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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Sidenote Its character and appeals

[Sidenote: Its character and appeals.]

He remains, therefore, the author of the _Astree_, and, taking things on the whole (a mighty whole, beyond contest, as far as bulk goes), there are not so many authors of the second rank (for one of the first he can hardly be called) who would lose very much by an exchange with him. One's estimates of the book are apt to vary in different places, even as, though not in the same degree as, the estimates of others have varied at different times; but I myself have found that the more I read of it the more I liked and esteemed it; and I believe that, if I had a copy of my own and could turn it over in the proper diurnal and nocturnal fashion, not as duty- but as pleasure-reading, I should like it better still. Certain points that have appealed to me have been noticed already--its combination of sensuous and ideal passion is perhaps the most important of them; but there are not a few others, themselves by no means void of importance. One is the union, not common in French books between the sixteenth and the nineteenth century, of sentiment and seriousness with something very like humour. Hylas, the not exactly "comic man," but light-o'-love and inconstant shepherd, was rather a bone of contention among critics of the book's own century. But he certainly seasons it well; and there is one almost Shakespearean scene in which he is concerned--a scene which Benedick and Beatrice, who may have read it not so very many years after their own marriage, must have enjoyed considerably. Hylas and the shepherdess Stella (who is something of a girl-counterpart of his, as in the case just cited) draw up a convention of love[144] between them. The tables, though they are not actually numbered in the original, are twelve, and, shortened a little, run as follows:

[Sidenote: Hylas and Stella and their Convention.]

1. Neither is to be sovereign over the other.

2. Both are to be at once Lover and Beloved. [They knew something about the matter, these two, for all their jesting.]

3. There is to be no constraint of any kind.

4. They are to love for as long or as short a time as they please.

5. No charge of infidelity is ever to be brought on either side.

6. It is quite permitted to either or both to love somebody else, and yet to continue loving each other.

7. There is to be no jealousy, no complaints, no sulks.

8. They are to do and say exactly what they please.

9. Words like "faithfulness," etc., are taboo.

10. They may leave off playing whenever they like.

11. And begin again ditto.

12. They are to forget both the favours they receive from each other and the offences they may commit against each other.

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