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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

For any critical historian of the novel as such


his career as a novelist, if

not in the odour of sanctity, at any rate in a comfortable cloud of incense due to a comparative success; although he had (it is true on a much smaller scale) even transcended that success in _Les Travailleurs de la Mer_; although, as a mere novice, he had proved himself a more than tolerable tale-teller in _Bug-Jargal_, it is not possible, for any critical historian of the novel as such, to pronounce him a great artist, or even a tolerable craftsman, in the kind as a whole. It has already been several times remarked in detail, and may now be repeated in general, that the things which we enjoy in his books of this kind are seldom things which it is the special business of the novelist to produce, and practically never those which are his chief business. In no single instance perhaps, with the doubtful exception of Gilliatt's battle with brute matter and elemental forces, is "the tale the thing" purely as tale. Very seldom do we even want to know what is going to happen--the childishly simple, but also childishly genuine demand of the reader of romance as such, if not even of the novel also. Scarcely once do we--at least do I--take that interest in the development of character which is the special subject of appetite of readers of the novel, as such and by itself. The baits and the rewards are now splendour of style; now magnificence of imagery; sometimes grandeur of idea; often pathos; not seldom the delight of battle in this or that sense. These are all excellent seasonings of
novelry; but they are not the root of the matter, the _piece de resistance_ of the feast.

Unfortunately, too, Hugo not merely cannot, or at any rate does not, give the hungry sheep their proper food--an interesting story worked out by interesting characters--but will persist in giving them things as suitable (granting them to be in the abstract nourishing) as turnips to the carnivora or legs of mutton to the sheep which walk on them. It would, of course, not be just to press too strongly the objections to the novel of purpose, though to the present writer they seem almost insuperable. But it is not merely purpose in the ordinary sense which leads Victor astray, or rather (for he was much too wilful a person to be led) which he invents for himself to follow, with his eyes open, and knowing perfectly well what he is doing. His digressions are not _parabases_ of the kind which some people object to in Fielding and still more in Thackeray--addresses to the reader on points more or less intimately connected with the subject itself. A certain exception has been made in favour of some of the architectural parts of _Notre-Dame de Paris_, but it has been admitted that this will not cover "Ceci Tuera Cela" nor much else. For the presence of the history of the sewers of Paris in _Les Miserables_ and any number of other things; for not a little of the first volume of _Les Travailleurs_ itself; for about half, if not more, of _L'Homme Qui Rit_, starting from Ursus's Black-book of fancy pleasances, palaces, and estates belonging to the fellow-peers of Lord Linnaeus Clancharlie and Hunkerville; for not a few chapters even of _Quatre-Vingt-Treize_, there is no excuse at all. They are simply repulsive or at least unwelcome "pledgets" of unsucculent matter stuck into the body of fiction, as (but with how different results!) _lardons_ or pistachios or truffles are stuck into another kind of composition.


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