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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

One Mademoiselle Adelaide Chopard


If translated into English it

might have for second title "or, The History of a Good Lout." The career of Jean Durand (one of the French equivalents for John Brown or Jones or Robinson) we have from the moment of, and indeed a little before, his birth to that crowning of a virtuous young Frenchman's hopes, which consists in his marrying a pretty, amiable, sensible, and well-to-do young widow.[49] Jean is the son of a herbalist father who is an eccentric but not a fool, and a mother who is very much of a fool but not in the least eccentric. The child, who is born in the actual presence (result of the usual farcical opening) of a corporal and four fusiliers, is put out to nurse at Saint-Germain in the way they did then, brought home and put out to school, but, in consequence of his mother's absurd spoiling, allowed to learn absolutely nothing, and (though he is not exactly a bad fellow) to get into very bad company. With two of the choicest specimens of this he runs away (having, again by his mother's folly, been trusted with a round sum in gold) at the age of sixteen, and executes a sort of picaresque journey in the environs of Paris, till he is brought to his senses through an actual robbery committed by the worst of his companions. He returns home to find his father dead: and having had a substantial income left him already by an aunt, with the practical control of his mother's resources, he goes on living entirely _a sa guise_. This involves no positive debauchery or ruination, but includes smoking (then,
it must be remembered, almost as great a crime in French as in English middle-class circles), playing at billiards (ditto), and a free use of strong drink and strong language. He spends and gives money freely, but does not get into debt; flirts with grisettes, but falls into no discreditable entanglement, etc., etc.

His most characteristic peculiarity, however, is his absolute refusal to learn the rudiments of manners. He keeps his hat on in all companies; neglects all neatness in dress, etc.; goes (when he _does_ go) among ladies with garments reeking of tobacco and a mouth full of strange oaths, and generally remains ignorant of, or recalcitrant to, every form of conventional politeness in speech and behaviour.

The only person of any sense with whom he has hitherto come in contact, an old hairdresser named Bellequeue (it must be remembered that this profession or vocation is not as traditionally ridiculous in French literature as in ours), persuades his mother that the one chance of reforming Jean and making him like other people is to marry him off. They select an eligible _parti_, one Mademoiselle Adelaide Chopard, a young lady of great bodily height, some facial charms, not exactly a fool, but not of the most amiable disposition, and possessed of no actual accomplishment (though she thinks herself almost a "blue") except that of preserving different fruits in brandy, her father being a retired liqueur manufacturer. Jean, who has never been in the least "in love," has no particular objection to Adelaide, and none at all to the preserved cherries, apricots, etc., and the scenes of his introduction and, after a fashion, proposal to the damsel, with her first resentment at his unceremonious behaviour and later positive attraction by it, are far from bad. Luckily or unluckily--for the marriage might have turned out at least as well as most marriages of the kind--before it is brought about, this French Cymon at last meets his real Iphigenia. Walking rather late at night, he hears a cry, and a footpad (one of his own old comrades, as it happens) rushes past him with a shawl which he has snatched from two ladies. Jean counter-snatches the shawl from him and succours the ladies, one of whom strikes his attention. They ask him to put them into a cab, and go off--grateful, but giving no address. However, he picks up a reticule, which the thief in his fright has dropped, discovers in it the address he wants, and actually ventures to call on Madame Caroline Derville, who possesses, in addition to viduity, all the other attractions catalogued above.


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