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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Based on the tricks she has taught Djali


As

so often with him, one hardly knows which particular question to ask first, "Did ever such a genius make such a fool of himself?" or "Was ever such an artist given to such hopeless slips in the most rudimentary processes of art?"

[Sidenote: _Notre-Dame de Paris._]

But it is, of course, not till we come to _Notre-Dame de Paris_ that any serious discussion of Hugo's claims as a novelist is possible. Hitherto, while in novel at least he has very doubtfully been an _enfant sublime_, he has most unquestionably been an _enfant_. Whatever faults may be chargeable on his third novel or romance proper, they include no more childishness than he displayed throughout his life, and not nearly so much as he often did later.

The book, moreover, to adopt and adapt the language of another matter, whether disputably or indisputably great in itself, is unquestionably so "by position." It is one of the chief manifestos--there are some who have held, and perhaps would still hold, that it is _the_ chief manifesto and example--of one of the most remarkable and momentous of literary movements--the great French Romantic revolt of _mil-huit-cent-trente_. It had for a time enormous popularity, extending to many who had not the slightest interest in it as such a manifesto; it affected not merely its own literature, but others, and other arts besides literature, both in its own and other countries. To

whatever extent this popularity may have been affected--first by the transference of interest from the author's "letters" to his politics and sociology, and secondly, by the reaction in general esteem which followed his death--it is not very necessary to enquire. One certainly sees fewer, indeed, positively few, references to it and to its contents now. But it was so bright a planet when it first came into ken; it exercised its influence so long and so largely; that even if it now glows fainter it is worth exploring, and the analysis of the composition of its light is worth putting on record.

[Sidenote: The story easy to anticipate.]

In the case of a book which, whether it has or has not undergone some occultation as suggested, is still kept on sale not merely in the original, but in cheap translations into every European tongue, there is probably no need to include an actual "argument" in this analysis. As a novel or at least romance, _Notre-Dame de Paris_ contains a story of the late fifteenth century, the chief characters of which are the Spanish gipsy[96] dancing-girl Esmeralda, with her goat Djali; Quasimodo, the hunchbacked dwarf and bell-ringer of the cathedral; one of its archdeacons, Claude Frollo, theologian, philosopher, expert in, but contemner of, physical and astrological science, and above all, alchemist, if not sorcerer; the handsome and gallant, but "not intelligent" and not very chivalrous soldier Phoebus de Chateaupers, with minors not a few, "supers" very many, and the dramatist Pierre Gringoire as a sort of half-chorus, half-actor throughout. The evolution of this story could not be very difficult to anticipate in any case; almost any one who had even a slight knowledge of its actual author's other work could make a guess at the _scenario_. The end must be tragic; the _beau cavalier_ must be the rather unworthy object of Esmeralda's affection, and she herself that of the (one need hardly say very different) affections of Frollo and Quasimodo; a charge of sorcery, based on the tricks she has taught Djali, must be fatal to her; and poetic justice must overtake Frollo, who has instigated the persecution but has half exchanged it for, half-combined it with, later attempts of a different kind upon her. Although this _scenario_ may not have been then quite so easy for any schoolboy to anticipate, as it has been later, the course of the romantic novel from Walpole to Scott in English, not to mention German and other things, had made it open enough to everybody to construct. The only thing to be done, and to do, now was, and is, to see, on the author's own famous critical principles,[97] how he availed himself of the _publica materies_.


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