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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Restif de la Bretonne see the last chapter of this book


_Le Paysan Parvenu._]

Notwithstanding this comparative oblivion, _Le Paysan Parvenu_ is an almost astonishingly clever and original book, at least as far as the five of its eight parts, which are certainly Marivaux's, go. I have read the three last twice critically, at a long interval of time, and I feel sure that the positive internal evidence confirms, against their authenticity, the negative want of external for it. In any case they add nothing--they do not, as has been said, even really "conclude"--and we may, therefore, without any more apology, confine ourselves to the part which is certain. Some readers may possibly know that when that strangest of strange persons, Restif de la Bretonne (see the last chapter of this book), took up the title with the slight change or gloss of _Parvenu_ to _Perverti_, he was at least partly actuated by his own very peculiar, but distinctly existing, variety of moral indignation. And though Pierre Carlet (which was Marivaux's real name) and "Monsieur Nicolas" (which was as near a real name as any that Restif had) were, the one a quite respectable person on ordinary standards, and the other an infinitely disreputable creature, still the later novelist was perhaps ethically justified. Marivaux's successful rustic does not, so far as we are told, actually do anything that contravenes popular morality, though he is more than once on the point of doing so. He is not a bad-blooded person either; and he has nothing

of the wild-beast element in the French peasantry which history shows us from the Jacquerie to the Revolution, and which some folk try to excuse as the result of aristocratic tyranny. But he is an elaborate and exceedingly able portrait of another side of the peasant, and, if we may trust literature, even with some administration of salt, of the French peasant more particularly. He is what we may perhaps be allowed to call unconsciously determined to get on, though he does not go quite to the length of the _quocunque modo_, and has, as far as men are concerned, some scruples. But in relation to the other sex he has few if any, though he is never brutal. He is, as we may say, first "perverted," though not as yet _parvenu_,[327] in the house of a Parisian, himself a _nouveau riche_ and _novus homo_, on whose property in Champagne his own father is a wine-farmer. He is early selected for the beginnings of Lady-Booby-like attentions by "Madame," while he, as far as he is capable of the proceeding, falls in love with one of Madame's maids, Genevieve. It does not appear that, if the lady's part of the matter had gone further, Jacob (that is his name) would have been at all like Joseph. But when he finds that the maid is also the object of "Monsieur's" attentions, and when he is asked to take the profits of this affair (the attitude[328] of the girl herself is very skilfully delineated) and marry her, his own _point d'honneur_ is reached.[329] Everything is, however, cut short by the sudden death, in hopelessly embarrassed circumstances, of Monsieur, and the consequent cessation of Madame's attraction for a young man who wishes to better himself. He leaves both her and Genevieve with perfect nonchalance; though he has good reason for believing that the girl really loves him, however she may have made a peculiar sort of hay when the sun shone, and that both she and his lady are penniless, or almost so.

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