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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Sidenote Analysis of La Demoiselle Cavaliere


Nevertheless,

_Les Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles_ is a book of great interest and value, despite serious defects due to its time generally and to its place in the history of fiction in particular. Its obscenity, on which even Sir Walter Scott, the least censorious or prudish-prurient of men, and with Southey, the great witness against false squeamishness, has been severe,[81] is unfortunately undeniable. But it is to be doubted whether Sir Walter knew much of the _fabliaux_; if he had he would have seen first, that this sort of thing had become an almost indispensable fashion in the short story, and secondly, that there is here considerable improvement on the _fabliaux_ themselves, there being much less mere schoolboy crudity of dirty detail and phrase, though the situations may remain the same. It suffers occasionally from the heavy and rhetorical style which beset all European literature (except Italian, which itself did not wholly escape) in the fifteenth century. But still one can see in it that improvement of narrative method and diction which has been referred to: and occasionally, amid the crowd of tricky wives, tricked husbands, too obliging and too hardly treated chambermaids, ribald priests and monks, and the like, one comes across quite different things and persons, which are, as the phrase goes, almost startlingly modern, with a mixture of the _un_modern heightening the appeal. One of the most striking of these--not very likely to be detected or suspected by a careless reader under its
sub-title of "La Demoiselle Cavaliere," and by no means fully summarised in the quaint short argument which is in all cases subjoined--may be briefly analysed.

[Sidenote: Analysis of "La Demoiselle Cavaliere".]

In one of the great baronial households of Brabant there lived, after the usual condition of gentle servitude, a youth named Gerard, who fell in love, after quite honourable and seemly fashion, with Katherine, the daughter of the house--a fact which, naturally, they thought known only to themselves, when, as naturally, everybody in the Court had become aware of it. "For the better prevention of scandal," an immediate marriage being apparently out of the question because of Gerard's inferiority in rank to his mistress, it is decided by the intervention of friends that Gerard shall take his leave of the Brabantine "family." There is a parting of the most laudable kind, in which Katherine bestows on her lover a ring, and a pledge that she will never marry any one else, and he responds suitably. Then he sets out, and on arriving at Bar has no difficulty in establishing himself in another great household. Katherine meanwhile is beset with suitors of the best rank and fortune; but will have nothing to say to any of them, till one day comes the formidable moment when a mediaeval father determines that his daughter shall marry a certain person, will she nill she. But if mediaeval fatherhood was arbitrary, mediaeval religion was supreme, and a demand to go on pilgrimage before an important change of life could hardly be refused. In fact, the parents, taking the proposal as a mere preliminary of obedience, consent joyfully, and offer a splendid suite of knights and damsels, "Nous lui baillerons ung tel gentilhomme et une telle demoiselle, Ysabeau et Marguerite et Jehanneton." But "no," says Mistress Katherine sagely. The road to St. Nicolas of Warengeville is not too safe for people travelling with a costly outfit and a train of women. Let her, dressed as a man, and a bastard uncle of hers (who is evidently the "Will Wimble"


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