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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

The whole thing is topsy turvy


gale by help of all sorts of

jury-masts and extemporised try-sails of other new conventions that are mostly blowing out of the bolt-ropes. We said that Crebillon's world was an artificial one, and one of not very respectable artifice. But it worked after a fashion; it was founded on some real, however unrespectable, facts of humanity; and it was at least amusing to the naughty players on its stage to begin with, and long afterwards to the guiltless spectators of the commonty. In _Delphine_ there is not a glimmer of amusement from first to last, and the whole story is compact (if that word were not totally inapplicable) of windbags of sentiment, copy-book headings, and the strangest husks of neo-classic type-worship, stock character, and hollow generalisation. An Italian is necessarily a person of volcanic passions; an Englishman or an American (at this time the identification was particularly unlucky) has, of equal necessity, a grave and reserved physiognomy. Orthodox religion is a mistake, but a kind of moral-philosophical Deism (something of the Wolmar type) is highly extolled. You must be technically "virtuous" yourself, even if you bring a whole second volume of tedious tortures on you by being so; but you may play Lady Pandara to a friend who is a devout adulteress, may force yourself into her husband's carriage when he is carrying her off from one assignation, and may bring about his death by contriving another in your own house. In fact, the whole thing is topsy-turvy, without the slightest touch of
that animation and interested curiosity which topsy-turviness sometimes contributes. But perhaps one should give a more regular account of it.

[Sidenote: The story.]

Delphine d'Albemar is a young, beautiful, rich, clever, generous, and, in the special and fashionable sense, extravagantly "sensible" widow, who opens the story (it is in the troublesome epistolary form) by handing over about a third of her fortune to render possible the marriage of a cousin of her deceased husband. This cousin, Matilde de Vernon, is also beautiful and accomplished, but a _devote_, altogether well-regulated and well-conducted, and (though it turns out that she has strong and permanent affections) the reverse of "sensible"--in fact rather hard and disagreeable--in manner. She has a scheming mother, who has run herself deeply, though privately, into debt, and the intended husband and son-in-law, Leonce de Mandeville, also has a mother, who is half Spanish by blood and residence, and wholly so (according to the type-theory above glanced at) in family pride, personal _morgue_, and so forth. A good deal of this has descended to her son, with whom, in spite or because of it, Delphine (she has not seen him before her rash generosity) proceeds to fall frantically in love, as he does with her. The marriage, however, partly by trickery on Madame de Vernon's part, and partly owing to Delphine's more than indiscreet furthering of her friend Madame d'Ervin's intrigue with the Italian M. de Serbellane, does take place, and Mme. de Stael's idea of a nice heroine makes her station Delphine in a white veil, behind a pillar of the church, muttering reproaches at the bridegroom. No open family rupture, however, is caused; on the contrary, a remarkable and inevitably disastrous "triple arrangement" follows (as mentioned above), for an entire volume, in which the widow and the bridegroom make despairing love to each other, refraining, however, from any impropriety, and the wife, though suffering (for she, in her apparently frigid way, really loves her husband), tolerates the proceeding after a fashion. This impossible


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