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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Habit of leaving things unfinished


not seem to be at all certain)

much more uncomfortable. Although there is plenty of incident, it is but a dull book, and it contains not a trace of "Marivaudage" in style. A hero's father, who dies of poison in the first few pages, and is shown to have been brought round by an obliging gaoler in the last few; a hero himself, who thinks he has fallen in love with a beautiful and rich widow, playing good Samaritaness to him after he has fallen in among thieves, but a page or two later really does fall in love with a fair unknown looking languishingly out of a window; a _corsaire_,[323] with the appropriate name of Turcamene, who is robustious almost from the very beginning, and receives at the end a fatal stab with his own poniard from the superfluous widow, herself also fatally wounded at the same moment by the same weapon (an economy of time, incident, and munitions uncommon off the stage); an intermediate personage who, straying--without any earthly business there--into one of those park "pavilions" which play so large a part in these romances, finds a lady asleep on the sofa, with her hand invitingly dropped, promptly kneels down, and kisses it: these and many other things fill up a Spanish kind of story, not uningeniously though rather improbably engineered, but dependent for its interest almost wholly on incident; for though it is not devoid of conversation, this conversation is without spirit or sparkle. It is, in fact, a "circulating library" novel before--at any rate at an early period of--circulating
libraries: not unworkmanlike, probably not very unsatisfactory to its actual readers, and something of a document as to the kind of satisfaction they demanded; but not intrinsically important.

One has not seen much, in English,[324] about Marivaux, despite the existence, in French, of one of the best[325] of those monographs which assist the foreign critic so much, and sometimes perhaps help to beget his own lucubrations. Yet he is one of the most interesting writers of France, one of the most curious, and, one may almost say, one of the most puzzling. This latter quality he owes, in part at least, to a "skiey influence" of the time, which he shares with Lesage and Prevost, and indeed to some extent with most French writers of the eighteenth century--the influence of the polygraphic habit.

[Sidenote: His work in general.]

He was a dramatist, and a voluminous one, long before he was a novelist: and some of his thirty or forty plays, especially _Les Fausses Confidences_ and _Le Jeu de l'Amour et du Hasard_, still rank among at least the second-class classics of the French comic stage. He tried, for a time, one of the worst kinds of merely fashionable literature, the travesty-burlesque.[326] He was a journalist, following Addison openly in the title, and to some extent in the manner, of _Le Spectateur_, which he afterwards followed by _Le Cabinet d'un Philosophe_, showing, however, here, as he was more specially tempted to do, his curious, and it would seem unconquerable, habit of leaving things unfinished, which only does not appear in his plays, for the simple and obvious reason that managers will not put an unfinished play on the stage, and that, if they did, the afterpiece would be premature and of a very lively character. But the completeness of his very plays is incomplete; they "run huddling" to their conclusion, and are rather bundles of good or not so good acts and scenes than entire dramas. We are, however, only concerned with the stories, of which there are three: the early, complete, but doubtful _Effets de la Sympathie_, already discussed; the central in every way, but endlessly dawdled over, _Marianne_, which never got finished at all (though Mme. Riccoboni continued it in Marivaux's own lifetime, and with his placid approval, and somebody afterwards botched a clumsy _Fin_); and _Le Paysan Parvenu_, the latter part of which is not likely to be genuine, and, even if so, is not a real conclusion. We may, however, with some, advantage, take it before _Marianne_, if only because it is not the book generally connected with its author's name.


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