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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Sidenote Marivaux and Richardson Marivaudage


Marivaux and Richardson--"Marivaudage."]

Although, therefore, we may not care much to enter into calculations as to the details of the indebtedness of Richardson to Marivaux, some approximations of the two, for critical purposes, may be useful. One may even see, without too much folly of the Thaumast kind, an explanation, beyond that of mere idleness, in the Frenchman's inveterate habit of not completing. He did not want you to read him "for the story"; and therefore he cared little for the story itself, and nothing at all for the technical finishing of it. The stories of both his characteristic novels are, as has been fairly shown, of the very thinnest. What he did want to do was to analyse and "display," in a half-technical sense of that word, his characters; and he did this as no man had done before him, and as few have done since, though many, quite ignorant of their indebtedness, have taken the method from him indirectly. In the second place, his combination of method and phrase is for infinite thoughts. This combination is not necessary; there is, to take up the comparative line, nothing of it in Richardson, nothing in Fielding, nothing in Thackeray. A few French eighteenth-century writers have it in direct imitation of Marivaux himself; but it dies out in France, and in the greatest novel-period there is nothing of it. It revives in the later nineteenth century, especially with us, and, curiously enough, if we look back to the beginnings

of Romance in Greek, there is a good deal there, the crown and flower being, as has been before remarked, in Eustathius Macrembolita, but something being noticeable in earlier folk, especially Achilles Tatius, and the trick having evidently come from those rhetoricians[335] of whose class the romancers were a kind of offshoot. It is, however, only fair to say that, if Marivaux thought in intricate and sometimes startling ways, his actual expression is never obscure. It is a maze, but a maze with an unbroken clue of speech guiding you through it.[336]

[Sidenote: Examples:--Marianne on the _physique_ and _moral_ of Prioresses and Nuns.]

A few examples of method and style may now be given. Here is Marianne's criticism--rather uncannily shrewd and very characteristic both of her subject and of herself--of that peculiar placid plumpness which has been observed by the profane in devout persons, especially in the Roman Church and in certain dissenting sects (Anglicanism does not seem to be so favourable to it), and in "persons of religion" (in the technical sense) most of all.

This Prioress was a short little person, round and white, with a double chin, and a complexion at once fresh and placid. You never see faces like that in worldly persons: it is a kind of _embonpoint_ quite different from others--one which has been formed more quietly and more methodically--that is to say, something into which there enters more art, more fashioning, nay, more self-love, than into that of such as we.[337]

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