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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

447 while the last Diabolique


His novels themselves--_Les Diaboliques_ and others.]

[Sidenote: His merits.]

All this is interesting, but I fear it confirms a variation of the title of a famous Elizabethan play--"Novelists beware novelists." Poets have a worse reputation in this way, or course; but, I think, unjustly. Perhaps the reason is that the quality of poetry is more _definite_, if not more definable, than that of prose fiction, or else that poets are more really sure of themselves. Barbey d'Aurevilly[445] had an apparently undoubting mind, but perhaps there were unacknowledged doubts, which transformed themselves into jealousies, in his heart of hearts. For myself, I sympathise with his political and religious (if not exactly with his ecclesiastical) views pretty decidedly; I think (speaking as usual with the due hesitation of a foreigner) that he writes excellent French; and I am sure--a point of some consequence with me, and not too commonly met--that he generally writes (when he does not get _too_ angry) like a gentleman. He sometimes has phrases which please me very much, as when he describes two lovers embracing so long that they "must have drunk a whole bottle of kisses," or when he speaks of the voice of a preacher "_tombant_ de la chaire dans cette eglise ou _pleuvaient_ les tenebres du soir," where the opposition-combination of "tombant" and "pleuvaient," and the image it arouses, seem to me of a most absolute fancy. He can

write scenes--the finale of his best book, _L'Ensorcelee_; the overture of _Un Pretre Marie_; and nearly the whole of the last and best _Diabolique_, "Une Vengeance de Femme"--which very closely approach the first class. And, whether he meant me to do so or not, I like him when in "Un Diner d'Athees" he makes one of them "swig off" (_lamper_) a bumper of Picardan, the one wine in all my experience which I should consider fit _only_ for an atheist.[446] But a good novelist I cannot hold him.

The inability does not come from any mere "unpleasantness" in his subjects, though few pleasant ones seem to have lain in his way, and he certainly did not go out of that way to find them. But _L'Ensorcelee_ can only be objected to on this score by an absurdly fastidious person, and I do not myself want any more rose-pink and sky-blue in _Un Pretre Marie_;[447] while the last _Diabolique_, already mentioned, is a capital example of grime made more than tolerable.[448] Indeed, nothing of the sort can be more unmistakable than the sincerity of Barbey's "horrors." They mark, in that respect, nearly the apex of the triangle, the almost disappearing lower angles of which may be said to be represented by the crude and clumsy vulgarities of Janin's _Ane Mort_, and the more craftsmanlike, indeed in a way almost artistic, but unconvinced and unconvincing atrocities of Borel's _Champavert_.

[Sidenote: And defects.]

[Sidenote: Especially as shown in _L'Ensorcelee_.]

The objection, and the defect which occasions the objection, are quite different. Barbey d'Aurevilly has many gifts and some excellencies. But his work in novel constantly reminds me of the old and doubtless well-known story of a marriage which was almost ideally perfect in all

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