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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

D'Artagnan and Chicot are again the best


And

this leads us partly back and partly up to the second head, the provision of characters sufficiently distinguished from others, and so capable of playing their parts effectually and interestingly. It is in this that he is so good, and it is this which distinguishes himself from all his fellows but the very greatest. D'Artagnan and Chicot are again the best; but how good, at least in the better books, are almost all the others! D'Artagnan would be a frightful loss, but suppose he were not there and you knew nothing about him, would you not think Planchet something of a prize? Without Chicot there would be a blank horrible to think of. But do we not still "share"? Have we not Dom Gorenflot?

It is in this provision of vivid and sufficiently, if not absolutely, vivified characters and personages--"company" for his narrative dramas--that Dumas is so admirable under this particular head. If they are rarely detachable or independent, they work out the business consummately. Lackeys and ladies' maids, inn-keepers and casual guests at inns, courtiers and lawyers, noblemen and "lower classes," they all do what they ought to do; they all "answer the ends of their being created,"--which is to carry out and on, through two or three or half a dozen volumes, a blissful suspension from the base realities of existence. And if anybody asks of them more than this, it is his own fault, and a very great fault too.[322]

[Sidenote:

To Description (and "style").]

Of Description, as of the "fifth wheel" style, there is little to say about Dumas, though the littleness is in neither respect damaging. They are both adequate to the situation and the composition. Can you say much more of him or of anybody? If it were worth while to go into detail at all, this adequacy could be made out, I think, a good deal more than sufficiently. Take one of his greatest things, the "Bastion Saint-Gervais" in the _Mousquetaires_. If he has not made you see the heroic hopeless town, and the French leaguer and the shattered redoubt between, and the forlorn hope of the Four foolhardy yet forethoughtful and for ever delightful heroes, with their not so cheerful followers, eating, drinking, firing, consulting, and flaunting the immortal napkin-pennant in the enemy's face--you would not be made to see it, though the authors of _Ines de las Sierras_ or of _Le Chateau de la Misere_ had given you a cast of their office. And, what is more, the method of _Ines de las Sierras_ and of _Le Chateau de la Misere_ would have been actually out of place. It would have got in the way of the business, the engrossing business, of the manual fight against the Rochellois, and the spiritual fight against Richelieu and Rochefort and Milady. So, again--so almost tautologically--with "style" in the more complicated and elaborate sense of the word. One may here once more thank Emile de Girardin for the phrase that he used of Gautier's own style in _feuilleton_ attempts. It _would_ be _genant pour l'abonne_--even for an _abonne_ who was not the first comer. It is not the beautiful phrase, over which you can linger, that is required, but the straightforward competent word-vehicle that carries you on through the business, that you want in such work. The essence of Dumas' quality is to find or make his readers thirsty, and to supply their thirst. You can't quench thirst with _liqueurs_; if you are not a Philistine you will not quench it with vintage port or claret, with Chateau Yquem, or even with fifteen-year-old Clicquot. A "long" whisky and potash, a bottle of sound Medoc, or, best of all, a pewter quart of not too small or too strong beer--these are the modest but sufficient quenchers that suit the case. And Dumas gives you just the equivalents of these.


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