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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Though some time after Lucian the Greek romance


In

later classical literature, both Greek and Latin, the state of things alters considerably, though even then it cannot be said that fiction proper--that is to say, either prose or verse in which the accomplishment of the form is distinctly subordinate to the interesting treatment of the subject--constitutes a very large department, or even any regular department at all. If Lucius of Patrae was a real person, and much before Lucian, he may dispute with Petronius--that first-century Maupassant or Meredith, or both combined--the actual foundation of the novel as we have it; but Lucian himself and Apuleius (strangely enough handling the same subject in the two languages) give securer and more solid starting-places. Yet nothing follows Apuleius; though some time after Lucian the Greek romance, of which we have still a fair number of examples (spread, however, over a still larger number of centuries), establishes itself in a fashion. It does one thing, indeed, which in a way refounds or even founds the whole conception--it establishes the heroine. There are certainly feminine persons, sometimes not disagreeable, who play conspicuous and by no means mute or unpractical parts in both Greek and Latin versions of the Ass-Legend; but one can hardly call them heroines. There need be no chicane about the application of that title to Chloe or to Chariclea, to Leucippe or to her very remarkable rival, to Anthia or to Hysmine. Without the heroine you can hardly have romance: the novel without
her (though her individuality may be put in commission) is an absolute impossibility.

[Sidenote: A _nexus_ of Greek and French romance? The facts about the matter.]

The connection between these curious performances (with the much larger number of things like them which we know to have existed) on the one side, and the Western mediaeval romance on the other, has been at various times matter of considerable controversy; but it need not trouble us much here. The Greek romance was to have very great influence on the French novel later: on the earlier composition, generally called by the same name as itself, it would seem[7] to have had next to none. Until we come to _Floire et Blanchefleur_ and perhaps _Parthenopex_, things of a comparatively late stage, obviously post-Crusade, and so necessarily exposed to, and pretty clearly patient of, Greek-Eastern influence, there is nothing in Old French which shows even the same kinship to the Greek stories as the Old English _Apollonius of Tyre_, which was probably or rather certainly in the original Greek itself. The sources of French "romance"--I must take leave to request a "truce of God" as to the application of that term and of "epic" for present purposes--appear to have been two--the Saint's Life and the patriotic or family _saga_, the latter in the first place indelibly affected by the Mahometan incursions of the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries. The story-telling instinct--kindled by, or at first devoted to, these subjects--subsequently fastened on numerous others. In fact almost all was fish that came to the magic net of Romance; and though two great subjects of ours, the "Matter of Britain" (the Arthurian Legend) and the "Matter of Rome" (classical story generally, including the Tale of Troy), came traditionally to rank themselves with the "Matter of France" and with the great range of hagiology which it might have been dangerous to proclaim a fourth "matter" (even if anybody had been likely to take the view that it was so), these classifications are, like most of their kind, more specious than satisfactory.

[Sidenote: The power and influence of the "Saint's Life."]

Any person--though indeed it is


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