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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

The Adolphes and the Ellenores


The

difference of note from the earlier eighteenth century will strike everybody here. If we are still some way from Emma Bovary, it is only in point of language: we are poles asunder from Marianne. But the hero is still, in his own belief, acting under the influence of Sensibility. He is not in the least impassioned, he is not a mere libertine, but he has a "besoin d'amour." He wants a "conquete." He is still actuated by the odd mixture of vanity, convention, sensuality, which goes by the name of our subject. But his love is a "dessin de lui plaire"; he has taken an "engagement envers son amour propre." In other words, he is playing the game from the lower point of view--the mere point of view of winning. It does not take him very long to win. Ellenore at first behaves unexceptionably, refuses to receive him after his first declaration, and retires to the country. But she returns, and the exemplary Adolphe has recourse to the threat which, if his creator's biographers may be believed, Constant himself was very fond of employing in similar cases, and which the great popularity of _Werther_ made terrible to the compassionate and foolish feminine mind. He will kill himself. She hesitates, and very soon she does not hesitate any longer. The reader feels that Adolphe is quite worthless, that nothing but the fact of his having been brought up in a time when Sensibility was dominant saves him. But the following passage, from the point of view alike of nature and of expression, again pacifies
the critic:[412]

I passed several hours at her feet, declaring myself the happiest of men, lavishing on her assurances of eternal affection, devotion, and respect. She told me what she had suffered in trying to keep me at a distance, how often she had hoped that I should detect her notwithstanding her efforts, how at every sound that fell on her ears she had hoped for my arrival; what trouble, joy, and fear she had felt on seeing me again; how she had distrusted herself, and how, to unite prudence and inclination, she had sought once more the distractions of society and the crowds which she formerly avoided. I made her repeat the smallest details, and this history of a few weeks seemed to us the history of a whole life. Love makes up, as it were by magic, for the absence of far-reaching memory. All other affections have need of the past: love, as by enchantment, makes its own past and throws it round us. It gives us the feeling of having lived for years with one who yesterday was all but a stranger. Itself a mere point of light, it dominates and illuminates all time. A little while and it was not: a little while and it will be no more: but, as long as it exists, its light is reflected alike on the past and on the future.

This calm, he goes on to say, lasted but a short time; and, indeed, no one who has read the book so far is likely to suppose that it did. Adolphe has entered into the _liaison_ to play the game, Ellenore (unluckily for herself) to be loved. The difference soon brings discord. In the earlier Sensibility days men and women were nearly on equal terms. It was only in the most strictly metaphorical way that the unhappy lover was bound to expire, and his beloved rarely took the method of wringing his bosom recommended by Goldsmith, when anybody else of proper Sensibility was there to console her. But the game had become unequal between the Charlottes and the Werthers, the Adolphes and the Ellenores. The Count de P---- naturally perceives the state of affairs before long, and as naturally does not like it. Adolphe, having played his game and won it, does not care to go on playing for love merely. "Ellenore etait sans doute un vif plaisir dans mon existence, mais elle n'etait pas plus un but--elle etait devenue un lien." But Ellenore does not see this accurate distinction. After many vicissitudes and a few scenes ("Nous vecumes ainsi quatre mois dans des rapports forces, quelque fois doux, jamais completement libres, y rencontrant encore du plaisir mais n'y trouvant plus de charme") a crisis comes. The Count forbids Ellenore to receive Adolphe any more: and she thereupon breaks the ten years old union, and leaves her children and home.


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