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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Sidenote Furetiere and the Roman Bourgeois


nearly two hundred years, as

English readers full well do know. Nevertheless these defects merely accompany--they do not mar or still less destroy--the striking characteristics of progress which appear with them, and which, without any elaborate abstract of the book, have been set forth somewhat carefully in the preceding pages. Above all, there is a real and considerable attempt at character, a trifle _typy_ and stagy perhaps, but still aiming at something better; and the older _nouvelle_-fashion is not merely drawn upon, but improved upon, for curious anecdotes, striking situations, effective names. Under the latter heads it is noteworthy that Gautier simply "lifted" the name Sigognac from Scarron, though he attached it to a very different personage; and that Dumas got, from the same source, the startling incident of Aramis suddenly descending on the crupper of D'Artagnan's horse. The jokes may, of course, amuse or not different persons, and even different moods of the same person; the practical ones, as has been hinted, may pall, even when they are not merely vulgar. Practical joking had a long hold of literature, as of life; and it would be sanguine to think that it is dead. Izaak Walton, a curious contemporary--"disparate," as the French say, of Scarron, would not quite have liked the quarrel between the dying inn-keeper, who insists on being buried in his oldest sheet, full of holes and stains, and his wife, who asks him, from a sense rather of decency than of affection, how he can possibly think of
appearing thus clad in the Valley of Jehoshaphat? But there is something in the book for many tastes, and a good deal more for the student of the history of the novel.

* * * * *

[Sidenote: Furetiere and the _Roman Bourgeois_.]

The couplet-contrast of the Comic Romance of Scarron and the "Bourgeois" Romance of Furetiere[257] is one of the most curious among the minor phenomena of literary history; but it repeats itself in that history so often that it becomes, by accumulation, hardly minor. There is a vast difference between Furetiere and Miss Austen, and a still vaster one between Scarron and Scott; but the two French books stand to each other, on however much lower a step of the stair, very much as _Waverley_ stands to _Pride and Prejudice_, and they carry on a common revulsion against their forerunners and a common quest for newer and better developments. The _Roman Bourgeois_, indeed, is more definitely, more explicitly, and in further ways of exodus, a departure from the subjects and treatment of most of the books noticed in the last chapter. It is true that its author attributes to the reading of the regular romances the conversion of his pretty idiot Javotte from a mere idiot to something that can, at any rate, hold her own in conversation, and take an interest in life.[258] But he also adds the consequence of her elopement, without apparently any prospect of marriage, but with an accomplished gentleman who has helped her to _esprit_ by introducing her to those very same romances; and he has numerous distinct girds at his predecessors, including one at the multiplied abductions of Mandane herself. Moreover his inset tale _L'Amour Egare_ (itself something of a parody), which contains most of the "key"-matter, includes a satirical account (not uncomplimentary to her intellectual, but exceedingly so to her physical characteristics) of "Sapho" herself. For after declining to give a full description of poor Madeleine, for fear of disgusting his readers, he tells us, in mentioning the extravagant compliments addressed to her in verse, that she only resembled the Sun in having a complexion yellowed by jaundice; the Moon in being freckled; and the Dawn in having a red tip to her nose!


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