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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

By Baptistin and by a much interrupted journey in snow


The

earlier and shorter, but not short, interval, mentioned above, passes to 1852, and does little more than bring the now "Parisian" narrator into fresh contact with his old school-fellow Baptistin, now a full-grown priest, but, though very pious, in some difficulties from his persistent love of sport. Sixteen years later, again, in 1868, reappears, "coming to his death,"[534] Galabru himself. The part is chiefly occupied by a _recit_ of intervening history (including a sadly unsuccessful attempt, both at spiritual and physical combat, by Baptistin) and by a much-interrupted journey in snow.[535] But it gives occasion for another agreeable "idyll" between Vincinet, Galabru's son, and the Abbe Baptistin's god-child Lalie; and it ends with a striking procession to carry, hardly in time, the _viaticum_ to the dying wizard, whereby, if not his own weal in the other world, that of the lovers in this is happily brought about.

Not very many generalities are required on M. Ferdinand Fabre. How completely his way lies out of most of the ruts in which the wain of the French novel usually travels must have been shown; and it may be hoped that enough has been said also to show that there are plenty of minor originalities about him. No novelist[536] in any language known to me (unless you call Richard Jefferies a novelist) has such an extraordinary command of "the country"--bird-nature and rock scenery being his favourite but by no means his only subjects. For

"Scenes of Clerical Life" he stands admittedly alone in France, and has naturally been dealt with most often from this point of view. Of that intense provincialism, in the good sense, which is characteristic of French literature, there have been few better representatives. Wordsworth himself is scarcely more the poet of our Lake and Hill country than Fabre is the novelist of the Cevennes. Peasant life and child life of the country (he meddles little, and not so happily, with towns of any size) find in him admirably "vatical" properties and combinations; and if he does not run any risk of Feste's rebuke by talking much of "ladies," he knows as much about women as a man well may. His comedy is never coarse or trivial, and the tragedy never goes off through the touch-hole. Of one situation--very easy to spoil by rendering it mawkish--the early but not "calf"-love of rustic man and maid, beginning in childhood, he was curiously master. George Sand herself[537] has nothing to beat (if she has anything to equal) the pairs of Taillevent and Riquette (in the novel named from the lover), and of Vincinet and Lalie (in _Toussaint Galabru_). As for his pictures of clerical cabals and clerical weaknesses, they may be too much of a good thing for some tastes; but that they are a good thing, both as an exercise in craftsmanship and as an alternative to the common run of French novel subjects, can hardly be denied. In this respect, and not in this respect only, M. Fabre has his own place, and that no low one.

* * * * *

[Sidenote: Andre Theuriet.]

In coming to M. Andre Theuriet I felt a mixture of curiosity


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