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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

But more melodramatic than the former


however, any one must have melodrama, but at the same time does not want it in stage form, I should myself recommend to him Frederic Soulie in preference to Eugene Sue. Soulie is, indeed, a sort of blend of Dumas and Sue, but more melodramatic than the former, and less full of grime and purpose and other "non-naturals" of the novel than the latter. It is evident that he has taken what we may call his schedules pretty directly from Scott himself; but he has filled them up with more melodramatic material. It is very noteworthy, too, that Soulie, like Dumas, turned _his_ stagy tastes and powers on to actual stage-work, and so kept the two currents duly separate. And it seems to be admitted that he had actual literary power, if he did not achieve much actual literary performance.

[Sidenote: _Le Chateau des Pyrenees._]

For myself, I think that _Le Chateau des Pyrenees_ is a thing, that in De Quincey's famous phrase, you _can_ recommend to a friend whose appetite in fiction is melodramatic. Here is, if not exactly "_God's_ plenty," at any rate plenty of a kind--plenty whose horn is inexhaustible and the reverse of monotonous. You never, though you have read novels as the waves of the sea or the sands of the shore in number, know exactly what is going to happen, and when you think you know what is happening, it turns out to be something else. Persons who wear, as to the manner born, the jackets of lackeys turn out

to be bishops; and bishops prove to be coiners. An important _jeune premier_ or _quasi-premier_, having just got off what seems to be imminent danger, is stabbed in the throat, is left for dead, and then carries out a series of risky operations and conversations for several hours. A castle, more than Udolphian in site, size, incidents, and opportunities, is burnt at a moment's notice, as if it were a wigwam. Everybody's sons and daughters are somebody else's daughters and sons--a state of things not a little facilitated by the other fact that everybody's wife is somebody else's mistress. Everybody knows something mysterious and exceedingly damaging about everybody else; and the whole company would be cleared off the stage in the first few chapters if something did not always happen to make them drop the daggers in a continual stalemate. Dukes who are governors of provinces and peers of France are also heads (or think they are) of secret societies--the orthodox members of which chiefly do the coining, but are quite ignorant that a large number of other members are Huguenots (it is not long after the "Revocation") and are, in the same castle, storing arms for an insurrection. Spanish counts who are supposed to have been murdered fifteen years ago turn up quite uninjured, and ready for the story to go on sixteen years longer. When you have got an ivory casket supposed to be full of all sorts of compromising documents, somebody produces another, exactly like it, but containing documents more compromising still. There is a counsellor of the Parliament of Toulouse--supposed to be not merely a severe magistrate, but a man of spotless virtue, and one who actually submits fearlessly to great danger in doing his duty, but who turns out to be an atrocious criminal. And in the centre of all the turmoil there is a wondrous figure, a sorcerer-shepherd, who is really an Italian prince, who pulls all the strings, makes all cups slip at all lips, sets up and upsets all the puppets, and is finally poniarded by the wicked counsellor, both of them having been caught at last, and the counsellor going mad after commission of his final crime.

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