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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Sidenote Le Marquis de Villemer


For

the book becomes very dull after his supposed death (he _does_ die, but not at once), and only revives when, some way into the second volume, an elaborate attempt to revenge him is made by his servant, Sanche, _ame damnee_ and also _damnante_ (if one may coin this variant), who is, as it turns out, his irregular father. This again rather stagy character organises a formidable body of wandering _reitres_, gipsies, and miscellaneous ruffians to attack and sack the marquis's house--a plan which, though ultimately foiled, brings about a very refreshing series of hurly-burlys and hullabaloos for some hundred and fifty pages. The narrative is full of improbable impossibilities, and contrasts singularly with the fashion in which Dumas, throughout all his great books (and not a few of his not so great ones), manages to _escamoter_ the difficulty. The boy Mario,[193] orphan of the murdered brother, left unknown for many years, recognised by his uncle, avenger of his father on Sanche, as Bois-Dore himself had been on Alvimar, is altogether too clever and effective for his age; and the conduct of Bellinde, Bois-Dore's cashiered _gouvernante_, is almost preposterous throughout. But it is what a schoolboy of the old days would have called a "jolly good scrimmage," and restores the interest of the book for most of the second volume. The end--scarcely, one would think, very interesting to any one--is quite spoilt for some by another example of George Sand's inveterate passion for "maternal"
love-making and matches where the lady is nearly double the age of her husband. Others--or the same--may not be propitiated for this by the "horrors"[194] which the author has liberally thrown in. But the larger part of the book, like the larger part of _Consuelo_, is quite good stuff.

[Sidenote: _Le Marquis de Villemer._]

It is, indeed, a really lively book. Two duller ones than the first two allotted, at the beginning of this notice, to her last period I have seldom read. They are both instances (and one at least contains an elaborate vindication) of the "novel of purpose," and they are by themselves almost enough to damn it. M. le Marquis de Villemer is an appalling prig--virtuous, in the Devil-and-his-grandmother style, to the _n_th--who devotes his energies to writing a _History of the Patriciate since the Christian Era_, the object being to reveal the sins of aristocracy. He has a rather nice half-brother spend-thrift, Duque d'Aleria (Madame de Villemer the elder has first married a Spaniard), whose debts he virtuously pays, and after a great deal of scandal he marries a poor but noble and noble-minded damsel, Caroline de Saint-Geneix, who has taken the position of companion to his mother in order to help her widowed and four-childed sister. For the virtue of George Sand's virtuous people _is_ virtue and no mistake. The lively and amiable duke is fortunately fitted with a lively and amiable duchess, and they show a little light in the darkness of copy-book morality and republican principles.

[Sidenote: _Mlle. La Quintinie._]

This kindly light is altogether wanting in _Mademoiselle La Quintinie_, where the purpose passes from politics to religion. The book is rather famous, and was, at the time, much read, because it is not merely a novel of purpose, but an instance of the duello fought, not with sword or pistol, not with quarter-staves or sand-bags, but with _feuilletons_ of fiction. It, and Octave Feuillet's _Sibylle_, to which it is the countercheck-quarrelsome, both appeared in the _Revue des Deux Mondes_. It should be seen at a further stage of this volume that I do not think _Sibylle_ a masterpiece, either of tale-telling or of argumentation, though it is more on my side than the reply is. But Feuillet, though not a genius, as some people would have George Sand to be, nor yet possessing anything like the talent which no sane criticism can deny her, was a much better craftsman in the art of novel-writing.


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