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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

For most readers will have forgotten all about Florus


[Sidenote:

_Le Roi Flore et la Belle Jehane._]

These marks of the novice are even more noticeable in a much longer story, _Le Roi Flore et la Belle Jehane_, which is found not only in the same printed volume, but in the same original MS. The fault of this is curious, and--if not to a mere reader for pastime, to a student of fiction--extremely interesting. It is one not at all unknown at the present day, and capable of being used as an argument in favour of the doctrine of the Unities: that is to say, the mixture, by arbitrary and violent process, of two stories which have nothing whatever to do with each other, except that they are, wilfully and with no reason, buckled together at the end. The first, thin and uninteresting enough, is of a certain King Florus, who has a wife, dearly beloved, but barren. After some years and some very unmanly shilly-shallyings, he puts her away, and marries another, with whom (one is feebly glad to find) he is no more lucky, but who has herself the luck to die after some years. Meanwhile, King Florus being left "in a cool barge for future use," the second item, a really interesting story, is, with some intervals, carried on. A Count of high rank and great possessions has an only daughter, whom, after experience of the valour and general worthiness of one of his vassals of no great "having," he bestows on this knight, Robert, the pair being really in love with each other. But another vassal knight of greater wealth, Raoul,

plots with one of the wicked old women who abound in these stories, and engages Robert in a rash wager of all his possessions, that during one of those pilgrimages to "St. James," which come in so handy, and are generally so unreasonable, he will dishonour the lady. He fails, but, in a manner not distantly related to the Imogen-Iachimo scene, acquires what seems to be damning acquaintance with the young Countess's person-marks. Robert and Jehane are actually married; but the felon knight immediately afterwards brings his charge, and Robert pays his debt, and flies, a ruined man, from, as he thinks, his faithless wife, though he takes no vengeance on her. Jehane disguises herself as a man, joins him on his journey, supports him with her own means for a time, and enters into partnership with him in merchandise at Marseilles, he remaining ignorant of her sex and relation to him. At last things come right: the felon knight is forced in single combat (a long and good one) to acknowledge his lie and give up his plunder, and the excellent but somewhat obtuse Robert recovers his wife as well. A good end if ever there was one, and not a badly told tale in parts. But, from some utterly mistaken idea of craftsmanship, the teller must needs kill Robert for no earthly reason, except in order that Jehane may become the third wife of Florus and bear him children. A more disastrous "sixth act" has seldom been imagined; for most readers will have forgotten all about Florus, who has had neither art nor part in the main story; few can care whether the King has children or not; and still fewer can be other than disgusted at the notion of Jehane, brave, loving, and clever, being, as a widow, made a mere child-bearing machine to an oldish and rather contemptible second husband. But, once more, the mistake is interesting, and is probably the first example of that fatal error of not knowing when to leave off, which is even worse than the commoner one (to be found in some great artists) of "huddling up the story." The only thing to be said in excuse is that you could cut his majesty Florus out of the title and tale at once without even the slightest difficulty, and with no need to mend or meddle in any other way.


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