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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Like La Perichole in Le Carrosse


[Sidenote:

The semi-dramatic stories. _La Jacquerie._]

The other considerable and early attempt in historical romance, _La Jacquerie_, is not in pure novel form, but it may fitly introduce some notice of its actual method, in which Merimee frequently, Gautier more than once, and a third eminent man of letters to be noticed presently most of all, distinguished themselves. This was what, in Old French, would have been called the story _par personnages_--the manner in which the whole matter is conveyed, not by _recit_, not by the usual form of mixed narrative and conversation, but by dramatic or semi-dramatic dialogue only, with action and stage direction, but no connecting language of the author to the reader. The early French mysteries and miracles--still more the farces--were not altogether unlike this; we saw that some of the curious intermediate work of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries took it, and that both of Crebillon's most felicitous, if not most edifying exercises are in dialogue form. The admiration of the French Romantics for the "accidented" and "matterful" English, Spanish, and German drama naturally encouraged experiment in this kind. Gautier has not very much of it, though there is some in _Les Jeune-France_, and his charming ballets might be counted in. But Merimee was particularly addicted thereto. _La Jacquerie_ is injured to some tastes by excessive indulgence in the grime and horror which the subject no doubt invited.

We do not all rejoice in the notion of a Good Friday service, "extra-illustrated" by a real crucifixion alive of a generous Jacques who has surrendered himself; or in violence offered (it is true, with the object of securing marriage) to a French heiress by an English captain of Free Companions. Even some of those who may not dislike these touches of _haut gout_, may, from the coolest point of view of strict criticism, say that the composition is too _decousu_, and that, as in the _Chronique_, there is little actual interest of story. But the phantasmagoria of gloom and blood and fire is powerfully presented. The earlier _Theatre de Clara Gazul_,[234] one of the boldest and most successful of all literary mystifications, belongs more or less to the same class, which Merimee never entirely deserted.

[Sidenote: _Le Carrosse du Saint-Sacrement_, etc.]

The best of all these is, to my thinking, undoubtedly the _Carrosse du Saint-Sacrement_. It is also, I believe, the only one that ever was tried on the actual stage--it is said without success--though surely this cannot have been the form that it took in _La Perichole_, not the least amusing of those levities of Offenbach's which did so disgust the Pharisees of academic music and so arride the guileless public. _Le Carrosse_ itself is a charming thing--very, very merry and by no means unwise--without a drop of bad blood in it, and, if no better than, very nearly as good as it should be from the moral point of view. _La Famille Carvajal_ has the same fault of gruesomeness as _La Jacquerie_, with less variety, and _Une Femme est un Diable_, a fresh handling of something like the theme of _Le Diable Amoureux_ and _The Monk_, if better than Lewis, is not so good as Cazotte. But _L'Occasion_ is almost great, and I think _Le Ciel et l'Enfer_ absolutely deserves that too much lavished ticket. Indeed Dona Urraca in this, like La Perichole in _Le Carrosse_, seems to me to put Merimee among the greatest masters of feminine character in the nineteenth century, and far above some others who have been held to have reached that perilous position.


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