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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Javotte makes a greater fool of herself than ever


But

this last ill-mannered particularity illustrates the character, and in its way the value, of the whole book. A romance, or indeed in the proper sense a story--that is to say, _one_ story,--it certainly is not: the author admits the fact frankly, not to say boisterously, and his title seems to have been definitely suggested by Scarron's. The two parts have absolutely no connection with one another, except that a single personage, who has played a very subordinate part in the first, plays a prominent but entirely different one in the second. This second is wholly occupied by legal matters (Furetiere had been "bred to the law"), and the humours and amours of a certain female litigant, Collantine, to whom Racine and Wycherley owe something, with the unlucky author "Charroselles"[259] and a subordinate judge, Belastre, who has been pitch-forked by interest into a place which he finally loses by his utter incapacity and misconduct. To understand it requires even more knowledge of old French law terms generally than parts of Balzac do of specially commercial and financial lingo.

This "specialising" of the novel is perhaps of more importance than interest; but interest itself may be found in the First Part, where there is, if not much, rather more of a story, some positive character-drawing, a fair amount of smart phrase, and a great deal of lively painting of manners. There is still a good deal of law, to which profession most of the male characters

belong, but there are plentiful compensations.

As far as there is any real story or history, it is that of two girls, both of the legal _bourgeoisie_ by rank. The prettier, Javotte, has been briefly described above. She is the daughter of a rich attorney, and has, before her emancipation and elopement, two suitors, both advocates; the one, Nicodeme, young, handsome, well dressed, and a great flirt, but feather-headed; the other, Bedout, a middle-aged sloven, collector, and at the same time miser, but very well off. The second heroine, Lucrece, is also handsome, though rather less so than Javotte: but she has plenty of wits. She is, however, in an unfortunate position, being an orphan with no fortune, and living with an uncle and aunt, the latter of whom has a passion for gaming, and keeps open house for it, so that Lucrece sees rather undesirable society. Despite her wits, she falls a victim to a rascally marquis, who first gives her a written promise of marriage, and afterwards, by one of the dirtiest tricks ever imagined by a novelist--a trick which, strange to say, the present writer does not remember to have seen in any other book, obvious though it is--steals it.[260] Fortunately for her, Nicodeme, who is of her acquaintance, and a general lover, has also given her, though not in earnest and for no serious "consideration," a similar promise: and by the help of a busybody legal friend she gets 2000 crowns out of him to prevent an action for breach. And, finally, Bedout, after displacing the unlucky Nicodeme (thus left doubly in the cold), and being himself thrown over by Javotte's elopement, takes to wife, being induced to do so by a cousin, Lucrece herself, in blissful ignorance (which is never removed) of her past. The cousin, Laurence, has also been the link of these parts of the tale with an episode of _precieuse_ society in which the above-mentioned inset is told; a fourth feminine character, Hyppolyte (_vice_ Philipote), of some individuality, is introduced; Javotte makes a greater fool of herself than ever; and her future seducer, Pancrace, makes his appearance.


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