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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Sidenote Marianne outline of the story


her brother-in-law, though

a curmudgeon, is at first disposed to honour her draft. But here an unexpected change is made by the presentation of Jacob as a man of noble sentiment. The place he is to have is one taken from an invalid holder of it, whose wife comes to beg mercy: whereat Jacob, magnanimously and to the financier's great wrath, declines to profit by another's misfortune. Whether the fact that the lady is very pretty has anything to do with the matter need not be discussed. His--let us call it at least--good nature, however, indirectly makes his fortune. Going to visit the husband and wife whom he has obliged, he sees a young man attacked by three enemies and ill-bested. Jacob (who is no coward, and, thanks to his wife insisting on his being a gentleman and "M. de la Vallee," has a sword) draws and uses it on the weaker side, with no skill whatever, but in the downright, swash-and-stab, short- and tall-sailor fashion, which (in novels at least) is almost always effective. The assailants decamp, and the wounded but rescued person, who is of very high rank, conceives a strong friendship for his rescuer, and, as was said above, makes his fortune. The last and doubtful three-eighths of the book kill off poor Mlle. Habert (who, although Jacob would never have been unkind to her, was already beginning to be very jealous and by no means happy), and marry him again to a younger lady of rank, beauty, fashion, and fortune, in the imparted possession of all of which we leave him. But, except to the insatiables
of "what happened next," these parts are as questionably important as they are decidedly doubtful.

The really important points of the book are, in the first place, the ease and narrative skill with which the story is told in the difficult form of autobiography, and, secondly, the vivacity of the characters. Jacob himself is, as will have been seen already, a piebald sort of personage, entirely devoid of scruple in some ways, but not ill-natured, and with his own points of honour. He is perfectly natural, and so are all the others (not half of whom have been mentioned) as far as they go. The cross sister and the "kind" one; the false prude and false _devote_ Mme. de Ferval, and the jolly, reckless, rather coarse Mme. de Fecour; the tyrannical, corrupt, and licentious financier, with others more slightly drawn, are seldom, if ever, out of drawing. The contemporary wash of colour passes, as it should, into something "fast"; you are in the Paris of the Regency, but you are at the same time in general human time and place, if not in eternity and infinity.

[Sidenote: _Marianne_--outline of the story.]

The general selection, however, of _Marianne_ as Marivaux's masterpiece is undoubtedly right, though in more ways than one it has less engaging power than the _Paysan_, and forebodes to some extent, if it does not actually display, the boring qualities which


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