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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

A scene between Javotte and Lucrece


reduced to "argument" form, the story may seem even more modern than it really is, and the censures, apologies, etc., put forward above may appear rather unjust. But few people will continue to think so after reading the book. The materials, especially with the "trimmings" to be mentioned presently, would have made a very good novel of the completest kind. But, once more, the time had not come, though Furetiere was, however unconsciously, doing his best to bring it on. One fault, not quite so easy to define as to feel, is prominent, and continued to be so in all the best novels, or parts of novels, till nearly the middle of the nineteenth century. There is far too much mere _narration_--the things being not smartly brought before the mind's eye as _being_ done, and to the mind's ear as _being_ said, but recounted, sometimes not even as present things, but as things that _have been_ said or done already. This gives a flatness, which is further increased by the habit of not breaking up even the conversation into fresh paragraphs and lines, but running the whole on in solid page-blocks for several pages together. Yet even if this mechanical mistake were as mechanically redressed,[261] the original fault would remain and others would still appear. A scene between Javotte and Lucrece, to give one instance only, would enliven the book enormously; while, on the other hand, we could very well spare one of the few passages in which Nicodeme is allowed to be more than the subject of a _recit_,
and which partakes of the knock-about character so long popular, the young man and Javotte bumping each other's foreheads by an awkward slip in saluting, after which he first upsets a piece of porcelain and then drags a mirror down upon himself. There is "action" enough here; while, on the other hand, the important and promising situations of the two promises to Lucrece, and the stealing by the Marquis of his, are left in the flattest fashion of "recount." But it was very long indeed before novelists understood this matter, and as late as Hope's famous _Anastasius_ the fault is present, apparently to the author's knowledge, though he has not removed it.

To a reader of the book who does not know, or care to pay attention to, the history of the matter, the opening of the _Roman Bourgeois_ may seem to promise something quite free, or at any rate much more free than is actually the case, from this fault. But, as we have seen, they generally took some care of their openings, and Furetiere availed himself of a custom possibly, to present readers, especially those not of the Roman Church, possessing an air of oddity, and therefore of freshness, which it certainly had not to those of his own day. This was the curious fashion of _quete_ or collection at church--not by a commonplace verger, or by respectable churchwardens and sidesmen, but by the prettiest girl whom the _cure_ could pitch upon, dressed in her best, and lavishing smiles upon the congregation to induce them to give as lavishly, and to enable her to make a "record" amount.

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