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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Two of them much extolled by some Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly


ready to be so if it suited

her. _Miss Rovel_ with another girl-heroine--eccentric, but not in the lines of the usual French-English caricatures--is a great favourite with some. _La Revanche de Joseph Noirel_ is again melodramatic; and _Prosper Randoce_ is not good for much. But _Paule Mere_, one of its author's best character-books, is very much better--it is a study of ill-starred love, as is _Le Fiance de Mlle. Saint-Maur_, a book not so good, but not bad. _Samuel Brohl et Cie_ is a very clever story of a rascal. I do not know that any of his subsequent novels, _L'Idee de Jean Teterol_, _Noirs et Rouges_, _La Ferme du Choquard_, _Olivier Maugant_, _La Vocation du Comte Ghislain_, _La Bete_, _Une Gageure_, which closes the list of my acquaintance with them, will disappoint the reader who does not raise his expectation too high. _Olivier Maugant_ is perhaps the strongest. But the expression just used must not be taken as belittling. In both France and England such novel-writing had become almost a trade--certainly a profession: and the turning out of workmanlike and fairly satisfying articles for daily consumption is, if not a noble ambition, a quite respectable aim. M. Cherbuliez did something more than this: there are numerous scenes and situations in his work which do not merely interest, but excite, if they never exactly transport. And the provision of interest itself is, as has been allowed, remarkably bounteous. I should not despise, though I should be a little sorry for, a reader--especially an English
reader--who found more of it in Cherbuliez than even in Feuillet, and much more than in Flaubert or Maupassant. The causes of such preference require no extensive indication, and I need not say, after or before what is said elsewhere, that this order of estimate is not mine. But it is to some extent a "fact in the case."[437]

* * * * *

[Sidenote: Three eccentrics.]

Before finishing this chapter we ought, perhaps, to consider three odd persons, two of them much extolled by some--Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly, Leon Cladel, and "Champfleury" of _Les Excentriques_. The two first were themselves emphatically "eccentrics"--one an apostle of dandyism (he actually wrote a book about Brummel, whom he had met early), a disdainful critic of rather untrustworthy vigour, and a stalwart reactionary to Catholicism and Royalism; the other a devotee of the exact opposite of dandyism, as the title of his best-known book, _Les Va-nu-pieds_, shows, and a Republican to the point of admiring the Commune. The opposition has at least the advantage of disproving prejudice, in any unfavourable remarks that may be made about either. To Barbey d'Aurevilly's criticism I have endeavoured to do justice in a more appropriate place than this.[438] His fiction occupied a much smaller, but not a small, proportion of his very voluminous work. _Les Diaboliques_ and _L'Ensorcelee_, as well as _Les Va-nu-pieds_, are titles which entitle a reader to form certain more or less definite expectations about the books they label; and an author, by choosing them, deprives himself, to some extent, of the right justly claimed for him in Victor Hugo's well-known manifesto, to be judged _merely_ according to his own scheme, and the goodness or badness of its carrying out. If Hugo himself had made _Les Orientales_ studies of Montmartre and the Palais Royal, he could not have made out his right to the privilege he asserted. The objection applies to Barbey d'Aurevilly even more than to Cladel, but as the work of the latter is the less important, we may take it first.


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