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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Or even Valmont superior to scruple


Brief notes on some--_Le Roman d'un jeune homme pauvre_.]

I suppose few novels, succeeding not by scandal, have ever been much more popular than the _Roman d'un jeune homme pauvre_, the title of which good English folk have been known slightly to alter in meaning by putting the _pauvre_ before the _jeune_. It had got into its third hundred of editions before the present century had reached the end of its own first lustrum, and it must have been translated (probably more than once) into every European language. It is perfectly harmless; it is admirably written; and the vicissitudes of the loves of the _marquis dechu_ and the headstrong creole girl are conducted with excellent skill, no serious improbability, and an absence of that tendency to "tail off" which has been admitted in some of the author's books. It was, I suppose, Feuillet's diploma-piece in almost the strictest technical sense of that phrase, for he was elected of the Academy not long afterwards. It has plenty of merits and no important faults, but it is not my favourite.

[Sidenote: _M. de Camors._]

[Sidenote: Other books.]

Neither is the novel which, in old days, the proud and haughty scorners of this _Roman_, as a _berquinade_, used to prefer--_M. de Camors_.[411] Here there is plenty of naughtiness, attempts at strong character, and certainly a good deal of interest of story,

with some striking incident. But it is spoilt, for me, by the failure of the principal personage. I think it not quite impossible that Feuillet intended M. de Camors as a sort of modernised, improved, and extended Lovelace, or even Valmont--superior to scruple, destined and able to get the better of man or woman as he chooses. Unfortunately he has also endeavoured to make him a gentleman; and the compound, as the chemists say, is not "stable." The coxcombry of Lovelace and the priggishness, reversed (though in a less detestable form), of Valmont, are the elements that chiefly remain in evidence, unsupported by the vigorous will of either. I have myself always thought _La Petite Comtesse_ and _Julia de Trecoeur_ among the earlier novels, _Honneur d'Artiste_ and _La Morte_ among the later, to be Feuillet's masterpieces, or at least nearest approaches to a masterpiece. _Un Mariage dans le Monde_ (one or the rare instances in which the "honest woman" does get the better of her "temptations") is indeed rather interesting, in the almost fatal cross-misunderstanding of husband and wife, and the almost fabulous ingenuity and good offices of the "friend of the family," M. de Kevern, who prevents both from making irreparable fools of themselves. _Les Amours de Philippe_ is more commonplace--a prodigal's progress in love, rewarded at last, very undeservedly, with something better than a fatted calf--a formerly slighted but angelic cousin. But to notice all his work, more especially if one took in half- or quarter-dramatic things (his pure drama does not of course concern us) of the "Scene" and "Proverbe" kind, where he comes next to Musset, would be here impossible. The two pairs, early and late respectively, and already selected, must suffice.

[Sidenote: _La Petite Comtesse._]

They are all tragic, though there is comedy in them as well. Perhaps _La Petite Comtesse_, a very short novel and its author's first thing of great distinction, might by some be called pathetic rather than tragic; but the line between the two is a "leaden" barrier (if indeed it is a barrier at all) and "gives" freely. Perhaps the Gigadibs in any man of letters may be conciliated by one of his fellows

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