points out that Hoffmann’s work is contemporary with Frankenstein (1818) and with “the heated debates and the relationship between the new empirical science and the older forms of natural philosophy that held sway throughout the eighteenth century.” His “interest in the machine culture of his time is well represented in his short stories, of which the critically renowned The Sandman (1816) and Automata (1814) are the best examples. …Hoffmann’s work makes a considerable contribution to our understanding of the emergence of scientific knowledge in the early years of the nineteenth century and to the conflict between science and magic.

And further searching (how I wish I had some German) reveals the following

Down in the depths below, hidden in the chlorite and mica, lies the cherry-coloured sparkling almandine, on which the tablet of our lives is graven. I have to give it to you as a wedding present.

ETA Hoffman, The Mines of Falun

The Mines of Falun (Die Bergwerke zu Falun) “is one of the most complex stories of E.T.A. Hoffmann. Starting from an event recalled in old chronicles [the discovery of a perfectly preserved body in a crystal mine], the writer fantasizes on a story that shares only the ending with the documented one, which allows for an extraordinary incursion in other depths, those of the dreams, hallucinations and obsessions. The whole narration demands a reading from a symbolic perspective, where images constantly refer to what lies beyond the apparent.” Luis Montiel, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, 2014.

Ok, enough antecedents. Laura is early SF, following on from ETA Hoffman whom Sand had clearly read, and the Hoffman connection may explain why she chose a German setting rather than French. Alexis himself is unsure at times whether he is dreaming or undergoing ‘magic’ or spiritual experience. But that is equally true with ‘hard’ SF today – with concepts like worm holes, faster-than-light communications, telepathy and teleporting being sciency rather than scientific.

Alexis falls in love with Laura (of course) but it soon turns out she is promised to his supervisor whose prospects are more certain.

[Alexis] You laugh, I said, and I suffer; but that is all the same to you, you love neither Walter nor me; you love only marriage, the idea of calling yourself “Madame” and wearing feathers in your hat…

[Laura] Calm yourself, you silly great child! Didn’t I tell you that I love you? Don’t you know that our earthly life is only a vain fantasmagoria, and that we are forever united in the transparent, radiant world of the ideal?

[Note that there are no quotation marks to denote speech. There is no copy on Project Gutenberg so I cannot tell whether this is done by Sand or the translator].

Nasias, who claims to be Laura’s father who has been away many years, appears and wishes to take advantage of Alexis’ ability to materialize inside these crystal worlds. He promises not to marry Laura off and takes Alexis on a voyage – from Kiel in the Baltic, across the North Atlantic, and up the west coast of Greenland (map) – to where they may enter the underworld through a hole in the Arctic.

After months of sledding across ice through the winter dark, guided by the light from a strange diamond, they come to a warm sea and on its far side a volcanic island marking the north pole [Robert Peary’s explorations of north Greenland and the North Pole would not take place until four decades after this book was published].

Eventually the two ascend the mountain at the centre of the island and see beneath them the world’s crystal interior. Nasias plunges onwards, but Laura appears, to rescue Alexis and return him to home

[Laura] … but listen, my dear Alexis: as I leave the crystal world with you, I sense that I am leaving my glamour there. You have always seen me as tall, beautiful, eloquent, almost magical. In reality, you will find me as I am, small, simple, ignorant, a little middle-class, and singing the Ballad from Saul out of key.

A happy ending ensues, of course, and Sand implies a prosaic explanation for all that has gone before, but for 100 pages she has taken us on an imaginative, exciting adventure.

.

George Sand, Laura: A Journey into the Crystal, first pub. 1864. Translated by Sue Dyson, Pushkin Press, London, 2004, 2nd Ed. 2018. 126pp.

Rene Doumic, George Sand: Some Aspects of Her Life and Writings, first pub. 1910. Translated by Alys Hallard. Project Gutenberg (here)

Oversize

Journal: 063

As I reported, I did one trip Perth-Melbourne in January, getting home in time to summarize another successful AWW ‘Gen’ Week. Victoria had had one case of Covid in December so it was back to iso for me, then Perth had a case too, and iso became a city-wide 5 day lockdown. The main effect as far as I was concerned was no library, no new audiobooks.

Rather than head straight back out, I waited for a road train load of hay up north but a cyclone put the kybosh on that – and now it seems the North West Coastal Hwy has been cut near Carnarvon – so I ended up accepting a load to Melbourne which turned out to be marginally overwidth. And that in turn meant I could only take one trailer (so less money coming home!).

It’s a while since I’ve done an Oversize – maybe one for Sam & Dragan a few years ago, and two or three others 20 years before that, also for Sam & Dragan. I had the right permits but had to check on nighttime travel which surprisingly turned out to be legal in all states (well anyway, I didn’t get pulled over, which is much the same thing). This morning I unloaded in Geelong (75 km SW of Melbourne) and now I sit at my usual western suburban BP truckstop waiting for Homer to come up with a load home. He asked me a couple of hours ago how much weight I could carry and the answer can’t have been satisfactory as I haven’t heard back from him [I’m loading steel, 7.30 tonight [When I rolled up it wasn’t ready so now I’m loading 9.00 AM tomorrow. That’s trucking.]].

The other half of ‘oversize’ is my bloody weight. Melanie/GTL is doing her best to educate me about fat-shaming and owning my body, and yes I’m old and sedentary, but another eight kgs over Xmas really is too much. The Age says I don’t need to walk 10,000 steps a day, that was just an advertising slogan for some device or other, but I do need to walk 7,500.

With all 3 trailers my truck is 35 m long, say 40 paces, and 3 paces wide: 100 paces total if I circulate staying 2 or 3 paces out. I walk around the truck every two hours, 7 or 8 times a day, to check the load and the tyres (and to get some of the stiffness out of my legs): 750 paces a day. To get to 7,500 I can either stop every 12 minutes or I can do 10 tours per stop. I wonder if it will make a difference.

My time home this time was just under 2 weeks. I normally review any hard copy books that I read, in fact I’m usually desperate to finish them so I have something to review. But having nothing but time on my hands in this last round of iso/lockdown I read a couple of books that I let go through to the keeper.

First up (and not finished yet) was Hoffman’s Mr Flea following Johnathon’s posting of an excerpt but still not knowing really what to expect. E. T. A. Hoffmann (1776 – 1822) was “a German Romantic author of fantasy and Gothic horror” (wiki) and one of the early fathers of science fiction, not to mention the Hoffman of Tales of Hoffman and author of the stories on which Coppélia, my favourite ballet – if I may have a favourite after not going for 40 years – is based. These are all thing I didn’t know. Johnathon, you may have inspired me to a whole Hoffman post, though not of Mr Flea, that’s your job.

That was my early morning read; researching and writing up the next episode of Such is Life (scheduled for Thurs), and a couple of posts before it, occupied my days; and that left evenings. I have an endless supply to choose from but decided on Angela Thirkell’s August Folly (1936) which I had told Liz Dexter I would read “soon”. And now I have. Thirkell of course is thoroughly English, as English as Evie Wyld for instance, and August Folly is a very gentle village romance. I thought it a bit laboured at the beginning but soon sank pleasurably into the criss-crossing web of relationships between the Tebbens with two marriagable children, the Palmers with none and the Deans with too many to count, a college Dean down from Oxford (on whom Mrs Tebben had once been keen) and a curate and the rector and his daughters and all the quaint villagers who ran the local train and the shops and supplied the servants and the farm hands. And don’t forget the snarky conversations between the donkey and the cat at the end of each day.

Recent audiobooks 

Lee Child (M, Eng), Persuader (2003) – Crime
Becky Chambers (F, USA), The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (2014) – SF
Sarah Fine (F, USA), Uncanny (2017) – YA/SF
Stuart Palmer (M, USA), Murder on the Blackboard (1932) – Crime
Caeli Wolfson Widger (F, USA), Mother of Invention (2018) – SF
Graeme Macrae Burnet (M, Sco), The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau (2014) – Crime
Alexander McCall Smith (M, Sco), The Department of Sensitive Crimes (2019) – pseudo Swedish Crime (Yes, I’m embarrassed I picked it up. DNF)
Julia Thomas (F, Eng), Penhale Wood (2017) – Crime (Detective fiction set in Truro, Wales. The female lead leaves her Australian husband and children behind in Sydney to persuade the police to investigate the death a year previously of her daughter, and the disappearance of the children’s nanny. Sorry Karen, I should have reviewed it but I had too much else on.)

Currently reading

Trent Dalton (M, Aust/Qld), Boy Swallows Universe
Elizabeth Tan (F, Aust/WA), Smart Ovens for Lonely People
Joseph Furphy (M, Aust/Vic), Such is Life
Sayaka Murata (F, Jap), Earthlings
Octavia Butler (F, USA), Parable of the Talents
Angela Thirkell (F, Eng), August Folly
ETA Hoffman (M, Ger), Mr Flea
Helen Garner (F, Aust/Vic), Cosmo Cosmolino