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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Some oddments 508 may deserve addition


[Sidenote:

Tales of Life's Irony.]

As examples, bending sometimes to the comic, sometimes to the pathetic side of studies in the irony of life, one may recommend _A Cheval_ (a holiday taken by a poor but well-born family, which saddles them with an unconscionable "run-over" Old-_Wo_man-of-the-_Land_); _La Parure_ and _Les Bijous_ (the first a variant of _A Cheval_, the second a discovery by a husband, after his wife's death, of her shame); and perhaps best of all, _Regret_, in which a gentleman of sixty, reflecting on his wasted life, remembers a picnic, decades earlier, where the wife of his lifelong friend--both of them still friends and neighbours--behaved rather oddly. He hurries across to ask her (whom he finds jam-making) what she would have done if he had "failed in respect," and receives the cool answer, "J'aurais cede." It is good; but fancy not being able to take a walk, and observe the primroses by the river's brim, without being bound in honour to observe likewise whether the lady by your side was ready to "cede" or not! It seems to me that in such circumstances one would, to quote a French critic on an entirely different author and matter, "lose all the grace and liberty of the composition."

[Sidenote: Oddments.]

Some oddments[508] may deserve addition. _Fini_, which might have been mentioned in the last group, is a very perfect thing. A well-preserved dandy in middle age

meets, after many years, an old love, and sees, mirrored in _her_ decay, his own so long ignored. Nobody save a master could have done this as it is done. _Julie Romain_ is a quaint half-dream based on some points in George Sand's life, and attractive. The _title_ of _L'Inutile Beaute_ has also always been so to me (the _story_ is worth little). It would be, I think, a fair test of any man's taste in style, whether he did or did not see any difference between it and _La Beaute Inutile_. In _Adieu_, I think, Maupassant has been guilty of a fearful heresy in speaking of part of a lady's face as "ce _sot_ organe qu'on appelle le nez." Now that a nose, both in man and woman, can be foolish, nobody will deny. But that foolishness is an organic characteristic of it--in the sense of inexpressiveness, want of character, want of charm--is flatly a falsehood.[509] Neither mouth nor eyes can beat it in that respect; and if it has less variety individually, it gives perhaps more general character to the face than either. However, he is, if I mistake not, obliged to retract partially in the very story.

I have notes of many others--some of which may be special favourites with readers of mine--but room for no more. Yet for me at least among all these, despite the glaring inequality, despite the presence of some things utterly ephemeral and not in the least worth giving a new day to; despite the "_salete_ bete"[510] and the monotonous and obligatory adultery,[511] there abides, as in the large books, and from circumstances now and then with gathered intensity, that quality of above-the-commonness which has obliged me to speak of Maupassant as I have spoken.


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