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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Where Tweed can only manage one

Sculpte, lime, cisele!

is sound. You cannot reach the first class in any art by turning a tap and letting it run.

[Sidenote: Conversation and description.]

The one point of what we may call the "furniture" of novels, in which she seems to me to have, occasionally at least, touched supremacy, is conversation. It has been observed by those capable of making the induction that, close as drama and novel are in some ways, the distinction between dramatic and non-dramatic talk is, though narrow, deeper than the very deepest Alpine crevasse from Dauphine to Carinthia. Such specimens as those already more than once dwelt on--Consuelo's and Anzoleto's debate about her looks, and that of Germain and Marie in the midnight wood by the Devil's Mere--are first-rate, and there is no more to say. Some of her descriptions, again, such as the opening of the book last quoted (the wide, treeless, communal plain with its various labouring teams), or as some of the Lake touches in _Lucrezia Floriani_, or as the relieving patches in the otherwise monotonous grumble of _Un Hiver a Majorque_, are unsurpassable. Nor is this gift limited to mere _paysage_. The famous account of Chopin's playing already mentioned for praise is only first among many. But whether these things are supported by sufficient strength of character, plot, incident, "thought," and the rest; whether that strange narrative power,

so hard to define and so impossible to mistake or to fail to distinguish from these other elements, is present--these are great questions and not easy to answer. I am, as will have been seen throughout, rather inclined to answer them in the unfavourable way.

In fact--impertinent, insolent, anything else as it may seem--I venture to ask the question, "Was George Sand a very great craftswoman in the novel?" and, what is more, to answer it in the negative. I understand that an ingenious critic of her own sex has recently described her method as "rolling through the book, locked in the embraces of her subject," as distinguished from the aloofness and elaboration of a more recent school. So far, perhaps, so good; but I could wish to find "the intricacies of Diego and Julia" more interesting to me than as a rule they are. And it must be remembered that she is constantly detaching herself from the forlorn "subject," leaving it _un_embraced and shivering, in order to sermonise it and her readers. I do not make the very facile and somewhat futile criticism that she would have written better if she had written half or a quarter as much as she did. She could not have written little; it is as natural and suitable for Tweed to "rin wi' speed" as for Till to "rin slaw," though perhaps the result--parallel to but more cheerful than that recorded in the old rhyme--may be that Till has the power not of drowning but of intoxicating two men, where Tweed can only manage one. But this engrained fecundity and facundity of hers inevitably make her work novel-journalism rather than novel-literature in all points but in that of style, which has been discussed already.[197]


[174] It is attested by the well-known story, more excusable in a man than creditable to a gentleman, of her earliest or earliest known lover, Jules Sandeau (_v. inf._), seeing a photograph of her in later days, turning to a companion and saying, "Et je l'ai connue _belle_!"

[175] It is possible that some readers may not know the delightfully unexpected, and not improbably "more-expressive-than-volumes" _third_ line--

"Not like the woman who lies under the next stone."

But tradition has, I believe, mercifully omitted to identify this neighbouring antipode.

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