free ebooks

A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Much as Rousseau owes to Richardson


_Quia

multum amavit!_ Nobody--at least no woman--had loved like that in a prose novel before; nobody at all except Des Grieux, and he is but as a sketch to an elaborate picture. She will wander after Pallas, and would like to think that she would like to be of the train of Dian (one shudders at imagining the scowl and the shrug and the twist of the skirt of the goddess!). But the kiss of Aphrodite has been on her, and has mastered her whole nature. How the thing could be done, out of poetry, has always been a marvel to me; but I have explained it by the supposition that the absolute impossibility of writing poetry at this time in French necessitated the break-out in prose. Rousseau's wonderful style--so impossible to analyse, but so irresistible--does much; the animating sense of his native scenery something. But, after all, what gives the thing its irresistibleness is the strange command he had of Passion and of Sorrow--two words, the first of which is actually, in the original sense, a synonym of the second, though it has been expanded to cover the very opposite.

[Sidenote: And the better side of the book generally.]

But it would be unfair to Rousseau, especially in such a place as this, to confine the praise of _Julie_ as a novel to its exhibition of passion, or even to the charm of Julie herself. Within its proper limits--which are, let it be repeated, almost if not quite exactly those of the First Part--many

other gifts of the particular class of artist are shown. The dangerous letter-scheme, which lends itself so easily, and in the other parts surrenders itself so helplessly and hopelessly, to mere "piffle" about this and that, is kept well in hand. Much as Rousseau owes to Richardson, he has steered entirely clear of that system of word-for-word and incident-for-incident reporting which makes the Englishman's work so sickening to some. You have enough of each and no more, this happy mean affecting both dialogue and description. The plot (or rather the action) is constantly present, probably managed, always enlivened by the imminence of disastrous discovery. As has been already pointed out, one may dislike--or feel little interest in--some of the few characters; but it is impossible to say that they are out of drawing or keeping. Saint-Preux, objectionable and almost loathsome as he may be sometimes, is a thoroughly human creature, and is undoubtedly what Rousseau meant him to be, for the very simple reason that he is (like the Byronic hero who followed) what Rousseau wished to be, if not exactly what he was, himself. Bomston is more of a lay figure; but then the _Anglais philosophe de qualite_ of the French imagination in the eighteenth century was a lay figure, and, as has been excellently said by De Quincey in another matter, nothing can be wrong which conforms to the principles of its own ideal. As for Julie and Claire, they once more

Answer the ends of their being created.

Even the "talking-book" is here hardly excessive, and comes legitimately under the excuse of showing how the relations between the hero and heroine originally got themselves established.[369]

[Sidenote: But little probability of more good work in novel from its author.]

Are we, then, from the excellence of the "Confessions" _in pari materia_ and _in ipsa_ of _Julie_, to lament that Rousseau did not take to novel-writing as a special and serious occupation? Probably not. The extreme weakness and almost _fadeur_ of the strictly novel part of _Emile_, and the going-off of _Julie_ itself, are very open warnings; the mere absence of any other attempts worth mentioning[370] is evidence of a kind; and the character of all the rest of the work, and of all this part of the work but the opening of _Julie_, and even of that opening itself, counsel abstention, here as everywhere, from quarrelling with Providence. Rousseau's superhuman concentration on himself, while it has inspired the relevant parts of the _Confessions_ and of _Julie_, has spoilt a good deal else that we have, and would assuredly have spoilt other things that we have not. It has been observed, by all acute students of the novel, that the egotistic variety will not bear heavy crops of fruit by itself; and that it is incapable, or capable with very great difficulty, of letting the observed and so far altruistic kind grow from the same stool. Of what is sometimes called the dramatic faculty (though, in fact, it is only one side of that),--the faculty which in different guise and with different means the general novelist must also possess,--Rousseau had nothing. He could put himself in no other man's skin, being so absolutely wrapped up in his own, which was itself much too sensitive to be disturbed, much less shed. Anything or anybody that was (to use Mill's language) a permanent or even a temporary possibility of sensation to him was within his power; anything out of immediate or closely impending contact was not. Now some of the great novelists have the external power--or at least the will to use that power--alone, others have had both; but Rousseau had the internal only, and so was, except by miracle of intensive exercise, incapable of further range.


eBook Search
Social Sharing
Share Button
About us

freefictionbooks.org 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 freefictionbooks.org - All Rights Reserved.

Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Contact Us