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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Though not ceasing to love Aliette


Once

more, the thing comes badly out of analysis--perhaps by the analyst's fault, perhaps not. But in its own presentation, with some faults hardly necessary to point out, it is both poignant and _empoignant_, and it gives a special blend of pity and terror, the two feelings being aroused by no means merely through the catastrophe, but by the rise and progress of the fatal passion which leads to it. I know very few, if any, things of the same kind, in a French novel, superior, or indeed equal to, the management of this, and to the fashion in which the particular characters, or wants of character, of Julia's mother and Julia's husband (excellent persons both) are made to hurry on the calamity[413] to which she was fated.

[Sidenote: _Honneur d'Artiste._]

This tragic undercurrent, surging up to a more tragic catastrophe, reappears in the two best of the later issues, when Feuillet was making better head against the burst sewers[414] of Naturalism. _Honneur d'Artiste_ is the less powerful of the two; but what of failure there is in it is rather less glaring. Beatrice de Sardonne, the heroine, is a sort of "Petite Comtesse" transformed--very cleverly, but perhaps not quite successfully. _Her_ "triangle" consists of herself, a somewhat New-Yorkised young French lady of society (but too good for the worst part of her); and her two lovers, the Marquis de Pierrepont, a much better Lovelace, in fact hardly a Lovelace at all,

whom she is engineered into refusing for honourable love--with a fatal relapse into dishonourable; and the "Artiste" Jacques Fabrice. He adores her, but she, alas! does not know whether she loves him or not till too late; and, after the irreparable, he falls by the hazard of the lot in that toss-up for suicide, the pros and cons of which (as in a former instance) I should like to see treated by a philosophical historian of the duello.

[Sidenote: _La Morte._]

In _La Morte_, on the other hand, the power is even greater--in fact it is the most powerful book of its author, and one of the most powerful of the later nineteenth century. But there is in it a reversion to the "purpose" heresy; and while it is an infinitely finer novel than the _Histoire de Sibylle_, it is injured, though not quite fatally, by the weapon it wields. One of the heroines, Sabine, niece and pupil of an Agnostic _savant_, deliberately poisons the other, Aliette, that she may marry Aliette's husband. But the Agnostic teaching extends itself soon from the Sixth Commandment to the Seventh, and M. de Vaudricourt, who, though not ceasing to love Aliette, and having no idea of the murder, has been ensnared into second marriage by Sabine, discovers, at almost the same time, that his wife is a murderess and a strumpet. She is also (one was going to say) something worse, a daughter of the horse-leech for wealth and pleasure and position. Now you _may_ be an Agnostic and a murderess and a strumpet and a female snob all at once: but no anti-Agnostic, who is a critic likewise, will say that the second, third, and fourth characteristics necessarily, and all together, follow from Agnosticism. It may remove some bars in their way; but I can frankly admit that I do not think it need definitely superinduce them, or that it is altogether fair to accumulate the _post hocs_ with their inevitable suggestion of _propter_.

However, "Purpose" here is simply at its old tricks, and I have known it do worse things than caution people against Agnostics' nieces.


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