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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Pigault used the improperest materials


The redeeming points of these.]

It may seem that too much space is being given to a reprobate and often dull author; but something has been said already to rebut the complaint, and something more may be added now and again. French literature, from the death of Chenier to the appearance of Lamartine, has generally been held to contain hardly more than two names--those of Chateaubriand and Madame de Stael--which can even "seem to be" those of "pillars"; and it may appear fantastic and almost insulting to mention one, who in long stretches of his work might almost be called a mere muckheap-raker, in company with them. Yet, in respect to the progress of his own department, it may be doubted whether he is not even more than their equal. _Rene_ and _Corinne_ contain great suggestions, but they are suggestions rather for literature generally than for the novel proper. Pigault used the improperest materials; he lacked not merely taste, but that humour which sometimes excuses taste's absence; power of creating real character, decency almost always, sense very often.[431] But all the same, he made the novel _march_, as it had not marched, save in isolated instances of genius, before.

[Sidenote: Others--_Adelaide de Meran_ and _Tableaux de Societe_.]

[Sidenote: _L'Officieux._]

Yet Pigault could hardly have deserved even the very modified praise which

has been given to him, if he had been constant to the muckheap. He could never quite help approaching it now and then; but as time went on and the Empire substituted a sort of modified decency for the Feasts of Republican Reason and ribaldry, he tried things less uncomely. _Adelaide de Meran_ (his longest single book), _Tableaux de Societe_, _L'Officieux_, and others, are of this class; and without presenting a single masterpiece in their own kind, they all, more or less, give evidence of that advance in the kind generally with which their author has been credited. _Adelaide_ is very strongly reminiscent of Richardson, and more than reminiscent of "Sensibility"; it is written in letters--though all by and to the same persons, except a few extracts--and there is no individuality of character. Pigault, it has been said, never has any, though he has some of type. But by exercising the most violent constraint upon himself, he indulges only in one rape (though there have been narrow escapes before), in not more than two or three questionable incidents, and in practically no "improper" details--conduct almost deserving the description of magnanimity and self-denial. Moreover, the thing really is a modern novel, though a bad and rickety one; the indefinable _naturaleza_ is present in it after a strange fashion. There is less perhaps in the very inappropriately named _Tableaux de Societe_--the autobiography of a certain Fanchette de Francheville, who, somewhat originally for a French heroine, starts by being in the most frantic state of mutual passion with her husband, though this is soon to be succeeded by an infatuation (for some time virtuously resisted) on her side for a handsome young naval officer, and by several others (not at all virtuously resisted) for divers ladies on the husband's. With his usual unskilfulness in managing character, Pigault makes very little of the opportunities given by his heroine's almost

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