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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

As well as the whole part of Jose Navarro


as has been said, the book might have been made still better by being cut down a little; not, indeed, to the dimensions of a very short story, but to something like those of _Fortunio_ or of _Jettatura_. For undoubtedly, while Gautier had an all but unsurpassed command of the short story proper, a really long one was apt to develop some things in him which, if they were not essentially faults, were not likely to improve a full-sized novel. He would too much abound in description; the want of _evolution_ of character--his character is not bad in itself, but it is, to use modern slang, rather static than dynamic--naturally shows itself more; and readers who want an elaborate plot look for it longer and are more angry at not being fed. But for the short, shorter, and shortest kind--the story which may run from ten to a hundred pages with no meticulous limitations on either side--it seems to me that in the French nineteenth century there are only three other persons who can be in any way classed with him. One of these, his early contemporary, Charles de Bernard, and another, who only became known after his death, Guy de Maupassant, are to be treated in other chapters here. Moreover, Bernard was slighter, though not so slight as he has sometimes been thought; and Maupassant, though very far from slight, had a _lesion_ (as his own school would say) which interfered with universality. The third competitor, not yet named, who was Gautier's almost exact contemporary, though he began a
very little earlier and left off a little earlier too, carried metal infinitely heavier than the pleasant author of _Le Paratonnerre_, and though not free from partly disabling prejudices, had more balance[219] than Maupassant. He had more head and less heart, more prose logic and less poetical fancy, more actuality and less dream than "Theo." But I at least can find no critical abacus on which, by totting up the values of both, I can make one greatly outvalue the other. And to the understanding I must have already spoken the name of Prosper Merimee.[220]

* * * * *

[Sidenote: Merimee.]

All the world knows _Carmen_, though it may be feared that the knowledge has been conveyed to more people by the mixed and inferior medium of the stage and music than by the pure literature of the original tale. Yet it may be generously granted that the lower introduction may have induced some to go on, or back, to the higher. Of the unfaulty faultlessness of that original there has never been any denial worth listening to; the gainsayers having been persons who succumbed either to non-literary prejudice[221] of one kind or another or to the peculiarly childish habit of going against established opinion. For combined interest of matter and perfection of form I should put it among the dozen best short stories of the world so far as I am acquainted with them. The appendix about the gipsies is indeed a superfluity, induced, it would seem, partly by Merimee's wish to have a gibe at Borrow for being a missionary, and partly by a touch of inspectorial-professorial[222] habit in him which is frequently apparent and decidedly curious. But it is an appendix of the most appendicious, and can be cut away without the slightest Manx-cat effect. From the story itself not a word could be abstracted without loss nor one added to it without danger. The way in which the narrator--it is impossible to tell the number of the authors who have wrecked themselves over the narrator when he has to take part in the action--and the guide are put and kept in their places, as well as the whole part of Jose Navarro, are _impayables_. If the Hispanolatry of French Romanticism had nothing but Gastibelza and L'Andalouse in verse and Jose Navarro in prose to show, it would stand justified and crowned among all the literary manias in history.

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