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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Il se moque de ses emotions a l'instant meme ou il s'y livre


It

is of course necessary to remember that it is expressly subtitled "Romans Goguenards," thereby preparing the reader for the reverse of seriousness. That reverse, especially in young hands, is a difficult thing to manage. "Guffaw" and "yawn" are two words which have actually two letters in common; _y_ and _g_ are notoriously interchangeable in some dialects and circumstances, while _n_ and _u_ are the despair of the copyist or the student of copies. There remain only "ff"--the lightest of literals. We need not cite _nominatim_ (indeed it might be rash) the endless examples in French and English where the guffaw of the writer excites the yawn of the reader. But this is hardly ever the case, at least as I find it, with Gautier.

The _Preface_, in which the author presents himself in his unregenerate and un-"young-France" condition, is really a triumph; I wish I could give the whole of it here. And what is more, it is a sort of epitome by anticipation of the entire Gautier, though without, of course, the mastery of artistry he attained in years of laborious prose and verse. For that quality of humour which his younger friend Taine was to define happily, though by no means to his own comfort or approval, in the phrase devoted to one of our English masters of it, "Il se moque de ses emotions a l'instant meme ou il s'y livre," you must go to Fielding or to Thackeray to beat it.

He (the supposed author) _was_ the most

ordinary and insignificant creature in the world. He had never either killed a policeman nor committed suicide; he possessed neither pipe, nor dagger, _ni quoi que ce soit qui ait du caractere_. He _did_ like cats (which taste fortunately remained with Gautier himself throughout his life), and his reflections on politics had arrived at a final result of zero (another abiding feature, by the way, with "Theo"). He never could learn to play at cards. He thought artists were merely mountebanks, etc., etc. But some kind friends took him in hand and made him an accomplished Jeune-France. He took to himself a very long _nom de guerre_, a very short moustache, a middle parting to his hair (the history of the middle parting would be worth writing), and a "delirious" waistcoat. He learnt to smoke, and to get "Byronically" drunk. He bought an Italian stiletto (by great luck he had a sallow complexion naturally); a silk rope-ladder ("which is of the first importance"); several reams of paper for love-letters, and a supply of rose-coloured and avanturine wax.[206] He is going to be, if he is not as yet, "fatal," "vague," "fallen-angelical," "volcanic." There is only one desirable quality which unkind fate has put beyond his reach. He is not, and cannot make himself, an illegitimate child! Now, I am sorry for any one who, having read this, cannot lean back in his chair and follow it up for himself by a series of fancy pictures of Jeunes-something from 1830 to 1918.[207]

Of the actual stories "Daniel Jovard" takes up the cue of the _Preface_ directly, and describes the genesis of a _romantique a tous crins_. "Onuphrius" honestly sub-titles itself "Les Vexations Fantastiques d'un admirateur d'Hoffmann," and has, I think, sometimes been dismissed as a Hoffmannesque _pastiche_. Far be it from me to hint the slightest denigration of the author of the _Phantasiestuecke_ and the _Nachtstuecke_, of the _Serapion's-Brueder_


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