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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

The historical romanticism of Vigny and Merimee


in fact Romantic, from the

first novel of Chateaubriand to the last of Zola, though the Romanticism is chequered and to a certain extent warped by that invincible French determination towards "Rule" which has vindicated itself so often, and on which shortly we may have to make something almost like an excursus. But this very fact, if nothing else, would make a discussion of the Romantic novel as such out of place _here_; it will have to come, to some extent at any rate, in the Conclusion itself. Only for the present need it be said, without quite the same danger of meeting with scornful or indignant protest, that all the books hitherto discussed from _Rene_ to _Dominique_, from _Le Solitaire_ to _Monte Cristo_--even the work of Merimee and Sainte-Beuve, those celebrated "apostates" as some would have them to be--is really Romantic. It may follow the more poetical romanticism of Nodier and Hugo, of Gautier and Gerard; the historical romanticism of Vigny and Merimee; the individualism and analysis of Beyle and his disciples; the supernaturalism of George Sand and Nodier again; the adventurous incident of Sue and Soulie and Dumas and the Dumasians generally; it may content itself with that modified form of the great Revolt which admits "low" or "middle" subjects and discards the classical theories that a hero ought to be dignified. But always there is something of the general Romantic colour about--something over which M. Nisard has shaken or would have shaken his respectable _perruque_.[342]

justify;">So turn we to the other larger group--the largest group of all that come under our survey--the New Ordinary Novel, that which concerns itself with the last shade of his colour just described.

[Sidenote: The "ordinary."]

We had seen, before the beginning of this volume, how Pigault-Lebrun, in vulgar ways and with restricted talent, had nevertheless made distinct advances in this direction; and we saw in the beginning of this how Paul de Kock--with something of the same limitations but with the advantage of a predecessor in Pigault and of further changes in society towards the normal--improved upon the earlier progression. But Pigault and Paul were thrown into the shade by those writers, younger contemporaries of both, who brought to their task greater genius, better taste, and if not knowledge of better society, at any rate better knowledge how to use their knowledge. Whether Balzac's books can be ticketed _sans phrase_, as "novels of _ordinary_ life," has been, or should have been, duly discussed already. It is certain that, as a rule, they intend to be so. So it is with at least the majority of George Sand's; so with all those of her first lover and half name-father Sandeau; so with Charles de Bernard; so with some at least of Merimee's best short stories and Musset's, if not exactly of Gautier's; so with others who have had places, and a good many more for whom no place could be found. France, indeed, may be said to have caught up and passed England in this kind, between the time when Miss Austen died and that when Thackeray at last did justice to himself with _Vanity Fair_. And this novel of ordinary life has continued, and shows no signs of ceasing, to be the kind most in demand, according to the usual law of "Like to Like." We shall see further developments of it and shall have to exercise careful critical discretion in deciding whether the apparent improvement only means nearer approximation to our own standard of ordinariness, or to a more abstract one. But that it was in these twenty or five and twenty years that something like a norm of ordinariness was first reached, hardly admits of any question. Still, very much question may arise, and must be faced, on the point whether this novel of ordinary life has not redeveloped a _non_-ordinary subdivision, or many such, in the "problem" novel, the novel of analysis, of abnormal individualism, of theory, naturalist and other, etc. To this we must turn; for at least part of this new question is a very important one, though it may require something of a digression to deal with it properly.


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