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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Adventures past and future of Eudore


From

this almost any one who has read a few thousand novels--almost any intelligent person who has read a few hundred--can lay out the probable plot. Love of Eudore and Cymodocee; conversion of the latter; jealousy and intrigues of Hierocles; adventures past and future of Eudore; transfer of scene to Rome; prevalence of Galerius over Diocletian; persecution, martyrdom, and supernatural triumph. But the "fillings up" are not banal; and the book is well worth reading from divers points of view. In the earliest part there is a little too much Homer,[34] naturally enough perhaps. The ancient world changed slowly, and we know that at this particular time Greeks (if not also Romans) rather played at archaising manners. Still, it is probably not quite safe to take the memorable, if not very resultful, journey in which Telemachus was, rather undeservedly, so lucky as to see Helen and drink Nepenthe[35] and to reproduce it with guide- and etiquette-book exactness, _c._ A. D. 300. Yet this is, as has been said, very natural; and it arouses many pleasant reminiscences.

[Sidenote: Its "panoramic" quality.]

The book, moreover, has two great qualities which were almost, if not quite, new in the novel. In the first place, it has a certain _panoramic_ element which admits--which indeed necessitates--picturesqueness. Much of it is, almost as necessarily, _recit_ (Eudore giving the history of his travels and campaigns); but it is

_recit_ of a vividness which had never before been known in French, out of the most accomplished drama, and hardly at all in prose. The adventures of Eudore require this most, of course, and they get it. His early wild-oats at Rome, which earn him temporary excommunication; his service in the wars with the Franks, where, for almost the only time in literature, Pharamond and Merovee become living creatures; his captivity with them; his triumphs in Britain and his official position in Brittany, where the entrance of the Druidess Velleda and the fatal love between them provide perhaps the most famous and actually one of the most effective of the episodes of the book--all "stand out from the canvas," as the old phrase goes. Nor is the mastery lost when _recit_ becomes direct action, in the scenes of the persecution, and the final purification of the hero and crowning of the heroine in the amphitheatre. "The work burns"; and, while it is practically certain that the writer knew the Scudery romances, the contrast of this "burning" quality becomes so striking as almost to justify, comparatively if not positively, the accusations of frigidity and languor which have been somewhat excessively brought against the earlier performances. There is not the passion of _Atala_--it would have been out of place: and there is not the soul-dissection of _Rene_, for there is nothing morbid enough to require the scalpel. But, on the other hand, there is the bustle--if that be not too degrading a word--which is wanting in both; the vividness of action and of change; colour, variety, suspense, what may perhaps best be called in one word "pulse," giving, as a necessary consequence, life.

[Sidenote: And its remarkable advance in style.]

And this great advance is partly, if not mainly, achieved by another--the novelty of _style_. Chateaubriand had set out to give--has, indeed, as far as his intention goes, maintained throughout--an effort at _le style noble_, the already familiar rhetoric, of which, in French, Corneille had been the Dryden and Racine the Pope, while it had,


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