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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

That between Valmont and Danceny is an obvious copy of it

of a predestined strumpet; her

lover, Valmont's rival, and Mme. de Merteuil's plaything, M. le Chevalier Danceny, is not so very much better than _he_ should be, and nearly as much an imbecile in the masculine way as Cecile in the feminine; her respectable mother and Valmont's respectable aunt are not merely as blind as owls are, but as stupid as owls are not. Finally, the book, which in many particular points, as well as in the general letter-scheme, follows Richardson closely (adding clumsy notes to explain the letters, apologise for their style, etc.), exhibits most of the faults of its original with hardly any of that original's merits. Valmont, for instance, is that intolerable creature, a pattern Bad Man--a Grandison-Lovelace--a prig of vice. Indeed, I cannot see how any interest can be taken in the book, except that derived from its background of _tacenda_; and though no one, I think, who has read the present volume will accuse me of squeamishness, _I_ can find in it no interest at all. The final situations referred to above, if artistically led up to and crisply told in a story of twenty to fifty pages, might have some; but ditchwatered out as they are, I have no use for them. The letter-form is particularly unfortunate, because, at least as used, it excludes the ironic presentation which permits one almost to fall in love with Becky Sharp, and quite to enjoy _Jonathan Wild_. Of course, if anybody says (and apologists _do_ say that Laclos was, as a man, proper in morals and mild in manners) that to
hold up the wicked to mere detestation is a worthy work, I am not disposed to argue the point. Only, for myself, I prefer to take moral diatribes from the clergy and aesthetic delectation from the artist. The avenging duel between Lovelace and Colonel Morden is finely done; that between Valmont and Danceny is an obvious copy of it, and not finely done at all. Some, again, of the riskiest passages in subject are made simply dull by a Richardsonian particularity which has no seasoning either of humour or of excitement. Now, a Richardson _de mauvais lieu_ is more than a bore--it is a nuisance, not pure and simple, but impure and complex.

I have in old days given to a few novels (though, of course, only when they richly deserved it) what is called a "slating"--an _ereintement_--as I once had the honour of translating that word in conversation, at the request of a distinguished English novelist, for the benefit of a distinguished French one. Perhaps an example of the process is not utterly out of place in a _History_ of the novel itself. But I have long given up reviewing fiction, and I do not remember any book of which I shall have to speak as I have just spoken. So _hic caestus_, etc.--though I am not such a coxcomb as to include _victor_ in the quotation.


[1] For the opposite or corresponding reasons, it has seemed unnecessary to dwell on such persons, a hundred and more years later, as Voisenon and La Morliere, who are merely "corrupt followers" of Crebillon _fils_; or, between the two groups, on the numerous failures of the quasi-historical kind which derived partly from Mlle. de Scudery and partly from Mme. de la Fayette.

[2] That of the minor "Sensibility" novelists in the last chapter.

[3] I have once more to thank Professors Ker, Elton, and Gregory Smith for their kindness in reading my proofs and making most valuable suggestions; as well as Professor Fitzmaurice-Kelly and the Rev. William Hunt for information on particular points.




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