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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Who still bears his false name of Artamene


The opening of the "business."]

Perhaps, however, "laid hold of" is too strong; we should do better by borrowing from Dante and saying that the author or authors have "glimpsed the Panther,"--have seen that a novel ought not to be a mere chronicle, unselected and miscellaneous, but a work which, whether it has actual unity of plot or not, has unity of interest, and will deal with its facts so as to secure that interest. At first, indeed, they plunge us into the middle of matters quite excitingly, though perhaps not without more definite suggestion, both to them and to us, of the "immortal" Heliodorus. The hero, who still bears his false name of Artamene,[156] appears at the head of a small army, the troops of Cyaxares of Media; and, at the mouth of a twisting valley, suddenly sees before him the town of Sinope in flames, the shipping in the harbour blazing likewise, all but one bark, which seems to be flying from more than the conflagration. A fine comic-opera situation follows; for while Artamene is trying to subdue the fire he is attacked by the traitor Aribee, general under the King of Assyria, who is himself shut up in a tower and seems to be hopelessly cut off from rescue by the fire. The invincible hero, however, subdues at once the rebel and the destroying element; captures the Assyrian, who is not only his enemy and that of his master Cyaxares, but his Rival (the word has immense importance in these romances, and is always honoured with

a capital there), and learns that the escaping galley carried with it his beloved Mandane, daughter of Cyaxares, of whom he is in quest, and who has been abducted from her abductor and lover by another, Prince Mazare of Sacia.

[Sidenote: The ups and downs of the general conduct of the story.]

All this is lively and business-like enough, and one feels rather a brute in making the observation (necessary, however) that Artamene talks too much and not in the right way. When things in general are "on the edge of a razor" and one is a tried and skilful soldier, one does not, except on the stage, pause to address the unjust Gods, and inquire whether they have consented to the destruction of the most beautiful princess in the world; discuss with one's friends the reduction into cinders[157] of the adorable Mandane, and further enquire, without the slightest chance of answer, "Alas! unjust Rival! hast thou not thought rather of thine own preservation than of hers?" However, for a time, the incidents do carry off the verbiage, and for nearly a hundred small pages there is no great cause for complaint. It is the style of the book; and if you do not like it you must "seek another inn." But what succeeds, for the major part of the first of the twenty volumes,[158] is open to severer criticisms. We fall into interminable discussions, _recits_, and the like, on the subject of the identity of Artamene and Cyrus, and we see at once the imperfect fashion in which the nature of the novel is conceived. That elaborate explanation--necessary in history, philosophy, and other "serious" works--cannot be cut down too much in fiction, is one truth that has not been learnt.[159] That the stuffing of the story with large patches of solid history or pseudo-history is wrong and disenchanting has not been learnt either; and this is the less surprising and the more pardonable in that very few, if indeed any, of the masters and mistresses of the novel, later and greater than Georges and Madeleine de Scudery, have not refused to learn it or have not carelessly forgotten the learning. Even Scott committed the fault sometimes, though never in his very best work. Dumas--when he went out and left the "young men" to fill in, and stayed too long, and made them fill in too much--did it constantly. Yet again, that mixture of excess and defect in talking, which has been noted already, becomes more and more trying in connection with the previously mentioned faults and others. Of _mere_ talk there is enough and immensely to spare; but it is practically never real dialogue, still less real conversation. It is harangue, narrative, soliloquy, what you will, in the less lively theatrical forms of speech watered out in prose, with "passing of compliments" in the most gentlefolkly manner, and a spice of "Phebus" or Euphuism now and then. But it is never real personal talk,[160] while as for conveying the action _by_ the talk as the two great masters above mentioned and nearly all others of their kind do, there is no vestige of even an attempt at the feat, or a glimpse of its desirableness.

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