Two Symphonies collects two short novels by Nobel Prize winner Andre Gide. In Isabelle, a young man visits the home of an eccentric family, and falls in love with a portrait of their absent daughter. In The Pastoral Symphony, a pastor rescues a blind orphan from poverty, but an illicit love develops between them.
So I was rather surprised that "Isabelle" turned out to be so enjoyable. A story that artfully paints the decline of an aristocratic class and the passing of a way of life, it makes an interesting companion to novels like Vita Sackville-West's "The Edwardians." "Isabelle" is rather more comic and, in a way, less biting than that work. There's a tragedy at the book's center, but Gide often plays up the ridiculous, theatrical aspects of the inhabitants of the decaying French manor house where the action is set. It's also nice to see that this book's disabled character, a lame young boy called Casimir, is treated with much more depth here: his physical infirmity seems merely to complement his lonely and isolated existence and generally timid character. The book features a well-executed plot twist at the end and a touch of real sadness as the narrator witnesses the bankrupt estate's great old trees being taken down in order to pay its creditors. Read this "symphony," but skip the first.