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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Sidenote Minor romances preceding the Astree


[Sidenote:

Its beginnings in France.]

[Sidenote: Minor romances preceding the _Astree_.]

The transformation of the older pastoral form into the newer began, doubtless, with the rendering into French of _Daphnis and Chloe_,[131] which appeared in the same year with the complete _Heptameron_ (1559). Twelve years later, in 1571, Belleforest's _La Pyrenee et Pastorale Amoureuse_ rather took the title than exemplified the kind; but in 1578 the translation of Montemayor's _Diana_ definitely turned the current into the new-old channel. It was not, however, till seven years later still that "_Les Bergeries de Juliette_, de l'invention d'Ollenix du Mont Sacre" (a rather exceptionally foolish anagram of Nicolas de Montreux) essayed something original in the style. Montreux issued his work, of which more presently, again and again in five instalments, the last of which appeared thirteen years later than the first. And it has been proved with immense bibliographical labour by M. Reynier,[132] that though the last decade of the sixteenth century in France was almost as fertile in short love-romances[133] as ours was in sonnet-cycles, the pastoral form was, whether deliberately or not, for the most part eschewed, though there were one or two exceptions of little if any consequence. It is indeed noteworthy that (only four years before the first part of the _Astree_) a second translation or the _Diana_ came out. But it was not till 1607

that this first part actually appeared, and in the opinion of its own time generally, and our own time for the most part, though not in that of the interval, made a new epoch in the history of French fiction.

[Sidenote: Their general character.]

The general characteristics of this curious and numerous, but almost forgotten, body of work--which must, be it remembered, have exercised influence, more or less, on the progress of the novel by the ways of supply, demand, and reaction alike--have been carefully analysed by M. Reynier, with whom, in regard to one or two points of opinion, one may differ, but whose statements of fact are certainly trustworthy. Short as they usually are, and small as is the literary power displayed in most of them, it is clear that they, long before Rambouillet and the _precieuses_, indicate a distinct reaction against merely brutal and ferocious manners, with a standard of "courtiership" in both senses. Our dear Reine Margot herself in one case prescribes, what one hopes she found not merely in La Mole, but in others of those transitorily happy ones whose desiccated hearts did or did not distend the pockets of her farthingale as live Persian kittens do those of their merchants. To be a lover you must have "a stocking void of holes, a ruff, a sword, a plume, _and a knowledge how to talk_." This last point is illustrated in these miniature romances after a fashion on which one of the differences of opinion above hinted at may arise. It is not, as in the later "Heroics," shown merely in lengthy harangues, but in short and almost dramatised dialogue. No doubt this is often clumsy, but it may seem to have been not a whole mistake in itself--only an abortive attempt at something which, much later again, had to come before real novel-writing could be achieved, and which the harangues of the Scudery type could never have provided. There is a little actual history in them--not the key-cryptograms of the "Heroics" or their adoption of ancient and distant historic frames. In a very large proportion, forced marriages, proposed and escaped from, supply the plot; in not a few, forced "vocations" to the conventual life. Elopements are as common as abductions in the next stage, and are generally conducted with as much propriety. Courtships of married women, and lapses by them, are very rare.


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