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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Nor can I think highly of La Haut


[Sidenote:

_Le Silence._]

On the other hand, if he ever wrote a worse book than _Le Silence_, I have not read, and I do not wish to read, that. The title is singularly unhappy. Silence is so much greater a thing than speech that a speaker, unless he is Shakespeare or Dante or Lucretius,[551] or at least the best kind of Wordsworth, had better avoid the subject, avoid even the word for it. And M. Rod's examples of silence, preluded in each case (for the book has two parts) by one of those curious harbingerings of his which are doubtfully satisfactory, are not what they call nowadays "convincing." The first and longest--it is, indeed, much too long and might have been more acceptable in twenty pages than in two hundred--deals with the usual triangle--brutal husband, suffering wife, interesting lover. But the last two never declare themselves, or are declared; and they both die and make no sign. In the second part there is another triangle, where the illegitimate side is established and results in a duel, the lover killing the husband and establishing himself with the wife. But a stove for tea-making explodes; she loses her beauty, and (apparently for that reason) poisons herself, though it does not appear that her lover's love has been affected by the change. In each case the situation comes under that famous and often-quoted ban of helpless and unmanageable misery.

[Sidenote: _La-Haut._]

Nor

can I think highly of _La-Haut_, which is quite literally an account of an Alpine village, and of its gradual vulgarisation by an enterprising man of business. Of the ordinary novel-interests there is little more than the introduction at the beginning of a gentleman who has triangled as usual, till, the husband has, in his, the lover's, presence, most inconsiderately shot his wife dead, has missed (which was a pity) M. Julien Sterny himself, and, more unconscionably still, has been acquitted by a court of justice, in which the officials, and the public in general, actually seemed to think that M. Sterny was to blame! He is much upset by this, and, coming to Vallanches to recuperate, is rewarded later for his good deeds and sufferings,[552] by the hand of a very attractive young woman with a fortune. This poetic justice, however, is by no means the point of the book, which, indeed, has no particular point. It is filled up by details of Swiss hotel-life: of the wicked conduct of English tourists, who not merely sing hymns on Sunday, but dance on wet evenings in the week (nearly the oddest combination of crimes known to the present writer); of a death in climbing of one of the characters which is not in the least required by the story; of the scalding of her arm by a _paysanne_ in a sort of "ragging" flirtation, and the operation on the mortifying member by a cure who knows something of chirurgy; and of the ruin of some greedy peasants who turn their chalet into a hotel with no capital to work it, and are bought out, with just enough to cover their outlay and leave them penniless, by the general _entrepreneur_. It is a curious book, but the very reverse of a successful one.

[Sidenote: _La Course a la Mort._]


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