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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

You have the central idea in the loves of Cyrus and Mandane


If Fortune seconds my designs, I go to a place where I shall conquer _and_ die--where I shall make known, by my generous despair, that if I could not deserve your affection by my services, I shall have at least not made myself unworthy of your compassion by my death.

[_And, to do him justice, he "goes and does it."_]

This episode, however, did not induce Mademoiselle Madeleine to break her queer custom of having something of the same kind in the Third Book of every Part. For though there is some "business," it slips into another regular "History," this time of Prince Thrasybulus, a naval hero, of whom we have often heard, and his Alcionide, not a bad name for a sailor's mistress.[172] Finally, we come back to more events of a rather troublesome kind: for the _ci-devant_ Philidaspes most inconveniently insists in taking part in the rescuing expedition, which--saving scandal of great ones--is very much as if Mr. William Sikes should insist in helping to extract booty from Mr. Tobias Crackit. And we finally leave Cyrus in a decidedly awkward situation morally, and the middle of a dark wood physically.

[Sidenote: Some interposed comments.]

Here, according to that paulo-post-future precedent which she did so much to create, the authoress was quite justified in leaving him at the end of a volume; and perhaps the present

historian is, to compare small things with great, equally justified in heaving-to (to borrow from Mr. Kipling) and addressing a small critical sermon to such crew as he may have attracted. We have surveyed not quite a third of the book; but this ought in any case--_teste_ the loved and lost "three-decker" which the allusion just made concerns--to give us a notion of the author's quality and of his or her _faire_. It should not be very difficult for anybody, unless the foregoing analysis has been very clumsily done, to discern considerable method in Madeleine's mild madness, and, what is more, not a little originality. The method has, no doubt, as it was certain to have in the circumstances, a regular irregularity, which is, or would be in anybody but a novice, a little clumsy: and the originality may want some precedent study to discover it. But both are there. The skeleton of this vast work may perhaps be fairly constructed from what has already been dissected of the body; and the method of clothing the skeleton reveals itself without much difficulty. You have the central idea in the loves of Cyrus and Mandane, which are to be made as true as possible, but also running as roughly as may be. Moreover, whether they run rough or smooth, you are to keep them in suspense as long as you possibly can. The means of doing this are laboriously varied and multiplied. The clumsiest of them--the perpetual intercalation or interpolation of "side-shows" in the way of _Histoires_--annoys modern readers particularly, and has, as a rule, since been itself beautifully and beneficently lessened, in some cases altogether discarded, or changed--in emancipation from the influence of the "Unities"--to the form of second plots, not ostentatiously severed from the main one. But, as has been pointed out, a great deal of trouble is at any rate taken to knit them to the main plot itself, if not actually and invariably to incorporate them therewith; and the means of this are again not altogether uncraftsmanlike. Sometimes, as in the case of Spithridates, the person, or one of the persons, is introduced first in the main history; his own particular concerns are dealt with later, and, for good or for evil, he returns to the central scheme. Sometimes, as in that of Amestris, you have the _Histoire_ before the personage enters the main story. Then there is the other device of varying direct narrative, as to this main story itself, with _Recit_; and always you have a careful peppering in of new characters, by _histoire_, by _recit_, or by the main story, to create fresh interests. Again, there is the contrast of "business," as we have called it--fighting and politics--with love-making and miscellaneous fine talk. And, lastly, there are--what, if they were not whelmed in such an ocean of other things, would attract more notice--the not unfrequent individual phrases and situations which have interest in themselves. It must surely be obvious that in these things are great possibilities for future use, even if the actual inventor has not made the most of them.


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