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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

In Cherie there is nothing exactly improper


The novels.]

To analyse all these novels, or even one of them, at length, would be a process as unnecessary as it would be disagreeable. The "chronicles of wasted _grime_" may be left to themselves, not out of any mere finical or fastidious superiority, but simply because their own postulates and axioms make such analysis (if the word unfairness can be used in such a connection) unfair to them. For they claimed--and the justice, if not the value, of the claim must be allowed--to have rested their fashion of novel-writing upon two bases. The substance was to be provided by an elaborate observation and reproduction of the facts of actual life, not in the least transcendentalised, inspirited, or in any other way brought near Romance, but considered largely from the points of view which their friend Taine, writing earlier, used for his philosophical and historical work--that of the _milieu_ or "environment," that of heredity, though they did not lay so much stress on this as Zola did--and the like. The treatment, on the other hand, was to be effected by the use of an intensely "personal" style, a new Marivaudage, compared to which, as we remarked above, Flaubert's doctrine of the single word was merely rudimentary. After Jules's death Edmond wrote, alone, _La Fille Elisa_, which was very popular, _La Faustin_, and _Cherie_, the last of which, with _Germinie Lacerteux_, may form the basis of a short critical examination. Those who merely wish to see

if they can like or tolerate the Goncourtian novel had perhaps better begin with _Renee Mauperin_ or _Madame Gervaisais_. Both have been very highly praised,[461] and the first named of them has the proud distinction of putting "le mot de Cambronne" in the mouth of a colonel who has been mortally wounded in a duel.

[Sidenote: _Germinie Lacerteux_ and _Cherie_ taken as specimens.]

To return to our selected examples, _Germinie Lacerteux_ is the story of an actual _bonne_ of the brothers, whose story, without "trimmings," is told in the _Journal_ itself.[462] The poor creature is as different as possible, not merely from the usual heroine, but from the _grisette_ of the first half of the century and from the _demi-mondaine_ of Dumas _fils_, and Daudet, and even Zola. She is not pretty; she is not fascinating in any way; she is neither good- nor ill-natured in any special fashion; she is not even ambitious of "bettering" herself or of having much pleasure, wealth, etc. If she goes to the bad it is in the most commonplace way and with the most unseductive seducer possible. Her progress and her end are, to borrow a later phrase and title metaphorically, merely a tale of the meanest streets; untouched and unconfirmed by the very slightest art; as destitute of any aesthetic attraction, or any evidence of artistic power, as the log-books of a common lodging-house and a hospital ward could be. In _Cherie_ there is nothing exactly improper; it is merely an elaborate study of a spoilt--at least petted--and unhealthy girl in the upper stages of society, who has at last the kindness--to herself, her relations, and the reader--to die. If M. de Goncourt had had the slightest particle of humour, of which there is no trace in any of his works, one might have taken this, like other things perhaps, as a slightly cryptic parody--of the _poitrinaire_-heroine mania of times a little earlier; but there is no hope of this. The subject was, in the sense attached to the word by these writers, "real"; it could be made useful for combined physiological and psychological detail; and, most important of all, it was more or less repulsive.[463]

[Sidenote: The impression produced by them.]

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