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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

One of this book's rather numerous grisettes


Another scene of farce, which is not so far short of comedy, follows between the lout and the lady, the fun being, among other things, caused by Jean's unconventional strolling about the room, looking at engravings, etc., and showing, by his remarks on things--"The Death of Tasso," "The Marriage of Peleus and Thetis," and the like--that he is utterly uneducated.

There is about half the book to come, but no more abstract can be necessary. The way in which Jean is delivered from his Adelaide and rewarded with his Caroline, if not quite probable (for Adelaide is made to blacken her own character to her rival), is not without ingenuity. And the narrative (which has Paul de Kock's curious "holding" quality for the hour or two one is likely to bestow on it) is diversified by the usual duel, by Jean's noble and rather rash conduct, in putting down his pistols to bestow sacks of five-franc pieces on his two old friends (who try to burgle and--one of them at least--would rather like to murder him), etc., etc.[50] But the real value--for it has some--of the book lies in the vivid sketches of ordinary life which it gives. The curious Cockneydom, diversified by glimpses of a suburban Arcadia, in which the French _bourgeois_ of the first half of the nineteenth century seems to have passed his time; the humours of a _coucou_ journey from Paris to Saint-Germain; all sorts of details of the Durand and Chopard households--supply these. And not the least of them is given by the bachelor menage of Bellequeue with his eighteen-year-old _bonne_ Rose, the story whereof need not sadden or shock even Mrs. Grundy, unless she scents unrecounted, indeed not even hinted at, improprieties. Bellequeue, as noted above, is by no means a fool, and achieves as near an approach to a successful "character" as Paul de Kock has ever drawn; while Rose plays the same part of piebald angel as Lucile in _Andre_, with a little more cleverness in her espieglerie and at least no vouched-for unlawfulnesses.

[Sidenote: _La Femme, le Mari et l'Amant._]

But perhaps if any one wants a single book to judge Paul de Kock by (with one possible exception, to follow this), he cannot do better than take _La Femme, le Mari et l'Amant_, a novel again of his middle period, and one which, if it shows some of his less desirable points, shows them characteristically and with comparatively little offence, while it exhibits what the shopkeepers would, I believe, call "a range of his best lines." The autobiographic hero, Paul Deligny, is one of his nearest approaches to a gentleman, yet no one can call him insipid or priggish; the heroine, Augustine Luceval, by marriage Jenneville, is in the same way one of his nearest approaches to a lady, and, though not such a madcap as the similarly situated Frederique of _Une Gaillarde_ (_v. inf._), by no means mawkish. It is needless to say that these are "l'Amant" and "la Femme," or that they are happily united at the end: it may be more necessary to add that there is no scandal, but at the same time no prunes and prism, earlier. "Le Mari," M. Jenneville, is very much less of a success, being an exceedingly foolish as well as reprobate person, who not only deserts a beautiful, charming, and affectionate wife, but treats his lower-class loves shabbily, and allows himself to be swindled and fooled to the _n_th by an adventuress of fashion and a plausible speculator. On the other hand, one of this book's rather numerous grisettes, Ninie, is of the more if not most gracious of that questionable but not unappetising sisterhood. Dubois, the funny man, and Jolivet, the parsimonious reveller, who generally manages to make his friends pay the bill, are not bad common form of farce. One of the best of Paul's own special scenes, the pancake party, with a bevy of grisettes, is perhaps the liveliest of all such things, and, but for one piece of quite unnecessary Smollettism or Pigaulterie, need only scandalise the "unco guid." The whole has, in unusual measure, that curious _readableness_ which has been allowed to most of our author's books. Almost inevitably there is a melodramatic end; but this, to speak rather Hibernically, is made up for by a minute and curious account, at the beginning, of the actual presentation of a melodrama, with humours of pit, box, and gallery. If the reader does not like the book he will hardly like anything else of its author's; if he does, he will find plenty of the same sort of stuff, less concentrated perhaps, elsewhere. But if he be a student, as well as a consumer, of the novel, he can hardly fail to see that, at its time and in its kind, it is not so trivial a thing as its subjects and their treatment might, in the abstract, be pronounced to be by the grave and precise.


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