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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

That the Troilus and Cressida romance


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[Sidenote: The classical borrowings--Troy and Alexander.]

The "matter of Rome the Great," as the original text has it (though, in fact, Rome proper has little to do with the most important examples of the class), adds very importantly to the development of romance, and through that, of novel. Its bulk is considerable, and its examples have interest of various kinds. But for us this interest is concentrated upon, if not exclusively confined to, the two great groups (undertaken by, and illustrated in, the three great literary languages of the earlier Middle Ages, and, as usual, most remarkably and originally in French) of the Siege of Troy and the life of Alexander. It should be almost enough to say of the former that it introduced,[17] with practically nothing but the faintest suggestion from really classical sources, the great romance-novel of the loves of Troilus and Cressida to the world's literature; and of the second, that it gives us the first instance of the infusion of Oriental mystery and marvel that we can discern in the literature of the West. For details about the books which contain these things, their authors and their probable sources and development, the reader must, as in other cases, look elsewhere.[18] It is only our business here to say something about the general nature of the things themselves and about the additions that they made to the capital,

and in some cases almost to the "plant," of fiction.

[Sidenote: _Troilus._]

That the Troilus and Cressida romance, with its large provision and its more large suggestion of the accomplished love-story, evolved from older tale-tellers by Boccaccio and Chaucer and Henryson and Shakespeare, is not a pure creation of the earlier Middle Ages, few people who patiently attend to evidence can now believe. Even in the wretched summaries of the Tale of Troy by Dictys and Dares (which again no such person as the one just described can put very early), the real novel-interest--even the most slender romance-interest--is hardly present at all. Benoit de Sainte-More in the twelfth century may not have actually invented this; it is one of the principles of this book, as of all that its writer has written, that the quest of the inventor of a story is itself the vainest of inventions. But it is certain that nobody hitherto has been able to "get behind him," and it is still more certain that he has given enough base for the greater men who followed to build upon. If he cannot be credited with the position of the pseudo-Callisthenes (see below) in reference to the Alexander story, he may fairly share that of his contemporary Geoffrey of Monmouth, if not even of Nennius, as regards that of Arthur. The situation, or rather the group of situations, is of the most promising and suggestive kind, negatively and positively. In the first place the hero and heroine are persons about whom the great old poets of the subject have said little or nothing; and what an immense advantage this is all students of the historical novel of the last hundred years know. In the second, the way in which they are put in action (or ready for action) is equally satisfactory, or let us say stimulating. In a great war a prince loves a noble lady, who by birth and connections belongs to the enemy, and after vicissitudes, which can be elaborated according to the taste and powers of the romancer, gains her love. But the course of this love is interrupted by her surrender or exchange to the enemy themselves; her beauty attracts, nay has already attracted, the fancy of one of the enemy's leaders, and being not merely a coquette but a light-o'-love[19] she admits his addresses. Her punishment follows or does not follow, is accomplished during the life of her true lover or not, according again to the taste and fancy of the person who handles the story. But the scheme, even at its simplest, is novel-soil: marked out, matured, manured, and ready for cultivation, and the crops which can be grown on it depend entirely upon the skill of the cultivator.


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