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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Le Comte Kostia is sometimes considered his best novel

This may have been partly due

to the curious latent grudge with which French writers--to the country as well as to the language and manners born--have always regarded their Swiss comrades or competitors--the attitude as to a kind of poacher or interloper.[436] But to leave the matter there would be not only to miss thoroughness in the individual case, but also to overlook a point of very considerable importance to the history of the French novel generally. There is undoubtedly something in M. Cherbuliez's numerous, vigorous, and excellently readable novels which reminds one more of English than of French fiction. We have noticed a certain resemblance in Feuillet to Trollope: it is stronger still in Cherbuliez. Not, of course, that the Swiss novelist denies himself--though he uses them more sparingly--the usual latitudes of the French as contrasted with the English novelist during nine-tenths of the nineteenth century. But he does use them more sparingly, and he is apt to make his heroines out of unmarried girls, to an extent which might at that time seem, to the conventional French eye, simply indecent. He is much more prodigal of "interest"--that is to say, of incident, accident, occurrence--than most French novelists who do not affect somewhat melodramatic romance. On the other hand, his character-drawing, though always efficient, is seldom if ever masterly; and that "schematisation," on which, as is pointed out in various places of this book, French critics are apt to insist so much, is not always present.
Of actual passion he has little, and his books are somewhat open to the charge--which has been brought against those of so many of our own second-best novelists--that they are somewhat machine-made, or, if that word be too unkind, are rather works of craft than of art. Yet the work of a sound craftsman, using good materials, is a great help in life; and a person who wants good story-pastime for a certain number of nights, without possessing a Scheherazade of his own, will find plenty of it in the thirty years' novel turn-out of Victor Cherbuliez.

[Sidenote: Short survey of his books.]

He did not find his way at once, beginning with "mixed" novels of a Germanish kind--art-fiction in _Un Cheval de Phidias_; psychological-literary matter (Tasso's madness) in _Le Prince Vitale_; politico-social subjects in _Le Grand-oeuvre_. But these things, which have not often been successes, certainly were not so in M. Cherbuliez's hands. He broke fresh ground and "grew" a real novel in _Le Comte Kostia_, and he continued to till this plot, with good results, for the rest of his life. The "scenes and characters" are sufficiently varied, those in the book just mentioned being Russian and those in _Ladislas Bolski_ Polish--neither particularly complimentary to the nationalities concerned, and the latter decidedly melodramatic. _Le Comte Kostia_ is sometimes considered his best novel; but I should put above it both _Le Roman d'une Honnete Femme_ (his principal attempt in purely French society and on Feuilletesque lines, with a tighter morality) and _Meta Holdenis_, a story of a Swiss girl--not beautiful, but "_vurry_ attractive," and not actually "no better than she should be," but quite

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