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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

They do not attempt elaborate analysis


in fact, take the volumes entitled _L'Ecueil_, _Le Noeud Gordien_, _Le Paravent,_ and _Le Paratonnerre_; open any of them where you like, and it will go hard but, in the comic stories at any rate, you will find yourself well off. The finest of the tragic ones is, I think, _L'Anneau d'Argent_, which in utilising the sad inefficacy of the Legitimist endeavours to upset the July Monarchy, comes close to the already-mentioned things of Sandeau and Ourliac.

That a critic like M. Brunetiere should dismiss Bernard as "commonplace" (I forget the exact French word, but the meaning was either this or "mediocre"), extending something the same condemnation, or damningly faint praise, to Sandeau, may seem strange at first sight, but explains itself pretty quickly to those who have the requisite knowledge. Neither could, by any reasonable person, be accused of that _grossierete_ which offended the censor so much, and to no small extent so rightly. Neither was extravagantly unacademic or in other ways unorthodox. But both might be called _vulgaire_ from the same point of view which made Madame de Stael so call her greatest contemporary as a she-novelist--one, too, so much greater than herself.[274] That is to say, they did deal with strictly ordinary life, and neither attempted that close psychological analysis and ambitious _schematism_ which (we have been told) is the pride of the French novel, and which, certainly, some French critics have supposed to be

of its essence. These points of view I have left undiscussed for the most part, but have consistently in practice declined to take, in the first volume, while they are definitely opposed and combated in more than one passage of this.[275] I admit that Sandeau, save in the one situation where I think he comes near to the first class--that of subdued resignation to calamity--is not passionate; I admit that Bernard has a certain superficiality, and that, as has been confessed already, his "form" sometimes leaves to desire. But they both seem to me to have, in whatever measure and degree, what, with me, is the article of standing or falling in novels--humanity. And they seem--also to me, and speaking under correction--to _write_, if not consummately, far more than moderately well, and to _tell_ in a fashion for which consummate is not too strong a word. While for pure gaiety, unsmirched by coarseness and unspoilt by ill-nature, you will not find much better pastime anywhere than in the work of the author of _L'Ecueil_ and _Le Paratonnerre_.

Indeed these two--though the _berquinade_ tendency, considerably _masculated_, prevails in one, and the _esprit gaulois_, decorously draped, in the other--seem to me to run together better than any two other novelists of our company. They do not attempt elaborate analysis; they do not grapple with thorny or grimy problems; they are not purveyors of the indecent, or dealers in the supernatural and fantastic, or poignant satirists of society at large or individuals in particular. But they can both, in their different ways, tell a plain tale uncommonly well, and season it with wit or pathos when either is suitable. Their men and women are real men and women, and the stages on which they move are not _mere_ stages, but pieces of real earth.

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