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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

In a manner which I hardly remember elsewhere


The

other three have the utmost difficulty in preventing Sergy (by main force at first) from obeying. And the captain tries rationalism, suggesting first that the pretended Ines is a bait for some gang of assassins or at least brigands, then that the whole thing is a trick of Bascara's to "produce" a new cantatrice. But Boutraix, who has been entirely converted from his Voltairianism by the shock, sets aside the first idea like a soldier, and Bascara rebuts the second like a sensible man. Brigands certainly would give no such warning of their presence, and a wise manager does not expose his prima donna's throat to cohabitation in ruins with skeletons and owls. They finally agree on silence, and shortly afterwards the three officers leave Spain. Sergy is killed at Lutzen, murmuring the name of Ines. Boutraix, who has never relapsed, takes the cowl, and the captain retires after the war to his own small estate, where he means to stay. He ends by saying _Voila tout_.

Alas! it is not all, and it is not the end. Some rather idle talk with the auditors follows, and then there is the above-mentioned Radcliffian explanation, telling how Ines was a real Las Sierras of a Mexican branch, who had actually made her debut as an actress, had been, as was at first thought, murdered by a worthless lover, but recovered. Her wits, however, were gone, and having escaped from the kind restraint under which she was put, she had wandered to the castle of her ancestors,

afterwards completely recovering her senses and returning to the profession in the company of Bascara himself.

Now I think that, if I took the trouble to do so, I could point out improbabilities in this second story sufficient to damn it on its own showing.[89] But, as has been said already, I prefer to leave it alone. I never admired George Vavasour in Trollope's _Can You Forgive Her?_ But I own that I agree with him heartily in his opinion that "making a conjurer explain his tricks" is despicably poor fun.

Still, the story, which ends at "Voila tout" and which for me does so end "for good and all," is simply magnificent. I have put it elsewhere with _Wandering Willie's Tale_, which it more specially resembles in the way in which the ordinary turns into the extraordinary. It falls short of Scott in vividness, character, manners, and impressiveness, but surpasses him in beauty[90] of style and imagery. In particular, Nodier has here, in a manner which I hardly remember elsewhere, achieved the blending of two kinds of "terror"--the ordinary kind which, as it is trivially called, "frightens" one, and the other[91] terror which accompanies the intenser pleasures of sight and sound and feeling, and heightens them by force of contrast. The scene of Ines' actual appearance would have been the easiest thing in the world to spoil, and therefore was the most difficult thing in the world to do right. But it is absolutely right. In particular, the way in which her conduct in at once admitting Sergy's attentions, and finally inviting him to "follow," is guarded from the very slightest suggestion of the professional "comingness" of a common courtesan, and made the spontaneous action of a thing divine or diabolic, is really wonderful.

At the same time, the adverse criticism made here, with that on _La Fee aux Miettes_ and a few other foregoing remarks, will probably prepare the reader for the repeated and final judgment that Nodier was very unlikely to produce a good long story. And, though I have not read _quite_ all that he wrote, I certainly think that he never did.

[Sidenote: Nodier's special quality.]


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