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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Had not much chance of playing the Miraguarda part as a rule


[Sidenote:

Extravagance in incident, nomenclature, etc.]

In the _Amadis_ cycle and in romances like _Arthur of Little Britain_ all this undergoes a change--not by any means for the better. What has been unkindly, but not perhaps unjustly, called the "conjuror's supernatural" takes the place of the poet's variety. One of the personages of the _Knight of the Sun_ is a "Bedevilled Faun," and it is really too much not to say that most of such personages are bedevilled. In _Arthur of_ (so much the Lesser) _Britain_ there is, if I remember rightly, a giant whose formidability partly consists in his spinning round on a sort of bedevilled music-stool: and his class can seldom be met with without three or seven heads, a similarly large number of legs and hands, and the like. This sort of thing has been put down, not without probability, to the Oriental suggestion which would come so readily into Spain. It may be so or it may not. But it certainly imports an element of puerility into romance, which is regrettable, and it diminishes the dignity and the poetry of the things rather lamentably. Whether it diminishes, and still more whether it originally diminished the _readability_ of these same things, is quite another question.

Closely connected with it is the fancy for barbaric names of great length and formidable sound, such as Famongomadan, Pintiquinestra, and the like--a trait which, if anybody pleases, may be put down to the

distorted echo of more musical[122] appellations in Arabic and other Eastern tongues, or to a certain childishness, for there is no doubt that the youthful mind delights, and always has delighted, in such things. The immense length of these romances even in themselves, and still more with continuations from father to son and grandson, and trains of descendants sometimes alternately named, can be less charged as an innovation, though there is no doubt that it established a rule which had only been an exception before. But, as will have been seen earlier, the continuation of romance genealogically had been not uncommon, and there had been a constant tendency to lengthen from the positively terse _Roland_ to the prolix fifteenth-century forms. In fact this went on till the extravagant length of the Scudery group made itself impossible, and even afterwards, as all readers of Richardson know, there was reluctance to shorten.

[Sidenote: The "cruel" heroine.]

We have, however, still to notice another peculiarity, and the most important by far as concerns the history of the novel: this is the ever-increasing tendency to exaggerate the "cruelty" of the heroine and the sufferings of the lovers. This peculiarity is not specially noticeable in the earliest and best of the group itself. Amadis suffers plentifully; yet Oriana can hardly be called "cruel." But of the two heroines of _Palmerin_, Polisarda does play the part to some extent, and Miraguarda (whose name it is not perhaps fantastic to interpret as "Admire her but beware of her") is positively ill-natured. Of course the thing was no more a novelty in literature than it was in life. The lines--

And cruel in the New As in the Old one,

may certainly be transferred from the geographical world to the historical. But in classical literature "cruelty" is attributed rather indiscriminately to both sexes. The cliff of Leucas knew no distinction of sex, and Sappho can be set against Anaxarete. Indeed, it was safer for men to be cruel than for women, inasmuch as Aphrodite, among her innumerable good qualities, was very severe upon unkind girls, while one regrets to have to admit that no particular male deity was regularly "affected" to the business of punishing light o' love men, though Eros-Cupid may sometimes have done so. The Eastern mistress, for obvious reasons, had not much chance of playing the Miraguarda part as a rule, though there seems to me more chance of the convention coming from Arab and Hebrew poetry than from any other source. But in the _Arabian Nights_ at least, though there are lustful murderesses--eastern Margarets of Burgundy, like Queen Labe of the Magicians,--there is seldom any "cruelty," or even any tantalising, on the part of the heroines.


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