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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Les Beaux Messieurs de Bois Dore


but, I think, misleadingly,

"Romantic," is the period of definite and mainly sexual revolt, illustrated by such novels as _Indiana_, _Valentine_, _Lelia_, and _Jacques_. The second is that of _illumine_ mysticism and semi-political theorising, to which _Spiridion_, _Consuelo_, _La Comtesse de Rudolstadt_, and others belong. The third, one of a certain _apaisement_, when the author had finally settled at her country-house of Nohant in Berry, turns to studies of rural life: _La Petite Fadette_, _Francois le Champi_, _La Mare au Diable_, etc. The last is represented by novels of no one particular, or at least single, scope or bent, _Les Beaux Messieurs de Bois-Dore_, _Le Marquis de Villemer_, _Mademoiselle La Quintinie,_ etc., reaching to _Flamarande_ and its sequel shortly before her death. The thing, as has been hinted already, is one of those first rough sketches of the ground which, if not too closely adhered to, are often useful. As a matter of fact, the divisions often--as one might be sure they would--run cross. There is a lot of occult or semi-occult stuff in _Lelia_, and the "period of appeasement" did not show much reconciliation and forgiveness of injury in _Elle et Lui_, whether we take this as by the injured or as by her who had done the wrong. But if we take the two first novels briefly and _Lelia_ itself more fully for Period I.; _Consuelo_ and its sequel (_Spiridion_ has been "done and done thoroughly"[178] by Thackeray in the _Paris Sketch-book_) for II.; the three above-mentioned _berquinades_
for the Third, with _Lucrezia Floriani_ thrown between as an all-important outsider, and _Les Beaux Messieurs de Bois-Dore_ for IV., giving each some detailed criticism, with a few remarks on others, it ought to suffice as a fairly solid groundwork for a general summing-up.

[Sidenote: _Indiana_.]

To understand the _furore_ with which _Indiana_ and _Valentine_ were received, one must remember the time and the circumstance with even more care than is usually desirable. They were--if not quite so well written as they seemed even to Thackeray--written very well; they expressed the full outburst of the French _Sturm und Drang_ movement; there was nothing like them either in French or in any other literature, though Bulwer was beginning similar things with us. Essentially, and when taken _sub specie aeternitatis_, they are very nearly rubbish. The frail (extremely frail) and gentle Indiana, with her terrible husband, whose crimes against her and nature even reach the abominable pitch of declaring himself ready to shoot expected poachers and possible burglars; her creole maid and foster-sister "Noun," who disguises herself in Indiana's garments and occupies her room, receives there a lover who is afterwards her mistress's, but soon commits suicide; the lover himself, a most appalling "tiger," as his own time would have called him; and the enigmatic English cousin, indifferently designated as "Sir Rodolphe Brown," "Sir Ralph," "Sir Brown," and "M. Brown," with whom Indiana makes a third trial of hitherto "incomprised" and unattained happiness--are all inhabitants of a sort of toy doll's-house partaking of the lunatic-asylum. But the author's three prefaces, written at intervals of exactly ten years, passably inconsistent in detail, but all agreeing in contempt of critics and lofty anarchist sentiment, are great fun, and are almost a reward for reading the book.

[Sidenote: _Valentine._]

_Valentine_ has more of the really admirable description of her beloved Berry with which the author so often honeys her drugs; but the novel-part of it is largely composed of the same sort of violent bosh which almost monopolises _Indiana_. In fact, the peasant-_bourgeois_ hero Benedict, whom every woman loves; who is a conceited and ill-mannered mixture of clown and prig; who is angry with his mistress Valentine (Madame de Lansac) for "not knowing how to prefer him to her honour," though one would have said she had given ample proofs of this preference; and who finally appeases the reader by tumbling on the points of a pitchfork placed in his way by an (as it happens) unduly jealous husband, is a more offensive creature than any one in the earlier book.[179] One is, on the other hand, a little sorry for Valentine, while one is sorry for nobody in _Indiana_ except perhaps for the husband, who has the sense to die early.


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