free ebooks

A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Commonly called Crebillon fils

So rest, for ever rest, immortal pair,


The rustle of the eternal rain of love.

Nor is it perhaps extravagant to claim for their creator--even for their reporter--the position of the first person who definitely vindicated for the novel the possibility of creating a passionate masterpiece, outstripping _La Princesse de Cleves_ as _Othello_ outstrips _A Woman Killed with Kindness_. As for the enormous remainder of him, if it is very frankly negligible by the mere reader, it is not quite so by the student. He was very popular, and, careless bookmaker as he was in a very critical time, his popularity scarcely failed him till his horrible death.[342] It can scarcely be said that, except in the one great cited instance, he heightened or intensified the French novel, but he enlarged its scope, varied its interests, and combined new objectives with its already existing schemes, even in his less good work. In _Manon Lescaut_ itself he gave a masterpiece, not only to the novel, not only to France, but to all literature and all the world.

* * * * *

[Sidenote: Crebillon _fils_.]

The unfortunate nobleman as to whom Dickens has left us in doubt whether he was a peer in his own right or the younger son or a Marquis or Duke, pronounced Shakespeare "a clayver man." It was perhaps, in the particular instance, inadequate though true. I hardly know any one in literature of whom it is truer and more adequate than it is of Claude Prosper Jolyot de Crebillon the younger, commonly called Crebillon _fils_.[343] His very name is an abomination to Mrs. Grundy, who probably never read, or even attempted to read, one of his naughty books. Gray's famous tribute[344] to him--also known to a large number who are in much the same case with Mrs. Grundy--is distinctly patronising. But he is a very clever man indeed, and the cleverness of some of his books--especially those in dialogue--is positively amazing.

[Sidenote: The case against him.]

At the same time it is of the first importance to make the due provisos and allowances, the want of which so frequently causes disappointment, if not positive disgust, when readers have been induced by unbalanced laudation to take up works of the literature of other days. There are, undoubtedly, things--many and heavy things--to be said against Crebillon. A may say, "I am not, I think, _Mr._ Grundy: but I cannot stand your Crebillon. I do not like a world where all the men are apparently atheists, and all the women are certainly the other thing mentioned in Donne's famous line. It disgusts and sickens me: and I will have none of it, however clever it may be." B, not quite agreeing with A, may take another tone, and observe, "He _is_ clever and he _is_ amusing: but he is terribly monotonous. I do not mind a visit to the 'oyster-bearing shores' now and then, but I do not want to live in Lampsacus. After all, even in a pagan Pantheon, there are other divinities besides a cleverly palliated Priapus and a comparatively ladylike Cotytto. Seven volumes of however delicately veiled 'sculduddery' are nearly as bad as a whole evening's golf-talk in a St. Andrews hotel, or a long men's dinner, where everybody but yourself is a member of an Amateur Dramatic Society." The present writer is not far from agreeing with B, while he has for A a respect which disguises no shadow of a sneer. Crebillon does harp far too much on one string, and that one of no pure tone: and even the individual handlings of the subject are chargeable throughout his work with _longueurs_, in the greater part of it with sheer tedium. It is very curious, and for us of the greatest importance, to notice how this curse of long-windedness, episodic and hardly episodic "inset," endless talk "about it and about it," besets these pioneers of the modern novel. Whether it was a legacy of the "Heroics" or not it is difficult to say. I think it was--to some extent. But, as we have seen, it exists even in Lesage; it is found conspicuously in Marivaux; it "advances insupportably" in Prevost, except when some God intervenes to make him write (and to stop him writing) _Manon_; and it rests heavily even on Crebillon, one of the lightest, if not one of the purest, of literary talents. It is impossible to deny that he suffers from monotony of general theme: and equally impossible to deny that he suffers from spinning out of particular pieces. There is perhaps not a single thing of his which would not have been better if it had been shorter: and two of his liveliest if also most risky pieces, _La Nuit et le Moment_ and _Le Hasard au Coin du Feu_, might have been cut down to one half with advantage, and to a quarter with greater advantage still.

eBook Search
Social Sharing
Share Button
About us is a collection of free ebooks that can be read online. Ebooks are split into pages for easier reading and better bookmarking.

We have more than 35,000 free books in our collection and are adding new books daily.

We invite you to link to us, so as many people as possible can enjoy this wonderful free website.

© 2010-2013 - All Rights Reserved.

Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Contact Us