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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Sidenote General characteristics


General characteristics.]

One has thus been able to give an account, very favourable in the main, of these three or four stories--selected with no hidden design, and in two cases previously unknown to the critic, who has, in addition, a fair remembrance of several others. But it will be observed that there is in them, with all their merits, some evidence of that "rut" or "mould" character which has been specified as absent in greater novelists, but as often found in company with a certain accomplishment, in _ordonnance_ and readable quality, that marks the later novel. The very great prominence of description is common to all of them, and in three out of the four the scenes are from the same district--almost from the same patch--of country. The heroine is the most prominent character and, as she should be, the most attractive figure of all; but she is made up and presented, if not exactly _a la douzaine_, yet with a strong, almost a sisterly, family likeness. Far be it from the present writer to regret or desiderate the adorably candid creature who so soon smirches her whiteness. Even the luckless Sauvageonne--worst mannered, worst moralled, and worst fated of all--is a jewel and a cynosure compared with that other class of girl; while Raymonde (whose maltreatment of M. de Prefontaine is to a great extent excused by her mother's bullying, her real father's weakness, and her own impulsive temperament); the Therese of _Le Fils Maugars_; and the

Marianne of _Le Don Juan de Vireloup_ are, in ascending degrees, girls of quite a right kind. Only, it is just a little too much the _same_ kind. And without unfairness, without even ingratitude, one may say that this sameness does somewhat characterise M. Theuriet.

* * * * *

[Sidenote: Georges Ohnet.]

There were some who did not share the general admiration, a good many years ago, of the dictum of a popular French critic on a more popular French novelist to the effect that, though it was his habit, in the articles he was writing, to confine himself to literature, he would break this good custom for once and discuss M. Ohnet. In the first place, this appeared to the dissidents a very easy kind of witticism; they knew many men, many women, and many schoolboys who could have uttered it. In the second, they were probably of the opinion (changing the matter, instead of, like that wicked Prince Seithenyn, merely reversing the order, of the old Welsh saying) that "The goodness of wit sleeps in the badness of manners." But if the question had been then, or were now, asked seriously whether the literary value of _Le Maitre de Forges_ and its companion novels was high, few of them would, as probably, have been or be able to answer in the affirmative. For my own part, I always used to think, when M. Ohnet's novels came out, that they were remarkably like those of the eminent Mrs. Henry Wood[542] in English--of course _mutatis mutandis_. They displayed very fair aptitude for the _business_ of novel manufacture, and the results were such as, in almost every way, to satisfy the average subscriber to a circulating library, supposing him or her to possess respectable tastes (scarcely "taste"), moderate intelligence, and a desire to pass the time comfortably enough in reading them once, without the slightest expectation of being, or wish to be, able to read them again. They might even sometimes excite readers who possessed an adjustable "tally" of excitableness. But beyond this, as it seemed to their critic of those days, they never went.

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