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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Sidenote Lesage his Spanish connections


[304] Mr. Austin Dobson's charming translation of this was originally intended to appear in the present writer's essay above mentioned.

[305] The chief region of bookselling. Cf. Corneille's early comedy, _La Galerie du Palais_.

[306] For note on _Telemaque_ see end of chapter.

[307] Who is here herself an improved Doralise.

[308] To put it otherwise in technical French, there is a little _grivoiserie_ in him, but absolutely no _polissonnerie_, still less any _cochonnerie_. Or it may be put, best of all, in his own words when, in a short French-Greek dialogue, called _La Volupte_, he makes Aspasia say to Agathon, "Je vous crois fort voluptueux, sans vous croire debauche."

CHAPTER X

LESAGE, MARIVAUX, PREVOST, CREBILLON

The words which closed the last chapter should make it unnecessary to prefix much of the same kind to this, though at the end we may have again to summarise rather more fully.

[Sidenote: The subjects of the chapter.]

As was there observed, our figures here are, with the possible exception of Crebillon _Fils_, "larger" persons than those dealt with before them; and they also mark a further transition towards the condition--the "employment or vocation"--of the novelist proper, though the polygraphic habit which has grown upon all modern literature, and which began in France almost earlier than anywhere else, affects them. Scarron was even more of a dramatist than of a novelist; and though this was also the case with Lesage and Marivaux--while Prevost was, save for his masterpiece, a polygraph of the polygraphs--their work in fiction was far larger, both positively and comparatively, than his. _Gil Blas_ for general popularity, and _Manon Lescaut_ for enthusiastic admiration of the elect, rank almost, if not quite, among the greatest novels of the world. Marivaux, for all his irritating habit of leaving things unfinished, and the almost equally irritating affectation of phrase, in which he anticipated some English novelists of the late nineteenth and earliest twentieth century, is almost the first "psychologist" of prose fiction; that is to say, where Madame de la Fayette had taken the soul-analysis of hardly more than two persons (Nemours scarcely counts) in a single situation, Marivaux gives us an almost complete dissection of the temperament and character of a girl and of a man under many ordinary life-circumstances for a considerable time.

[Sidenote: Lesage--his Spanish connections.]

But we must begin, not with him but with Lesage, not merely as the older man by twenty years, but in virtue of that comparative "greatness" of his greatest work which has been glanced at. There is perhaps a doubt whether _Gil Blas_ is as much read now as it used to be; it is pretty certain that _Le Diable Boiteux_ is not. The certainty is a pity; and if the doubt be true, it is a greater pity still. For more than a century _Gil Blas_ was almost as much[309] a classic, either in the original or in translation, in England as it was in France; and the delight which it gave to thousands of readers was scarcely more important to the history of fiction generally than the influence it exerted upon generation after generation of novelists, not merely in its own country, but on the far greater artists in fiction of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century in England from Fielding to Scott, if not to Dickens. Now, I suppose, that we are told to start with the axiom that even Fielding's structure of humanity is a simple toy-like thing, how much more is Lesage's? But for those of us who have not bowed the knee to foolish modern Baals, "They reconciled us; we embraced, and we have since been mortal enemies"; and the trout; and the soul of the licentiate; and Dr. Sangrado; and the Archbishop of Granada--to mention only the most famous and hackneyed matters--are still things a little larger, a little more complex, a little more eternal and true, than webs of uninteresting analysis told in phrase to which Marivaudage itself is golden and honeyed Atticism.


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