La Symphonie Pastorale and Isabelle – Andre Gide

lsp(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

A country priest takes into his home a blind orphan with the purpose of educating her, but develops a deep love for her.

The title refers to Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony (also known as the Pastoral Symphony) which the pastor takes Gertrude to hear. It also refers to the pastor’s own symphony with Gertrude. His wife, Amélie, resents Gertrude because the pastor dedicates more attention to Gertrude than to their five children. She tries to prompt him to a recognition of the true nature of his feelings for the young woman in his care. Her ability to “see” is contrasted with the “blindness” of the pastor in this regard and the reader is invited to judge him on his intellectual dishonesty. The pastor takes the Bible very seriously and tries to preserve Gertrude’s innocence by protecting her from the concept of sin.

Because the pastor is really the main character in Gertrude’s limited world, she feels herself to be in love with him and to some extent he has similar feelings toward her. When his eldest son Jacques, who is about the same age as Gertrude, asks to marry her the pastor becomes jealous and refuses despite the fact that Jacques is obviously in love with her.

Gertrude eventually gets an operation to repair her eyesight and, having gained the ability to see, realizes that she loves Jacques and not the pastor. However, Jacques has renounced his love for her, converted to Catholicism and become a monk. She attempts suicide by jumping into a river, but is rescued and contracts pneumonia. She realizes that the pastor is an old man, and the man she pictured when she was blind was Jacques. She tells the pastor this shortly before her death.

lsp-2Isabelle is the tale of a young man whose studies take him to the remote country home of an eccentric family, where he falls in love with a portrait of their absent daughter. As he unravels the mystery of her absence, he is forced to abandon his passionate ideal.

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