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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

In prose which should also be literature


as in almost every other case, the shortness is appropriate to _exercise_; while the prose form does not encourage those terrible _chevilles_--repetitions of stock adjective and substantive and verb and phrase generally--which are so common in verse, and especially in octosyllabic verse. It is therefore in many ways healthy, and the space allotted to these early examples of it will not, it is hoped, seem to any impartial reader excessive.


[75] The position of "origin" assigned already to the sacred matter of the Saint's Life may perhaps be continued here as regards the Sermon. It was, as ought to be pretty generally known, the not ungenial habit of the mediaeval preacher to tell stories freely. We have them in AElfric's and other English homilies long before there was any regular French prose; and we have, later, large and numerous collections of them--compiled more or less expressly for the use of the clergy--in Latin, English, and French. The Latin story is, in fact, very wide-ranging and sometimes quite of the novel (at least _nouvelle_) kind, as any one may see in Wright's _Latin Stories_, Percy Society, 1842.

[76] This is one, and one of the most glaring, of the _betises_ which at some times have been urged against Romance at large. They are not, as a matter of fact, very frequent; but their occurrence certainly does show the essentially uncritical character

of the time.

[77] For of course the knight did not tell the _whole_ story.

[78] _I.e._ not sorry for having tried to kill him, but sorry that she had not done so.

[79] In _prose_. For the very important part played by the home verse _fabliaux_ see next chapter.



[Sidenote: The connection with prose fiction of allegory.]

It was shown in the last chapter that fiction, and even prose fiction, of very varied character began to develop itself in French during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. By the fifteenth the development was very much greater, and the "disrhyming" of romances, the beginnings of which were very early, came to be a regular, not an occasional, process; while, by its latter part, verse had become not the usual, but the exceptional vehicle of romance, and prose romances of enormous length were popular. But earlier there had still been some obstacles in the way of the prose novel proper. It was the period of the rise and reign of Allegory, and France, preceptress of almost all Europe in most literary kinds, proved herself such in this with the unparalleled example of the _Roman de la Rose_. But the _Roman de la Rose_ was itself in verse--the earlier part of it at least in real poetry--and most of its innumerable imitations were in verse likewise. Moreover, though France again had been the first to receive and to turn to use the riches of Eastern apologue, the most famous example of which is _The Seven Wise Masters_, these rather serious matters do not seem to have especially commended themselves to the French people. The place of composition of the most famous of all, the _Gesta Romanorum_, has been fairly settled to be England, though the original language of composition is not likely to have been other than Latin. At any rate, the style of serious allegory, in prose which should also be literature, never really caught hold of the French taste.

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