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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

It must surely be obvious that insistence on the lesion


but praise for him. When he

does not lose himself in the wilderness of particulars, he sometimes manages to rise from it to wonderful Pisgah-sights of description. He has a really vast, though never an absolute or consummate, and always a morbid, hold on what may be called the second range of character, and a drastic, if rather mechanical, faculty of combining scenes and incidents. The mass of the Rougon-Macquart books is very much more coherent than the _Comedie Humaine_. He has real pathos. But perhaps his greatest quality, shown at intervals throughout but never fully developed till the chaotic and sometimes almost Blake-like Apocalypses of his last stage, was a grandiosity of fancy--nearly reaching imagination, and not incapable of dressing itself in suitable language--which, though one traces some indebtedness to Lamennais and Michelet and Hugo, has sufficient individuality, and, except in these four, is very rarely found in French literature later than the sixteenth or early seventeenth century. To set against these merits--still leaving the main fault alone--there are some strange defects. Probably worst of all, for it has its usual appalling pervasiveness, is his almost absolute want of humour. Humour and Naturalism, indeed, could not possibly keep house together; as we shall see in Maupassant, the attempt has happier results than in the case of "Long John Brown and Little Mary Bell," for the fairy expels the Devil at times wholly. The minor and particular absurdities which result from this want
of humour crop up constantly in the books; and it is said to have been taken advantage of by Maupassant himself in one instance, the disciple "bamming" the master into recording the existences of peculiarly specialised places of entertainment, which the fertile fancy of the author of _Boule de Suif_ had created.

[Sidenote: The Pillars of Naturalism.]

The Naturalist Novel, as practised by Zola, rests on three principal supports, or rather draws its materials from, and guides its treatment by, three several processes or doctrines. The general observational-experimental theory of the Goncourts is very widely, in fact almost infinitely extended, "documents" being found or made in or out of the literal farrago of all occupations and states of life. But, as concerns the definitely "human" part of the matter, immense stress is laid on the Darwinian or Spencerian doctrines of heredity, environment, evolution, and the like. While, last of all in order, if the influence be taken as converging towards the reason of the failure, comes the "medico-legal" notion of a "lesion"--of some flaw or vicious and cancerous element--a sort of modernised [Greek: protarchos ate] in the family, which develops itself variously in individuals.

Now, before pointing out the faulty results of this as shown generally in the various books, let us, reversing the order in which the influences or elements have been stated, set out the main lines of error in the elements themselves.

In the first place, it must surely be obvious that insistence on the "lesion," even if the other points of the theory were unassailable, is grossly excessive, if not wholly illegitimate. If you are to take observation and experience for your sole magazine of subjects, you must take _all_ experience and _all_ observation. Not the veriest pessimist who retains sense and senses can say that their results are _always_ evil, ugly, and sordid. If you are to go by heredity you must attend to:


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