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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

And couci couci one of them


is, that Paul had no turn for

melodrama, history, or tragic matter of any kind. He wrote nearly a hundred novels, and I neither pretend to have read the whole of them, nor, if I had done so, should I feel justified in inflicting abstracts on my readers. As always happens in such cases, the feast he offers us is "pot-luck," but, as too seldom happens, the luck of the pot is quite often good. With the grisette, to whom he did much to give a niche (one can hardly call it a shrine) in literature, whom he celebrated so lovingly, and whose gradual disappearance he has so touchingly bewailed, or with any feminine person of partly grisettish kind, such as the curious and already briefly mentioned heroine of _Une Gaillarde_,[53] he is almost invariably happy. The above-mentioned Lucile is not technically a grisette (who should be a girl living on her own resources or in a shop, not in service) nor is Rose in _Jean_, but both have the requirements of the type--_minois chiffonne_ (including what is absolutely indispensable, a _nez retrousse_), inexhaustible gaiety, extreme though by no means promiscuous complaisance, thorough good-nature--all the gifts, in short, of Beranger's _bonne fille_, who laughs at everything, but is perfectly capable of good sense and good service at need, and who not seldom marries and makes as good a wife as, "in a higher _spear_," the English "garrison hack" has had the credit of being. Quite a late, but a very successful example, with the complaisance limited to strictly legitimate extent,
and the good-nature tempered by a shrewd determination to avenge two sisters of hers who had been weaker than herself, is the Georgette of _La Fille aux Trois Jupons_, who outwits in the cleverest way three would-be gallants, two of them her sisters' actual seducers, and extracts thumping solatia from these for their victims.[54]

[Sidenote: Others.]

On the other hand, the older and, I think, more famous book which suggested the title of this--_L'Homme aux Trois Culottes_, symbolising and in a way giving a history of the times of the Revolution, the Empire, and the Restoration, and finishing with "July"--seems to me again a failure. As I have said, Paul could not manage history, least of all spread-out history like this; and the characters, or rather personages, though of the lower and lower-middle rank, which he _could_ manage best, are to me totally uninteresting. Others may have been, or may be, more fortunate with them.

So, too, _Le Petit Fils de Cartouche_ (which I read before coming across its first part, _Les Enfants du Boulevard_) did not inspire me with any desire to look up this earlier novel; and _La Pucelle de Belleville_, another of Paul's attempts to depict the unconventional but virtuous young person, has very slight interest as a story, and is disfigured by some real examples of the "coarse vulgarity" which has been somewhat excessively charged against its author generally. _Frere Jacques_ is a little better, but not much.[55]

Something has been said of "periods"; but, after all, when Paul has once "got into his stride" there is little difference on the average. I have read, for instance, in succession, _M. Dupont_, which, even in the Belgian piracy, is of 1838, and _Les Demoiselles de Magazin_, which must be some quarter of a century later--so late, indeed, that Madame Patti is mentioned in it. The title-hero of the first--a most respectable man--has an _ingenue_, who loves somebody else, forced upon him, experiences more recalcitrance than is usually allowed in such cases, and at last, with Paul's usual unpoetical injustice, is butchered to make way for the Adolphe of the piece, who does not so very distinctly deserve his Eugenie. It contains also one Zelie, who is perhaps the author's most impudent, but by no means most unamusing or most disagreeable, grisette. _Les Demoiselles de Magazin_ gives us a whole posy of these curious flower-weeds of the garden of girls--pretty, middling, and ugly, astonishingly virtuous, not virtuous at all, and _couci-couci_ (one of them, by the way, is nicknamed "Bouci-Boula," because she is plump and plain), but all good-natured, and on occasion almost noble-sentimented; a guileless provincial; his friend, who has a mania for testing his wife's fidelity, and who accomplishes one of Paul's favourite fairy-tale or rather pantomime endings by coming down with fifteen thousand francs for an old mistress (she has lost her beauty by the bite of a parrot, and is the mother of the extraordinarily virtuous Marie); a scapegrace "young first" or half-first; a superior ditto, who is an artist, who rejects the advances of Marie's mother, and finally marries Marie herself, etc. etc. You might change over some of the personages and scenes of the two books; but they are scarcely unequal in such merit as they possess, and both lazily readable in the fashion so often noted.


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