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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

After a little time Caroline sees


[Sidenote:

Its advance on "Sensibility."]

A kind of affection was avowed in the last volume for the "Phoebus" of the "heroics," and something similar may be confessed for this "Jupiter Pluvius," this mixture of tears and stateliness, in the Sentimentalists. But Madame de Montolieu has emerged from the most _larmoyante_ kind of "sensible" comedy. If her book had been cut a little shorter, and if (which can be easily done by the reader) the eccentric survival of a _histoire_, appended instead of episodically inserted, were lopped off, _Caroline de Lichtfield_ would not be a bad story. The heroine, having lost her mother, has been brought up to the age of fifteen by an amiable canoness, who (to speak rather Hibernically) ought to have been her mother but wasn't, because the actual mother was so much richer. She bears no malice, however, even to the father who, well preserved in looks, manners, and selfishness, is Great Chamberlain to Frederick the Great.

That very unsacred majesty has another favourite, a certain Count von Walstein, who is ambassador of Prussia at St. Petersburg. It pleases Frederick, and of course his chamberlain, that Caroline, young as she is, shall marry Walstein. As the girl is told that her intended is not more than thirty, and knows his position (she has, naturally, been brought up without the slightest idea of choosing for herself), she is not displeased. She will be a countess and an ambassadress;

she will have infinite jewels; her husband will probably be handsome and agreeable; he will certainly dance with her, and may very possibly not object to joining in innocent sports like butterfly-catching. So she sets off to Berlin quite cheerfully, and the meeting takes place. Alas! the count is a "civil count" (as Beatrice says) enough, but he is the reverse of handsome and charming. He has only one eye; he has a huge scar on his cheek; a wig (men, remember, were beginning to "wear their own hair"), a bent figure, and a leaden complexion. Caroline, promptly and not unnaturally, "screams and disappears like lightning." Nor can any way be found out of this extremely awkward situation. The count (who is a thoroughly good fellow) would give Caroline up, though he has taken a great fancy to her, and even the selfish Lichtfield tries (or _says_ he tries) to alter his master's determination. But Frederick of course persists, and with a peculiarly Frederician enjoyment in conferring an ostensible honour which is in reality a punishment, sees the marriage ceremony carried out under his own eye. Caroline, however, exemplifies in combination certain old adages to the effect that there is "No will, no wit like a woman's." She submits quite decently in public, but immediately after the ceremony writes a letter[62] to her husband (whose character she has partly, though imperfectly, gauged) requesting permission to retire to the canoness till she is a little older, under a covert but quite clearly intelligible threat of suicide in case of refusal. There are of course difficulties, but the count, like a man and a gentleman, consents at once; the father, _bon gre mal gre_, has to do so, and the King, a tyrant who has had his way, gives a sulky and qualified acquiescence. What follows need only be very rapidly sketched. After a little time Caroline sees, at her old-new home, an engaging young man, a Herr von Lindorf; and matters, though she is quite virtuous, are going far when she receives an enormous epistle[62] from her lover, confessing that he himself is the author of her husband's disfigurement (under circumstances discreditable to himself and creditable to Walstein), enclosing, too, a very handsome portrait of the count _as he was_, and but for this disfigurement might be still. What happens then nobody ought to need, or if he does he does not deserve, to be told. There is no greatness about this book, but to any one who has an eye for consequences it will probably seem to have some future in it. It shows the breaking of the Sensibility mould and the running of the materials into a new pattern as early as 1786. In 1886 M. Feuillet or M. Theuriet would of course have clothed the story-skeleton differently, but one can quite imagine either making use of a skeleton by no means much altered. M. Rod would have given it an unhappy ending, but one can see it in his form likewise.[63]


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