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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

But Pigault has this go never perhaps for a whole book


unconscious transference of

her affections to Sainte-Luce; while he turns the uxorious husband, not out of jealousy merely, into a faithless one, and something like a general ruffian, after a very clumsy and "unconvincing" fashion. As for his throwing in, at the end, another fatal passion on part of their daughter for her mother's lover, it is, though managed with what is for the author, perfect cleanliness, entirely robbed of its always doubtful effect by the actual marriage of Fanchette and her sailor, and that immediately after the poor girl's death. If he had had the pluck to make this break off the whole thing, the book might have been a striking novel, as it is actually an attempt at one; but Pigault, like his friends of the gallery, was almost inviolably constant to happy endings.[432] _L'Officieux_, if he had only had a little humour, might have been as good comically as the Tableaux might have been tragically; for it is the history, sometimes not ill-sketched as far as action goes, of a _parvenu_ rich, but brave and extremely well-intentioned marquis, who is perpetually getting into fearful scrapes from his incorrigible habit of meddling with other people's affairs to do them good. The situations--as where the marquis, having, through an extravagance of officiousness, got himself put under arrest by his commanding officer, and at the same time insulted by a comrade, insists on fighting the necessary duel in his own drawing-room, and thereby reconciling duty and honour, to the great terror of a lady
with whom he has been having a tender interview in the adjoining apartment--are sometimes good farce, and almost good comedy; but Pigault, like Shadwell, has neither the pen nor the wits to make the most of them.

_La Famille Luceval_--something of an expanded and considerably Pigaultified story _a la_ Marmontel--is duller than any of these, and the opening is marred by an exaggerated study of a classical mania on the part of the hero; but still the novel quality is not quite absent from it.

[Sidenote: Further examples.]

Of the rest, _M. Botte_, which seems to have been a favourite, is a rather conventional extravaganza with a rich, testy, but occasionally generous uncle; a nephew who falls in love with the charming but penniless daughter of an _emigre_; a noble rustic, who manages to keep some of his exiled landlord's property together, etc. _M. de Roberval_, though in its original issue not so long as _Adelaide de Meran_, becomes longer by a _suite_ of another full volume, and is a rather tedious chronicle of ups and downs. There may be silence about the remainder.

[Sidenote: Last words on him.]

The stock and, as it may be called, "semi-official" ticket for Pigault-Lebrun in such French literary history as takes notice of him, appears to be _verve_: and the recognised dictionary-sense of _verve_ is "heat of imagination, which animates the artist in his composition." In the higher sense in which the word imagination is used with us, it could never be applied here; but he certainly has a good deal of "go," which is perhaps not wholly improper as a colloquial Anglicising of the label. These semi-official descriptions, which have always pleased the Latin races, are of more authority in France than in England, though as long as we go on calling Chaucer "the father of English poetry" and Wyclif "the father of English prose" we need not boast ourselves too much. But Pigault has this "go"--never perhaps for a whole book, but sometimes for passages of considerable length, which possess "carrying" power. It undoubtedly gave him his original popularity, and we need not despise it now, inasmuch as it makes less tedious the task of ascertaining and justifying his true place in the further "domestication"--if only in domesticities too often mean and grimy--of the French novel.


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