The Water of the Hills

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Modern readers may have to make a substantial adjustment to enter imaginatively into a world in which a few stolen rabbits can be the motive for murder and the lack of rain for a few days can change the fate of an entire family. Before long, though, even the most resistant reader may become charmed by Pagnol’s style, alternately droll and dramatic, and his ability to construct a story that has the authenticity of a folk tale and the suspense and ingenuity of a contemporary novel.

The countryside of Les Bastides Blanches is filled with equal parts of beauty and brutality. Amid olive and almond trees, the patriarch of the Soubeyran family, called Papet, and his nephew, Ugolin, discuss their plan to grow carnations, a valuable commodity in the flower markets nearby. To be successful, though, they decide it is necessary to drive their new neighbors off land that they covet.

These neighbors have their own plans. Jean de Florette, hunchbacked but incredibly determined and energetic, is filled with ideas about how to make his newly inherited fields flourish with pumpkins and rabbits. Aided by his wife and young daughter, Manon, he may well have succeeded but for Papet and Ugolin, who seal up the source of the spring running through Jean’s land. Without water, Jean’s life becomes one of constant struggle, and his accidental death seems as inevitable as it is pathetic.

Papet and Ugolin take over Jean’s land and the carnation farm...

(The entire section is 418 words.)