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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

By the meeting of Harry Bertram and Dandie Dinmont


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respects but one--that the

girl "couldna bide her man." He can do many things, but he cannot or will not tell a story, save in such fragments and flashes as those noted above. His _longueurs_ are exasperating and sometimes nearly maddening, though perhaps many readers would save themselves by simply discontinuing perusal. The first _Diabolique_ has metal attractive enough of its kind. A young officer boards with a provincial family, where the beautiful but at first silent, abstracted, and, as the Pleiade would have said, _marbrine_ daughter suddenly, though secretly, develops frantic affection for him, and shows it by constant indulgence in the practice which that abominable cad in Ophelia's song put forward as an excuse for not "wedding." But, on one of these occasions, she translates trivial metaphor into ghastly fact by literally dying in his arms. Better stuff--again of its kind--for a twenty-page story, or a little more, could hardly be found. But Barbey gives us _ninety_, not indeed large, but, in the usual editions, of exceptionally close and small print, watering out the tale intolerably almost throughout, and giving it a blunt and maimed conclusion. _Le Bonheur dans le Crime_,[449] _Le Dessous de Cartes_, and the above-mentioned _Diner d'Athees_, which fill a quarter of a thousand of such pages, invite slashing with a hook desperate enough to cut each down to a quarter of a hundred. _Un Pretre Marie_, which perhaps comes next to _L'Ensorcelee_ in merit, would be enormously improved by being in
one volume instead of two. Of _Une Vieille Maitresse_ I think I could spare both, except a vigorously told variant (the suggestion is acknowledged, for Barbey d'Aurevilly was much too proud to steal) of Buckingham's duel[450] and the Countess (not "Duchess," by the way) of Shrewsbury. _Une Histoire sans Nom_, a substantial though not a very long book, is only a short story spun out. Even in _L'Ensorcelee_ itself the author, as a critic, might, and probably would, have found serious fault, had it been the work of another novelist. There is less surplusage and more continuous power, so that one is carried through from the fine opening on the desolate moor (a _little_ suggested, perhaps, by the meeting of Harry Bertram and Dandie Dinmont, but quite independently worked out) to the vigorous close above referred to. But the story is quite unnecessarily muddled by information that part of it was supplied by the Norman Mr. Dinmont, and part by an ancient countess. We never get any clear idea _why_ Jeanne le Hardouey was bewitched, and _why_ the Chevalier-Abbe de la Croix-Jugan suffered and diffused so gruesome a fate.[451] Yet the fate itself is enough to make one close, with the sweet mouth, remarks on this very singular failure of a genius. Few things of the sort in fiction are finer than the picture of the terrible unfinished mass (heralded over the desolate moor at uncertain times by uncanny bell-ringing), which the reprobate priest (who has been shot at the altar-steps before he could accomplish the Sacrifice of Reconciliation[452]) endeavours after his death to complete, being always baffled before the consecrating moment.


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