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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

The actual final letter of the name of Gustave Droz



_Madame de Chalis_, according to a memory of many years which I have not thought it worth while to freshen, has a weaker draught of this rancid and mawkish sentimentality. But having in those days missed (or failed over) _Daniel_, I thought it incumbent on me to gird myself up to its eight hundred pages. A more dismal book, even to skim, I have seldom taken up. The hero--a prig of the first water--marries one of those apparently only half-flesh-and-blood wives who, novelistically, never fail to go wrong. He cannot, in the then state of French law, divorce her, but he is able to return her on her mother's hands. Going to Trouville (about which, then a quite new-fashioned resort, there is a great deal in the book), he meets a beautiful girl, Louise de Grandmont, and the pair fall--not merely hopelessly, which is, in the circumstances, a matter of course, but, it would seem, innocently--in love with each other. But in such a case scandal must needs come; and it is engineered by revenge of the discarded wife and the mother-in-law, by the treachery of some of Daniel's friends and the folly of others, as well as, it must be added, by his own weak violence, thoughtless conduct, and general imbecility. All this is developed at enormous length, and it ends in a general massacre, Louise's uncle being killed in a duel which Daniel ought to have fought (he is no coward, but a hopeless blunderer), the girl herself dying of aneurism, and

Daniel putting an end to himself in her grave, much more messily and to quite infinitely less tragic effect than Romeo. There is one scene in which he is represented as gathering all his enemies together (including a lawyer, who is half-rogue, half-dupe) and putting them all to confusion by his oratory. The worst of it is that one does not in the least see _why_ they were confused, except in one case, where the foe is literally kicked downstairs--an effective method, and one rare enough in French novels up to this date to be worth notice.[434]

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[Sidenote: Droz.]

It was, for all contemporary readers of the French novel, except those of the gravest and most precise kind, a day to be marked, not with vanishing forms in chalk, but with alabaster or Parian, when "Marcellin" of the _Vie Parisienne_--one of those remarkable editors who, without ever writing themselves, seem to have the knack of attracting and almost creating writers, enlisted one "Z," the actual final letter of the name of Gustave Droz, and published the first article of those to be later collected as _Monsieur, Madame et Bebe_ and _Entre Nous_. Although the contents of these books only added a fresh sprout to the age-old tree that, for more than half a millennium, had borne _fabliau_ and _nouvelle_ and _conte_ and _histoire_, and so forth, they had a remarkable, if not easily definable, differentia of their own, and have influenced fiction-writing of the same kind for a good half-century since. The later-working "Gyp" and others owed a good deal to them; and I am bound to say that--reading the two books recently after a long interval--I found my old favourites just as amusing as I found them the very first time, shortly after they came out.

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