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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Sidenote and on Un Hiver a Majorque


[176]

Details of personal scandal seldom claim notice here. But it may be urged with some show of reason that _this_ scandal is too closely connected with the substance and the spirit of the novelist's whole work, from _Indiana_ to _Flamarande_, to permit total ignoring of it. _Lucrezia Floriani_, though perhaps more suggestive of Chopin than of Musset, but with "tangency" on both, will be discussed in the text. That most self-accusing of excuses, _Elle et Lui_, with its counterblast Paul de Musset's _Lui et Elle_, and a few remarks on _Un Hiver a Majorque_ (conjoined for a purpose, which will be indicated) may be despatched in a note of some length.

[Sidenote: Note on _Elle et Lui_, etc.,]

The rival novel-_plaidoyers_ on the subject of the loves and strifes of George Sand and Alfred de Musset are sufficiently disgusting, and if they be considered as novels, the evil effect of purpose--and particularly of personal purpose--receives from them texts for a whole series of sermons. Reading them with the experience of a lifetime, not merely in literary criticism, but (for large parts of that lifetime) in study of evidence on historical, political, and even directly legal matters, I cannot help coming to the conclusion that, though there is no doubt a certain amount of _suggestio falsi_ in both, the _suppressio veri_ is infinitely greater in _Elle et Lui_. If the letters given in Paul de Musset's book were not written by

George Sand they were written by Diabolus. And there is one retort made towards the finale by "Edouard de Falconey" (Musset) to "William Caze" (George Sand) which stigmatises like the lash of a whip, if not even like a hot iron, the whole face of the lady's novels.

"Ma chere," lui dit-il, "vous parlez si souvent de chastete que cela devient indecent. Votre amitie n'est pas plus 'sainte' que celle des autres." [If he had added "maternite" the stigma would have been completer still.] And there is also a startling verisimilitude in the reply assigned to her:

"Mon cher, trouvez bon que je console mes amis selon ma methode. Vous voyez qu'elle leur plait assez, puisqu'ils y reviennent."

It was true: they did so, rather to their own discredit and wholly to their discomfort. But she and her "method" must have pleased them enough for them to do it. It is not so pleasing a method for an outsider to contemplate. He sees too much of the game, and has none of the pleasure of playing or the occasional winnings. Since I read Helisenne de Crenne (_v. sup._ Vol. I, pp. 150-1) there has seemed to me to be some likeness between the earlier stage of her heroine (if not of herself) and that of George Sand in her "friendships." They both display a good deal of mere sensuality, and both seem to me to have been quite ignorant of passion. Helisenne did not reach the stage of "maternal" affection, and perhaps it was well for her lover and not entirely bad for her readers. But the best face that can be put on the "method" will be seen in _Lucrezia Floriani_.

[Sidenote: and on _Un Hiver a Majorque_.]

The bluntness of taste and the intense concentration on self, which were shown most disagreeably in _Elle et Lui_, appear on a different side in another book which is not a novel at all--not even a novel as far as masque and domino are concerned,--though indirectly it touches another of George Sand's curious personal experiences--that with Chopin. _Un Hiver a Majorque_ is perhaps the most ill-tempered book of travel, except Smollett's too famous production, ever written by a novelist of talent or genius. The Majorcans certainly did not ask George Sand to visit them. They did not advertise the advantages of Majorca, as is the fashion with "health resorts" nowadays. She went there of her own accord; she found magnificent scenery; she flouted the sentiments of what she herself describes as the most priest-ridden country in Europe by never going to church, though and while she actually lived in a disestablished and disendowed monastery. To punish them for which (the _non sequitur_ is intentional) she does little but talk of dirt, discomfort, bad food, extortion, foul-smelling oil and garlic, varying the talk only to foul-smelling oil and garlic, extortion, bad food, discomfort, or dirt. The book no doubt yields some of her finest passages of descriptive prose, both as regards landscape, and in the famous record of Chopin's playing; but otherwise it is hardly worth reading.


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