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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

If not actually a Pisgah sight reversed


On

the other hand, I have never dealt, substantively and in detail, with Chateaubriand, Paul de Kock, Victor Hugo, Beyle, George Sand, or Zola[2] as novelists, nor with any of the very large number of minors not already mentioned, including some, such as Nodier and Gerard de Nerval, whom, for one thing or another, I should myself very decidedly put above minority. And, further, my former dealings with the authors in the first list given above having been undertaken without any view to a general history of the French novel, it became not merely proper but easy for me to "triangulate" them anew. So that though there may be more previous work of mine in print on the subjects of the present volume than on those of the last, there will, I hope, be found here actually less, and very considerably less, _rechauffe_--hardly any, in fact (save a few translations[3] and some passages on Gautier and Maupassant)--of the amount and character which seemed excusable, and more than excusable, in the case of the "Sensibility" chapter there. The book, if not actually a "Pisgah-sight reversed," taken from Lebanon instead of Pisgah after more than forty years' journey, not in the wilderness, but in the Promised Land itself, attempts to be so; and uses no more than fairly "reminiscential" (as Sir Thomas Browne would say) notes, taken on that journey itself.

It was very naturally, and by persons of weight, put to me whether I could not extend this history to, or nearer

to, the present day. I put my negative to this briefly in the earlier preface: it may be perhaps courteous to others, who may be disposed to regret the refusal, to give it somewhat more fully here. One reason--perhaps sufficient in itself--can be very frankly stated. I do not _know_ enough of the French novel of the last twenty years or so. During the whole of that time I have had no reasons, of duty or profit, to oblige such knowledge. I have had a great many other things to do, and I have found greater recreation in re-reading old books than in experimenting on new ones. I might, no doubt, in the last year or two have made up the deficiency to some extent, but I was indisposed to do so for two, yea, three reasons, which seemed to me sufficient.

In the first place, I have found, both by some actual experiment of my own, and, as it seems to me, by a considerable examination of the experiments of other people, that to co-ordinate satisfactorily accounts of contemporary or very recent work with accounts of older is so difficult as to be nearly impossible. The _foci_ are too different to be easily adjusted, and the result is almost always out of composition, if not of drawing.

Secondly, though I know I am here kicking against certain pricks, it does not appear to me, either from what I have read or from criticisms on what I have not, that any definitely new and decisively illustrated school of novels has arisen since the death of M. Zola.

Thirdly, it would be impossible to deal with the subject, save in an absurdly incomplete fashion, without discussing living persons. To doing this, in a book, I have an unfashionable but unalterable objection. The productions of such persons, as they appear, are, by now established custom, proper subjects for "reviewing" in accordance with the decencies of literature, and such reviews may sometimes, with the same proviso, be extended to studies of their work up to date. But even these latter should, I think, be reserved for very exceptional cases.


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