The connection between birds and French fiction may, at first sight, not be an obvious one. How ever, in his wide-ranging study, Dr. Walling convincingly establishes the importance of the role played by birds in the works of a representative selection of French novelists and short-story writers, which include major authors such as Balzac, Hugo, Flaubert, Zola, Colecce, Mauriac and Giono as well as lesser-known names of Louis Pergaud and Rene Bazin. The connection between birds and French fiction may, at first sight, not be an obvious one. However, in his wide-ranging study, Dr Walling convincingly establishes the importance of the role played by birds in the works of a representative selection of French novelists and short-story writers from the past two centuries. The list includes major authors such as Balzac, Hugo, Flaubert, Zola, Colette, Mauriac and Giono as well as the lesser-known names of Louis Pergaud and Rene Bazin. Three writers, George Sand, Maurice Genevoix and Claude Michelet receive special attention because of their avowed affection for wildlife in general and birds in particular.
By referring directly to the texts, Dr Walling carefully assesses each author's account of the part, great or small, played by birds in the narrative. The "jackdaws in the tower" sequences in Zola's La Terre are a good example of this. In Claude Michelet, the behaviour of some of the fictional characters is conditioned by their relationship with birds. For some authors, birds may be little more than a minor element in the landscape, while for others, they are a rich source of inspiration and, in the case of Mauriac and Giono, give rise to poetic prose of a high order. The study also shows how birds can be used, as Gide does in La Symphonie Pastorale, as a vehicle to raise fundamental questions of existence in the pastor's mind. They may even inspire intimations of another world, e.g. for George Sand and Francois Mauriac, or figure prominently in a pantheistic vision of creation, as in Giono's Regain. Throughout, Dr Walling analyses, paraphrases or translates well-chosen extracts and thereby illustrates the subtleties of content and form in his selected authors.
These extracts and the commentaries on them, allow the reader to view well-known writers and, in most cases, well-studied ones, from a hitherto unexplored viewpoint. This book will appeal, not only to students of French literature, but also to bird-lovers who will be interested, for example, by philological details such as the confusion of the white-tailed or sea-eagle with the barn owl (orfraie/effraie). They will smile to note Stendhal's Julien Sorel being allegedly disturbed by the "song" of the sea-eagle in his dungeon or be intrigued by the knotty problems involved in identifying the numerous species of warbler. But, above all, one does not need to be an ornithologist to appreciate the rich and varied picture which this study conveys. Wittingly or unwittingly, the authors studied may well have contributed to an ever-growing appreciation of the charm of birds and thereby furthered a gradual evolution in the French attitude towards wildlife and nature conservation.