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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

It should be seen at once that the Guinevere of the Vulgate


That

Guinevere, like Charlotte, was "a married lady," that, unlike Charlotte, she forgot the fact, and that Lancelot, though somewhat Wertheresque in some of his features, was not quite so "moral" as that very dull young man, are facts which I wish neither to suppress nor to dwell upon. We may cry "Agreed" here to the indictment, and all its consequences. They are not the question.

The question is the suggesting of novel-romance elements which forms the aesthetic solace of this ethical sin. It should be seen at once that the Guinevere of the Vulgate, and her fault or fate, provide a character and career of no small complexity. It has been already said that to represent her as after a fashion intercepted by love for Lancelot on her way to Arthur, like Iseult of Ireland or Margaret of Anjou, is, so to speak, as unhistorical as it is insufficiently artistic. We cannot, indeed, borrow Diderot's speech to Rousseau and say, "C'est le pont aux anes," but it certainly would not have been the way of the Walter whom I favour, though I think it might have been the way of the Chrestien that I know. Guinevere, when she meets her lover, rescuer, and doomsman, is no longer a girl, and Lancelot is almost a boy. It is not, in the common and cheap misuse of the term, the most "romantic" arrangement, but some not imperfect in love-lore have held that a woman's love is never so strong as when she is past girlhood and well approaching age, and that man's is never stronger

than when he is just not a boy. Lancelot himself has loved no woman (except his quasi-mother, the Lady of the Lake), and will love none after he has fulfilled the Dead Shepherd's "saw of might." She _has_ loved; dispute this and you not only cancel gracious scenes of the text, but spoil the story; but she has, though probably she does not yet know it, ceased to love,[56] and not without some reason. To say no more about Arthur's technical "blamelessness," he has, by the coming of Lancelot, ceased to be altogether heroic. Though never a mere petulant and ferocious dotard as the _Chansons_ too often represent Charlemagne, he is very far from being a wise ruler or even baron. He makes rash promises and vows, accepts charges on very slight evidence, and seems to have his knights by no means "in hand." So, too, though never a coward or weakling, he seems pretty nearly to have lost the pluck and prowess which had won Guinevere's love under the walls of Carmelide, and of which the last display is in the great fight with his sister's lover, Sir Accolon. All this may not excuse Guinevere's conduct to the moralist; it certainly makes that conduct artistically probable and legitimate to the critic, as a foundation for novel-character.

Her lover may look less promising, at least at the moment of presentation; and indeed it is true that while "la donna e _im_mobile," in essentials and possibilities alike, forms of man, though never losing reality and possibility, pass at times out of possible or at least


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