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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Over the Fils Naturel I confess that even I


[381]

This is probably meant as the first "fight" on the shady side of Iza's character; not that, in this instance, she means to insult or hurt, but that the probability of hurting and insulting does not occur to her, or leaves her indifferent.

[382] Second "light," and now not dubious, for it is made a point of later.

[383] It has sometimes amused me to remember that some of the warmest admirers of Dumas _fils_ have been among the most violent decriers of Thackeray--_for_ preaching. I suppose they preferred the Frenchman's texts.

[384] Neither morality, nor friendship, nor anything like sense of "good form" could be likely to hold him back. But he is represented as nothing if not _un homme fort_ in character and temperament, who knows his woman thoroughly, and must perceive that he is letting himself be beaten by her in the very act of possessing her.

[385] Vide _Mr. Midshipman Easy_.

[386] This phrase may require just a word of explanation. I admitted (Vol. I. p. 409) the abnormality in _La Religieuse_ as not disqualifying. But this was not an abnormality of the _individual_. Iza's is.

[387] Perhaps I may add another subject for those who like it. "Both Manon and Iza do _prefer_, and so to speak only _love_, the one lover. Does this in Iza's case aggravate, or does it partially

redeem, her general behaviour?" A less disputable addition, for the reason given above, may be a fairly long note on the author's work outside of fiction.

[Sidenote: Note on Dumas _fils'_ drama, etc.]

With the drama which has received such extraordinary encomia (the great name of Moliere having even been brought in for comparison) I have no exhaustive acquaintance; but I have read enough not to wish to read any more. If the huge prose tirades of _L'Etrangere_ bore me (as they do) in the study, what would they do on the stage, where long speeches, not in great poetry, are always intolerable? (I have always thought it one of the greatest triumphs of Madame Sarah Bernhardt that, at the very beginning of her career, she made the heroine of this piece--_if_ she did so--interesting.) Over the _Fils Naturel_ I confess that even I, who have struggled with and mastered my thousands, if not my tens of thousands, of books, broke down hopelessly. _Francillon_ is livelier, and might, in the earlier days, have made an amusing novel. But discounting, judicially and not prejudicially, the excessive laudation, one sees that even here he did what he meant to do, and though there is higher praise than that, it is praise only too seldom deserved. As for his Prefaces and Pamphlets, I think nearly as much must be granted; and I need not repeat what has been said above on the other side. The charity "puff" of _Les Madeleines Repenties_ is an admirable piece of rhetoric not seldom reaching eloquence; and it has the not unliterary side-interest of suggesting the question whether its ironic treatment of the general estimate of the author as Historiographer Royal to the venal Venus is genuine irony, or a mere mask for annoyance. The Preface to the dreary _Fils Naturel_ (it must be remembered that Alexander the Younger himself was originally illegitimate and only later legitimated), though rhetorical again, is not dreary at all. It contains a very agreeable address to his father--he was always agreeable, though with a suspicion of rather amusing patronage-upside-down, on this subject--and a good deal else which one would have been sorry to lose. In fact, I can see, even in the dramas, even in the prose pamphleteering, whether the matter gives me positive delight or not, evidence of that _competence_, that not so seldom mastery, of treatment which entitles a man to be considered not the first comer by a long way.


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