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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

554 Sidenote Le Menage du Pasteur Naudie


And

doubtless it was so, as has been seen of many in the Time of Roses.[554]

[Sidenote: _Le Menage du Pasteur Naudie._]

To take one or two more of his books, _Le Menage du Pasteur Naudie_, though less poignant than _La Sacrifiee_ and with no approach to the extra-novelish merit of _La Course a la Mort_, starts not badly with an interesting scene, no less a place than La Rochelle, very rarely met, since its great days, in a French novel--a rather unfamiliar society, that of French Protestantism at Rochelle itself and Montauban--and a certainly unusual situation, the desire of a young, pretty, and wealthy girl, Jane Defos, to marry an elderly pastor who is poor, and, though a widower, has four children.

That nothing but mischief can come of this proceeding--as of an abnormal leap-year--is clear enough: whether the way in which the mischief is brought about and recounted is good may be more doubtful. That a person like M. Naudie, simple, though by no means a fool, should be taken in by a very pretty girl falling apparently in love with him--even though, to the general dangers of the situation, are added frank warnings that she has been given to a series of freakish fancies--is not unnatural; that she should soon tire of him, and sooner still of the four step-children, is very natural indeed. But the immediate cause of the final disruption--her taking a new fancy to, and being atheistically

converted by, a cousin who, after all, runs away from temptation--is not very natural, and is unconvincingly told. Indeed the whole character of Jane is insufficiently presented. She is meant to be a sort of Blanche Amory, with nothing real in her--only a succession of false and fleeting fancies. But M. Rod was not Thackeray.

[Sidenote: _Mademoiselle Annette._]

[Sidenote: _L'Eau Courante._]

With two or three more of his later-middle books (it does not seem necessary to deal with the very latest, which are actually beyond our limit, and could not alter the general estimate very favourably) the preparation of judgment may cease. _Mademoiselle Annette_ is the history of a "house-angel" and her family, and the fortunes and misfortunes they go through, and the little town of Bielle on the Lake of Geneva.[555] It is told, rather in M. Ferdinand Fabre's way, by a bystander, from the time when the heroine was his school-dame and, as such dames sometimes, if not often, are, adored by her pupils. Annette dies at last, and M. Rod strews the dust of many others on her way to death. An American brother of the typical kind plays a large part. He is tamed partly by Annette, partly by a charming wife, whom M. Rod must needs kill, without any particular reason. _L'Eau Courante_ is an even gloomier story. It begins with a fair picture of a home-coming of bride and bridegroom, on a beautiful evening, to an ideal farm high up on the shore of Leman. In a very few pages M. Rod, as usual, kills the wife after subjecting her to exceptional tortures at the births of her children, and then settles down comfortably to tell us the ruin of the husband, who ends by arson of his own lost home and drowning in his own lost pond. The interval is all blunder, misfortune, and folly--the chief _causa malorum_ being a senseless interference with the "servitude" rights of neighbours, whom he does not like, by stopping, for a week, a spring on his own land. Almost the only cheerful character in the book (except a delightful _juge de conciliation_, who carries out his benevolent duties in his cellar, dispensing its contents to soften litigants) is a black billy-goat named Samuel, who, though rather diabolical, is in a way the "Luck of the Bertignys," and after selling whom their state is doomed. But we see very little of him.


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