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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

And Doris and Lucinde very delectable adjuncts


I

can hardly imagine more than one cavil being made against this by the most carping of critics and the most wedded to the crotchet of "kinds"--that it is too dramatic for a _story_, and that we ought to have had it as a drama. If this were further twisted into an accusation of plagiarism from the actual theatre, I think it could be rebutted at once. The situations separately might be found in many dramas; the characters in more; but I at least am not aware of any one in which they had been similarly put together. Of course most if not all of us have seen actresses who would make Clarice charming, Madame de Ponval amusing, and Doris and Lucinde very delectable adjuncts; as well as actors by whom the parts of Cleon and Ariste would be very effectively worked out. But why we should be troubled to dress, journey, waste time and money, and get a headache, by going to the theatre, when we can enjoy all this "in some close corner of [our] brain," I cannot see. As I read the story in some twenty minutes, I can see _my_ Clarice, _my_ Madame de Ponval, _my_ Doris and Lucinde and Cleon and Ariste and Jasmin--the silent but doubtless highly appreciative valet,--and I rather doubt whether the best company in the world could give me quite that.

[Sidenote: A real advance in these.]

But, even in saying this, full justice has not yet been done to Marmontel. He has, from our special point of view, made a real further progress

towards the ideal of the ordinary novel--the presentation of ordinary life. He has borrowed no supernatural aid;[398] he has laid under contribution no "fie-fie" seasonings; he has sacrificed nothing, or next to nothing, in these best pieces, whatever he may have done elsewhere, to purpose and crotchet. He has discarded stuffing, digression, episode, and other things which weighed on and hampered his predecessors. In fact there are times when it seems almost unjust, in this part of his work, to "second" him in the way we have done; though it must be admitted that if you take his production as a whole he relapses into the second order.

* * * * *

[Sidenote: Bernardin de Saint-Pierre.]

The actual books, in anything that can be called fiction, of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre are of far less merit than Marmontel's; but most people who have even the slightest knowledge of French literature know why he cannot be excluded here. Personally, he seems to have been an ineffectual sort of creature, and in a large part of his rather voluminous work he is (when he ceases to produce a sort of languid amusement) a distinctly boring one.[399] He appears to have been unlucky, but to have helped his own bad luck with the only signs of effectualness that he ever showed. It is annoying, no doubt, to get remonstrances from headquarters as to your not sending any work (plans, reports, etc.) as an engineer, and to find, or think you find, that your immediate C.O. has suppressed them. But when you charge him with his disgraceful proceeding, and he, as any French officer in his position at his time was likely to do, puts his hand on his sword, it is undiplomatic to rush on another officer who happens to be present, grab at and draw his weapon (you are apparently not entitled to one), and attack your chief. Nor when, after some more unsuccessful experiences at home and abroad, you are on half or no pay, and want employment, would it seem to be exactly the wisdom of Solomon to give a minister the choice of employing you on (1) the civilisation of Corsica, (2) the exploration of the unknown parts of the Western Continent, (3) the discovery of the sources of the Nile, and (4) a pedestrian tour throughout India. But, except in the first instance (for the "Citizen of Geneva" did not meddle much with cold steel), it was all very like a pupil, and (in the Citizen's later years) a friend, of Rousseau, carrying out his master's ideas with a stronger dose of Christianity, but with quite as little common sense. I have not seen (or remembered) any more exact account of Saint-Pierre's relations with Napoleon than that given by the excellent Aime-Martin, an academic euphemiser of the French kind. But, even reading between his lines, they must have been very funny.[400]


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