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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

By Dumas in the Amours Galantes

[Sidenote: The collected love-stories.]

Most of the rest, putting aside the doubtful _Henriette de Moliere_ already referred to, are collections of love-stories, which their titles, rather than their contents, would seem to have represented to the ordinary commentator as loose. There is really very little impropriety, except of the mildest kind, in any of them,[218] and they chiefly consist of the kind of quasi-historic anecdote (only better told) which is not uncommon in English, as, for instance, in Croxall's _Novelist_. They are rather well written, but for the most part consist of very "public" material, scarcely made "private" by any striking merit, and distinguished by curious liberties with history, if not with morals.

[Sidenote: Their historic liberties.]

[Sidenote: _Carmente_, etc.]

For instance, in one of her _Amours Galantes_ the Elfrida-Ethelwold-Edgar story is told, not only with "_Edward I._ of England" for the deceived and revengeful king, but with a further and more startling intrusion of Eleanor of Guyenne! That of Inez de Castro is treated in a still more audacious manner. Also (with what previous example I know not, but Hortense was exceedingly apt to have previous examples) the names of the heretic to whom Dante was not merciful and of his beloved Margaret--names to which Charles Kingsley made the atonement of two of the most charming of his neglected poems--appear as "Dulcin" and "Marguerite," King and Queen of Lombardy, but guilty of more offensive lubricity than the sternest inquisitor ever charged on the historical Dolcino and his sect. For this King and Queen set up, in cold blood, two courts of divorce, in one of which each is judge, with the direct purpose of providing themselves with a supply of temporary wives and husbands. Some have maintained that no less a thing than the _Princesse de Cleves_ itself was suggested by something of Mme. de Villedieu's; but this seems to me merely the usual plagiarism-hunter's blunder of forgetting that the treatment, not the subject, is the _crux_ of originality. Of her longer books, _Alcidamie_, the first, has been spoken of. The _Amours des Grandes Hommes_ and _Cleonice ou le Roman Galant_ belong to the "keyed" Heroics; while the _Journal Amoureux_, which runs to nearly five hundred pages, has Diane de Poitiers for its chief heroine. Lastly, _Carmente_ (or, as it was reprinted, _Carmante_) is a sort of mixed pastoral, with Theocritus himself introduced, after a fashion noted more than once before.

[Sidenote: Her value on the whole.]

Her most praised things, recently, have been the story of the loves of Henri IV. and Mme. de Sauve (lightly touched on, perhaps "after" her in both senses, by Dumas) in the _Amours Galantes_, and a doubtful story (also attributed to the obscure M. de Preschac of the _Cabinet des Fees_[219]) entitled _L'Illustre Parisienne_, over which folk have quarrelled as to whether it is to be labelled "realist" or not. One regrets, however, to have to say that--except for fresh, if not very strong, evidence of that "questing" character which we find all over the subjects of these two chapters--the interest of Mme. de Villedieu's work can hardly be called great. By a long chapter of accidents, the present writer, who had meant to read her some five-and-thirty years ago, never read her actually till the other day--with all good will, with no extravagant expectation beforehand, but with some disappointment at the result. She is not a bookmaker of the worst kind; she evidently had wits and literary velleities; and she does illustrate the blind _nisus_ of the time as already indicated. But beyond the bookmaking class she never, I think, gets. Her mere writing is by no means contemptible, and we may end by pointing out two little points of interest in _Carmente_. One is the appearance of the name "Ardelie," which our own Lady Winchelsea took and anglicised as her coterie title. It may occur elsewhere, but I do not recollect it. The other is yet a fresh anticipation of that bold figure of speech which has been cited before from Dickens--one of the characters appearing "in a very clean shepherd's dress _and a profound melancholy_." Mme. de Villedieu (it is about the only place she has held hitherto, if she has held any, in ordinary Histories of French Literature) has usually been regarded as closing the Heroic school. We may therefore most properly turn from her directly to the last and most cheerful division of the subjects of this chapter--the Fairy Tale.

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