The French author, Bernardin De Saint Pierre expressed the delicacy and beauty of nature, as well as showing the balance and harmony in the universe in his three-volume work “Investigating Nature.” He described how the African natives were treated badly on the island in his Journey to the French Island. At the same time he set about to prove the existence and Omnipotence of God.
In Paul and Virginia, the Christian author relates the pure love between Paul and Virginia, who live on an imaginary non-European island. In this story, he discusses God’s existence and Omnipotence, divine rules, and the relationship between the Almighty and His servants. He begins with a discussion of the order and harmony in the universe.
His expressions sometimes come quite close to Islamic morality and faith, with which they have much in common with their Christian counterparts. We find beautiful examples in this work, some of which will be given below. These quotations present a glorious example of the similar attitudes held by people of different religions. Two children, their mothers, and a few servants live together on an island. Madam De Latour is a noblewoman who lives on the island with her daughter Virginia. The other woman, Margaret, was seduced by an aristocrat who promised to marry her. She is from a poor rural family and lives there with her son Paul.
“Every new day was embracing this cozy home with peace and serenity. Their hearts felt the sufferings of neither ambition nor envy. They had no expectations from worldly glories gained through intrigue and lost through slander.”
The author says that the characters “are very nice people” and that “they were such violets that no one could spot them with their thorns in the heath; but their pleasant smell could be sensed from very far away. They had crossed out gossiping from their lexis for good, and they were right about this. Gossiping always feeds resentment under the cover of revealing the truth, and it is disguised by hypocrisy.
-They performed good deeds as much as possible. Their hearts were so pure that they could leave the world of gossiping with the help of their feelings. Instead of speaking about other people’s scandals, they took the topics of their speech from nature and these topics filled them with joy and pleasure. Were not all these granted by an Unseen Being holding the universe in His power?
-The beautiful works of this world have been set up in such a way that it is possible to perceive them all, at one glance.
-Their faith was sincere and moral; their considerations were practical rather than theoretical. They didn’t have any festivities, celebrations or mourning days. Everyday was a festival for them and the world was their temple. In that temple, they admired the Sovereignty of a Supreme Will, friendly to man, in everything they saw. The trust they cherished for this Infinite Might made them forget the sufferings of the past, and became a source of courage today, never-ending hope for tomorrow…”
The following words, uttered by Paul, are so beautiful that they can be dedicated to those who devote themselves to humanity’s happiness: “Man can not be happy unless he is concerned about the happiness of others.”
Madame De Latour explains beautifully to Virginia about humanity’s purpose in this world: “My dear, seek help from the Lord. He is the decision maker about the well-being of His servants. Who knows? Maybe today He is just trying you in order to reward you tomorrow. Bear in mind that we have come to this world for doing good deeds so that they make us closer to God.”
One day, Madame De Latour’s aunt informs them that she is ill and would like Virginia to live with her. In exchange, Virginia will inherit her entire estate. Her mother wants to send Virginia, thinking that she will be happy there, but Virginia does not want to part from Paul. Before sunset, she boards the ship and leaves without telling him. Naturally he is very sad, for Virginia is no longer there. Being separated from his beloved friend, Paul suffers. Lonely, he recalls the days spent with Virginia. “She even used to bury the seed of the fruit she ate, since she cared for others more than herself, even in her simplest affairs. ‘One day, a tree grows here, passersby eat its fruits; it benefits birds at least’ she would say,” recollects Paul. His mother consoles Paul: “Let God be your sole helper, let humanity be your nation. Do not give up relying on them. God and humanity only expect virtue from us. God granted you freedom, health, a clear conscience and true friends. Even kings are not that fortunate.”
The relation between happiness and virtue is questioned in the mother’s counsels to Paul: “Most of the rich are bored with every kind of pleasure, for it is obtained with no effort at all. Haven’t you experienced that you buy the pleasure of drinking by thirst, eating by hunger and resting by tiredness. Likewise, loving and being loved is obtained through a great deal of absence and self sacrifice.”
(Paul): “What do you mean by ‘virtue'”?
“My dear, you are working to support your family. Virtue is bearing difficulties for the good of others, and doing this only for God’s good pleasure.”
His mother advises him to rely on destiny with patience and endurance: “My dear, what throws one into an early death is nothing but a momentary venture. Mostly, this is encouraged by worthless applause. However, there is a more exalted kind of courage which is more seldom but needful. With the courage called ‘patience and endurance,’ we face up to the misfortunes in life. Showing this patience is neither being manipulated by someone else, nor giving up to an ambition arising inside us. It is doing only what God says, since patience and reliance on destiny is a courage generated by virtue.”
Later, his mother tells Paul that the mind is darkened by desires in which people are lost, yet there is a torch for the person to illuminate his or her inner world: reading.
She states the following about literary works: “My dear, literary works are God’s gifts to us. Mankind is enabled to discern the rays of a wisdom ruling the universe by a Divine art on the earth. Just like the rays of the sun, these literary works also illuminate, warm, and cheer us. They are like a fire descending from the sky. They render everything useful to us, just like fire cooks our food. With these works, we gather around ourselves things, times, places, and people. They are what show us the way in life. They extinguish desires and remove despicable feelings. They are angels descended from heavens in order to develop the ‘love for virtue,’ and they present the honorable ones who exalt humanity as ideal models for us. There have always been great writers inspired by them. These people were raised in hard times which society couldn’t bear, in the period of barbarism, when morality was low. My son, there are countless others a lot unhappier than you among the ones who seek consolation by reading and contemplating.”
Starting with the saying that “a good book is a good friend,” reading is recommended as a magic potion to save humanity from loneliness. Stating that nothing can replace a good friend, Paul then summarizes a good friend’s qualities : “When Virginia looked at my face and said ‘my friend,’ I would forget all my worries.”
Later on, Virginia boards the ship to return, but a terrible storm wrecks it while it is approaching the island. In the midst of the waves, beside the wrecked ship, Virginia is seen floating in the water. Everybody calls out to a sailor, who is not far from her, to save her. Although waves cause her to drift toward the wreck, the sailor cannot help her and only manages to save himself with difficulty. Then the young survivor says: “O Lord, I am grateful that you granted my life to me. On the other hand, I was ready to sacrifice my life for that young girl.”
Now Paul is lonely forever. His grief overflows his heart. When the author consoles him, he virtually voices the Islamic understanding of submission to God: “God has taken Virginia from you. Everything comes from Him. He knows what is good for you better than you do. There is no reason for you to feel the sorrow and remorse we bear as a punishment of our own deeds. What lasts is only His Eternal Will. Therefore you can say: ‘This is the Providence after all, and I did not commit any transgressions to generate this result.’ And what are you grieving for? For Virginia, or for her dying like that? Remember that everyone born is destined to die. Virginia must be happy to have died before you and your mother did.
“My son, death is a blessing for all people, it is the night of this day named life. The diseases, sorrows, sufferings, fears that make people tired of living all disappear in the sleep of death. If a person has reached a rare blessing such as ‘being loved,’ imagine through what sacrifices he gained it. Mostly, when such people come to the end of their lives, they find nobody but false friends and ungrateful relatives around them. But Virginia is as blissful as can be. She was blissful again at the terrible event which resulted in her death. She saw how all the people of the province struggled for her, how you rushed to her rescue, risking every danger; in this way, she understood her worth for us. The memory of her pure and innocent past had strengthened her for the future. Thereby, God granted her the reward for virtue, namely ‘courage’ against dangers, which overpowers any kind of danger. That is why she welcomed death with a smile.
“My son, God granted the ability of accepting all suffering in life to the virtuous. This way, he showed us that the real purpose of life is virtue, which is the sole way to reach honor and happiness. If somebody will introduce himself to the world through his virtue, God makes that person meet death in a great arena of trial. Then his courage becomes an example for others, thereby allowing the ones who follow to remember him in tears, recalling what he went through. Here is a memorial for such people in this transient world, where every memory, even that of kings, is forgotten.”
The author dwells upon faith in God and the Day of Judgment in the following passage: “But Virginia still lives, my son. Don’t you see that nothing really vanishes? What changes is only the appearance. If all the power and knowledge of humanity were to unite, they wouldn’t be able to make anything disappear. Then, how can a being with intellect, love, virtue, and piety disappear while the slightest particle of her doesn’t disappear? Be sure that now Virginia is happier than when she was with us. There is a God my son, no doubt about it. I don’t even need to prove His existence, for all of nature is a witness to that. Some people deny His existence, for they do not want him to exist. The feeling of His existence is in your heart, just as the things He created are before your eyes. Is it possible that He would leave Virginia unrewarded? Is it possible that the Power that provides the happiness of people through some principles unknown to you would not provide Virginia’s happiness through principles also unknown to you? Does the Almighty need this small world in order to show His power and kindness, like people do? There is no single drop of water in the ocean that is not full of life. We know this for sure. While this is so, do you think that so many stars revolving above mean nothing to us? Fine! It means that the endless sources of light filling this enormous universe, the immense fields of light surrounding them, this land of light which is never to be darkened by nights or cyclones, is just a meaningless space and an infinite nothingness. Is that so? We didn’t grant anything to ourselves but everything was granted to us by the Almighty, by His Infinite Power.
“There is no doubt about that. Your virtue will be rewarded one day: there is a place where your merit will find what it deserves. Virginia is blissful now. If it were possible for her to tell you how she feels, like she did in her last letter, she would speak so: ‘Paul, this world is nothing but an abode of trial. I always lived relying on love and virtue. I went overseas, obeying the words of my mother. I rejected a fortune to sustain my faith. The Almighty Lord saw that my time was due. I rid myself of everything that makes life bitter: corruption, gossiping, storms, and people in agony. No disaster that frightens people can reach me now. Therefore, it is so strange that you feel pity for me! I remained chaste, my purity is free from any disturbance, just like a gleam of light. While this is so, you are inviting me to the darkness of life.”
Paul, who cannot bear the pain of separation, dies two months later. His mother lives only one week after that event, and, before she dies, expresses her faith in resurrection: “We shall meet each other eternally and with a sweeter affection. Death is the greatest blessing for humans. This blessing must be appreciated. If life is a punishment, one should long for its end as soon as possible. If it is an abode of trial, one should prefer the trial to be short.”
This novel contains beautiful descriptions of nature. When evaluating the work, we have tried to focus on those parts that are common to Christians and Muslims. Although the author was a Christian, it could have been written by a Muslim. It is a remarkable work in terms of underlining the two religions’ common points. This beautiful work has found a place among the classics of world literature. Its theme and the values it questions make it a universal work.
Bringing such works to the attention of people, writing fresh ones with similar themes, and reinforcing the common faith and values of people is something that must be done in order to establish the longed-for dialogue. The descendants of the Crusaders have shown the way by apologizing to the Muslims. Such things draw people of different faiths closer. If we look at it from the monotheistic viewpoint, this shared belief will engender intimacy and friendship. Words like love, tolerance, and dialogue, which are found in every language, must be felt in our hearts and present in our daily behavior. People should try to depict this theme in every form of the fine arts as well.
Paul and Virginia (indypublish.com, 2002)