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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Is fortunate for the nincompoops


That

a very delightful girl[422] may fall in love with a nincompoop who is also notoriously a light-of-love, is quite possible: and, no doubt, is fortunate for the nincompoops, and, after a fashion, good for the continuation of the human race. But, in a novel, you must make the process interesting, and that is not, _me judice_, done here. The nincompoop, too, is such an utter nincompoop (he is not a villain, nor even a rascal) that, no comic use being made of his nincompoopery, he is of no use at all. And though an old and haughty Italian family like the Feraldis _might_ no doubt in real life--there is nothing that may not happen in real life--consent to clandestine engagements of the kind described, it certainly is one of the possible-improbables which are fatal, or nearly so, to art. Two or three subordinate characters--the good-natured and good-witted Marquis Filippo Trasimeni, the faithful peasant Menico, Tolla's foster-brother, and even the bad chambermaid Amarella--have some merit. But twenty of them could not save the book, which, after dawdling till close upon its end, huddles itself up in a few pages, chiefly of _recit_, in a singularly inartistic fashion.

[Sidenote: _Germaine._]

_Germaine_, which has been (speaking under correction) a much less popular book than either _Le Roi des Montagnes_ or _Tolla_, is perhaps better than either. Except for a very few pages, it does not attempt the somewhat cackling

irony of the Greek book; and though it ends with one failure of a murder, one accomplished ditto, and two more deaths of no ordinary kind, it does not even attempt, as the Italian one does, real tragedy. But it has a fairly well-knit plot, some attempt at character, sufficient change of incident and scene, and hardly any _longueurs_. Even the hinge of the whole, though it presents certain improbabilities, is not of the brittle and creaking kind reprobated in that of _Tolla_.

A Neapolitan-Spanish Count of Villanera, whose second title is "Marquis of the Mounts of Iron," possessed also not only of the bluest of blood, but of mountains of gold, has fallen in love, after an honour-in-dishonour fashion, with the grass-widow of a French naval captain, Honorine Chermidy, and has had a child by her. She is really a worse Becky Sharp, or a rather cleverer Valerie Marneffe (who perhaps was her model[423]), and she forms a cunning plan by which the child may be legitimated and she herself, apparently renouncing, will really secure a chance of, the countdom, the marquisate, and the mountains of iron and gold. (Of the latter she has got a good share out of her lover already.) The plan is that Villanera shall marry some girl (of noble birth but feeble health and no fortune), which will, according to French law, effect or at least permit the legitimation of the little Marques de las Montes de Hierro--certain further possibilities being left ostensibly to Providence, but, in Madame Chermidy's private intentions, to the care of quite another Power. The Dowager Countess de Villanera--rather improbably, but not quite impossibly--accepts this, being, though proud, willing to derogate a little to make sure of an heir to the House of Villanera with at any rate a portion (the sceptical would say a rather doubtful portion[424]) of its own blood.


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