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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Based on Sandeau's Sacs et Parchemins


The

first-named--the younger by some half-dozen years, but the first to publish by more than as many--concerns those who take a merely or mainly anecdotic interest in literature by his well-known _liaison_ with George Sand--to whom he gave _dimidium nominis_, and perhaps for a time at least _dimidium cordis_, though he probably did not get it back so much "in a worse estate"[266] as was the case with Musset and Chopin. Sandeau's collaboration with her in novel-writing was long afterwards succeeded by another in dramaturgy with Emile Augier, which resulted in at least one of the most famous French plays of the nineteenth century, _Le Gendre de M. Poirier_, based on Sandeau's _Sacs et Parchemins_. But we need busy ourselves only with the novels themselves.

[Sidenote: Sandeau's work.]

Sandeau was barely twenty when he wrote _Rose et Blanche_, during the time of, and with his partner in, that most dangerous of all possible _liaisons_. But he was nearly thirty when he produced his own first work of note, _Marianna_. In this, in _Fernand_, and in _Valcreuse_, all books above the average in merit, there is what may be called, from no mere Grundyite point of view, the drawback that they are all studies of "the triangle." They are quite decently, and in fact morally, though not goodily, handled. But it certainly may be objected that trigonometry[267] of this kind occupies an exorbitant place in French literature, and one

may be a little sorry to see a neophyte of talent taking to it. However, though Sandeau in these books showed his ability, his way did not really lie _in_, though it might lie _through_, them. He had, indeed, as a novelist should have, good changes of strings to his bow, if not even more than one or two bows to shoot in.

No Frenchman has written a better boy's book than _La Roche aux Mouettes_, deservedly well known to English readers in translation: and whether he did or did not enter into designed competition with his _quondam_ companion on the theme of Pastoral _berquinade_, I do not myself think that _Catherine_ is much below _La Petite Fadette_ or _La Mare au Diable_. He was a very considerable master of the short story; you cannot have much better things of the kind than _Le Jour sans Lendemain_ and _Un Debut dans la Magistrature_. But his special gift lay in treating two situations which sometimes met, or crossed, or even substantially coincided. The one was the contrast of new and old, whether from the side of actual "money-bags and archives" or from others. The second and higher development of, or alternative to, this was the working out of the subdued tragical, in which, short of the very great masters, he had few superiors, while the quietness of his tones and values even, enhances to some tastes the poignancy of the general effect. _Mlle. de La Seigliere_ is, I suppose, the best representative of the first class as a novel, for _Sacs et Parchemins_, as has been said, waited for dramatisation to bring out its merits. The pearls or pinks of the other are _Mlle. de Kerouare_ and _La Maison de Penarvan_, the latter the general favourite, the former mine. Both have admirably managed _peripeteias_, the shorter story (_Mlle. de Kerouare_) having, in particular, a memorable setting of that inexorable irony of Fate against which not only is there no armour, but not even the chance and consolement of fighting armourless. When Marie de Kerouare accepts, at her father's wish, a suitor suitable in every way, but somewhat undemonstrative; when she falls in love (or thinks she does) with a handsome young cousin; when the other aspirant loses or risks all his fortune as a Royalist, and she will not accept what she might have, his retirement, thereby eliciting from her father a _mot_ like the best of Corneille's;[268] when, having written to a cousin excusing herself, she gets a mocking letter telling her that _he_ is married already; when the remorseless turn of Fortune's wheel loses her the real lover whom she at last really does love--then it is not mere sentimental-Romantic twaddle; it is a slice of life, soaked in the wine of Romantic tragedy.[269]


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