Jean de Florette
The Provencal countryside is dotted with insular villages during the 1930s. If you don't live in that village or in the surrounding farms, you are an outsider. So it is in Les Bastides Blanches. The village has a fountain in the center of town that is kept filled by a spring coming down the mountain. The people in the community get their water from it. The local farmers can also purchase water from it. Les Bastides is the center of society in that area.
Ugolin Soubeyran is the last of his wealthy, important family. His uncle, who is nicknamed Papet, is nearly 60. He never married. Ugolin is 24 when the reader first meets him. Ugolin has a small farm left from his father, Papet's brother. He is dissatisfied with it because there is little he can grow. A friend introduces him to the idea of growing carnations for florists. He's excited by the plan, but doesn't have enough water to sustain the flower crop. He'd like to rent or buy the adjoining land from the poacher who owns it.
When the poacher dies, Ugolin and Papet are sure that the heir, a tax collector from one of the further towns, will sell the property. Instead, Jean Cadoret brings his wife and daughter to live at their new farm. Ugolin is distressed by this new and is aware of an act of his that could affect this family. Jean is a hunchback, but that doesn't diminish his verve, his intentions, his knowledge, or his love of family. He is determined they will survive here in their new home.
Although Jean's mother, Florette, was from Les Bastides, he is considered an outsider. The one time he accompanies his wife Aimee and daughter Manon to the village, he is accidentally hit on his hump by a ball from a game. He is certain is was purposeful and doesn't return. Instead they go to another, further village to do their trading. The townspeople of Les Bastides watch the family from afar but don't interfere. It's not their business what happens to an outsider. Ugolin and Papet help foster the distance. They hope Jean will give up, sell the land to them, and return to their town.
Jean de Florette is a quiet, powerful tale of tragedy that is incomplete without the second book, Manon of the Springs. Marcel Pagnol captures these characters in these novels and shows how people set themselves and others up, then bring them down. These novels don't have the overt actions that modern novels have. Yet the greed and power of the Soubeyrans is far reaching because of the way they use the personalities of those around them. They know the people of the village will not interfere with outsiders.
Ugolin finds he is attracted to Jean and his family. Even so, his dream of wealth (and Papet) overpowers his conscience. This outsider will not stand in his way. Later, when Manon is older, she also learns how to use power to bring others down. Her intentions are simple. Unfortunately, the consequences are huge.
Pagnol's book are not a quick read, but are fairly easy to read and keep luring the reader back. The end of the book brings everything together, tying the characters into a tragic knot. It has one of those ironically tragic, happy endings.
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