Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz, after an early attempt to learn the writer’s craft in Paris, returned to his native Swiss village in the canton of Vaud, near Lausanne. He spent the rest of his life among his own people, developing a provincial style that sets him apart as one of the very Swiss writers with an international reputation.
While still a student, Ramuz had visions of being a painter. There is a preponderance of visual appeal in his work, emanating from a deep-seated love of nature and the artistic ability to represent it in words. His many novels and stories are all about the harsh life of the peasants. He is constantly concerned with the most elementary problems that confront man: What is man? What are his essential needs? Where is there room for love in the modern world? Where is there room for God? Inherently religious, he subscribed to no faith. His work often makes use of legendary material and sometimes assumes the proportions of myth.
WHEN THE MOUNTAIN FELL displays all of these qualities; it is a dramatic, essentially poetic story that is a classic of man’s endurance and courage. Ramuz is able to make the reader participate in the delight of a man reborn to life, able once again to see, to smell, to breathe, to feel himself alive. Antoine and his devoted wife, Therese, are, in Ramuz’s mythology, archetypal peasants living in harmony with nature. In spite of the apparent harshness of nature, Ramuz’s peasants triumph by learning to survive within the limits of the life that nature offers them. In this respect, they attain qualities of permanence and universality that permit them to transcend the geographical confines of the story. They could be any peasants, anywhere, any time.
Nature is accurately observed, providing the material from which Ramuz’s characteristic effects are achieved. The atmosphere, however, is what counts most: the infusion of feeling, the symbolic weight. Nature provides a setting of lyric beauty, of homely charm, of sinister brooding force, a backdrop for the human action; but nature is, at the same time, more than a backdrop. There is an interrelation between man and nature similar to the Wordsworthian communion.