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IN BRIEF

Fiction

November 12, 1995|CHRIS GOODRICH

HORACE by George Sand, translated by Zack Rogow (Mercury House: $15.95; 339 pp.) Ah, for a time machine--to ascertain whether characters like Horace Dumontet might actually have existed, and if so, why anyone found them attractive. Part rebellious romance, part cultural criticism, Horace is George Sand's talky portrait--here translated into English for the first time--of cafe society in 1830s Paris, when radical politics and bohemian lifestyles coexisted uneasily with royalist allegiances and carefully choreographed social conduct. From the title you might assume that Sand (whose complete works fill more than a hundred volumes) has centered her novel on the indolent, mannered Dumontet, but its true heroine is Marthe, the barmaid who succumbs to Horace's charms despite the selfless devotion of his principled, unaffected rival, Paul. To contemporary eyes Horace does not seem a particularly credible character--described by the novel's narrator as "naturally affected," he would be laughed out of town by most modern Marthes--but his paramour is an admirable creation, able to overcome the disastrous affair and create a new and successful life for herself. Horace isn't a great novel, but clearly ahead of its time in terms of social mores . . . which is why Sand's publisher initially turned it down.

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