free ebooks

A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

There is no fighting in Furetiere


original meeting of Nicodeme and the fair Javotte takes place in this wise, and enables the author to enlighten us further as to matters quite proper for novel treatment.[262] The device of keeping gold and large silver pieces uppermost in the open "plate"; the counter-balancing mischief of covering them with a handful of copper; the licensed habit, a rather dangerous one surely, of taking "change" out of that plate, which enables the aspirant for the girl's favour to clear away the obnoxious _sous_ as change for a whole pistole--all this has a kind of attraction for which you may search the more than myriad pages of _Artamene_ without finding it. The daughter of a citizen's family, in the French seventeenth century, was kept with a strictness which perhaps explains a good deal in the conduct of an Agnes or an Isabelle in comedy. She was almost always tied to her mother's apron-strings, and even an accepted lover had to carry on his courtship under the very superfluous number of _six_ eyes at least. But the Church was misericordious. The custom of giving and receiving holy water could be improved by the resources of amatory science; but this of the _quete_ was, it would seem, still more full of opportunity. Apparently (perhaps because in these city parishes the church was always close by, and the whole proceedings public) the fair _queteuse_ was allowed to walk home alone; and in this instance Nicodeme, having ground-baited with his pistole, is permitted to accompany Javotte Vollichon
to her father's door--her extreme beauty making up for the equally extreme silliness of her replies to his observations.

The possible objection that these things, fresh and interesting to us, were ordinary and banal to them, would be a rather shallow one. The point is that, in previous fiction, circumstantial verisimilitude of this kind had hardly been tried at all. So it is with the incident of Nicodeme sending a rabbit (supposed to be from his own estate, but really from the market--a joke not peculiar to Paris, but specially favoured there), or losing at bowls a capon, to old Vollichon, and on the strength of each inviting himself to dinner; the fresh girds at the extraordinary and still not quite accountable plenty of marquises (Scarron, if I remember rightly, has the verb _se marquiser_); and the contributory (or, as the ancients would have said, symbolic) dinners--as it were, picnics at home--of _bourgeois_ society at each other's houses, with not a few other things. A curious plan of a fashion-review, with patterns for the benefit of ladies, is specially noticeable at a period so early in the history of periodicals generally, and is one of the not few points in which there is a certain resemblance between Furetiere and Defoe.

It is in this daring to be quotidian and contemporary that his claim to a position in the history of the novel mainly consists. Some might add a third audacity, that of being "middle-class." Scarron had dealt with barn-mummers and innkeepers and some mere riff-raff; but he had included not a few nobles, and had indulged in fighting and other "noble" subjects. There is no fighting in Furetiere, and his chief "noble" figure--the rascal who robbed Lucrece of her virtue and her keys--is the sole figure of his class, except Pancrace and the _precieuse_ Angelique. This is at once a practical protest against the common interpretation and extension of Aristotle's prescription of "distinguished" subjects, and an unmistakable relinquishment of mere picaresque squalor. Above all, it points the way in practice, indirectly perhaps but inevitably, to the selection of subjects that the author really _knows_, and that he can treat with the small vivifying details given by such knowledge, and by such knowledge alone. There is an advance in character, an advance in "interior" description--the Vollichon family circle, the banter and the gambling at Lucrece's home, the humour of a _precieuse_ meeting, etc. In fact, whatever be the defects[263] in the book, it may almost be called an advance all round. A specimen of this, as of other pioneer novels, may not be superfluous; it is the first conversation, after the collection, between Nicodeme and Javotte.

eBook Search
Social Sharing
Share Button
About us is a collection of free ebooks that can be read online. Ebooks are split into pages for easier reading and better bookmarking.

We have more than 35,000 free books in our collection and are adding new books daily.

We invite you to link to us, so as many people as possible can enjoy this wonderful free website.

© 2010-2013 - All Rights Reserved.

Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Contact Us