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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

I have seldom read greater rubbish than Le Solitaire


have seldom read greater rubbish than _Le Solitaire_. It is a historical-romantic story (the idolatrous preface refers both to Scott and to Byron), and bears also strong, if sometimes distinctly unfortunate, resemblances to Mrs. Radcliffe, the Germans, and Chateaubriand. The scene is that of Charles the Bold's defeat at Morat: and the "Solitary" is Charles himself--the identification of his body after the decisive overthrow at Nancy _was_ a little doubtful--who has hidden there partly to expiate, by good deeds, his crime of massacring the monks of the adjoining Abbey of Underlach, and partly to avail himself of a local tradition as to a _Fantome Sanglant_, who haunts the neighbourhood, and can be conveniently played by the aid of a crimson mantle. The slaughter of the monks, however, is not the only event or circumstance which links Underlach to the crimes of Charles, for it is now inhabited by a Baron d'Herstall (whose daughter, seduced by the Duke, has died early) and his niece, Elodie de Saint-Maur, whose father, a former favourite of the Burgundian, that prince has killed in one of his fits of rage. Throw in a local priest, Anselm, and you have what may be called the chief characters; but a good Count Ecbert de Norindall, a wicked Prince of Palzo, and divers others figure. Everybody, including the mysterious Bleeding-Phantom-Solitary-Duke himself, falls in love with Elodie,[78] and she is literally "carried off" (that is to say, shouldered) several times, once by the alarming
person in the crimson shroud, but always rescued, till it is time for her to die and be followed by him. There are endless "alarums and excursions"; some of the _not_ explained supernatural; woods, caves, ruins, underground passages--entirely at discretion. Catherine Morland would have been perfectly happy with it.

It is not, however, because it contains these things that it has been called "rubbish." A book might contain them all--Mrs. Radcliffe's own do, with the aggravation of the explained wonders--and not be that. It is because of the extraordinary silliness of the style and sentiments. I should imagine that M. d'Arlincourt was trying to write like his brother viscount, the author of _Les Martyrs_, and a pretty mess he has made of it. "Le char de la nuit roulait silencieux sur les plaines du ciel" (p. 3). "L'entree du jour venait de s'elancer radieuse du palais de l'Aurore." "L'amante de l'Erebe et la mere des Songes[79] avait acheve la moitie de sa course tenebreuse," etc., etc. The historic present is constantly battling with the more ordinary tenses--the very same sentence sometimes contains both. And this half-blown bladder of a style conveys sentiments as feebly pompous as itself. The actual story, though no great thing, is, if you could strip it of its froth and fustian, not so very bad: as told it is deplorable.

At the same time its mere existence--much more the fury of acceptance which for the moment greeted it--shows what that moment wanted. It wanted Romance, and in default of better it took _Le Solitaire_.

* * * * *

An occasional contrast of an almost violent kind may be permitted in a work requiring something more than merely catalogue-composition. It can hardly be found more appropriately than by concluding this chapter, which began with the account of Paul de Kock, by one of Charles Nodier.

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