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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

While in other respects he is romantique a tous crins


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fact, while leaving him a Realist of the nobler type, at once shuts him off from community with his friends Zola and the Goncourts, and saves him from any stain of the "sable streams." But besides this--or rather looking at the same thing from a slightly different point of view--there is something which not only permits but demands the most emphatic of "Noes!" to the question, "Was Flaubert a Naturalist?"

This something is itself the equally emphatic "Yes!" which must be returned to the third and postponed question, "Was he a Romantic?" There are many strange things in the History of Literature: its strangeness, as in other cases, is one of its greatest charms. But there have been few stranger than the obstinacy and almost passion with which the Romanticism of Heine, of Thackeray, and of Flaubert has been denied. Again and again it has been pointed out that "to laugh at what you love" is not only permissible, but a sign of the love itself. Moreover, Flaubert does not even laugh as the great Jew and the great Englishman did. He only represents the failures and the disappointments and the false dawns of Love itself, while in other respects he is _romantique a tous crins_. Compare _Le Reve_ with _La Tentation_ or _Saint-Julien l'Hospitalier_; compare _Madame Bovary_ with _Germinie Lacerteux_; even compare _L'Education Sentimentale_, that voyage to the Cythera of Romance which never reaches its goal, with _Sapho_ and _L'Evangeliste_, and you will

see the difference. It is of course to a certain extent "Le Coucher du Soleil Romantique" which lights up Flaubert's work, but the _crapauds imprevus_ and the _froids limacons_ of Baudelaire's epitaph have not yet appeared, and the hues of the sunset itself are still gorgeous in parts of the sky.

Of Flaubert's famous doctrine of "the single word" perhaps a little more should, after all, be said. The results are so good, and the processes by which they are attained get in the way of the reader so little, that it is difficult to quarrel with the doctrine itself. But it was perhaps, after all, something of a superstition, and the almost "fabulous torments" which it occasioned to its upholder and practitioner seem to have been somewhat Fakirish. We need not grudge the five years spent over _Salammbo_; the seven over _L'Education_; the earlier and, I think, less definitely known gestation of _Madame Bovary_; and that portion of the twenty which, producing these also, filled out those fragments of _La Tentation_ that the July Monarchy had actually seen. Perhaps with _Bouvard et Pecuchet_ he got into a blind alley, out of which such labour was never like to get him, and in which it was rather likely to confine him. But if the excess of the preparation had been devoted to the completion of, say, only half a dozen of such _Contes_ as those we actually have, it would have been joyful.

Yet this is idle pining, and the goods which the gods provided in this instance are such as ought rather to make us truly thankful. Flaubert was, as has been said, a Romantic, but he was born late enough to avoid the extravagances and the childishnesses of _mil-huit-cent-trente_ while retaining its inspiration, its _diable au corps_, its priceless recovery of inheritances from history. Nor, though he subjected all these to a severe criticism of a certain kind, did he ever let this make him (as something of the same sort made his pretty near contemporary, Matthew Arnold, in England) inclined to blaspheme.[403] He did not, like his other contemporary and peer in greatness of their particular country and generation, Baudelaire, play unwise tricks with his powers and his life.[404] He was fortunately relieved from the necessity of journey-work--marvellously performed, but still journey-work--which had beset Gautier and never let go of him.[405]


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