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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Sidenote Alphonse Daudet and his curious position

[Sidenote: Misters the assassins.]

On the other hand, the vigour, the variety, and (where the purpose does not get too much the upper hand) the satiric skill are very nearly first-rate. And, with the cautions and admissions just given, there is not a little in the purpose itself, with which one may be permitted to sympathise. After all "misters the assassins" were being allowed very generous "law," and it was time for other people to "begin." As for Feuillet's opposition to the "modern spirit," which was early denounced, it is not necessary--even for any one who knows that this modern spirit is only an old enemy with a new face, or who, when he sees the statement that "Nothing is ever going anywhere to be the same," chuckles, and, remembering all history to the present minute, mutters, "Everything always has been, is, and always will be the same"--to call in these knowledges of his to the rescue of Feuillet's position as a novelist. That position is made sure, and would have been made sure if he had been as much of a Naturalist as he was the reverse, by his power of constructing interesting stories; of drawing, if not absolutely perfect, passable and probable characters; of throwing in novel-accessories with judgment; and of giving, by dint of manners and talk and other things necessary, vivid and true portrayals of the society and life of his time.

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[Sidenote: Alphonse Daudet and his curious position.]

[Sidenote: His "personality."]

Perhaps there is no novelist in French literature--or, indeed, in any other--who, during his lifetime, occupied such a curiously "mixed" position as Alphonse Daudet.[415] No contemporary of his obtained wider general popularity, without a touch of irregular bait or of appeal to popular silliness in it, than he did with _Le Petit Chose_, with the charming bundle of pieces called _Lettres de Mon Moulin_, and later with the world-delighting burlesque of _Tartarin de Tarascon_. _Jack_ and _Fromont Jeune et Risler Aine_ contained more serious advances, which were, however, acknowledged as effective by a very large number of readers. But he became more and more personally associated with the Naturalist group of Zola and Edmond de Goncourt; and though he never was actually "grimy," he had, from a quite early period, when he was secretary or clerk to the Duc de Morny, adopted, and more and more strenuously persisted in, a kind of "personal" novel-writing, which might be regarded as tainted with the general Naturalist principle that nothing is _tacendum_--that private individuality may be made public use of, to almost any extent. Of course a certain licence in this respect has always been allowed to novelists. In the eighteenth century English writers of fiction had very little scruple in using and abusing that licence, and French, though with the fear of the arbitrary justice or injustice of their time and country before them, had almost less. As the nineteenth went on, the practice by no means disappeared on either side of the Channel. With us Mr. Disraeli indulged in it largely, and even Thackeray, though he condemned it in others, and was furious when it was exercised on himself, in journalism if not in fiction, pretty notoriously fell into it now and then. As to Dickens, one need not go beyond the too notorious instance of Skimpole. Quite a considerable proportion of Balzac's company are known to have been Balzacified from the life; of George Sand's practice it is unnecessary to say more.

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