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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Flaubert suffered from no monotony of faculty


[Sidenote:

_Trois Contes._]

The _Trois Contes_ which followed, and which practically completed (except for letters) Flaubert's finished work in literature,[399] have one of those half-extrinsic interests which, once more, it is the duty of the historian to mention. They show that although, as has been said, Flaubert suffered from no monotony of faculty, the range of his faculty--or rather the range of the subjects to which he chose to apply it--was not extremely wide. Of the twin stories, _Un Coeur Simple_ is, though so unlike in particular, alike in general _ordinariness_ to _Madame Bovary_ and _L'Education Sentimentale_. The unlikeness in particular is very striking, and shows that peculiar _victoriousness_ in accomplishing what he attempted which is so characteristic of Flaubert. It is the history-no-history of a Norman peasant woman, large if simple of heart, simple and not large of brain, a born drudge and prey to unscrupulous people who come in contact with her, and almost in her single person uniting the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount. I admire it now, without even the touch of rather youthful impatience which used, when I read it first, to temper my admiration. It is not a _berquinade_, because a _berquinade_ is never quite real. _Un Coeur Simple_ shares Flaubert's Realism as marvellously as any equal number of pages of either of the books to which I have compared it. But there _is_, perhaps, something provocative--something almost placidly

insolent--about the way in which the author says, "Now, I will give you nothing of the ordinary baits for admiration, and yet, were you the Devil himself, you shall admire me." And one does--in youth rather reluctantly--not so in age.

_Herodias_ groups itself in the same general fashion, but even more definitely in particulars, with _Salammbo_--of which, indeed, it is a sort of miniature replica cunningly differentiated. Anybody can see how easily the story of the human witchcraft of Salome, and the decollation of the Saint, and the mixture of terror and gorgeousness in the desert fortress, parallel the Carthaginian story. But I do not know whether it was deliberate or unconscious repetition that made Flaubert give us something like a duplicate of the suffete Hanno in Vitellius. There is no lack of the old power, and the shortness of the story is at least partly an advantage. But perhaps the Devil's Advocate, borrowing from, but reversing, Hugo on Baudelaire, might say, "Ce frisson _n'est pas_ nouveau."

The third story, _Saint Julien l'Hospitalier_, has always seemed to me as near perfection in its own kind as anything I know in literature, and one of the best examples, if not the very best example, of that adaptableness of the _Acta Sanctorum_ to modern rehandling of the right kind, which was noticed at the beginning of this _History_.[400] The excessive devotion of the not yet sainted Julian to sport; the crime and the dooms that follow it; the double parricide which he commits under the false impression that his wife has been unfaithful to him; his self-imposed penance of ferrying, somewhat like Saint Christopher, and the trial--a harder one than that good giant bore, for Julian has, not merely to carry over but, to welcome, at board _and_ bed, a leper--and the Transfiguration and Assumption that conclude the story, give some of the best subjects--though there are endless others nearly or quite as good--in Hagiology. And Flaubert has risen to them in the miraculous manner in which he could rise, retaining the strangeness, infusing the reality, and investing the whole with the beauty, deserved and required. There is not a weak place in the whole story; but the strongest places are, as they should be, the massacre of hart, hind, and fawn which brings on the curse; the ghastly procession of the beasts Julian has slain or _not_ slain (for he has met with singular ill-luck); the final "Translation."[401] Nowhere is Flaubert's power of description greater; nowhere, too, is that other power noticed--the removal of all temptation to say "Very pretty, but rather _added_ ornament"--more triumphantly displayed.


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