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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

The most shameless love to Oroondates


Not

the least attractive part of _Cleopatre_ to some people will be that very "Phebus," or amatory conceit, which made the next ages scorn it. When one of the numerous "unknowns" of both sexes (in this case a girl) is discovered (rather prettily) lying on a river bank and playing with the surface of the water, "the earth which sustained this fair body seemed to produce new grass to receive her more agreeably"--a phrase which would have shocked good Bishop Vida many years before, as much as it would have provoked the greater scorn of Mr. Addison about as many after. There are many "ecphrases" or set descriptions of this kind, and they show a good deal of stock convention. For instance, the wind is always "most discreetly, most discreetly" ready, as indeed it was in Mlle. de Scudery's own chaste stories, to blow up sleeves or skirts a little, and achieve the distraction of the beholders by what it reveals. But on the whole, as was hinted above, Gauthier de Costes de La Calprenede is the most natural creature of the heroic band.

[Sidenote: _Cassandre._]

His earlier _Cassandre_ is not much inferior to _Cleopatre_, and has a little more eccentricity about it. The author begins his Second Part by making the ghost of Cassandra herself (who is not the Trojan Cassandra at all) address a certain Calista, whom she mildly accuses of "dragging her from her grave two thousand years after date," adding, as a boast of his own in

a Preface, that the very name "Cassandre" has never occurred in the _First_ Part--a huge cantle of the work. The fact is that it is an _alias_ for Statira, the daughter of Darius and wife of Alexander, and is kept by her during the whole of her later married life with her lover Oroondates, King of Scythia, who has vainly wooed her in early days before her union with the great Emathian conqueror. Here, again, the mere student of "unmixed" history may start up and say, "Why! this Statira, who was also called Barsine [an independent personage here] was murdered by Roxana after Alexander's death!" But, as was also said, these romancers exercise the privilege of mercy freely; and though La Calprenede's Roxana is naughty enough for anything (she makes, of course, the most shameless love to Oroondates), she is not allowed to kill her rival, who is made happy, after another series of endless adventures of her own, her lover's, and other people's. The book opens with a lively interest to students of the English novel; for the famous two cavaliers of G. P. R. James appear, though they are not actually riding at the moment, but have been, and, after resting, see two others in mortal combat. Throughout there is any amount of good fighting, as, for the matter of that, there is in _Cleopatre_ also; and there is less duplication of detail here than in some other respects, for La Calprenede is rather apt to repeat his characters and situations. For instance, the fight between Lysimachus and Thalestris (La Calprenede is fond of Amazons), though _not_ in the details, is of course in the idea a replica of that between Alcamenes and Menalippe in _Cleopatre_; and names recur freely. Moreover, in the less famous story, the whole situation of hero and heroine is exactly duplicated in respect of the above-mentioned Lysimachus and Parisatis, Cassandra's younger sister, who is made to marry Hephaestion at first, and only awarded, in the same fashion as her elder sister, at last to her true lover.

By the way, the already-mentioned "harmonising" is in few places more oddly shown than by the remark that Plutarch's error in representing Statira as killed was due to the fact that he did not recognise her under her later name of Cassandra--a piece of Gascon half-naivete, half-jest which Mlle. de Scudery's Norman shrewdness[203] would hardly have allowed. There is also much more of the supernatural in these books than in hers, and the characters are much less prim. Roxana, who, of course, is meant to be naughty, actually sends a bracelet of her hair to Oroondates! which, however, that faithful lover of another instantly returns.


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