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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Which is a sort of tragic Boule de Suif the tragedy being


Short stories--the various collections.]

That the very large multitude[500] of his short stories (or, one begs pardon, brief-narratives) is composed of units very different in merit is not wonderful. It was as certain that the covers of the author of _Boule de Suif_[501] would be drawn for the kind of thing frequently, as that these would sometimes be drawn either blank, or with the result of a very indifferent run. To an eye of some expertness, indeed, a good many of these pieces are, at best, the sort of thing that a clever contributor would turn off to editorial order, when he looked into a newspaper office between three and five, or ten and midnight. I confess that I once burst out laughing when, having thought to myself on reading one, "This is not much above a better written Paul-de-Kockery," I found at the end something like a frank acknowledgment of the fact, _with the name_. In fact, Maupassant was not good at the pure _grivoiserie_; his contemporary M. Armand Silvestre (_v. inf._) did it much better. Touches of tragedy, as has been said, save the situation sometimes, and at others the supernatural element of dread (which was to culminate in _Le Horla_, and finally to overpower the author himself) gives help; but the zigzags of the line of artistic success are sharp and far too numerous. For a short story proper and a "proper" short story, _L'Epave_, where an inspector of marine insurance visits a wreck far out on the sands of the Isle

of Rhe, and, finding an Englishman and his daughter there, most unprofessionally forgets that the tides come up rapidly in such places, is nearly perfect. On the other hand, _Le Rosier de Mme. Husson_, one of the longest, is almost worthless.

[Sidenote: Classes--stories of 1870-71.]

At one time I had designed--and to no small extent written--a running survey of a large number of these stories as they turn up in the volumes, most of which--the _Contes de la Becasse_ is the chief exception--have no unity, and are merely "scoopings" of pieces enough to fill three hundred pages or so. But it would have occupied far too much space for its importance and interest. As a matter of fact, they are to some extent classifiable, and so may be dealt with on a representative system. There is the division of "La Revanche," which might have saved some of our fools at home from mistaking the Prussian for anything but a Prussian. _Boule de Suif_ heads this, of course; but _Mlle. Fifi_, which is a sort of tragic _Boule de Suif_--the tragedy being, one is glad to say, at the invaders' expense--is not far below it. _Deux Amis_, one of the best, records how two harmless Parisian anglers, pursuing their beloved sport too far, were shot for refusing to betray the password back; and _La Mere Sauvage_, the finest of all, how a French mother, hearing of her son's death, burnt her own house with some Germans billeted in it, and was, on her frank confession, shot. But _Un Duel_, though a Prussian officer (_vile damnum_) pays for his brutality with his life, restores the comic element, partly at the expense of the two English seconds.[502]

Connected with the war of 1870 too, though not military, is the capital _Coup d'Etat_, in which a Monarchist French squire checkmates, for the moment at least, a blatant Republican village doctor.

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