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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Who declared that the adventures of Fitzwarin


[Sidenote:

Those of the fourteenth. _Asseneth._]

The contents of the fourteenth-century volume are, with one exception, much less interesting in themselves; but from the point of view of the present enquiry they hardly yield to their predecessors. They are three in number: _Asseneth_, _Foulques Fitzwarin_, and _Troilus_. The first, which is very short, is an account of Joseph's courtship of his future wife, in which entirely guiltless proceeding he behaves at first very much as if the daughter of Potipherah were fruit as much forbidden as the wife of Potiphar. For on her being proposed to him (he has come to her father, splendidly dressed and brilliantly handsome, on a mission from Pharaoh) he at first replies that he will love her as his sister. This, considering the Jewish habit of exchanging the names, might not be ominous. But when the damsel, at her father's bidding, offers to kiss him, Joseph puts his hand on her chest and pushes her back, accompanying the action with words (even more insulting in detail than in substance) to the effect that it is not for God-fearing man to kiss an idolatress. (At this point one would rather like to kick Joseph.) However, when, naturally enough, she cries with vexation, the irreproachable but most unlikable patriarch condescends to pat her on the head and bless her. This she takes humbly and thankfully; deplores his absence, for he is compelled to return to his master; renounces her gods; is consoled by an angel,

who feeds her with a miraculous honeycomb possessing a sort of sacramental force, and announces her marriage to Joseph, which takes place almost immediately.

It will be at once seen, by those who know something of the matter, that this is entirely in the style of large portions of the Graal romances; and so it gives us a fresh and interesting division of the new short prose tale, allying itself to some extent with the allegory which was to be so fruitful both in verse and in prose. It is not particularly attractive in substance; but is not badly told, and would have made (what it was very likely used as) a good sermon-story.

[Sidenote: _Troilus._]

As _Asseneth_, the first of the three, is by far the shortest, so _Troilus_, the last, is by far the longest. It is, in fact, nearly twenty times the length of the history of Joseph's pious impoliteness, and makes up something like two-thirds of the whole collection. But, except as a variant of one of the famous stories of the world (_v. sup._ Chap. IV.), it has little interest, and is not even directly taken from Benoit de Sainte-Maure, but from Guido delle Colonne and Boccaccio, of whose _Filostrato_ it is, in fact, a mere translation, made apparently by a known person of high station, Pierre de Beauvau, one of the chief nobles of Anjou, at the close of the fourteenth and the beginning of the fifteenth century. It thus brings itself into direct connection with Chaucer's poem, and has some small importance for literary history generally. But it has not much for us. It was not Boccaccio's verse but his prose that was really to influence the French Novel.

[Sidenote: _Foulques Fitzwarin._]

With the middle piece of the volume, _Foulques Fitzwarin_, it is very different. It is true that the present writer was once "smitten friendly" by a disciple of the modern severe historical school, who declared that the adventures of Fitzwarin, though of course adulterated, were an important historical document, and nothing so frivolous as a novel. One has, however, a reed-like faculty of getting up again from such smitings: and for my part I do not hesitate once more to call _Foulques Fitzwarin_ the first historical prose novel in modern literature. French in language, as we have it, it is thoroughly English in subject, and, beyond all doubt, in the original place of composition, while there is no reason to doubt the assertion that there were older verse-renderings of the story both in English and French. In fact, they may turn up yet. But the thing as it stands is a very desirable and even delectable thing, and well deserved its actual publication, not merely in the French collection, of which we are speaking, but in the papers of the too short-lived English Warton Club.


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