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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Of the latter of whom Reybaud writing


The

book (at least its first two parts) appeared in 1843, when the July Monarchy was still in days of such palminess as it ever possessed, and Thackeray reviewed it soon after. At the close of his article he expressed a hope that M. Reybaud "had more of it, in brain or portfolio, for the benefit of the lazy, novel-reading, unscientific world." Whether, at that time, the hope was in course of gratification I do not know; but years later, when February had killed July, Thackeray's wish was granted. It cannot be said that, as too often happens with wishes, the result was entirely disappointing; but it certainly justified the famous description of a still larger number of them, in that only half was granted and the rest "whistled down the wind."

[Sidenote: The difference of the Second Part.]

_Jerome Paturot a la recherche de la meilleure des Republiques_ almost dooms itself, by its title, to be a very much less merry book than _Jerome Paturot a la recherche d'une position sociale_. The "sparkle" which Thackeray had justly seen in the first part is far rarer in the second; in fact, were it not for Oscar to some extent and Malvina to a much greater, there would hardly be any sparkle at all. The Republic has been proclaimed; a new "Commissary" ("Prefect" is an altogether unrepublican word) is appointed; he is shortly after stirred up to vigorous action (usually in the way of cashiering officials), and Jerome is a victim

of this _mot d'ordre_. He goes to Paris to solicit; after a certain interval (of course of failure) Malvina comes to look after him, and to exercise the charms of her _chapeau grenat_ once more. But even she fails to find the birds which (such as they were) she had caught in the earlier years' nests, until after the bloodshed of the barricades, where Oscar unfortunately fails to show himself a hero, while Jerome does useful work as a fighter on the side of comparative Order, and Malvina herself shines as a nurse. At last Paturot is appointed "Inspector-General of Arab Civilisation in North Africa," and the pair set out for this promised, if not promising, land. He, like Gigadibs, provides himself with "instruments of labour"; Malvina, agreeable to the last, provides _herself_ with several new dress-patterns of the latest fashion, and a complete collection of the _Journal des Modes_.

This not very elaborate scenario, as worked out, fills nearly a thousand pages; but it is very much to be feared that the "lazy novel-reader" will get through but a few of them, and will readily return the book to his own or other library shelves. It is, in fact, a bitterly satiric but perfectly serious study--almost history--of the actual events of the earlier part of the interregnum between Louis Philippe and Napoleon the Third, of the latter of whom Reybaud (writing, it would seem, before he was even President), gives a very unflattering, though unnamed, description. Certainly more than half, perhaps more than three-quarters, of the book can claim no novel character at all.[292]

[Sidenote: Not much of a novel.]

It would be possible to extract (if one had space and it were proportionately worth while) passages from the remaining portion of very fair novel interest--the visit of the "Super-Commissary" to the Commissary; the history of the way in which, under the _regime_ of that _atelier national_ which some wiseacres want now with us, a large body of citizens was detailed to carry trees of liberty from a nursery garden in the suburbs of Paris to the _boulevards_; how these were uprooted without any regard to their arboreal welfare; how the national working-men got mainly drunk and wholly skylarky on the way, and how the unfortunate vegetables were good for nothing but firewood by the time they reached their destination; the humours of the open-air feast of the Republic; the storming of the Assembly by the clubs; the oratory of Malvina (a very delectable morsel) in one of the said clubs devoted to the Rights of Women;[293] the scene where Oscar, coming by his own account from the barricades "with his hands and his feet and his raiment all red," manifests a decided disinclination to return thither--all these are admirable. But they would have to be dug out of a mass of history and philosophy which the "lazy novel-reader" would, it is to be feared, refuse with by no means lazy indignation and disgust.


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