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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Lello Manuel Coromila finds out the plot too late


[Sidenote:

_Tolla._]

The same fault of _longueurs_ makes itself felt in _Tolla_: and indeed the author seems to have been conscious of it, and confesses it in an apologetic _Preface_ to the editions after the first. But this does not form the chief ground of accusation against it. Nor, certainly, do the facts, as summarised in a note, justify any serious charge of plagiarism,[419] though the celebrated Buloz seems for once to have been an unwise editor, in objecting to a fuller acknowledgment of indebtedness on the part of his contributor. A story of this tragical kind will bear much fuller handling than a comic tale of scarcely more than one situation, recounted with a perpetual "tongue-in-cheek" accompaniment.

But, from another point of view, the book does justify the drawing of a general literary moral, that true _donnees_ are very far from being certain blessings--that they are, in fact, _dona Danaorum_--to the novelist; that he should not hug the shore of fact, but launch out into the ocean of invention. About, in a fashion rather cheerfully recalling the boasts of poor Shadwell, who could "truly say that he had made it[420] into a play" and that "four of the humours were entirely new," assures us that he has invented everything but the main situation, and written everything out of his own head except a few of the letters of Tolla. Some of these added things are good, though one of the author's besetting sins may

be illustrated by the fact that he gives nearly half a score pages to a retrospective review of the history of a Russian General's widow and her daughter, when as many lines--or, better still, a line or two of explanation here and there--would be all that the story requires.[421] But the "given" situation itself is a difficult one to handle interestingly: and, in some estimates at any rate, the difficulty has not been overcome here. The son--a younger, but still amply endowed son--of one of the greatest Roman families, compact of Princes and Cardinals, with reminiscences of Venetian dogedom, falls in love, after a half-hearted fashion, with the daughter of another house of somewhat less, but still old repute, and of fair, though much lesser wealth. By a good deal of "shepherding" on the part of her family and friends, and (one is bound to say) some rather "downright Dunstable" on her own, he is made to propose; but _her_ family accepts the demand that the thing shall, for a time, be kept secret from _his_. Of course no such secrecy is long possible; and his people, especially a certain wicked cavaliere-colonel, with the aid of a French Monseigneur and the Russians above mentioned, plot to break the thing off, and finally succeed. "Lello" (Manuel) Coromila finds out the plot too late. Tolla dies of a broken heart.

It seems to me--speaking with the humility which I do not merely affect, but really feel on the particular point--that this might make a good subject for a play: that in the hands of Shakespeare or Shelley it might make a very great one in two different kinds. But--now speaking with very much less diffidence--I do not think it a promising one for a novel; and, speaking with hardly any at all, I think that it has certainly not made a good one here. Shut up into the narrow action of the stage; divested of the intervals which make its improbabilities more palpable; and with the presentation of Lello as a weaker and baser Hamlet, of Tolla as a betrayed Juliet--with all this brought out and made urgent by a clever actor and actress, the thing might be made very effective. Dawdled over in a novel again of three hundred pages, it loses appeal to the sympathy and constantly starts fresh difficulties for the understanding.


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