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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Sidenote L'Enfant du Carnaval and Les Barons de Felsheim


[Sidenote:

_L'Enfant du Carnaval and Les Barons de Felsheim._]

The worst of it is, that to be amused by him--to be, except as a student, even interested in a large part of his work--you must be almost as ill-bred in literature as he himself is. He is like a person who has had before him no models for imitation or avoidance in behaviour: and this is where his successor, Paul de Kock, by the mere fact of being his successor, had a great advantage over him. But to the student he _is_ interesting, and the interest has nothing factitious in it, and nothing to be ashamed of. There is something almost pathetic in his struggles to master his art: and his frequent remonstrances with critics and readers appear to show a genuine consciousness of his state, which is not always the case with such things.

The book which stands first in his Works, _L'Enfant du Carnaval_, starts with an ultra-Smollettian[429] passage of coarseness, and relapses now and then. The body of it--occupied with the history of a base-born child, who tumbles into the good graces of a Milord and his little daughter, is named by them "Happy," and becomes first the girl's lover and then her husband--is a heap of extravagances, which, nevertheless, bring the picaresque pattern, from which they are in part evidently traced, to a point, not of course anywhere approaching in genius _Don Quixote_ or _Gil Blas_, but somehow or other a good deal nearer general modern life.

_Les Barons de Felsheim_, which succeeds it, seems to have taken its origin from a suggestion of the opening of _Candide_, and continues with a still wilder series of adventures, satirising German ways, but to some extent perhaps inspired by German literature. Very commonly Pigault falls into a sort of burlesque melodramatic style, with frequent interludes of horse-play, resembling that of the ineffably dreary persons who knock each others' hats off on the music-hall stage. There is even something dreamlike about him, though of a very low order of dream; he has at any rate the dream-habit of constantly attempting something and finding that he cannot bring it off.

At the close of one of his most extravagant, most indecent, and stupidest novels, _La Folie Espagnole_--a supposed tale of chivalry, which of course shows utter ignorance of time, place, and circumstance, and is, in fact, only a sort of travestied _Gil Blas_, with a rank infusion of further vulgarised Voltairianism[430]--the author has a rather curious note to the reader, whom he imagines (with considerable probability) to be throwing the book away with a suggested cry of "Quelles miseres! quel fatras!" He had, he says, previously offered _Angelique et Jeanneton_, a little work of a very different kind, and the public would neither buy nor read it. His publisher complained, and he must try to please. As for _La Folie_, everybody, including his cook, can understand _this_. One remembers similar expostulations from more respectable authors; but it is quite certain that Pigault-Lebrun--a Lebrun so different from his contemporary "Pindare" of that name--thoroughly meant what he said. He was drawing a bow, always at a venture, with no higher aim than to hit his public, and he did hit it oftener than he missed. So much the worse, perhaps, both for him and for his public; but the fact is a fact, and it is in the observation and correlation of facts that history consists.

[Sidenote: _Angelique et Jeanneton._]

_Angelique et Jeanneton_ itself, as might be expected from the above reference, is, among its author's works, something like _Le Reve_ among Zola's; it is his endeavour to be strictly proper. But, as it is also one of


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