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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Of Bomston and Wolmar we shall speak presently


[Sidenote: Its numerous and grave faults.]

Except in rhetoric or rhapsody, the allowances and deductions above referred to must be heavy; and, according to a custom honoured both by time and good result, it is well to get them off first. That peculiarity of being a novelist only _par interim_, much more than Aramis was a mousquetaire, appears, even in _Julie_, so glaringly as to be dangerous and almost fatal. The book fills, in the ordinary one-volume editions, nearly five hundred pages of very small and very close print. Of these the First Part contains rather more than a hundred, and it would be infinitely better if the whole of the rest, except a few passages (which would be almost equally good as fragments), were in the bosom of the ocean buried. Large parts of them are mere discussions of some of Rousseau's own fads; clumsy parodies of Voltaire's satiric manners-painting; waterings out of the least good traits in the hero and heroine; uninteresting and superfluous appearances of the third and only other real person, Claire; a dreary account of Julie's married life; tedious eccentricities of the impossible and not very agreeable Lord Edward Bomston, who shares with Dickens's Lord Frederick Verisopht the peculiarity of being alternately a peer and a person with a courtesy "Lord"-ship; a rather silly end for the heroine herself;[365] and finally, a rather repulsive and quite incongruous acknowledgment of affection for the creature Saint-Preux, with a refusal to "implement" it (as they say in Scotland) matrimonially, by Claire, who is by this time a widow.[366] If mutilating books[367] were not a crime deserving terrible retribution in this life or after it, one could be excused for tearing off the Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Parts, with the _Amours de Lord Edouard_ which follow. If one was rich, one would be amply justified in having a copy of Part I., and the fragments above indicated, printed for oneself on vellum.

[Sidenote: The minor characters.]

But this is not all. Even the First Part--even the presentation of the three protagonists--is open to some, and even to severe, criticism. The most guiltless, but necessarily much the least important, is Claire. She is, of course, an obvious "borrow" from Richardson's lively second heroines; but she is infinitely superior to them. It is at first sight, though not perhaps for long, curious--and it is certainly a very great compliment to Madame de Warens or Vuarrens and Madame d'Houdetot, and perhaps other objects of his affections--that Rousseau, cad as he was, and impossible as it was for him to draw a gentleman, could and did draw ladies. It was horribly bad taste in both Julie and Claire to love such a creature as Saint-Preux; but then _cela s'est vu_ from the time of the Lady of the Strachy downwards, if not from that of Princess Michal. But Claire is faithful and true as steel, and she is lively without being, as Charlotte Grandison certainly is, vulgar. She is very much more a really "reasonable woman," even putting passion aside, than the somewhat sermonising and syllogising Julie; and it would have been both agreeable and tormenting to be M. d'Orbe. (Tormenting because she only half-loved him, and agreeable because she did love him a little, and, whether it was little or much, allowed herself to be his.) He himself, slight and rather "put upon" as he is, is also much the most agreeable of the "second" male characters. Of Bomston and Wolmar we shall speak presently; and there is so little of the Baron d'Etange that one really does not know whether he was or was not something more than the tyrannical husband and father, and the ill-mannered specimen of the lesser nobility, that it pleased Saint-Preux or Rousseau to represent him as being. He had provocation enough, even in the case of his otherwise hardly pardonable insolence to Bomston.[368]


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