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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Sidenote Jules Sandeau and Charles de Bernard


The

main one is somewhat "tickle of the sere" to handle. It has been said that, despite its alarming title, there is nothing in the book that even prudery, unless it were of the most irritable and morbid kind, could object to. There is no dwelling on what Defoe ingeniously calls "the vicious part" of the matter; there is no description of it closer than, if as close as, some passages of the Book of Proverbs (which are actually quoted), and, above all, there is no hint of any satisfaction whatever being derived from the sins by the sinner. His course in this respect might have been a succession of fits of vertigo or epilepsy as far as pleasure goes. There is even a rather fine piece of real psychology as to his state of mind after his first succumbing to temptation. But all this abstinence and reticence, however laudable in a sense it may be, necessarily deprives the passages of anything but purely psychological interest, and leaves most of them not much of that. Luxury _in vacuo_ may, no doubt, be perilous to the culprit; but it has, for others, nearly as much of the unreal and chimerical as Gluttony confined to "Second intentions."

Yet there is another objection to _Volupte_ which is even more closely "psychological," and which has been indicated in the word "parallelement," suggested by, though largely transposed from, Verlaine's use thereof in a title. There is no connection established--there is even, it may seem, a great gulf fixed between Amaury's

actual "loves" for Amelie de Liniers, for Lucy de Couaen, and even for the more questionable Madame R., and those "sippings of the lower draught" which are so industriously veiled. If Amaury had "disdamaged" himself, for his inability to possess any of his real and superior loves, by lower indulgences, it would have been discreditable but human. But there is certainly no expression--there is, unless I mistake, hardly any suggestion--of anything of the kind. The currents of spiritual and animal passion seem to have run independently of each other, like canals at different heights on the slope of a hill. I do not know that this is less discreditable; but it seems to me infinitely less human. And, while carefully abstaining from any attempt to connect the peculiarity with the above-mentioned scandals about Sainte-Beuve's life and conversation in detail, one may suggest that it offers some explanation of the unquestioned facts about this; also (and this is of infinitely more importance) of that absence of ability to love literature in anything like a passionate way, which, with a certain other inability to love literature for itself, prevents him from attaining the absolutely highest level in criticism, though his command of ranges just below the highest is wider and firmer than that of any other critic on record.

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[Sidenote: Jules Sandeau and Charles de Bernard.]

We may next take, to some extent together, two writers of the novel who made their reputation in the July Monarchy, though one of them long outlived it; who, though this one inclined to a sort of domestic tragedy and the other to pure comedy, resembled each other not a little in clinging to ordinary life, and my estimate of whom is considerably higher than that recently (or, I think, at present) entertained by French critics or by those English critics who think it right to be guided by their French _confreres_. This estimate, however, has been given at length in another place,[265] and I quite admit that the subjects, though I have not in the least lowered my opinion of them, can hardly be said (like Gautier, Merimee, Balzac, and Dumas, in the present part of this volume, or others later) to demand, in a general History, very large space in dealing with them. I shall therefore endeavour to summarise my corrected impressions more briefly than in those other cases. This shortening may, I think, be justified doubly: in the first place, because any one who is enough of a student to want more can go to the other handling; and, in the second, because the only excellent way, of reading the books themselves, may be adopted with very unusual absence of any danger of disappointment. I hardly know any work of either Jules Sandeau or of Charles de Bernard which is not worth reading by persons of fairly catholic tastes in novel pastime.


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