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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Scarron did not live to finish the book


important is the autobiographical history of Le Destin or Destin (the article is often dropped), the tall young man with the patch on his face. But this is not thrust bodily into the other body of the story, _Cyrus_-fashion; it is alternated with the passages of that story itself, and that in a comparatively natural manner--night or some startling accident interrupting it; while how even courtiers could find breath to tell, or patience and time to hear, some of the interludes of the _Cyrus_ and its fellows is altogether past comprehension. There is some coarseness in Scarron--he would not be a comic writer of the seventeenth century if there were none. Not very long after the beginning the tale is interrupted by a long account of an unseemly practical joke which surely could amuse no mortal after a certain stage of schoolboyhood. But there is little or no positive indecency: the book contrasts not more remarkably with the Aristophanic indulgence of the sixteenth century than with the sniggering suggestiveness of the eighteenth. Some remnants of the Heroic convention (which, after all, did to a great extent reflect the actual manners of the time) remain, such as the obligatory "compliment." Le Destin is ready to hang himself because, at his first meeting with the beautiful Leonore, his shyness prevents his getting a proper "compliment" out. On the other hand, the demand for _esprit_, which was confined in the Heroics to a few privileged characters, now becomes almost universal. There are tricks, but fairly novel tricks--affectations like "I don't know what they did next" and the others noted above: while the famous rhetorical beginnings of chapters appear not only at the very outset, but at the opening of the second volume, "Le Soleil donnant aplomb sur les antipodes,"--things which a century later Fielding, and two centuries later Dickens, did not disdain to imitate.

Scarron did not live to finish the book, and the third part or volume, which was tinkered--still more the _Suite_, which was added--by somebody else, are very inferior. The somewhat unfavourable opinions referred to above may be partly based on the undoubted fact that the story is rather formless; that its most important machinery is dependent, after all, on the old _rapt_ or abduction, the heroines of which are Mademoiselle de l'Etoile (nominally Le Destin's sister, really his love, and at the end his wife) and Angelique, daughter of La Caverne, who is provided with a lover and husband of 12,000 (_livres_) a year in the person of Leandre, one of the stock theatrical names, professedly "valet" to Le Destin, but really a country gentleman's son. Thus everybody is somebody else, again in the old way. Another, and to some tastes a more serious, blot may be found in the everlasting practical jokes of the knock-about kind, inflicted on the unfortunate Ragotin, a sort of amateur member of the troupe. But again these "_low_ jinks" were an obvious reaction from (just as the ceremonies were followings of) the solemnity of the Heroics; and they continued to be popular for


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