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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Sidenote Reybaud Jerome Paturot


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[Sidenote: Reybaud--_Jerome Paturot_, and Thackeray on its earlier part.]

Any one who attempts to rival Thackeray's abstract ("_with_ translations, Sir!") of the first part of Louis Reybaud's _Jerome Paturot_ must have a better conceit of himself than that with which the present writer has been gifted, by the Divinity or any other power. The essay[290] in which this appears contains some of the rather rash and random judgments to which its great author was too much addicted; he had not, for instance, come to his later and saner estimate of Dumas,[291] and still ranks him with Sue and Soulie. But the Paturot part itself is simply delightful, and must have sent many who were not fortunate enough to know (or fortunate enough _not_ to know) it already to the book. This well deserved and deserves to be known. Jerome's own earlier career as a romantic and unread poet is not so brilliantly done as similar things in Gautier's _Les Jeune-France_ and other books; but the Saint-Simonian sequel, in which so many _mil-huit-cent-trentiers_ besides Jerome himself and (so surprisingly) Sainte-Beuve indulged, is most capitally hit off. The hero's further experiences in company-meddling (with not dissimilar results to those experienced by Thackeray's own Samuel Titmarsh, and probably or certainly by Thackeray himself); and as the editor of a journal enticing the _abonne_ with a _bonus_,

which may be either a pair of boots, a greatcoat, or a _gigot_ at choice; the side-hits at law and medicine; the relapse into trade and National Guardism; the visit to the Tuileries; the sad bankruptcy and the subsequent retirement to a little place in the prefecture of a remote department--all these things are treated in the best Gallic fashion, and with a certain weight of metal not always achievable by "Gigadibs, the literary man," whether Gallic or Anglo-Saxon. Reybaud himself was a serious historian, a student of social philosophy, who has the melancholy honour of having popularised, if he did not invent, the word "Socialist" and the cheerfuller one of having faithfully dealt with the thing Socialism. And Jerome is well set off by his still more "Jeune-France" friend Oscar, a painter, not exactly a bad fellow, but a _poseur_, a dauber (he would have been a great Futurist or Cubist to-day), a very Bragadochio in words and flourish, and, alas! as he turns out presently, a Bragadochio also in deeds and courage.

[Sidenote: The windfall of Malvina.]

But the gem of the book perhaps, as far as good novel-matter is concerned (for Jerome himself is not much more than a stalking-horse for satire), is Malvina, his first left-handed and then "regularised" spouse, and very much his better half. Malvina is Paul de Kock's grisette (like all good daughters, she is very fond of her literary father) raised to a higher power, dealt with in a satiric fashion unknown to her parent, but in perfectly kindly temper. She is, though just a little imperious, a thoroughly "good sort," and, with occasional blunders, really a guardian angel to her good-hearted, not uncourageous, but visionary and unpractical lover and husband. She has the sharpest of tongues; the most housewifely and motherly of attitudes; the flamingest of bonnets. It is she who suggests Saint-Simonianism (as a resource, not as a creed), and actually herself becomes a priestess of the first class--till the funds give out. She, being an untiring and unabashed canvasser, gets Jerome his various places; she reconciles his nightcap-making uncle to him; she, when the pair go to the Palace and he is basely occupied with supper, carries him off in dudgeon because none of the princes (and in fact nobody at all) has asked her to dance. And when at last he subsides upon his shelf at the country prefecture, she becomes delightfully domesticated--and keeps canaries.


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