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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Delphine behaves throughout like a child


and preposterous situation is

at last broken up by the passion and violence of another admirer of Delphine--a certain M. de Valorbe. These bring about duels, wounds, and Delphine's flight to Switzerland, where she puts up in a convent with a most superfluous and in every way unrefreshing new personage, a widowed sister of Madame de Mandeville. Valorbe follows, and, to get hold of Delphine, machinates one of the most absurd scenes in the whole realm of fiction. He lures her into Austrian territory and a chamber with himself alone, locks the door and throws the key out of the window,[10] storms, rants, threatens, but proceeds to no _voie de fait_, and merely gets himself and the object of his desires arrested by the Austrians! He thus succeeds, while procuring no gratification for himself, in entirely demolishing the last shred of reputation which, virtuous as she is in her own way, Delphine's various eccentricities and escapades have left her; and she takes the veil. In the first form the authoress crowned this mass of absurdities with the suicide of the heroine and the judicial shooting of the hero. Somebody remonstrated, and she made Delphine throw off her vows, engage herself to Leonce (whose unhappy wife has died from too much carrying out of the duty of a mother to her child), and go with him to his estates in La Vendee, where he is to take up arms for the king. Unfortunately, the Vendeans by no means "see" their _seigneur_ marrying an apostate nun, and strong language is used. So Delphine dies, not actually
by her own hand, and Leonce gets shot, more honourably than he deserves, on the patriot-royalist side.

Among the minor characters not yet referred to are an old-maid sister-in-law of Delphine's, who, though tolerably sensible in the better sense, plays the part of confidante to her brother's _mijauree_ of a widow much too indulgently; a M. Barton, Leonce's mentor, who, despite his English-looking name, is not (one is glad to find) English, but is, to one's sorrow, one of the detestable "parsons-in-tie-wigs" whom French Anglomania at this time foisted on us as characteristic of England; a sort of double of his, M. de Lerensei, a Protestant free-thinker, who, with his _divorcee_ wife, puts up grass altars in their garden with inscriptions recording the happiness of their queer union; an ill-natured Mme. du Marset and her old cicisbeo, M. de Fierville, who suggest, in the dismallest way, the weakest wine of Marmontel gone stale and filtered through the dullest, though not the dirtiest, part of Laclos.

Yet the thing, "dismal trash" as Sydney almost justly called it, is perhaps worth reading once (nothing but the sternest voice of duty could have made me read it twice) because of the existence of _Corinne_, and because also of the undoubted fact that, here as there, though much more surprisingly, a woman of unusual ability was drawing a picture of what she would have liked to be--if not of what she actually thought herself.[11] The borrowed beauty goes for nothing--it were indeed hard if one did not, in the case of a woman of letters, "let her make her dream All that she would," like Tennyson's Prince, but in this other respect. The generosity, less actually exaggerated, might also pass. That Delphine makes a frantic fool of herself for a lover whose attractions can only make male readers shrug their shoulders--for though we are _told_ that Leonce is clever, brave, charming, and what not, we see nothing of it in speech or action--may be matter of taste; but that her heroine's part should seem to any woman one worth playing is indeed wonderful. Delphine behaves throughout like a child, and by no means always like a very well-brought-up child; she never seems to have the very slightest idea that "things are as they are and that their consequences will be what they will be"; and though, once more, we are _told_ of passion carrying all before it, we are never _shown_ it. It is all "words, words." To speak of her love in the same breath with Julie's is to break off the speech in laughter; to consider her woes and remember Clarissa's is to be ready to read another seven or eight volumes of Richardson in lieu of these three of Madame de Stael's.


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