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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Fay ce que dois may require a little enlarging


[502]

Maupassant does not caricature us (at least our men) very extravagantly. But he, like the rest of them, always makes us say, "Aoh." I have frequently endeavoured to produce, otherwise than as a diphthong, this mysterious word (a descendant, perhaps, of the equally mysterious _Aoi_ of the _Chanson de Roland_?). But I cannot make it like the way in which I say, or in which any well-educated Englishman says, "Oh!" American it may be, and it is not unlike the "Ow" of some dialects, but pure English it is not. It may be, for aught I know, phonetic: and has been explained as representing an affected sneer. The curious thing is that "Oh-_a_" actually is a not unfrequent, though slovenly, pronunciation.

[503] Evidently, therefore, the practice with which we have been so often reproached is of French--at least Norman--origin.

[504] The _other_ one, of course, but here one must admit the superiority of the foreign "strength." And the "story" has French antecedents.

[505] This is an actual translation of the Norman poet's words. It makes no bad blank-verse line.

[506] Its companions, in the volume to which it gives title, are mostly inferior specimens of the same class. But some, especially _Le Pain Maudit_, are very amusing, and _Lui_? is a curious and melancholy anticipation of _Le Horla_. _La Maison Tellier_, which opens and titles another volume

of no very different kind, has never seemed to me quite worthy of its fame. It is not unamusing in itself, and very amusing when one thinks of its greatly-daring imitators, but rather schoolboyish or even monkeyish in its determination to shock. (It doesn't shock _me_.) Another "shocker," but tragic, not comic, _La Femme de Paul_, which closes the book, is more powerful. (It is on the theme of _Mlle. Giraud ma Femme_ (_v. inf._); only the male person, instead of drowning his she-rival, far less wisely drowns himself.) But most of its contents suffer, not merely from Naturalist grime, but from Naturalist _meticulousness_.

[507] _V. sup._ p. 269 _sq._

[508] For the "Terror" group see below.

[509] Curiously enough, a few days _after_ writing the above I came across, in the last _Diabolique_ of that curious flawed genius, Barbey d'Aurevilly (_v. sup._ p. 453), the words which redress, by long anticipation, the wrong done by his fellow Norman: "Les ailes du nez, _aussi expressives que des yeux_."

[510] In a novel by a contemporary of his, otherwise not worth notice, Sir Walter Scott was accused of "_pruderie_ bete"; I am sure the adjective and substantive are much better mated in my text.

[511] I remember, in a book which I have not seen for about two-thirds of a century, Miss Martineau's _Crofton Boys_, an agreeable anecdote (for the good Harriet, when not under the influence of Radicalism, the dismal science, Anti-Christianity, or Mr. Atkinson, could tell a story very well) of a little English girl. It occurred to her one morning that she should have to wash, dress, do her hair, etc., _every day for her whole life_, and she sat down and wept bitterly. Now, if I were a little boy or girl in French novel-world, when as I remembered that I should have, as the one, never to marry, or to commit adultery with every one who asked me; that, as the other, I must not be left five minutes alone with a married woman, without offering her the means of carrying out her and her husband's destiny; I really think I should imitate Miss Martineau's child, if I did not even go and hang myself. "Fay ce que voudras" may be rather a wide commandment. "Fay ce que dois" may require a little enlarging. But "Do what you ought not, not because you wish to do it, but because it is the proper thing to do" is not only "the limit," but beyond it. I think that if I were a Frenchman of the novel-type I should hate the sight of a married woman. Stone walls would not a prison make nor iron bars a cage--so odious as this unrelieved tyranny of _concupiscentia carnis_--to order! Perhaps Wilberforce's Agathos had a tedious time of it in being always ready to resist the Dragon; but how much more wearisome would it be to be always on the _qui vive_, lest you should miss a chance of _not_ resisting him!


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