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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

And Gracieuse is the fairy assigned as his guide


[Sidenote: The large proportion of Eastern Tales.]

[Sidenote: _Les Voyages de Zulma._]

The great prominence of the Eastern Tale, indeed, in this collection is likely to be one of the most striking things in it to a new-comer. He would know, of course, that such tales are not uncommon in contemporary English; he would certainly be acquainted with Addison's, Johnson's, Goldsmith's experiments in them, perhaps with those of Hawkesworth and others.[233] He could see for himself that the "accaparation" by France of the peerless _Arabian Nights_ themselves must have led to a still greater fancy for them there; and he might possibly have heard the tradition (which the present writer[234] never traced to its source, or connected with any real evidence either way) that no less a person than Lesage assisted Galland in his task. But though the _Nights_ themselves form the most considerable single group in the _Cabinet_, the united bulk of their congeners or imitations occupies a still larger space. There are the rather pale and "moon-like" but sometimes not uninteresting _Thousand and One Days_, and the obviously and rather foolishly pastiched _Thousand and One Quarters of an Hour_. There are Persian Tales--origin of a famous and characteristic jibe at "Namby Pamby" Philips--and Turkish Tales which are a fragment of one of the numerous versions of the _Seven Sages_ scheme. The just mentioned _Adventures of Abdallah_ betray their source and their nature at once; the hoary fables of Bidpai and Lokman are modernised to keep company with these "fakings," and there are more definitely literary attempts to follow. _Les Voyages de Zulma_, again an incomplete thing which actually tails off towards its failure of an end, shows some ingenuity in its conception, but suffers, even in the beginning, from that mixing of kinds which has been pointed out and reprobated. An attempt is made to systematise the fairy idea by representing these gracious creatures as offspring of Destiny and the Earth, with a cruel brother Time, and an offset of mischievous sisters who exactly correspond to the good ones--Disgracieuse to Gracieuse, and so on--and have a queen Laide-des-Laides, who answers to the good fairy princess, Belle-des-Belles. A mortal--Zulma--is, for paternal rather than personal merits, chosen by Destiny to enjoy the privilege of entering and understanding the fairy world, and Gracieuse is the fairy assigned as his guide. The idea is, as has been said, rather ingenious; but it is too systematic, and like other things in other parts of the collection, "loses the grace and liberty of the composition" in system. Moreover, the morality, as is rather the wont of these imitators when they are not (as a few of the partly non-cabinetted ones are) deliberately naughty, is much too scrupulous.[235] It is clear that Zulma is in love with Gracieuse, that she responds to some extent, and that Her Majesty Queen Belle-des-Belles is a little jealous and inclined to cut Gracieuse out. But nothing in the finished part of the story gives us any of the nice love-making that we want.

[Sidenote: Fenelon.]

Madame le Marchand's _Boca_ is a story which begins in Peru but finishes in an "Isle of Ebony," where the names of Zobeide and Abdelazis seem rather more at home; it is not without merit. As for the fables and stories which Fenelon composed for that imperfect Marcellus, the Duke of Burgundy, they have all the merits of style, sense, and good feeling which they might be expected to have, and it would be absurd to ask of them qualities which, in the circumstances, they could not display.


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