Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, August 24, 2021


 "The Swiss Peasant" by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (first pubished in late 1830 in The Keepsake for MDCCCXXXI as "by the author of 'Frankenstein';" included in the posthumous collection Tales and Stories, 1891)

In the mountainous region of Switzerland, the threat of an avalanche is very real to the humble cottagers who live there.  One such is Louis Chaumont, whose large family includes his very young daughter Fanny, "whose beauty is heartfelt but indescribable:  hers was the smooth candid brow, the large hazel eyes, hair soft, half wild; the rounded dimpled cheek, the full sensitive mouth, the pointed chin, and (as to framework the picture) the luxuriant curly chestnut hair, and voice which is sweetest music."   Fanny's beauty and sweet soul caught the attention of Madame de Marville, the wife of the governor who commamded the district.  Ten years old, she became a frequent visitor to the chalet that overlooked the  cottages below.  She soon became a favorite of the governor and the favorite playmate of their only son, Henry.

One day when Fanny had dined with the family, a sudden and fierce storm arose and it was decided that it would be safer is Fanny spent the night.  The was the night of the avalanche which swept away her tottage and her family, leaving her an orphan.  Thus the peasant girl was raised in the chateau and given a "bourgeois eductation, whihc would raise her from the hardship's of a peasant's life, and yet not elevate her above her natural position in society."  As the years past, Fanny grew more beautiful and more charming and Henry, whenever he returned home from school, found the young orphan more and more fscinating.  Henry's attraction to Fanny may not have recognized by the girl, who was innmocence personified, but it was noted by Madame de Marville, who began to fear that Henry may pursue her young ward.  Luckily, Fanny's heart turned to Louis Chaumont, a distant relative ten years older than Fanny.  Louis' family had been oppressed and reduced to po verty by some feudal tyrant.  His mother had died brokenn-hearted and his father raised Louis to hate the "proud oppressors of the land," tracing all social ills to a system that made a few "the tyrants of the many."

Fanny and Louis became engaged and thus Madame de Marville was glad that a misalliance between her son and Fanny was avoided.  Henry, however, did not take this news well.  His jealousy of Louis consumed him and the two often had to be separated by Fanny, who urged both her fiends to reconcile.  The feud had reached a point where it felt that Henry should be sent to Paris for a while -- something Henry resented and felt was banishment.  On the eve of Henry's departure, the two rivals got into a "scene of violence and bloodshed."  Monsieur de Marville, the governor, obtained an order for Lousi to quit the country within 24 hours and he commanded Fanny to give up her lover.  Madame de Marville then persuaded Fanny to stay with them until Henry had returned, which would be in about a year.

But what a year!  Fanny had no news of Louis, and despaired.  The French revolution had taken hold and had infected Switzerland, whose people began to rebel against the government, and Monsieu de Marville "was an aristocrat of the most bigoted species."  The chateau was attacked and the rioters repelled for the moment.  Soon came word that a great leader of the rebellers, known as the champion of liberty and the sworn enmy of Monsieur de Marville, was coming to lead the charge against the chateau, upon which the governor would be executed.  The rebel leader?  none other than Louis Chaumont.

Henry meanwhile had been denounced in Paris and his life was in risk.  He made his way home just as Louis was about to arrive.  The governor, deisguised, had already made his escape from the chateau; his wife and Fanny were to follow.  Henry, enraged by what had happened, wanted to go forth immediately and challenge Louis, but was disuaded by Fanny and his mother.  Instead the three would leave with Henry hidden in a cart to join the governor at a prearraged safe location.

On their way, they were met by Louis.  Fanny's pleas to him saved Madame de Marville from capture and deaath and they were allowed to go their way.  The cart however hit a ditch, turned over, and revealed Henry.  Louis was about to kill his enemy when Fanny begged him not to, saying that she and Henry were married.  Louis' love for Fanny overcame his hatred of Henry; as much as he dispised the man he could not stand to see Fanny suffer.  He gave them safe passage.  Louis left and was not seen again.

A few weeks later the government regained control.  Without Louis to lead them, the rebellers fell apart.  The years passed.  Fanny did not go back to the chateau, refusing to live under the same roof as
Henry.  Madame de Marville died.  Henry married another women, more fitting to his stature.  Fnny went to live with a relative in Soublaco.  War engulfed Europe, followed by peace.  Soldiers returned home and one soldier, who had no home to return to, stopped by a small cottge in Soublanco asking for shelter.  He had been wounded and was grievously sick, on his way to Italy to meet up with a friend.

The soldier, of course, was Louis, and the cottage was that where Fanny was staying.  Louis, disillusioned by the rebellion, had wandered and eventually joined the French army.  He had given up all of his hatred and anger.  Life without Fanny was meaningless to him.  Thus a changed Louis and a grateful Fanny were reunited.

The author (1797-1851) needs no introduction.  Her classic Gothic novel Frankenstein was a cultural phenomenon and is still widely read today.  Her affair and eventual marriage to the poet Shelley has been the source of many stories, as has that "contest" which produced Mary's most famous novel and significant works by Shelley and John Polidari.  After her husband had drowned in 1822, she returned to England and devoted herself to raising her son and writing novels, as well as editing and promoting the writings of her husband.  She died in 1853 of a brain tumor.

In recent yearss, scholars have more and more turned their attention of her six other novels and her travel writings and various articles.  As a liberal, as a woman, and as a poligtical radical, and as a major romantic figure, Mary shelley still has much to offer the modern reader, 170 years after her death.

"The Swiss Peasant" is available to read online, as are her other works.


1 comment:

  1. I've read Mary Shelley's FARANKENSTEIN but I haven't read anything else by her. I'll have to change that. Very nice review!