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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

With Peau d'Ane between them


The

termination of a fairy tale rarely is, and never should be, anything but happy. For this reason I have always disliked--and though some of the mighty have left their calm seats and endeavoured to annihilate me for it, I still continue to dislike--that old favourite of some part of the public, _The Yellow Dwarf_. That detestable creature (who does not even amuse me) had no business to triumph; and, what is more, I don't believe he did. Not being an original writer, I cannot tell the true history as it might be told; but I can criticise the false. I do not object to this version because of its violation of poetical justice--in which, again, I don't believe. But this is neither poetical, nor just, nor amusing. It is a sort of police report, and I have never much cared for police reports. I should like to have set Maimoune at the Yellow Dwarf: and then there would have been some fun.

It is probably unnecessary to offer any translations here, because the matter is so generally known, and because the books edited by that regretted friend of mine above mentioned have spread it (with much other matter of the same kind) more widely than ever. But the points mentioned above, and perhaps some others, can never be put too firmly to the credit of the fairy tale as regards its influence on fiction, and on French fiction particularly. It remains to be seen, in the next chapter, how what a few purists may call its contamination by, but what we may surely be

permitted to call its alliance with, "polite literature" was started, or practically started, through the direct agency of no Frenchman, but of a man who can be claimed by England in the larger and national sense, by Scotland and Ireland and England again in the narrower and more parochial--by Anthony Hamilton. His work, however, must be left till that next chapter, though in this we may, after the "blessed originals" just mentioned, take in their sometimes degenerate successors for nearly a hundred years after Perrault's time.

[Sidenote: Perrault and Mme. d'Aulnoy.]

Well, however, as the simpler and purer fairy-tales may be known to all but twentieth-century children (who are said not to like them), it is doubtful whether many people have considered them in the light in which we have to regard them here, so as to see in them both a link in the somewhat complicated chain of novel development, and also one which is not dead metal, but serves as a medium for introducing powerful currents of influence on the chain itself. We have dwelt on one point--the desirableness, if not necessity, of shortness in them--as specially valuable at the time. No doubt they need not all be as short as Perrault's, though even among his there are instances (not to mention _L'Adroite Princesse_ for the moment), such as _Peau d'Ane_, of more than twenty pages, as against the five of the _Chaperon Rouge_ and the ten of _Barbe Bleue_, _Le Chat Botte_, and _Cendrillon_. Mme. d'Aulnoy's run longer; but of course the longest[221] of all are mites to the mammoths of the Scudery romance. A fairy story must never "drag," and in its better, and indeed all its genuine, forms it never does. Further (it must be remembered that "Little Red Riding Hood," in its unadulterated and "_un_happy ending" form, is not a fairy story at all, for talking animals are not peculiar to that), "fairiness," the actual presence of these gracious or ungracious but always between-human-and-divine-creatures, is necessary,[222] and their agency must be necessary too. In this and other ways it is interesting to contrast two stories (which are neighbours to each other, with _Peau d'Ane_ between them, in the convenient one-volume collection of French Fairy Tale classics published by Gamier), Mme. d'Aulnoy's _Gracieuse et Percinet_ and _L'Adroite Princesse ou Les Aventures de Finette_, which appeared with Perrault's, but which I can hardly believe to be his. They are about the same length, but the one is one of the best and the other one of the worst examples of its author and of the general style. It may be worth while to analyse both very briefly. As for Perrault's better work, such analysis should be as unnecessary as it would be irreverent.


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