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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

But Partenopeus has not the former


exists in English, and though

the French was very probably written by an Englishman, is not now one of the most widely read and is in parts very charming. That it is one of the romances on which, from the fact of the resemblance of its central incident to the story of Cupid and Psyche, the good defenders of the bad theory of the classical origin of romance generally have based one of their few plausible arguments, need not occupy us. For the question is not whether Denis Pyramus or any one else (modernity would not be modernity if his claims were not challenged) told it, but _how_ he told it. Still less need we treat the other question before indicated. Here is one of the central stories of the world--one of those which Eve told to her children in virtue of the knowledge communicated by the apple, one with which the sons of God courted the daughters of men, or, at latest, one of those which were yarned in the Ark. It is the story of the unwise lover--in this case the man, not as in Psyche's the woman--who will not be content to enjoy an unseen, but by every other sense enjoyable and adorable love, even though (in this case) the single deprivation is expressly to be terminated. We have it, of course, in all sorts of forms, languages, and differing conditions. But we are only concerned with it here as with a gracious example of that kind of romance which, though not exactly a "fairy tale" in the Western sense, is pretty obviously influenced by the Eastern fairy tale itself, and still more obviously influences
the modern kind in which "the supernatural" is definitely prominent.

It was perhaps excusable in the good M. Robert, who wrote the Introduction to Crapelet's edition of this poem eighty years ago, to "protest too much" in favour of the author whom he was now presenting practically for the first time--to a changed audience; but it was unnecessary and a little unfortunate. Except in one point or group of points, it is vain to try to put _Partenopeus_ above _Cupid and Psyche_: but it can perfectly well stand by itself in its own place, and that no low one. Except in _Floire et Blanchefleur_ and of course in _Aucassin et Nicolette_, the peculiar grace and delicacy of romance are nowhere so well shown; and _Partenopeus_, besides the advantage of length, has that of personages interesting, besides the absolute hero and heroine. The Count of Blois himself is, no doubt, despite his beauty, and his bravery, and his good nature, rather of a feeble folk. Psyche has the excuse of her sex, besides the evil counsel of her sisters, for her curiosity. But Partenopeus has not the former; nor has he even that weaker but still not quite invalid one which lost Agib, the son of Cassib, his many-Houried Paradise on Earth. He is supposed to be a Frenchman--the somewhat excessive fashion in which Frenchmen make obedience to the second clause[60] of the Fifth Commandment atone for some neglect of other parts of the decalogue is well known, or at least traditionally believed. But most certainly a man is not justified in obeying his mother to the extent of disobeying--and that in the shabbiest of ways--his lady and mistress, who is, in fact, according to mediaeval ideas, virtually, if not virtuously, his wife. But Melior herself, the heroine, is an absolutely delightful person from her first appearance (or rather _non_-appearance) as a sweet dream come true, to her last in the more orthodox and public spousals. The grace of her Dian-like surrender of herself to her love; the constancy with which she holds to the betrothal theory of the time; the unselfishness with which she not only permits but actually advises the lover, whom she would so fain, but cannot yet, make her acknowledged husband, to leave her; her frank forgiveness of his only-just-in-time repented and prevented, but intended, infidelity; her sorrow at and after the separation enforced by his breach of pact; her interviews with her sister, naturally chequered by conflicting feelings of love and pride and the rest--are all charming. But she is not the only charming figure.


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