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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Reynier thinks very highly of the first


This

latter part is comparatively commonplace. M. Reynier thinks very highly of the first. It is possible to go with him a certain part of the way, but not, I think, the whole, except from a purely "naturalist" and not at all "sentimental" point of view. Some bold bad men have, of course, maintained that when the other sex is possessed by an _appetit sensuel_ this overcomes everything else, and seems, if not actually to exclude, at any rate by no means always or often to excite, that accompanying transcendentalism which is not uncommon with men, and which, comprised with the appetite, makes the love of the great lovers, whether they are represented by Dante or by Donne, by Shakespeare or by Shelley. Whether this be truth or libel _non nostrum est_. But it is certain that Helisenne, as she represents herself, does not make the smallest attempt to spiritualise (even in the lowest sense) or inspirit the animality of her affection. She wants her lover as she might want a pork chop instead of a mutton one; and if she is sometimes satisfied with seeing him, it is as if she were looking at that pork chop through a restaurateur's window and finding it better than not seeing it at all and contenting herself with the mutton. Still this result is probably the result at least as much of want of art as of original _mis_feeling; and the book certainly does deserve notice here.

The original _Oeuvres_ of Helisenne form a rather appetising little volume, fat, and

close and small printed, as indeed is the case with most, but not quite all, of the books now under notice. The complementary pieces are mainly moralities, as indeed are, in intention, the _Angoisses_ themselves. These latter seem to me better worth reprinting than most other things as yet not reprinted, from the _Heptameron_ (Helisenne, be it remembered, preceded Marguerite) for nearly a hundred years. The later parts, though (or perhaps even because) they contrast curiously with the first, are by no means destitute of interest; and M. Reynier, I think, is a little hard on them if he has perhaps been a little kind to their predecessor. The lingo is indeed almost always stupendous and occasionally terrible. The printer aids sometimes; for it was not at once that I could emend the description of the B. V. M. as "Mere et Fille de _l'aliltonat_ [ant] plasmateur" into "_altitonant_" ("loud-thundering"), while _plasmateur_ itself, though perfectly intelligible and legitimate, a favourite with the _rhetoriqueurs_, and borrowed from them even in Middle Scots, is not exactly everybody's word. But from her very exordium she may be fairly judged. "Au temps que la Deesse Cibele despouilla son glacial et gelide habit, et vestit sa verdoyante robe, tapissee de diverses couleurs, je fus procree, de noblesse." And, after all, there _is_ a certain nobility in this fashion of speech and of literary presentation.

CHAPTER VIII

THE SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY NOVEL--I

_The Pastoral and Heroic Romance, and the Fairy Story_

[Sidenote: Immense importance of the seventeenth century in our subject.]

The seventeenth century, almost if not quite from its beginning, ranks in French literature as the eighteenth does with us, that is to say, as the time of origin of novels or romances which can be called, in any sense, modern.


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