Henri Troyat

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M. J. Harrison

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[La Neige en Deuil (The Mountain)] is a tale of great simplicity, yet one cannot fail to be struck by the quantity of imagery to be found in it. Troyat has achieved the quality of simplicity by having the story put before us mostly seen through the eyes of the main character, Isaïe. Once the author has set the scene, we find, after a gradual transition, that it is Isaïe's view we are sharing, his experience past and present which we are living. And Isaïe is an unsophisticated man of the mountains. Further, he has become [impaired], as the result of a serious climbing accident and the brain operations that followed…. It is then hardly surprising that his vision of the world should be limited, but the originality of his thinking processes lies in their figurative quality…. [His visions] bring, with great economy, an extra dimension to our understanding of the personality of the man, and, at the same time, give to the book stylistic unity without the author's having to resort to literary devices beyond the range of the character whom he has allowed to tell his own story.

For Isaïe, it is natural to think in images. But he does not indulge in flights of fancy. He is a man occupied with the realities of the mountains and the physical tasks forming the routine of his day-to-day living. The images themselves, therefore, tend to represent one aspect of reality by another, and are drawn from the 'montagnard's' experience—an experience which is concerned with life, in its closeness to nature and the precarious struggle to maintain life in a remote community. Isaïe indeed has a strong protective instinct—for his sheep, for Marcellin, for those whom he led in his guiding days. However he has himself a deep need for the reassurance of physical reality: he has to have a close association with something tangible, often something living. This explains both his tendency to turn to the concrete in his reactions and his language, and his habit of attributing life to inanimate things. (p. 151)

One is led always to Isaïe's personification of the mountains. They were a living force to him even before his accidents and his interpretation of the cause of these disasters. They and their elements have been his lifelong companions (as well as his enemies).

Very early we know the mountains are actors in the drama…. (p. 153)

[It] is perhaps Troyat's greatest achievement in the book that it is in the language of Isaïe's native elements—wind, mist, cloud, fire and water—or in Isaïe's own imagery as he reads these elements—that his hero's mental states are revealed. (p. 155)

M. J. Harrison, "The Imagery in Troyat's 'La neige en deuil'," in Modern Languages, Vol. LII, No. 4, December, 1971, pp. 151-56.

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V. S. Pritchett


V. S. Pritchett