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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Ducray Duminil's Lolotte et Fanfan


[Sidenote:

Madame de Genlis _iterum_.]

Of Stephanie Felicite, Comtesse de Genlis, it were tempting to say a good deal personally if we did biographies here when they can easily be found elsewhere. How she became a canoness at six years old, and shortly afterwards had for her ordinary dress (with something supplementary, one hopes) the costume of a Cupid, including quiver and wings; how she combined the offices of governess to the Orleans children and mistress to their father; how she also combined the voluptuousness and the philanthropy of her century by taking baths of milk and afterwards giving that milk to the poor;[64] how, rather late in life, she attained the very Crown-Imperial of governess-ship in being chosen by Napoleon to teach him and his Court how to behave; and how she wrote infinite books--many of them taking the form of fiction--on education, history, religion, everything, can only be summarised. The last item of the summary alone concerns us, and that must be dealt with summarily too. _Mlle. de Clermont_--a sort of historico-"sensible" story in style, and evidently imitated from _La Princesse de Cleves_--is about the best thing she did as literature; but we dealt with that in the last volume[65] among its congeners. In my youth all girls and some boys knew _Adele et Theodore_ and _Les Veillees du Chateau_. From a later book, _Les Battuecas_, George Sand is said to have said that she learnt Socialism: and the fact is that Stephanie Felicite

had seen so much, felt so much, read so much, and done so much that, having also a quick feminine wit, she could put into her immense body of work all sorts of crude second-hand notions. The two last things that I read of hers to complete my idea of her were _Le Comte_ _de Corke_ and _Les Chevaliers du Cygne_, books at least possessing an element of surprise in their titles. The first is a collection of short tales, the title-piece inspired and prefaced by an account of the Boyle family, and all rather like a duller and more spun-out Miss Edgeworth, the common relation to Marmontel accounting for this. The concluding stories of each volume, "Les Amants sans Amour" and "Sanclair," are about the best. _Les Chevaliers du Cygne_ is a book likely to stir up the Old Adam in some persons. It was, for some mysterious reason, intended as a sort of appendix--for "grown-ups"--to the _Veillees du Chateau_, and is supposed to have incorporated parabolically many of the lessons of the French Revolution (it appeared in 1795). But though its three volumes and eleven hundred pages deal with Charlemagne, and the Empress Irene, and the Caliph "Aaron" (Haroun), and Oliver (Roland is dead at Roncevaux), and Ogier, and other great and beloved names; though the authoress, who was an untiring picker-up of scraps of information, has actually consulted (at least she quotes) Sainte-Palaye; there is no faintest flavour of anything really Carlovingian or Byzantine or Oriental about the book, and the whole treatment is in the _pre_-historical-novel style. Indeed the writer of the _Veillees_ was altogether of the _veille_--the day just expired--or of the transitional and half-understood present--never of the past seen in some perspective, of the real new day, or, still less, of the morrow.

[Sidenote: The minor popular novel--Ducray-Duminil--_Le Petit Carilloneur_.]

The batch of books into which we are now going to dip does not represent the height of society and the interests of education like Madame de Genlis; nor high society again and at least strivings after the new day, like the noble author of the _Solitaire_ who will follow them. They are, in fact, the minors of the class in which Pigault-Lebrun earlier and Paul de Kock later represent such "majority" as it possesses. But they ought not to be neglected here: and I am bound to say that the very considerable trouble they cost me has not been wholly vain.[66] The most noted of the whole group, and one of the earliest, Ducray-Duminil's _Lolotte et Fanfan_, escaped[67] a long search; but the possession and careful study of the four volumes of his _Petit Carillonneur_ (1819) has, I think, enabled me to form a pretty clear notion of what not merely _Lolotte_ (the second title of which is _Histoire de Deux Enfants abandonnes dans une ile deserte_), but _Victor ou L'Enfant de la Foret_, _Caelina ou L'Enfant du Mystere_, _Jules ou le Toit paternel_, or any other of the author's score or so of novels would be like.


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