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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Composees par dame Helisenne de Crenne


Cholieres, I think, deserves the prize for sinking lowest.

[119] From all the endless welter of abuse of God's great gift of speech [and writing] about the French Revolution, perhaps nothing has emerged more clearly than that its evils were mainly due to the sterilisation of the regular Provincial assemblies under the later monarchy.

[120] A person not bad of blood will always be glad to mention one of the few good sides of a generally detestable character; and a person of humour must always chuckle at some of the ways in which Calvin's services to French prose were utilised.

[121] He did not confine his good offices to romances of _caballeria_. In 1539 he turned into French the _Arnalte and Lucenda_ of Diego de San Pedro (author of the more widely known _Carcel de Amor_), a very curious if also rather tedious-brief love-story which had great influence in France (see Reynier, _op. cit. inf._ pp. 66-73). This (though M. Reynier did not know it) was afterwards versified in English by one of our minor Carolines, and will appear in the third volume of the collected edition of them now in course of publication by the Clarendon Press.

[122] Not always. Nouzhatoul-aouadat is certainly not as musical as Pintiquinestra, though Nouronnihar as certainly is.


[Sidenote: Note on

Helisenne de Crenne.]

There should be added here a very curious, and now, if not in its own time, very rare book, my first knowledge of which I owed to a work already mentioned, M. Gustave Reynier's _Le Roman Sentimental avant l'Astree_ (Paris, 1908), though I was able, after this chapter was composed, to find and read the original in the British Museum. It was first printed in 1538, and bears, like other books of its time, a disproportionately long title, which may, however, be easily shortened, "_Les Angoisses douloureuses qui procedent d'Amour_ ... composees par dame Helisenne de Crenne." This Helisenne or Helisaine seems to have been a real person: and not the least of the remarkable group of women authors who illustrate her time in France, though M. Reynier himself admits that "it is difficult to know exactly _who_ she was." She appears to have been of Picardy, and other extant and non-extant works are attributed to her. Like almost everybody of her time she wrote in the extreme _rhetoriqueur_ style--so much so indeed as to lead even Pasquier into the blunder of supposing that Rabelais hit at her in the dialect of the "Limousin scholar." The _Angoisses_, which M. Reynier's acute examination shows to have been written by some one who must have known Boccaccio's _Fiammetta_ (more than once Frenched about this time), is, or gives itself out to be, the autobiography of a girl of noble birth who, married at eleven years old and at first very fond of her husband, becomes at thirteen the object of much courtship from many gallants. Of these she selects, entirely on the love-at-first-sight principle, a very handsome young man who passes in the street. She is well read and tries to keep herself in order by stock examples, classical and romantic, of ill-placed and ill-fated affection. Her husband (who seems to have been a very good fellow for his time) gives her unconsciously what should have been the best help of all, by praising her self-selected lover's good looks and laughing at the young man's habit of staring at her. But she has already spoken frankly of her own _appetit sensuel_, and she proceeds to show this in the fashion which makes the fifteenth century and the early sixteenth a sort of trough of animalism between the altitudes of Mediaeval and Renaissance passion. Her lover turns out to be an utter cad, boastful, blabbing, and almost cowardly (he tells her in the usual stolen church interview, _Je crains merveilleusement monsieur votre mari_). But it makes not the slightest difference; nor does the at last awakened wrath of an at last not merely threatened but wideawake husband. Apparently she never has the chance of being actually guilty, for her husband finally, and very properly, shuts her up in a country house under strong duennaship. This finishes the first part, but there are two more, which return to more ancient ways. The lover Guenelic goes off to seek adventures, which he himself recounts, and acquires considerable improvement in them. He comes back, endeavours to free his mistress from her captivity, and does actually fly with her; but they are pursued; and though the lover and a friend of his with the rather Amadisian name of "Quezinstra" do their best, the heroine dies of weariness and shock, to be followed by her lover.

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