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Laura: Journey into the Crystal

Laura: Journey into the Crystal

by George Sand, Sue Dyson (Translator)

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While working for his uncle, Alexis Hartz is introduced to Laura who shares his scientific interests, and in particular his fascination for crystals. To his amazement Laura has discovered a way to enter this alluring world and together they travel the vast and glittering landscape. But it cannot last forever.

Pushkin Collection editions feature a spare, elegant


While working for his uncle, Alexis Hartz is introduced to Laura who shares his scientific interests, and in particular his fascination for crystals. To his amazement Laura has discovered a way to enter this alluring world and together they travel the vast and glittering landscape. But it cannot last forever.

Pushkin Collection editions feature a spare, elegant series style and superior, durable components. The Collection is typeset in Monotype Baskerville, litho-printed on Munken Premium White Paper and notch-bound by the independently owned printer TJ International in Padstow. The covers, with French flaps, are printed on Colorplan Pristine White Paper. Both paper and cover board are acid-free and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Its symbolist exploration of young love... is endearingly eccentric." - The Times

"Cracked geodes. Circular waterfalls. Eskimos on sleds crossing polar seas. An extraordinary visual experience in the form of an impossible love story that consistently defies its own description. A meditation on beauty told through a fascination with form." -Janice Kerbel, Frieze

Product Details

Steerforth Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
4.85(w) x 6.52(h) x 0.42(d)

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Read an Excerpt

Laura: A Journey into the Crystal

By George Sand, Sue Dyson

Steerforth Press

Copyright © 2004 Pushkin Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-901285-51-2


When I met M. Hartz, he was a naturalist and dealer who ran his business affairs in a quiet way, selling minerals, insects or plants to collectors. Entrusted with an errand for him, I had been taking little interest in the precious objects which cluttered his shop when, while chatting to him about the mutual friend who had put us in touch, and mechanically touching an egg-shaped stone which lay within my reach, I dropped it. It split into two almost equal halves, which I hastened to pick up, begging the shopkeeper to forgive my clumsiness.

Do not distress yourself, he replied kindly; it was destined to be broken with a blow from a hammer. It is a geode of no great value and, moreover, isn't everyone curious to see the inside of a geode?

I do not know exactly what a geode is, I told him, and I have no desire to know.

Why? he asked; are you not an artist?

Yes, I try to be; but the critics do not want artists giving the impression that they know anything outside their art, and the public do not like the artist to appear to know any more than they do about anything at all.

I think the public, the critic and yourself are all mistaken. The artist was born to be a traveller; everything is a journey for his spirit, and without leaving his fireside or the shady spots in his garden, he is entitled to range over all the highways and byways of the world. Give him anything to read or look at, be it a lively study or dry as dust; he will be passionate about anything that is new to him.

He will naively be astonished not to have yet lived like that, and he can translate the pleasure of his discovery into any form at all, without ceasing to be himself. The artist is no better able to choose his type of life and the nature of his impressions than are other human beings. From outside, he receives sun and rain, shadow and light, like everyone else. Do not ask him to create beyond the confines of what strikes him. He is subject to the action of the surroundings he passes through, and it is very good that it is so, for were that action to cease he would be extinguished and become sterile. So, went on M. Hartz, you have a perfect right to educate yourself, if it entertains you and if the opportunity presents itself. There is no danger therein for anyone who is truly an artist.

In the same way that a true scholar can be an artist, if this excursion into the realm of art does not harm his serious studies?

Yes, replied the honest shopkeeper; the entire question is to be something determinate and somewhat solid in one direction or the other. That, I agree, is not given to everyone! And, he added with a kind of sigh, if you doubt yourself, do not look too long at that geode.

Is it some stone with a magical influence?

All stones have that influence, but above all geodes, in my opinion.

You have aroused my curiosity ... So, what do you mean by "geode"?

In mineralogy, a "geode" means any hollow stone whose interior is lined with crystals or incrustations; and any mineral whose interior contains voids or little caverns, which you can see in this one, is called a geodic stone.

He gave me a magnifying glass, and I saw that these voids did indeed look like mysterious grottoes furnished with stalactites of extraordinary brilliance; then, considering the geode as a whole and several others which the shopkeeper handed me, I saw peculiarities of shape and colour which, enlarged by the imagination, constituted Alpine areas, deep ravines, grandiose mountains, glaciers, everything that makes up an imposing, sublime natural tableau.

Everyone has noticed this, I said to M. Hartz; a hundred times in my mind, I myself have compared the pebble I picked up at my feet to the mountain looming up above my head, and found that the specimen was a sort of summary of the mass; but, today, I am more powerfully struck by it than before, and these choice crystals you show me put me in mind of a fantastical world where all is transparency and crystallisation. It is not a matter of confusion or vague bedazzlement, as I imagined when reading those fairytales in which people explore diamond palaces. I see here that nature works better than fairies. These transparent bodies are grouped in such a way as to produce slender shadows, smooth reflections, and the fusion of shades does not prevent the composition from being logical and harmonious. Truly, this enchants me and makes me eager to look in your shop.

No, said M. Hartz, taking the rock specimens from my hands, you must not travel that road too quickly: you see here a man who was almost a victim of the crystal!

A victim of the crystal? What a strange conjunction of words!

It is because in those days I was neither yet learned nor an artist that I encountered the danger ... But it would be too long a story, and you do not have the time to listen to it.

No sooner said than done, I cried out, I adore stories whose titles I do not understand. I have all the time in the world, tell it to me!

I would tell it very badly, replied the shopkeeper, but I wrote it down in my youth.

And, extracting a yellowed manuscript from the depths of a drawer, he read me the following:

I was nineteen years old when I was appointed assistant to the deputy-assistant curator of the natural history institute, mineralogy section, in the learned and famous town of Fischausen, in Fischemburg. My office, which was entirely pointless, had been created for me by one of my uncles, the director of the establishment, in the judicious hope that, having absolutely nothing to do there, I would be in my element and could wondrously develop the remarkable aptitude I had demonstrated for utter idleness.

My first exploration of the long gallery containing the collection produced in me only a frightful sinking feeling. What! I was going to live here, in the midst of these inert things, in company with these innumerable pebbles of every shape, size and colour, all as dumb as each other, and all labelled with barbarous names, of which I promised myself never to remember a single one!

My pleasant existence had been no more than truancy in the most literal meaning of the word, and my uncle, who had noticed the shrewdness with which, from early childhood, I had found the wild blackberries and green dwarf apple trees behind fences, and the patience with which I had ferreted around in the hedge before pouncing on the nests of thrushes and linnets, had flattered himself that sooner or later he would see the instincts of a serious nature-lover awaken in me; but, as subsequently I had been the most able gymnast at school when it came to scaling a wall and escaping, my uncle wanted to punish me a little by shutting me away in the austere contemplation of the globe's bones, making me, moreover, regard the study of plants and animals as future compensation.

What a long way it was, from this dead world to which I was consigned, to the aimless and nameless delights of my wanderings! I spent several weeks seated in a corner, as gloomy as the columns of prismatic basalt which made up the monument's peristyle, as sad as the bench made from fossilised oysters, at which I saw my patrons cast glances filled with fatherly affection.

Each day, I listened to lectures; that is, a series of words that furnished me with no meaning and which returned to me in dreams like cabbalistic incantations; or else I attended geology classes given by my worthy uncle. The dear man would not have lacked for eloquence, had ungrateful nature not afflicted its most fervent adorer with an insurmountable stammer. His well-meaning colleagues assured him that his lecture was all the more valuable, and that his infirmity had the useful feature of exercising a mnemotechnic influence on the audience, who were enchanted to hear the principal syllables of the words repeated several times over.

As for me, I escaped the benefits of this method by regularly falling asleep as soon as each session began. From time to time, a sharp explosion of the old man's halting voice would make me leap up on my bench; I would half-open my eyes and, through the clouds of my lethargy, would spot his bald pate, gleaming in the light from a stray May sunbeam, or his hand, cupping a fragment of rock which he seemed to want to throw at my head. I quickly closed my eyes again and went back to sleep on these consoling words: "This, gentlemen, is a well-determined specimen of the material which forms the subject of this lesson. The chemical analysis gives, etc."

Sometimes, a neighbour with a cold would also catch me unawares by blowing his nose with a trumpeting sound. Then I would see my uncle drawing the outlines of geological events in chalk on the enormous blackboard behind him. He turned his back to the audience, and the oversized collar of his suit, cut in the directoire style, pushed up his ears in the strangest way. Then, everything would become confused in my brain, the corners of his drawing with those of his person, and I came to see in him nothing but insane straightenings-out and discordant stratifications. I had strange fantasies bordering on hallucination. One day, when he was giving us a lecture on volcanoes, I imagined I could see, in the gaping mouths of certain old adepts who were arranged around him, an equal number of little craters about to erupt, and to me the sound of the applause appeared to be the signal for those subterranean detonations which throw out blazing stones and vomit incandescent lava.

My Uncle Tungstenius (the nom de guerre which had replaced his family name) was rather malicious beneath his apparent bonhomie. He had sworn that he would get to the bottom of my resistance, whilst appearing not to have noticed it. One day, he came up with the idea of making me undergo a formidable ordeal, which was to place me once again in the presence of my cousin Laura.

Laura was the daughter of my Aunt Gertrude, sister of my late father, who was Tungstenius' younger brother. Laura was an orphan, although her father was alive. He was an active trader who, following some second-rate business affairs, had left for Italy, from where he had passed into Turkey. There, it was said, he had found the means to make himself wealthy; but you were never sure of anything with him. He wrote very little, and reappeared at such rare intervals, that we scarcely knew him. On the other hand, his daughter and I had known each other a great deal, for we had been brought up together in the country; then the time had come to separate us and send us to boarding school and we had forgotten each other, or very nearly.

I had left a thin, yellow child; now I found a girl of sixteen, slender, rose-pink, with magnificent hair, azure eyes, a smile filled with the incomparable graces of gaiety and goodness. I don't know if she was pretty; she was delectable and my surprise was so dazzling that it plunged me into the most complete idiocy.

Now then, Cousin Alexis, she said to me, what are you doing, and how do you spend your time here?

I dearly wish I could have found an answer other than the one I gave her; but for all my searching and stammering, I had to confess that I spent my time doing nothing.

What! she exclaimed with deep astonishment, nothing? Is it possible to live without doing anything, unless one is ill? Are you ill then, my poor Alexis? And yet you don't look as if you are.

I had to confess once again that I was perfectly well.

Then, she said, touching my forehead with her sweet little finger, which wore a pretty ring of white cornelian, your sickness is here: you are bored in town.

That is the truth, Laura, I cried out fervently; I miss the countryside and the time when we were so happy together.

I was proud to have at last found such a fine retort; but the peal of laughter that greeted it sent a mountain of confusion tumbling down upon my heart.

I believe you are mad, said Laura. You may miss the countryside, but not the happiness we savoured together; for we always went our own ways, you pillaging, picking, spoiling everything, and me making little gardens where I loved to see things germinate, grow green and blossom. The countryside was a paradise for me, because I love it for its own sake; as for you, it is your freedom for which you weep, and I feel sorry for you, not knowing how to occupy yourself as a consolation. This proves that you understand nothing of the beauty of nature, and that you are not worthy of freedom.

I do not know if Laura was repeating a phrase composed by our uncle and learned by heart; but she reeled it off so well that I was crushed. I fled, hid myself in a corner, and dissolved into tears.

In the days that followed, Laura did not speak to me again except to say hello and goodnight, and I was stunned to hear her talking about me in Italian with her governess. As they were constantly looking at me, it clearly did concern my poor self; but what were they saying? Sometimes it seemed to me that one of them spoke of me with contempt, and the other defended me with an air of compassion. However, as they often changed roles, it was impossible for me to know which of them really did feel sorry for me and sought to make excuses for me.

I remained living with my uncle, that is to say in a part of the establishment where he had assigned me a little pavilion, separated from the one he lived in by the botanical gardens. Laura spent her holidays with him, and I saw her at meal times. I found her always busy, either reading, embroidering, painting flowers or making music. I saw clearly that she was never bored; but I dared not speak to her again and ask her the secret of taking pleasure in any and every occupation.

At the end of a fortnight, she left Fischausen for Fischerburg, where she was to stay with her governess and an elderly female cousin who took the place of her mother. I had not dared break the ice; but the blow had hit home, and I set to studying ardently, without arguing, examining, selecting or reasoning, every element of the programme devised by Uncle Tungstenius.

Was I in love? I did not know, and even today I am still not certain. My self-esteem had been cruelly wounded for the first time. Until then impervious to my uncle's silent disdain and my fellow-disciples' teasing, I had blushed at Laura's pity. All the others were drivellers as far as I was concerned, she alone had seemed to exercise a right in criticising me.

One year later, I was completely transformed. Was it to my advantage? Those around me said so, and — aided by my vanity — I had a very good opinion of myself. There was not one word of my uncle's lesson that I could not have slotted into its place in the sentence it belonged to, not one sample in the lithological collection which I could not have designated by its name, along with that of its group, its variety, and the whole analysis of its composition, the entire history of its formation and its deposit. I even knew the name of the donor of each precious item, and the date when that item had entered the gallery.

Among these latter names was one that appeared many times in our catalogues, and particularly with regard to the most beautiful gemstones. It was that of Nasias, a name unknown in the field of study, and which rather intrigued me on account of its mysterious strangeness. My comrades knew no more on the subject than I. According to some, this man Nasias was an Armenian Jew who had formerly made exchanges between our exhibition hall and other collections of the same type. Others said it was the pseudonym of a disinterested donor. My uncle did not seem to know any more about him than we did. The date of his dispatches went back around a hundred years.


Excerpted from Laura: A Journey into the Crystal by George Sand, Sue Dyson. Copyright © 2004 Pushkin Press. Excerpted by permission of Steerforth Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

George Sand was born Amandine-Aurore Lucile Dupin in Paris in 1804 and brought up at Nohant, her grandmother's country home. In 1822 Sand married Baron Casimir Dudevant but left him and their disastrous marriage to seek a better life in Paris. Her most famous novels portray the struggles of women against social constraints, especially marriage. Legendary for her numerous love affairs with such prominent figures as Prosper Merimee, Alfred de Musset and Frederic Chopin, Sand was also a celebrated writer whose works influenced Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Flaubert and Proust.

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