Review of ‘A Village Romeo and Juliet’ by Gottfried Keller

345_largeBased on true events, Keller’s short story draws heavily on the Shakespearian nascent concept of fulfilled love resulting in a tragedy of reality. The story is plain; two Swiss farmers – Marti and Manz – fall into violent ruin as a result of an unclaimed field of land betwixt their own perfectly tilled furrows. As their greed for ownership and resources grows and the field narrows and narrows the novel plunges two families into despair, rage and decay. On top of this harsh ridge of ploughed stones meet their children. The strong vibrant Suli sees Vrenchen, sees her effervescence, her shy delight and Aphrodite snares them both in an innocence that portrays perfectly the truth of love.
With Marti rendered inchoate by an over zealous protective blow by Suli, the twenty year old sells his pocket watch and silver chain to buy Vrenchen perfect shoes. They travel in their drab, well worn but carefully washed clothes to a fair. A day spent idyllically with “rich coffee, the thick cream, the warm rolls, fresh butter and honey, the pancakes and all other delicacies”; an evening spent in whirling dance and giddy love. They are offered an existence of epicurean immorality by the Black Fiddler, a glut of perversity to be forced on them by the whims and mendacity of others. An existence they reject and they finally crawl aboard a hay barge to sleep the night away and then slip beyond this world in the knowledge they have tasted a perfect love and there is nothing more for them to find.
Keller gives a powerful retelling of the classic tale of tragedy. He chooses to leave us understanding that true love is solitary; consuming a man and woman entirely – yet selfishly only for them. No one else is privileged to understand the purity of such an emotional connection, yet we all experience it. His closing words “it appeared the couple had stolen the boat in order to celebrate their sinful union; and this, the writer added, could only be seen as just one more proof of the growing depravity and immortality of the times.” jerks us harshly back to reality from the purity of the dream he has cast over us. We understand the love because we are seeing Vrenchen and Sali through a pastoreal innocence, yet those who do not come into any contact with the pair dismiss them as they would an old newspaper.
True love is all consuming, it is pure, it is innocent, it is vivid and bright…and it is like a dream once it is gone.

Categories: Book Reviews, Gottfried Keller

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