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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

It is not in the least formless


It

is, however, in relation to the general history and development of the novel, and therefore in equally important relation to the present _History_, that the importance of the _Grand Cyrus_, or rather of the class of which it was by far the most popular and noteworthy member, is most remarkable. Indeed this importance can hardly be exaggerated, and is much more likely to be--indeed has nearly always been--undervalued. Even the jejune and partial analysis which has been given must have shown how many of the elements of the modern novel are here--sometimes, as it were, "in solution," sometimes actually crystallised. For any one who demands plot there is one--of such gigantic dimensions, indeed, that it is not easy to grasp it, but seen to be singularly well articulated and put together when it is once grasped. Huge as it is, it is not in the least formless, and, as has been several times pointed out, hardly the most (as it may at first appear) wanton and unpardonable episode, digression, or inset lacks its due connection with and "orientation" towards the end. The contrast of this with the more or less formless chronicle-fashion, the "overthwart and endlong" conduct, of almost all the romances from the Carlovingian and Arthurian[193] to the _Amadis_ type, is of the most unmistakable kind.

Again, though character, as has been admitted, in any real live sense, is terribly wanting still; though description is a little general and wants more "streaks

in the tulip"; and though conversation is formal and stilted, there is evident, perhaps even in the first, certainly in the second and third cases, an effort to treat them at any rate systematically, in accordance with some principles of art, and perhaps even not without some eye to the actual habits, manners, demands of the time--things which again were quite new in prose fiction, and, in fact, could hardly be said to be anywhere present in literature outside of drama.

To set against these not so very small merits in the present, and very considerable seeds of promise for the future, there are, of course, serious faults or defects--defaults which need, however, less insistence, because they are much more generally known, much more obvious, and have been already admitted. The charge of excessive length need hardly be dealt with at all. It has already been said that the most interesting point about it is the opportunity of discovering how it was, in part, a regular, and, in fact, almost the furthest possible, development of a characteristic which had been more or less observable throughout the progress of romance. But it may be added that the law of supply and demand helped; for people evidently were not in the least bored by bulk, and that the fancy for having a book "on hand" has only lately, if it has actually, died out.[194] Now such a "book on hand" as the _Grand Cyrus_ exists, as far as my knowledge goes, in no Western literature, unless you count collections of letters, which is not fair, or such memoirs as Saint-Simon's, which do not appeal to quite the same class of readers.

A far more serious default or defect--not exactly blameworthy, _because_ the time was not yet, but certainly to be taken account of--is the almost utter want of character just referred to. From Cyrus and Mandane downwards the people have qualities; but qualities, though they are necessary to character, do not constitute it. Very faint approaches may be discerned, by very benevolent criticism, in such a personage as Martesie with her shrewdness, her maid-of-honour familiarity with the ways and manners of courtly human beings, and that very pardonable, indeed agreeable, tendency, which has been noticed or imagined, to flirt in respectful fashion with Cyrus, while carrying on more regular business with Feraulas. But it is little more than a suggestion, and it has been frankly admitted that it is perhaps not even that, but an imagination merely. And the same observation may apply to her "second string," Doralise. No others of the women have any character at all, and we have already spoken of the men.


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