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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

And I find none in Dumas fils


The obliging gentleman who on this occasion plays the part of "substitute" in a cricket-match, is the most elaborate and confessed example of Dumas' "theorised" _men_. He is what the seedsmen call an "improved Valmont," with more of lion in him than to meddle with virgins, but absolutely destructive to duchesses and always ready to suggest substitution to distressed grass-widows.



[Sidenote: The contrast of Flaubert and Dumas _fils_.]

In doing, as may at least be hoped, justice to M. Alexandre Dumas _fils_ in the last chapter, one point was excepted--that though I could rank him higher than I ever expected to do as a novelist, I could not exactly rank his work in the highest range of literature. When you compare him--not merely with those greatest in novel-work already discussed, but with Musset or Vigny, with Nodier, or with Gerard de Nerval, not to mention others, there is something which is at once "weird and wanting," as the admirable Captain Mayne Reid says at the beginning of _The Headless Horseman_, though one cannot say here, as there, "By Heavens! it is 'the head!'" There is head enough of a kind--a not at all unkempt or uncomely headpiece, very well filled with brains. But it has no aureole, as the other preferred persons cited in the last sentence and earlier have.

This aureole may be larger or smaller, brighter or less bright--a full circlet of unbroken or hardly broken splendour, or a sort of will-o'-the-wisp cluster of gleam and darkness. But wherever it is found there is, in differing degrees, _literature_ of the highest class; of the major prose _gentes_; literature that can show itself with poetry, under its own conditions and with its own possibilities, and fear no disqualification. Of this I am bound to say I do not find very much in this second division of our volume, and I find none in Dumas _fils_. But I find a great deal more than in any one else in Gustave Flaubert.

[Sidenote: Some former dealings with him.]

As I have said this, the reader may expect, magisterially, dreadingly, or perhaps in some very "gentle" cases hopefully, a full chapter on Flaubert. He shall have it. But the same cause, or group of causes, which has been at work before prevents this from being a very long one, and from containing very full accounts of his novels. One of the longest and most careful of those detailed surveys of forty years ago, to which I have perhaps too often referred, was devoted to Flaubert, and was slightly supplemented after his death. The earlier form had, though I did not know it for a considerable time, not displeased himself--a fortunate result not too common between author and critic[389]--and there are, consequently, special reasons for leaving it unaltered and unrehashed. I shall, therefore, as with Balzac and Dumas, attempt a shorter but more general judgment, which--his work being so much less voluminous than theirs--may be perhaps even less extensive than in the other cases,[390] but which should leave no doubt as to the writer's opinion of his "place in the story."

[Sidenote: His style.]

No small part of that high claim to purely literary rank which has been made for him rests, of course, upon his mere style--that famous and much debated "chase of the single word" which, especially since Mr. Pater took up the discussion of it, has been a "topic" of the most usitate in England as well as in France.

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