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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Even if Balzac did once wish it


[159]

This is about the best of the batch, and I agree with those who think that it would not have disfigured the _Comedie_. Indeed the exclusion of these _juvenilia_ from the _Edition Definitive_ was a critical blunder. Even if Balzac did once wish it, the "dead hand" is not to be too implicitly given way to, and he was so constantly changing his views that he probably would have altered this also had he lived.

[160] A certain kind of commentator would probably argue from Mr. Browning's well-known words "_fifty_ volumes long" that he _had_, and another that he had _not_ read the _Oeuvres de Jeunesse_.

[161] He would not have liked the name "patriot" because of its corruption, but he was one.

[162] Not a few things, some of them very good, came between--the pleasant _Maison du Chat-qui-Pelote_, several of the wonderful short stories, and the beginning of the _Contes Drolatiques_. But none of them had the "importance"--in the artistic sense of combined merit and scale--of the _Peau_.

[163] I mean, of course, as far as books go. We have positive testimony that there was a live Becky, and I would I had known her!

[164] Originally and perhaps preferably called _La Rabouilleuse_ from the early occupation of its heroine, Flore Brazier, one of Balzac's most notable figures.

[165] It

is one of the strangest instances of the limitations of some of the best critics that M. Brunetiere declined even to speak of this great book.

[166] The immense influence of Maturin in France, and especially on Balzac, is an old story now, though it was not always so.

[167] It is possible that some readers may miss a more extended survey, or at least sample, of these characters. But the plea made above as to abstract of the stories is valid here. There is simply not room to do justice to say, Lucien de Rubempre, who pervades a whole block of novels and stories, or to others from Rastignac to Corentin.

[168] It has sometimes occurred to me that perhaps the skin _was_ that of Job's onager.

[169] He does try a sort of pseudo-poetical style sometimes; but it is seldom successful, and sometimes mere "fine-writing" of no very fine kind. The close of _Peau de Chagrin_ and _Seraphita_ contain about the best passages.

[170] The two next paragraphs are, by the kind permission of the Editor and Publisher of the _Quarterly Review_, reprinted, with some slight alterations, from the article above referred to.

[171] I have known this denied by persons of authority, who would exalt the gift of conversation even above the pure narrative faculty. I should admit the latter was commoner, but hardly that it was inferior.

[172] I believe I may speak without rashness thus, for a copy of the sixteen-volume (was it not?) edition was a cherished possession of mine for years, and I even translated a certain amount for my own amusement--especially _Die unsichtbare Loge_.

[173] I have said nothing here on a point of considerable interest to myself--the question whether Balzac can be said ever (or at least often) to have drawn a gentleman or a lady. It would require too much "justification" by analysis of particular characters. And this would pass into a more general enquiry whether these two species exist in the Balzacium Sidus itself. Which things open long vistas. (_V. inf._ on Charles de Bernard.)


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