Written on the eve of the French Revolution, the novel is hailed as Bernardin's finest work. It records the fate of a child of nature corrupted by the false, artificial sentimentality that prevailed at the time among the upper classes of France. The Nuttall Encyclopedia says of it, ''[it is a novel in which] there rises melodiously, as it were, the wail of a moribund world: everywhere wholesome Nature in unequal conflict with diseased, perfidious art; cannot escape from it in the lowest hut, in the remotest island of the sea''
n stored up some of the ideas which afterwards appeared in the "Fraisier." His sympathy with all living things was extreme.
In "Paul and Virginia," he praises, with evident satisfaction, their meal of milk and eggs, which had not cost any animal its life. It has been remarked, and possibly with truth, that every tenderly disposed heart, deeply imbued with a love of Nature, is at times somewhat Braminical. St. Pierre's certainly was.
When quite young, he advanced with a clenched fist towards a carter who was ill-treating a horse. And when taken for the first time, by his father, to Rouen, having the towers of the cathedral pointed out to him, he exclaimed, "My God! how high they fly." Every one present naturally laughed. Bernardin had only noticed the flight of some swallows who had built their nests there. He thus early revealed those instincts which afterwards became the guidance of his life: the strength of which possibly occasioned his too great indifference to all monuments of art. The love of study
Incipient love, the inability to express it, and eventual tragedy through forced separation -- these are the themes of this lovely novel. The narrative is freely interspersed with sonnets written by Virginia's mother (Mme. de la Tour) which are mostly tributes to sentiment, and overall the book sounds naive -- which doesn't detract, however, from its pathos and its beauty.