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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

So absolutely intolerable as Marius


actual matter of this purely preliminary kind extends, as has been ascertained by rough but sufficient calculation of the sort previously employed, to at least three-quarters of an average novel of Sir Walter's: it would probably run to two or three times the length of a modern "six-shilling." But Hugo is not satisfied with it. A point, an important point, doubtless, but one that could have been despatched in a few lines, connects the novel proper with the Battle of Waterloo. To that battle itself, even the preliminary matter in its earliest part is some years posterior: the main action, of course, is still more so. But Victor must give us _his_ account of this great engagement, and he gives it in about a hundred pages of the most succinct reproduction. For my part, I should be glad to have it "mixed with much wine," even if the wine were of that luscious and headachy south-of-France character which he himself is said to have preferred to Bordeaux or Champagne, Sauterne or even Burgundy. Nay, without this I like it well enough and quarrel with nothing in it, though it is in many respects (from the famous hollow way which nobody else ever heard of downwards) very much of a dream-battle. Victor does quite as much justice as any one could expect him to do--and, thank heaven, there are still some Englishmen who are perfectly indifferent whether justice is done to them or not in these matters, leaving it to poorer persons in such ways who may be glad of it--to English fighting; while
if he represents Wellington as a mere calculator and Napoleon as a hero, we can murmur politely (like a Roman Catholic bishop, more real in many ways than His Greatness of Digue), "Perhaps so, my dear sir, perhaps so." But what has it all got to do here? Even when Montalais and her lover sat on the wall and talked for half a volume or so in the _Vicomte de Bragelonne_; even when His Majesty Louis XIV. and his (one regrets to use the good old English word) pimp, M. le Duc de Saint-Aignan, exhausted the resources of carpentry and the stores of printer's ink to gain access to the apartment of Mlle. de la Valliere, the superabundance, though trivial, was relevant: this is not. When Thenardier tried to rob and was no doubt quite ready to murder, but did, as a matter of fact, help to resuscitate, the gallant French Republican soldier, who was so glad to receive the title of baron from an emperor who had by abdication resigned any right to give it that he ever possessed, it might have been Malplaquet or Leipsic, Fontenoy or Vittoria, for any relevance the details of the battle possessed to the course of the story.

Now relevance (to make a short paragraph of the kind Hugo himself loved) is a mighty goddess in novelry.

And so it continues, though, to be absolutely just, the later parts are not exposed to quite the same objections as the earlier. These objections transform themselves, however, into other varieties, and are reinforced by fresh faults. The most inexcusable digressions, on subjects as remote from each other as convents and sewers, insist on poking themselves in. The central, or what ought to be the central, interest itself turns on the ridiculous _emeute_ of Saint-Merry, a thing "without a purpose or an aim," a mere caricature of a revolution. The _gamin_ Gavroche puts in a strong plea for mercy, and his sister Eponine, if Hugo had chosen to take more trouble with her, might have been a great, and is actually the most interesting, character. But Cosette--the cosseted Cosette--Hugo did not know our word or he would have seen the danger--is merely a pretty and rather selfish little doll, and her precious lover Marius is almost ineffable.

Novel-heroes who are failures throng my mind like ghosts on the other shore of the river whom Charon will not ferry over; but I can single out none of them who is, without positively evil qualities, so absolutely intolerable as Marius.[103] Others have more such qualities; but he has no good ones. His very bravery is a sort of moral and intellectual running amuck because he thinks he shall not get Cosette. Having, apparently, for many years thought and cared nothing about his father, he becomes frantically filial on discovering that he has inherited from him, as above, a very doubtful and certainly most un-"citizen"-like title of Baron. Thereupon (taking care, however, to have cards printed with the title on them) he becomes a violent republican.

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