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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

This annoyed Trenmor very much

[Sidenote: _Lelia._]

_Lelia_, some years younger than these and later than the Musset tragedy, is a good deal better, or at least less childish. It is beyond all question an extraordinary book, though it may be well to keep the hyphen in the adjective to prevent confusion of sense. It opens, and to a large extent continues, with a twist of the old epistolary style which, if nothing else, is ingeniously novel. George Sand was in truth a "well of ingenuity" as D'Artagnan was a _puits de sagesse_, and this accounts, to some extent, for her popularity. You have not only no dates and no places, but no indication who writes the letters or to whom they are written, though, unless you are very stupid, you soon find out. The _personae_ are Lelia--a _femme incomprise_, if not incomprehensible; Stenio, a young poet, who is, in the profoundest and saddest sense of the adverb, hopelessly in love with her; and a mysterious personage--a sort of Solomon-Socrates-Senancour--who bears the Ossianesque name of Trenmor, with a later and less provincially poetical _alias_ of "Valmarina."[180] The history of the _preuves_ of Trenmor's novel-nobility are soon laid before the reader. They are not, in their earlier stages, engaging to the old-fashioned believer in "good form."

Trenmor is the sort of exaggeration of Childe Harold which a lively but rather vulgar mind might conceive. "He was born great; but they developed the animal in him." The greatness postponed its appearance, but the animality did credit to the development. "He used to love to beat his dogs; before long he beat his prostitutes." This harmless diversion accentuated itself in details, for which, till the acme, the reader must be referred to the original. The climacteric moment came. He had a mistress called "La Mantovana," whom he rather preferred to the others, because she was beautiful and impudent. "In a night of noise and wine" he struck her, and she drew a dagger. This made him love her for a moment; but unfortunately she made an improper observation; thereupon he tore off her pearl necklace and trod it under his feet. She wept. This annoyed Trenmor very much. "She had wished revenge for a personal insult, and she cried for a toy!" Accordingly he had a "crispation of nerves," which obliged him to take a large cut-glass decanter and hit her on the head with it. According to the natural perversity on such occasions of such persons, she died. The brutal justice of mankind--so hateful to Godwin and George Sand and Victor Hugo--sent Trenmor, not, indeed, to the gallows, as it should have done, but to the galleys. Yet the incident made Lelia, who (she must have had a sweet set of friends) somehow knew him, very fond of Trenmor, though she certainly told him that he might as well repent of what he had done, which seems inconsistent.

They let him out after five years (why, Heaven or the other place knows!) and he became a reformed character--the Solomon-Socrates-Senancour above mentioned _plus_ a sort of lay "director" to Lelia, with a carbonaro attitude of political revolutionary and free-thinking _illumine_. Now _corruptio pessimi_ is seldom _optima_.

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