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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

A flat political allegory about England and France


as the right ways were difficult. They cannot avoid muddling the fairy tale with the heroic romance: and with the half-historical sub-variety of this latter which Mme. de La Fayette introduced. The worst enchanter that ever fairies had to fight with is not such an enemy of theirs as History and Geography--two most respectable persons in their proper places, but fatal here. They will make King Richard of England tell fairy tales to Blondel out of the Austrian tower, and muddle up things about his wicked brother the Count of Mortagne. They will talk of Lemnos and Memphis and other _patatis_ and _patatas_ of the classical dictionary and the _Grand Cyrus_. In a fashion not perhaps so instantly suicidal, but in a sufficiently annoying fashion, they will invent clumsy "speaking" names, or dog-Latin and cat-Greek ones. And, perhaps worst of all, they prostitute the delicate charms of the fairy tale to clumsy adulation of the reigning monarch, and tedious half-veiled flattery or satire of less exalted persons, or, if "prostitute" be too harsh a word here, attempt to force a marriage between these charms and the dullest moralising. In fact, it is scarcely extravagant to say that, in regard to too many of them--to some of them at least--everything that ought not to be, such as the things just mentioned and others, is there, and everything that ought to be--lightness, brightness, the sense of the impossible in which it is delightful to believe, the dream-feeling, the magic of gratified wish and realised ideal--is not.

[Sidenote: Mlle. de la Force and others.]

Of course, in these other and minor writers that the _Cabinet_ has to give, all these disappointments do not always occur, and the crop is mixed. Mlle. de la Force[228] was one of those _dames_ or _demoiselles de compagnie_ who figure so largely in the literary history of the French eighteenth century, and whose group is illustrated by such names as those of Mlle. Delaunay and Mlle. de Lespinasse. Her full name was Charlotte Rose de Caumont de la Force, and she was, if not an adventuress, a person of adventures, who also wrote many quasi-historical romances in the _Princesse de Cleves_ manner. Her fairy tales are thin, and marred by weak allegory of the "Carte de Tendre" kind. A "Pays des Delices," very difficult to reach, and constantly personated by a "Pays des Avances," promises little and performs less.

The eleven (it is an exact eleven) called _Les Illustres Fees_ is scarcely so illustrious as the All England and the United were, in the memory of some of us, in another and better played kind of cricket. The stories are not very long; they run to a bare eighteen small pages apiece; but few readers are likely to wish them longer. _Blanche-Belle_ introduces the _sylphes_--an adulteration[229] which generally produces the effect that Thackeray deplored when his misguided friend would have _puree_ mixed with _julienne_. _Le Roi Magicien_ is painfully destitute of personality; we want names, and pretty names, for a fairy tale. _Le Prince Roger_ is a descendant of Melusine, and one does not think she would be proud of him. _Fortunio_ is better, and _Quiribirini_, one of the numerous stories which turn on remembering or failing to remember an odd name,[230] perhaps better still; but the rest deserve little praise, and the last, _L'Ile Inaccessible_, appears to be, if it is anything but pure dulness, a flat political allegory about England and France.

The style picks up a little in the miscellany called (not without a touch of piquancy) _La Tyrannie des Fees Detruite_, by a Mme. d'_Auneuil_, whom persons of a sceptical turn might imagine to be a sort of factitious rival to Mme. d'Aulnoy.[231] It returns to the Greek or pseudo-Greek names of the heroic romance, and to its questionable device of _histoires_ stuck like plums in a pudding. Nor are the _Sans Parangon_ and the _Fee des Fees_ of the Sieur de Preschac utterly bad. But _Les Aventures d'Abdalla_, besides rashly incurring the danger (to be exemplified and commented on more fully a little later) of vying with the _Arabian Nights_, substitutes for the genuine local colour and speech the _fade_ jargon of French eighteenth-century "sensibility"--_autels_ and _flammes_ and all the rest of the trumpery. But it does worse still--it tries to be instructive, and informs us of the difference between male and female _dives_ and _peris_, of the custom of suttee, and of the fact that there are many professional singers and dancers among Indian girls. This is simply intolerable.[232]


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