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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

The Scenes de la Vie de Province are richer in magnums

the remaining pair, _La Cousine

Bette_ is, I suppose, again the favourite; but I am not a backer. I have in other places expressed my opinion that if Valerie Marneffe is part-model[163] of Becky Sharp, which is not, I believe, absolutely certain, the copy far--indeed infinitely--exceeds the original, and not least in the facts that Becky is attractive while Valerie is not, and that there is any amount of possibility in her. I should not wonder if, some day, a novelist took it into his head to show Becky as she would have been if she had had those thousands a year for which, with their accompanying chances of respectability, she so pathetically sighed. Now Valerie is, and always must have been, a _catin_, and nothing else. Lisbeth, again, though I admit her possibility, is not, to me, made quite probable. Hulot, very possible and probable indeed, does not interest or amuse me, and the angelic Adeline is good but dull. In fact the book, by its very power, throws into disastrous eminence that absence of _delightfulness_ which is Balzac's great want, uncompensated by the presence of the magnificence which is his great resource. _La Peau de Chagrin_ and some of the smaller things have this relief; _La Cousine Bette_ has not. And therefore I think that, on the whole, _Le Cousin Pons_ is the better of the two, though it may seem to some weaker, further "below proof." Everything in it is possible and probable, and though the comedy is rather rueful, it is comedy. It is a play; its companion is rather too much of a sermon.

style="text-align: justify;">[Sidenote: Others--the general "scenic" division.]

The "Scenes de la Vie Privee" (to pass to a rapid general survey of the "Acts" of the Comedy) provide an especially large number of short stories, almost the only ones of length being _Modeste Mignon_ and _Beatrix_, a strongly contrasted couple. _Modeste Mignon_ is perhaps one of the best of Balzac's _second_ best. _Beatrix_, a book of more power, appeals chiefly to those who may be interested in the fact (which apparently _is_ the fact) that the book contains, almost more than any other, figures taken from real people, such as George Sand--the "Camille" of the novel--and some of those about her. The "Scenes de la Vie de Province" are richer in "magnums." _Eugenie Grandet_ is here, with a sort of companion, cheerfuller generally, in _Ursule Mirouet_. The shorter stories are grouped under the titles of _Les Parisiens en Province_ (with the first appearance of _Gaudissart_) and _Les Rivalites_. _Le Lys dans la Vallee_ (which one is sometimes anxiously begged to distinguish from "the lily _of_ the valley," otherwise _muguet_) holds, for some, an almost entirely unique place in Balzac's work, or one shared only in part by _Memoires de Deux Jeunes Mariees_. I have never, I think, cared much for either. But there is more strength in two pairs of volumes which contain some of the author's masterpieces--_Les Celibataires_ with _Pierrette_, _Le Cure de Tours_, and the powerful, if not particularly pleasant, _Un Menage de Garcon_;[164] and _Illusions Perdues_, running up well with _Un Grand Homme de Province a Paris_ and the semi-idyllic _Eve et David_.

But I suppose the "Scenes of Parisian Life" seem to be the citadel to most people. Here are three of the four books specially selected above, _Le Pere Goriot_ and both the constituents of _Les Parents Pauvres_. Here are the _Splendeurs et Miseres des Courtisanes_, which some rank among the very first; not a few short stories in the volumes taking their titles from _La Derniere Incarnation de Vautrin_ and _La Maison Nucingen_; with _Cesar Birotteau_ (_Balzac on Bankruptcy_, as it has been profanely called) and the celebrated _Histoire des Treize_.

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