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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

La Vie Privee de Michel Teissier


[Sidenote:

_La Vie Privee de Michel Teissier._]

Next to _Le Sens de la Vie_ and perhaps in a way, as far as popularity goes, above it, may be ranked, I suppose, _La Vie Privee de Michel Teissier_, with its sequel, _La Seconde Vie de M. T._ These books certainly made a bold and wide separation of aim and subject from the subject and the aim of most French novels in these recent years. Here you have, instead of a man who attempts somebody else's wife, one who wishes to get rid--on at least legally respectable terms--of his own, and to marry a girl for whom he has, and who has for him, a passion which is, until legal matrimony enfranchises it, able to restrain itself from any practical satisfaction of the as yet illicit kind. He avails himself of the then pretty new facilities for divorce (the famous "Loi Naquet," which used to "deave" all of us who minded such things many years ago), and the situation is (at least intentionally) made more piquant by the fact that Teissier, who is a prominent statesman and gives up not merely his wife but his political position for this new love of his, starts as an actual supporter of the repeal of the divorce laws. To an English reader, of course, the precise problem would not have the same charm of novelty, except in his capacity as a reader of French novels. But, putting that aside, the position is obviously capable of being treated with very considerable appeal. The struggles of the husband, who _has_ loved his wife--M.

Rod had not the audacity or the strength to make him love her still--between his duties and his desires; the indignant suffering of the wife; and most of all, the position of the girl who, by ill-fortune or the fault of others, finds herself expending, on an at first illicit and always ill-famed love, what she might have devoted to an honourable one, certainly has great capabilities. But I did not think when I read it first, and I do not think now when I have read it again, that these various opportunities are fully taken. It is not that M. Rod has no idea of passion. He is constantly handling it and, as will be seen presently, not without success occasionally. But he was too much what he calls his eidolon in one book, "Monsieur le psychologue," and the Psyche he deals with is too often a skinny and spectacled creature--not the love of Cupid and the mother of Voluptas.[550]

[Sidenote: _La Sacrifiee._]

If he has ever made his story hot enough to make this pale cast glow, it is in _La Sacrifiee_. This is all the more remarkable in that the beginning of the book itself is far from promising. There is a rather unnecessary usher-chapter--a thing which M. Rod was fond of, and which, unless very cleverly done, is more of an obstacle than of a "shoe-horn." The hero-narrator of the main story is one of the obligatorily atheistic doctors--nearly as great a nuisance as obligatorily adulterous heroines--whom M. Rod has mostly discarded; and what is more, he is one of the pseudo-scientific fanatics who believe in the irresponsibility


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