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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Of the Temple he erected to Love and Astree


[Sidenote: But attractive on the whole.]

But it remains on the whole an attractive book, and the secret of at least part of this attractiveness is no doubt to be found stated in a sentence of Madame de Sevigne's, which has startled some people, that "everything in it is natural and true." To the startled persons this may seem either a deliberate paradox, or a mere extravagance of affection, or even downright bad taste and folly. But the Lady of all Beautiful Letter-writers was almost of the family of Neverout in literary criticism. If she had been a professional critic (which is perhaps impossible), she might have safeguarded her dictum by the addition, "according to its own scheme and division." It is the neglect of this implication which has caused the demurs. "'Natural!'" and "'true!'" they say, "why, the Pastoral is the most frankly and in fact outrageously unnatural and false of all literary kinds. Does not Urfe himself warn us that we are not to expect ordinary shepherds and shepherdesses at all?" Or perhaps they go more to detail. "The whole book is unabashedly occupied with love-making; and love is not the whole, it is even a very small part, of life, that is to say, of truth and nature." Or, to come still closer to particulars, "Where, for instance, did Celadon, who is represented as having been reduced to utter destitution when, _more heroum_, he started a quasi-hermit life in the wood, get the decorations, etc., of the Temple he erected to Love and Astree?" One almost blushes at having to explain, in a popular style, the mistakenness, to use the mildest word, of these objections. The present writer, in a book less ambitious than the present on the sister subject of the English novel, once ventured to point out that if you ask "where Sir Guyon got that particularly convenient padlock with which he fastened Occasion's tongue, and still more the hundred iron chains with which he bound Furor?" that is to say, if you ask such a question seriously, you have no business to read romance at all. As to the Love matter, of that it is still less use to talk. There are some who would go so far as to deny the major; even short of that hardiness it may be safely urged that in poetry and romance Love _is_ the chief and principal thing, and that the poet and the romancer are only acting up to their commission in representing it as such. But the source of all these errors is best reached, and if it may be, stopped, by dealing with the first article of the indictment in the same way. What if Pastoral _is_ artificial? That may be an argument against the kind as a whole, but it cannot lie against a particular example of it, because that example is bound to act up to its kind's law. And I think it not extravagant to contend that the _Astree_ acts up to its law in the most inoffensive fashion possible--in such a fashion, in fact, as is hardly ever elsewhere found in the larger specimens, and by no means very often in the smaller. Hardly even in _As You Like It_, certainly not in the _Arcadia_, do the crook and the pipe get less in the way than they do here. A minor cavil has been urged--that the "shepherds" and the "knights," the "shepherdesses" and the "nymphs" are very little distinguishable from each other; but why should they be? Urfe had sufficient art to throw over all these things an air of glamour which, to those who can themselves take the benefit of the spell, banishes all inconsistencies, all improbabilities, all specks and knots and the like. It has been said that the _Astree_ has in it something of the genuine fairy-tale element. And the objections taken to it are really not much more reasonable than would be the poser whether even the cleverest of wolves, with or without a whole human grandmother inside it, would find it easy to wrap itself up in bedclothes, or whether, seeing that even walnut shells subject cats to such extreme discomfort, top-boots would not be even more intolerable to the most faithful of feline retainers.


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