Paul and Virginie
Paul and Virginie is a book by Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, first published in 1788. The French writer was also a botanist, natural historian and vegetarian, who travelled to Mauritius to study plants in the late 1760s, later becoming manager of the famous Jardin des Plantes botanical garden in Paris.
Paul and Virginie are friends since birth who fall in love. The story is set on the island of Mauritius, with its lush tropical background, when it was under French rule. It was written putting together people and events which did really exist or occur but had that had no connection to each other. Bernardin de Saint-Pierre lived on Mauritius for a time and based some of the novel on a shipwreck he may have witnessed whilst there.
Written at the time of the French Revolution, the book describes the perfect equality of social relations on Mauritius, whose inhabitants share their possessions, have equal amounts of land, and all work to cultivate it. They live in complete harmony, without violence or unrest. It argues for the emancipation of slaves. The author was a friend of Mahé de La Bourdonnais, the governor of Mauritius, who he wrote in to the book, providing training and encouragement for the island’s natives.
The story is about 2 women who end up alone with young children on the Île de France (Mauritius). One’s husband has died, and the other has been abandoned by her lover. The 2 decide to live near each other and raise their children together, who grow to love each other. Their son and daughter are the title characters Paul and Virginie. They are in touch with the natural world, free from the corrupting influence of civilisation. As they get older, they fall in love with each other. Their mothers want them to marry one day, but Virginie’s mother is concerned her daughter will get pregnant too young. She is also concerned that the 2 will have no money when they grow up. So, when a rich aunt in Paris offers to make Virginie her heir if her mother will send her back to France, she is put on a boat…. This is when things begin to go wrong.
There is a hotel in Mauritius named after the title characters. The Veranda Paul and Virginie, in Grand Baie. There is a bronze copy of Prosper d’Épinay’s famous depiction of Paul and Virginie in the Town Hall Garden, Curepipe. The original is on display in Port Louis’ Blue Penny Museum. There is a memorial to Bernardin de Saint-Pierre in the Jardin des Plantes, Paris.
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