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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

In less idiosyncratic writers than these


But

it is, of course, in less idiosyncratic writers than these, who continued, and in others who began, to write at this time, that we must look for our real documents. Among the elder of this second class, Jules Sandeau's work is worth recurring to. He had sometimes gone a little earlier than his own time, and he had sometimes employed what is called--perhaps inconsiderately and certainly to some extent misleadingly--"romantic" incident in addition to purely novel-character and presentation. But his general manner of dealing reproduces itself, almost more than that of any of his contemporaries, in those novelists of the last quarter of the century who do not bow the knee to Naturalism: and one finds some actual recognition of the fact in dedications to him by younger novelists such as M. Andre Theuriet.[560]

But, look where you will, the lesson is unmistakable. Take Alexandre Dumas _fils_, beginning with a _Tristan le Roux_ and ending with an _Affaire Clemenceau_. Take Flaubert's _Madame Bovary_ and _L'Education Sentimentale_, in comparison with which _Salammbo_ and two of the _Trois Contes_ (the other is quite in the general drift) are obvious variations, excursions, reliefs.[561] Feuillet is practically (whatever may have been his early practice as a "devil"), when he takes to his own line, modern, and in a sense ordinary or nothing: Daudet the same. Naturalism _en bloc_ would lose almost all pretence of justifying itself if it did not stick to

the ordinary, or at least actual, though it may sometimes be a sort of transformed "ordinariness in abnormality." So great and so fertile a writer as Maupassant leaves us--except in his supernaturalisms--nothing at all that goes out of the actual probable or easily possible experience of a Frenchman of 1880-90. The four novelists who supply the bulk of the last chapter never outstep this. But since such indulgence in particulars may be thought mere driving at an open door, let us take the fact for granted, and turn to some consideration of its causes, results, conditions, features, and the like.

One of the causes is of such certainty and importance that a person, not indolent or prejudiced, might ask for no other. It is that sempiternal desire for change[562]--that principle of revolution, which is so much more certain than any evolution, and which governs human life, though it is always bringing that life back to the old places, "camouflaged," as they say nowadays, in a fashion that disguises them to the simple. The romance of incident, historical and other, had had a long innings, and people were tired of it. But though this was undoubtedly the main influence, there were some others which it would be hardly judicious to neglect. It is true that the greatest of these were, in a fashion, only partial actions or reactions of the larger one already mentioned.[563] Beyle and Balzac, the latter of course with important "colours" of his own, and even the former with some modifications, had, as men of genius generally do, felt or found the spirit of change early, and their audiences helped to spread it. And yet minor impulsions might be indicated. It is a commonplace that from the days of the Napoleonic War to the middle 'fifties there were few great European events; commercial progress, developments of colonisation, machinery, literature, and the arts, somewhat peddling politics,[564] and the like taking the place of the big wars and the grandiose revolutions that ushered in the nineteenth century. But these mostly meaner things themselves claimed attention; they filled the life of men if they did not glorify it; classes and occupations which had been almost altogether non-vocal began to talk and be talked about, and so the change again held on.


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