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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

D'Artagnan and Chicot are doubtless great


[Sidenote:

To Character.]

It is in this "enfisting" power of narrative, constantly renewed if not always logically sustained and connected, that Dumas' excellence, if not his actual supremacy, lies; and the fact may dispense us from saying any more about his plots. As to Character, we must still keep the offensive-defensive line. Dumas' most formidable enemies--persons like the late M. Brunetiere--would probably say that he has no character at all. Some of his champions would content themselves with ejaculating the two names "D'Artagnan!" and "Chicot!" shrugging their shoulders, and abstaining from further argument as likely to be useless, there being no common ground to argue upon. In actual life this might not be the most irrational manner of proceeding; but it could hardly suffice here. As is usually, if not invariably, the case, the difference of estimate _is_ traceable, in the long run, to the fact that the disputants or adversaries are not using words in the same sense--working in conjunction with the other fact that they do not like and want the same things. Almost all words are ambiguous, owing to the length of time during which they have been used and the variety of parts they have been made to play. But there are probably few which--without being absolutely equivocal like "box" and our other "foreigners' horrors"--require the use of the _distinguo_ more than "character." As applied to novels, it may mean (1) a human personality more or less deeply

analysed; (2) one vividly distinguished from others; (3) one which is made essentially _alive_ and almost recognised as a real person; (4) a "personage" ticketed with some marks of distinction and furnished with a dramatic "part"; (5) an eccentric. The fourth and fifth may be neglected here. It is in relation to the other three that we have to consider Dumas as a character-monger.

In the competition for representation of character which depends upon analysis, "psychology," "problem-projection," Dumas is of course nowhere, though, to the disgust of some and the amusement of others, _Jacques Ortis_ figures in the list of his works. _Rene_, _Adolphe_, the works of Madame de Stael (if they are to be admitted) and those of Beyle (which no doubt must be) found nothing corresponding in his nature; and there was not the slightest reason why they should. The cellar of the novel contains even more than the "thousand dozen of wine" enshrined by that of Crotchet Castle, but no intelligent possessor of it, any more than Mr. Crotchet himself, would dream of restricting it to one kind of vintage. Nor, probably, would any really intelligent possessor arrange his largest bins for this kind, which at its best is a very exquisite _vin de liqueur_, but which few people wish to drink constantly; and which at its worst, or even in mediocre condition, is very poor tipple--"shilpit," as Peter Peebles most unjustly characterises sherry in _Redgauntlet_. Skipping (2) for the moment, I do not know that under head (3) one can make much fight for Alexander. D'Artagnan and Chicot are doubtless great, and many others fall not far short of them. I am always glad to meet these two in literature, and should be glad to meet them in real life, particularly if they were on my side, though their being on the other would add considerably to the excitement of one's existence--so long as it continued. But I am not sure that I _know_ them as I know Marianne and Des Grieux, Tom Jones and My Uncle Toby, the Baron of Bradwardine and Elizabeth Bennet. Athos I know or should know if I met him, which I am sorry to say I have not yet done; and La Reine Margot, and possibly Olympe de Cleves; but there is more guess-work about the knowledge with her than in the other cases. Porthos (or somebody very like him) I did know, and he was most agreeable; but he died too soon to go into the army, as he ought to have done, after leaving Oxford. And though I never met a complete Aramis, I think I have met him in parts. There are not many more of this class. On the other hand, there is almost an entire absence in Dumas of those mere lay-figures which are so common in other novelists. There is great plenty of something more than toy-theatre characters cut out well and brightly painted, fit to push across the stage and justify their "words" and vanish; but that is a different thing.


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