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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

241 Their titles are La Boheme Galante

[Sidenote: _La Boheme Galante_, _Les Filles du Feu_, and _Le Reve et la Vie_.]

The difficulty of discussing or illustrating, in short space and due proportion, the novel or _roman_ element in such a writer must be sufficiently obvious. His longer travels in Germany and the East are steeped in this element; and the shorter compositions which bear names of novel-character are often "little travels" in his native province, the Isle of France, and that larger _banlieue_ of Paris, towards Picardy and Flanders, which our Seventy Thousand saved, by dying, the other day. But it is impossible--and might even, if possible, be superfluous--to touch the first group. Of the second there are three subdivisions, which, however, are represented with not inconsiderable variation in different issues.[241] Their titles are _La Boheme Galante_, _Les Filles du Feu_, and _Le Reve et la Vie_, the last of which contains only one section, _Aurelia_, never, if I do not mistake, revised by Gerard himself, and only published after his most tragic death. Its _supra_-title really describes the most characteristic part or feature of all the three and of Gerard's whole work.

[Sidenote: Their general character.]

To one who always lived, as Paul de Saint-Victor put it in one of the best of those curious exercises of his mastery over words, "in the fringes[242] of the actual world," this confusion of place and no place, this inextricable blending of fact and dream, imagination and reality, was natural enough; and no one but a Philistine will find fault with the sometimes apparently mechanical and Sternian transitions which form part of its expression. There was, indeed, an inevitable _mixedness_ in that strange nature of his; and he will pass from almost "true Dickens" (he actually admits inspiration from him) in accounts of the Paris _Halles_, or of country towns, to De Quinceyish passages, free from that slight touch of _apparatus_ which is undeniable now and then in the Opium Eater. Here are longish excursions of pure family history; there, patches of criticism in art or drama; once at least an elaborate and--for the time--very well informed as well as enthusiastic sketch of French seventeenth-century poetry. It may annoy the captious to find another kind of confusion, for which one is not sure that Gerard himself was responsible, though it is consistent enough with his peculiarities. Passages are redistributed among different books and pieces in a rather bewildering manner; and you occasionally rub your eyes at coming across--in a very different context, or simply shorn of its old one--something that you have met before. To others this, if not exactly an added charm, will at any rate be admitted to "grace of congruity." It would be less like Gerard if it were otherwise.

[Sidenote: Particular examples.]

In fact it is in these mixed pieces that Gerard's great attraction lies. His regular stories, professedly of a Hoffmannesque kind, such as _La Main Enchantee_ and _Le Monstre Vert_, are good, but not extraordinarily good, and classable with many other things of many other people. I, at least, know nothing quite like _Aurelia_ and _Sylvie_, though the dream-pieces of Landor and De Quincey have a certain likeness, and Nodier's _La Fee aux Miettes_ a closer one.

[Sidenote: _Aurelia._]

_Aurelia_ (which, whether complete in itself or not, was pretty clearly intended to be followed by other things under the general title of _Le Reve et la Vie_) has, as might be expected, more dream than life in it. Or rather it is like one of those actual dreams which themselves mix up life--a dream in the composition. Aurelia is the book-name of a lady, loved (actually, it seems) and in some degree responsible for her lover's aberrations of mind. He thinks he loves another, but finds he does not. The two objects of his passion meet, and the second generously brings about a sort of reconciliation with the first. But he has to go to Paris on business, and there he becomes a mere John-a-Dreams, if not, in a mild way, a mere Tom of Bedlam. The chief drops into reality, indeed, are mentions of his actual visits to _maisons de sante_. But the thing is impossible to abstract or analyse, too long to translate as a whole, and too much woven in one piece to cut up. It must be read as it stands, and any person of tolerable intelligence will know in a page or two whether Gerard is the man for him or not. But when he was writing it he was already over even the fringe of ordinary sane life, and near the close of life itself. In _Sylvie_ he had not drifted so far; and it is perhaps his best diploma-piece.[243]

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