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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Sidenote Smarra and Soeur Beatrix


C'est moi, c'est moi, c'est moi! Je suis la Mandragore! La fille des beaux jours qui s'eveille a l'aurore-- Et qui chante pour toi!

though, after all, every one whose life has been worth living has listened for the song all that life--and has heard it sometimes.

To find any fault with the matrix of this opal is probably blasphemous. But I own that I could do without the Shandean prologue and epilogue of the narrator and his man-servant Daniel Cameron. And though, as a tomfool myself, I would fain not find any of the actions of my kind alien from me, I do find some of the tomfoolery with which Nodier has seasoned the story superfluous. Why call a damsel "Folly Girlfree"? What would a Frenchman say if an English story-teller christened some girl of Gaul "Sottise Librefille"? "Sir Jap Muzzleburn," the Bailiff of the Isle of Man, and his black poodle-equerry, Master Blatt, amuse me but little; and Master Finewood, the shipbuilder,--whose rejected six sons-in-law, lairds of high estate, run away with his thirty thousand guineas, and are checkmated by six sturdy shipwrights,--less. I have no doubt it is my fault, my very great fault, but I wish they would _go_, and leave me with Michel and La Fee, or rather allow me to _be_ Michel _with_ La Fee.

[Sidenote: _Smarra_ and _Soeur Beatrix_.]

_Smarra_--which made a great impression

on its contemporaries and had a strong influence on the Romantic movement generally--is a fantasia of nightmare based on the beginning of _The Golden Ass_, with, again, a sort of prologue and epilogue of modern love. It is undoubtedly a fine piece of work of its kind and beautifully written. But in itself it seems to me a little too much of a _tour de force_, and its kind a little rococo. Again, _mea maxima culpa_ perhaps. On the other hand, _Soeur Beatrix_ is a most charmingly told version of a very wide-spread story--that of Our Lady taking the place of an erring sister during her sojourn in the world, and restoring her to it without any scandal when she returns repentant and miserable after years of absence. It could not be better done.

[Sidenote: _Ines de las Sierras._]

But the jewel of the book, and of Nodier's work, to me, is _Ines de las Sierras_--at least its first and larger part; for Nodier, in one of those exasperatingly uncritical whims of his which have been noticed, and which probably prevented him from ever writing a really good novel of length, has attached an otiose explanation _a la_ Mrs. Radcliffe, which, if it may please the weakest kind of weak brethren, may almost disgust another, and as to which I myself exercise the critic's _cadi_-rights by simply ignoring and banishing what I think superfluous. As for what remains, once more, it could not be done better.

Three French officers, at the moment of disturbance of the French garrisons in the north of Spain, owing to Napoleon's Russian disasters (perhaps also to more local events, which it was not necessary for Nodier to mention), are sent on remount duty from Gerona to Barcelona, where there is a great horse-fair on. They are delayed by bad weather and other accidents, and are obliged to stop half-way after nightfall. But the halting-place is choke-full of other travellers on their way to the same fair, and neither at inn nor in private house is there any room whatever, though there is no lack of "provant." Everybody tells them that they can only put up at "the castle


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