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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

La Daniella is a rather long book and a rather dull one


[Sidenote:

Others--_Mauprat_.]

We may make a further _glissade_ (to return to some remarks made above), though of a different kind, over a few of the very large number of novels that we cannot discuss in detail. But _Mauprat_ adds just a little support to the remarks there made. For this (which is a sort of crime-and-detection novel, and therefore appeals to some readers more than to the present historian) turns wholly on the atrocious deeds of a seignorial family of the most melodramatic kind. Yet it is questionable whether the wickedest of them ever did anything worse than the action of their last and renegade member, who actually, when he comes into the property, ruins his ancestral castle because naughty things have been done there. Now, when Milton said, "As well kill a man as kill a good book," though it was no doubt an intentional hyperbole, there was much sound sense in what he said. Still, except in the case of such a book as has been produced only a few times in the world's history, it may be urged that probably something as good might be written by somebody else among the numerous men that were not killed. But, on the same principle, one would be justified in saying, "Better kill a hundred men than ruin a castle with hundreds of years of memories, bad or good." You can never replace _it_, while the hundred men will, at the very moment they are killed, be replaced, just as good on the average, by the ordinary operations of nature. Besides, by

partially ruining the castle, you give an opening to the sin of the restorer, for which there is, we know, _no_ pardon, here or hereafter.[190]

[Sidenote: _La Daniella._]

_La Daniella_ is a rather long book and a rather dull one. There is a good deal of talkee-talkee of the _Corinne_ kind in it: the heroine is an angelic Italian soubrette; the hero is one of the coxcombish heroes of French novels, who seem to have set themselves to confirm the most unjust ideas of their nation entertained in foreign climes; there is a "Miss Medora," who, as the hero informs us, "plays the coquette clumsily, as English girls generally do," etc. _Passons outre_, without inquiring how much George Sand knew about English girls.

[Sidenote: _Les Beaux Messieurs de Bois-Dore._]

One of the best of her books to read, though it has neither the human interest of _Lucrezia Floriani_, nor the prettiness of the Idylls, nor the style-colour of some other books, is _Les Beaux Messieurs de Bois-Dore_. It is all the more agreeable that we may even "begin with a little aversion." It suggests itself as a sort of interloper in the great business of Dumas and Co.: it opens, indeed, only a few years before D'Artagnan rode up to the inn on the buttercup-coloured pony. And, in manner, it may look at first as if the writer were following another but much inferior example--our own G. P. R. James; for there are "two cavaliers," and one tells the other a tale fit to make him fall asleep and off his saddle. But it improves remarkably, and before you have read a hundred pages you are very fairly "enfisted." The figure of the old Marquis de Bois-Dore--an aged dandy with divers absurdities about him,[191] but a gentleman to his by no means yet stiffened or stooping backbone; a heart of gold, and a wrist with a good core of steel left in it--might easily have been a failure. It is a success. His first guest and then adversary, the wicked Spaniard, Sciarra d'Alvimar or de Villareal, whom the old marquis runs through the body in a moonlight duel for very sufficient reason,[192] may not be thought quite equally successful. Scoundrel as he is, George Sand has unwisely thrown over him a touch of _guignon_--of shadowing and resistless fate--which creates a certain sympathy; and she neglects the good old rule that your villain should always be allowed a certain run for his money--a temporary exercise of his villainy. Alvimar, though he does not feel the marquis's rapier till nearly the end of the first half, as it were, of the book, is "marked down" from the start, and never kills anything within those limits except a poor little tame wolf-cub which is going (very sensibly) to fly at him. He is altogether too much in appearance and too little in effectuality of the stage Spaniard--black garments, black upturned moustache, hook-nose, _navaja_, and all the rest of it. But he does not spoil the thing, though he hardly does it much good; and if he is badly treated he has his revenge on the author.


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