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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Musidora and Arabelle are even more faulty in this respect


and the _Kater Murr_--not the least pleasing features on the right side of the half-glorious, half-ghastly contrast between the Germany of a hundred years ago and the Germany of to-day. But "Onuphrius" is Hoffmann Gautierised, German "Franciolated," a _Walpurgisnacht_ softened by Morgane la Fee. "Elias Wildmanstadius," one of the earliest, remains one of the most agreeable, pictures of a fanatic of the mediaeval. The overture and the finale, both pieces in which the great motto "Trinq!" is perhaps a very little abused, nevertheless contain a considerable amount of wisdom, and the last not a little wit.[208] But the central story _Celle-ci et Celle-la_, which fills nearly half the book, is no doubt the article on which one must--as far as this essay-piece is concerned--judge Gautier's tale-telling gifts. It is "improper" in part; indeed, the thing, which is largely dialogic, may be thought to have been a young romantic's challenge to Crebillon. The points of the contest would require a very careful judge to reckon them out. Although Gautier was no democrat, and certainly no misogynist, his lady of quality, Madame de M., is terribly below the Crebillonesque Marquises and Celies in every respect, except the beauty, which we have to take on trust; while, if she is not quite such a fiend as Laclos's heroine, she is also unlike her in being stupid. The hero, Rodolphe, though by no means a cad and possessed of much more heart than M. de Clerval or Clitandre, has neither their manners nor their wit. But Mariette, the _servante-maitresse_, though much less moral, is much more attractive than Pamela; the whole of the story is hit off with a pleasant mixture of humour, narrative faculty, bright phrase,[209] and good nature, of which the first is simply absent in Crebillon and the last rather dubiously present.

We may return very shortly to the later, longer, and, I suppose, more accomplished stories before relinquishing Gautier.

[Sidenote: Return to _Fortunio_.]

I have known very good people who liked _Fortunio_; I care for it less than for any other of its author's tales. The fabulously rich and entirely heartless hero has not merely the extravagance but (which is very rare with Gautier) the vulgarity of Byronism; the opening orgie, by an oversight so strange that it may almost seem to be no oversight at all, reminds one only too forcibly of the ironic treatment accorded to that institution in _Les Jeune-France_, and suffers from the reminder; the blending of East and West and the _Arabian Night_ harems in Paris, "unbeknown" to everybody,[210] almost attain that _plusquam_-Aristotelian state of reprobation, the impossible which is also improbable; and the courtesan heroines--at least two of them, Musidora and Arabelle--are even more faulty in this respect. No doubt

[Greek: pollai morphai ton ouranion],

and the forms of the Pandemic as well as of the Uranian Aphrodite are numerous likewise. But among them one finds no probability or possibility of Gautier's Musidora of eighteen, who might be a young duchess gone to the bad. Neither is the end of the girl, suicide, in consequence of the disappearance of her lover, though quite possible and even probable, at all suitable to Gautier's own fashion of thinking and writing. Merimee could have done it perfectly well. Of almost no others of the delectable contents of the two volumes of _Nouvelles_ and of _Romans et Contes_ has one to speak in this fashion, while some of them come very nearly up to their companion _La Morte Amoureuse_ itself.


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