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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

And that the Scuderys possibly Georges


Now these things, in a book very widely read and immensely admired, could not, and did not, fail to have their effect. Nobody--we shall see this more in detail in the next chapter--can fail to perceive that the _Princesse de Cleves_ itself is, from one point of view, only a _histoire_ of the _Grand Cyrus_, taken out of its preposterous _matrix_ of other matter, polished, charged with a great addition of internal fire of character and passion, and left to take its chance alone and unencumbered. Nobody, on the other hand, who knows Richardson and Mademoiselle de Scudery can doubt the influence of the French book--a century old as it was--on the "father of the English novel." Now any influence exerted on these two was, beyond controversy, an influence exerted on the whole future course of the kind, and it is as exercising such an influence that we have given to the _Great Cyrus_ so great a space.

* * * * *

[Sidenote: The other Scudery romances--_Ibrahim_.]

After the exhaustive account given of _Artamene_, it is probably not necessary to apologise for dealing with the rest of Mlle. de Scudery's novel work, and with that of her comrades in the Heroic romance, at no very great length. _Ibrahim ou L'Illustre Bassa_ has sometimes been complimented as showing more endeavour, if not exactly at "local colour," at technical accuracy, than the rest. It is true that the French were, at this time, rather amusingly proud of being the only Western nation treated on something like equal terms by the Sublime Porte, and that the Scuderys (possibly Georges, whose work the Dedication to Mlle. de Rohan, daughter of the famous soldier, pretty certainly is) may have taken some pains to acquire knowledge. "Sandjak" (or "Sanjiac"), not for a district but for its governor, is a little unlucky perhaps; but "Aderbion" is much nearer "Azerbaijan" than one generally expects in such cases from French writers of the seventeenth or even of other centuries. The Oriental character of the story, however, is but partial. The Illustrious Pasha himself, though First Vizir and "victorious" general of Soliman the Second, is not a Turk at all, but a "Justinian" or Giustiniani of Genoa, whose beloved Isabelle is a Princess of Monaco, and who at the end, after necessary dangers,[195] retires with her to that Principality, with a punctilious explanation from the author about the Grimaldis. The scene is partly there and at Genoa--the best Genoese families, including the Dorias, appearing--partly at Constantinople: and the business at the latter place is largely concerned with the intrigues, jealousies, and cruelties of Roxelane, who is drawn much more (one regrets to say) as history paints her than as the agreeable creature of Marmontel's subsequent fancy. The book is a mere cockboat beside the mighty argosy of the _Cyrus_, running only to four volumes and some two thousand pages. But though smaller, it is much "stodgier." The _Histoires_ break out at once with the story of a certain Alibech--much more proper for the young person than that connected with the same name by Boccaccio,--and those who have acquired some knowledge of Mlle. Madeleine's ways will know what it means when, adopting the improper but defensible practice of "looking at the end," they find that not merely "Justinian" and Isabelle, but a Horace and a Hypolite, a Doria and a Sophronie, an Alphonse and a Leonide are all married on the same day, while a "French Marquis" and an Emilie vow inviolable but celibate constancy to each other; they will know, that is to say, that in the course of the book all these will have been duly "historiated." To encourage them, a single hint that Leonide sometimes plays a little of the parts of Martesie and Doralise in the _Cyrus_ may be thrown in.


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