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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Union with Valville is not opposed by the mother


uncle, with a lady, comes upon

the nephew and Marianne; while, a little later, each finds the other in turn at the girl's feet. Result: of course more than suspicion on the younger man's part, and a mixture of wrath and desire to hurry matters on the elder's. He offers Marianne a regular (or irregular) "establishment" at a dependent's of his own, with a small income settled upon her, etc. She refuses indignantly, the indignation being rather suspiciously divided between her two lovers; is "planted there" by the old sinner Climal, and of course requested to leave by Mme. Dutour; returns all the presents, much to her landlady's disgust, and once more seeks, though in a different mood, the shelter of the Church. Her old helper the priest for some time absolutely declines to admit the notion of Climal's rascality; but fortunately a charitable lady is more favourable, and Marianne gets taken in as a _pensionnaire_ at a convent. Climal, whose sister and Valville's mother the lady turns out to be, falls ill, repents, confesses, and leaves Marianne a comfortable annuity. Union with Valville is not opposed by the mother; but other members of the family are less obliging, and Valville himself wanders after an English girl of a Jacobite exiled family, Miss Warton (Varthon). The story then waters itself out, before suddenly collapsing, with a huge and uninteresting _Histoire d'une Religieuse_. Whereat some folk may grumble; but others, more philosophically, may be satisfied, in no uncomplimentary sense, without hearing
what finally made Marianne Countess of Three Stars, or indeed knowing any more of her actual history.

For in fact the entire interest of _Marianne_ is concentrated in and on Marianne herself, and the fact that this is so at once makes continuation superfluous, and gives the novel its place in the history of fiction. We have quite enough, as it is, to show us--as the Princess Augusta said to Fanny Burney of the ill-starred last of French "Mesdames Royales"--"what sort of a girl she is." And her biographer has made her a very interesting sort of girl, and himself in making her so, a very interesting, and almost entirely novel, sort of novelist. To say that she is a wholly attractive character would be entirely false, except from the point of view of the pure student of art. She is technically virtuous, which is, of course, greatly to her credit.[333] She is not bad-blooded, but if there were such a word as "good-blooded" it could hardly be applied to her. With all her preserving borax- or formalin-like touch of "good form," she is something of a minx. She is vain, selfish--in fact wrapped up in self--without any sense of other than technical honour. But she is very pretty (which covers a multitude of sins), and she is really clever.

[Sidenote: Importance of Marianne herself.]

Yet the question at issue is not whether one can approve of Marianne, nor whether one can like her, nor even whether, approving and liking her or not, one could fall in love with her "for her comely face and for her fair bodie," as King Honour did in the ballad, and as _homo rationalis_ usually, though not invariably, does fall in love. The question is whether Marivaux has, in her, created a live girl, and to what extent he has mastered the details of his creation. The only critical answer, I think, must be that he has created such a girl, and that he has not left her a mere outline or type, but has furnished the house as well as built it. She is, in the particular meaning on which Mr. Hardy's defenders insist, as "pure" a "woman" as Tess herself. And if there is a good deal missing from her which fortunately some women have, there is nothing in her which some women have not, and not so very much which the majority of women have not, in this or that degree. It is difficult not to smile when one compares her quintessence with the complicated and elusive caricatures of womanhood which some modern novel-writers--noisily hailed as _gyno_sophists--have put together, and been complimented on putting together. What is more, she is perhaps the first nearly complete character of the kind that had been presented in novel at her date. This is a great thing to say for Marivaux, and it can be said without the slightest fear of inability to support the saying.[334]


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