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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

And also on their elderly bonne


He

has, however, the luck which makes the _parvenu_, if in this instance he can hardly be said to deserve it. On the Pont Neuf he sees an elderly lady, apparently about to swoon. He supports her home, and finds that she is the younger and more attractive of two old-maid and _devote_ sisters. The irresistibleness to this class of the feminine sex (and indeed by no means to this class only) of a strapping and handsome footman is a commonplace of satire with eighteenth-century writers, both French and English. It is exercised possibly on both sisters, though the elder is a shrew; certainly on the younger, and also on their elderly _bonne_, Catherine. But it necessarily leads to trouble. The younger, Mlle. Habert (the curious hiding of Christian names reappears here), wants to retain Jacob in the joint service, and Catherine at least makes no objection, for obvious reasons. But the elder sister recalcitrates violently, summoning to her aid her "director," and the younger, who is financially independent,[330] determines to leave the house. She does so (_not_ taking Catherine with her, though the _bonne_ would willingly have shared Jacob's society), and having secured lodgings, regularly proposes to her (the word may be used almost accurately) "swain." Jacob has no scruples of delicacy here, though the nymph is thirty years older than himself, and though he has, if no dislike, no particular affection for her. But it is an obvious step upwards, and he makes no difficulties. The elder sister,
however, makes strong efforts to forbid the banns, and her interest prevails on a "President" (the half-regular power of the French _noblesse de robe_, though perhaps less violently exercised, must have been almost as galling as the irresponsibleness of men of birth and "sword") to interpose and actually stop the arranged ceremony. But Jacob appears in person, and states his case convincingly; the obstacle is removed, and the pair are made happy at an extraordinary hour (two or three in the morning), which seems to have been then fashionable for marriages. The conventional phrase is fairly justified; for the bride is completely satisfied, and Jacob is not displeased.

His marriage, however, interferes not in the very least with his intention to "get on" by dint of his handsome face and brawny figure. On the very day of his wedding he goes to visit a lady of position, and also of devoutness, who is a great friend of the President and his wife, has been present at the irregular enquiry, and has done something for him. This quickly results in a regular assignation, which, however, is comically broken off. Moreover this lady introduces him to another of the same temperament--which indeed seems to have been common with French ladies (the Bellaston type being not the exception, but the rule). _She_ is to introduce him to her brother-in-law, an influential financier, and she quickly makes plain the kind of gratitude she expects. This also is, as far as we are told, rather comically interfered with--Marivaux's dramatic practice made him good at these disappointments. She does give the introduction, and


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