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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Sidenote Les Deux Maitresses


[Sidenote:

_Les Deux Maitresses, Le Fils du Titien_, etc.]

So, again, the first story,[235] _Les Deux Maitresses_, with its inspiring challenge-overture, "Croyez-vous, madame, qu'il soit possible d'etre amoureux de deux personnes a la fois?" is in parts interesting. But one reader at least cannot help being haunted as he reads by the notion how much better Merimee would have told it. _Le Fils du Titien_--the story of the great master's lazy son, on whom even love and entire self-sacrifice--lifelong too--on the part of a great lady, cannot prevail to do more in his father's craft than one exquisite picture of herself, inscribed with a sonnet renouncing the pencil thenceforth--is the best told story in the book. But Gautier would certainly have done it even better. _Margot_, in the same fatal way and, I fear, in the same degree, suggests the country tales of Musset's own faithless love.

[Sidenote: _Emmeline._]

But the most crucial example of the "something wrong" which pursues Musset in pure prose narrative is _Emmeline_. It is quite free from those unlucky, and possibly unfair, comparisons with contemporaries which have been affixed to its companions. A maniac of parallels might indeed call it something of a modernised _Princesse de Cleves_; but this would be quite idle. The resemblance is simply in situation; that is to say, in the _publica materies_ which every artist has a right to

make his own by private treatment. Emmeline Duval is a girl of great wealth and rather eccentric character, who chooses to marry (he has saved her life, or at any rate saved her from possible death and certain damage) a person of rank but no means, M. de Marsan. There is real love between the two, and it continues on his side altogether unimpaired, on hers untroubled, for years. A conventional lady-killer tries her virtue, but is sent about his business. But then there turns up one Gilbert, to whom she yields--exactly how far is not clearly indicated. M. de Marsan finds it out and takes an unusual line. He will not make any scandal, and will not even call the lover out. He will simply separate and leave her whole fortune to his wife. She throws her marriage contract into the fire (one does not presume to enquire how far this would be effective), dismisses Gilbert through the medium of her sister, and--we don't know what happened afterwards.

Now the absence of _finale_ may bribe critics of the present day; for my part, as I have ventured to say more than once before, it seems that if you accept this principle you had much better carry it through, have no middle or beginning, and even no title, but issue, in as many copies as you please, a nice quire or ream of blank paper with your name on it. The purchasers could cut the name out, and use it for original composition in a hundred forms, from washing bills to tragedies.

But I take what Musset has given me, and, having an intense admiration for the author of _A Saint Blaise_ and _L'Andalouse_ and the _Chanson de Fortunio_, a lively gratitude to the author of _Il ne faut jurer de rien_ and _Il faut qu'une porte soit ouverte ou fermee_, call _Emmeline_ a very badly told and uninteresting story. The almost over-elaborate description of the heroine at the beginning does not fit in with her subsequent conduct; Gilbert is a nonentity; the husband, though noble in conduct, is pale in character, and the sister had much better have been left out.[236] So the rest may be silence.


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