(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The Ripening Seed explores the coming of age of its two main characters, Vinca Ferret, a fifteen-year-old French girl with “eyes the color of April showers,” and Phillipe Audebert, a sixteen-year-old French boy in the “full vigour” of youth and impatience. As the novel unfolds, the omniscient narrator moves back and forth between the thoughts and actions of Vinca and Phillipe, revealing slowly the changes which turn these childhood friends into neophyte adolescent lovers. This is the fifteenth summer that their families have spent together in a house on the coast of Brittany, and much that occurs is merely a continuation of the previous summers. Vinca and Phillipe spend their days shrimping in the cliffside tidal pools, swimming or fishing in the quiet waters along the beach, or hiking to their secret spots, where they can sit and talk, or dream of the future, away from their parents’ eyes. Underneath the familiar and comfortable routines of childhood, however, lurks an uneasiness. Knowing that they are fated to marry each other, they find the thought of waiting for five or six more years almost unbearable, and yet their lives are programmed for them: Phillipe must finish school and then enter his father’s business, while Vinca will stay at home and perfect her domestic role. Thus, while swimming, fishing, and hiking, they fall prey to melancholy, self-indulgent fantasies and romantic melodramas.

One day, something intrudes upon their private world of waiting. Phillipe, quite by accident, meets the “woman in white,” Madame Camille Dalleray. At first, she addresses him as “young fellow” when she sees him scrambling through the sand wearing only a pair of shorts. Moments later, however, she looks at him “like a man.” Madame Dalleray tells Phillipe that she has lost her way to Ker-Anna, her summer house, and Phillipe manages to stammer out an answer, feeling both embarrassed and flattered by the attention. Just as the woman turns to leave, Vinca comes climbing up over the cliff demanding, with “anxious, jealous” eyes, to know with whom Phillipe was speaking. For reasons yet unknown to Phillipe, he gives Vinca a somewhat brief and ambiguous answer, keeping to himself some as yet unknown secret.

The next day, Vinca and Phillipe succumb to the gloom of a rainy day, aware that only three weeks of vacation remain. As they watch each other through the rain, their sadness deepens, and when a break in the storm comes, they take refuge on a protected ledge in the cliffs overlooking the darkened sea and sky. As they sit, lost in reveries of their forthcoming separation, Phillipe notices that Vinca “[w]ith eyes tight shut,...was slipping quietly, imperceptibly, deliberately, down the slope of the rocky ledge, so narrow that her feet were already dangling over space.” Phillipe calmly yet firmly pulls her back onto the ledge, forcing her to choose life over death, waiting over having.

As the days continue, Vinca and Phillipe shift from “moody dramatics” to more normal behavior and back again. One day, they plan a picnic, taking along Lisette, Vinca’s younger sister. Climbing over rocks and through fields of flowers, they reach a flat, sandy stretch and settle down for a picnic. Unconsciously, Vinca absorbs herself in “squaw-like chores,” setting out the food, making sure that Phillipe and Lisette get what they want. She then proceeds to clean up after the three of them have finished, while Lisette runs off to play and Phillipe lies back, closes his eyes, and daydreams that Vinca is already his wife. At the same...

(The entire section is 1464 words.)