A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2 - To the Close of the 19th Century
by George Saintsbury
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

[359] Every one is entitled to write this word once in his life, I believe; so I have selected my occasion at last. Of course some one may say: "You have admitted that he did not know Marguerite's pact with his father." True; and this might excuse the wrath, but not the way of showing it.

[360] As I write this I remember a comic experience of fifty years ago. I was trying to find out the ruins of a certain castle in Brittany, and appealed, in my very best bad French, to an old road-mender. He scowled at me, as if it had been in the days of the Combat des Trente, and answered, "Mais c'est de l'Anglais que vous me parlez la!"

[361] Another trait of his may not displease readers, though it be not strictly relevant. I once, perhaps with some faint mischievous intent, asked him about the competence of Dr. Pusey and of M. Renan in the sacred tongue. "Pusey," he said, "knew pretty well everything about Hebrew that there was to be known in his day." He was not quite so complimentary about Renan; though, as he put his judgment less pointedly, I do not remember the exact words.

[362] With a bow and arrows, remember; not a Browning pistol.

[363] The indebtedness to Michelet is pretty obvious.

[364] It may be well to illustrate this, lest it be said that having been more than just to the father (v. sup.) I am still less than just to the son. Merlin is made to visit Morgane la Fee in the eleventh century. It is quite true that people generally began to hear about Merlin and Morgane at that time. But he had then been for about half a millennium in the sweet prison of the Lady of the Lake—over whom even Morgane had no power. The English child-King, for whom Bedford was regent, is repeatedly called Henry IV. There would have been quite other fish for Joan to fry, and other thread for her to retwist, if she had had to do with Henry of Bolingbroke instead of Henry of Windsor. Tristan's Mauthe Doog—not a bad kind of hound, though—bears the "Celtic" name of Thor. Of course all these things are trifles, but they are annoying and useless. When the father abridged Charles the First's captivity from years to days, he did it for the good of his story. The son had no such justification. He is also very careless about minute joinings of the flats at a most important point of the conclusion (v. inf.). Tristan has no sword, begs one of the bourreau, and is refused. He goes straight to church, and immediately afterwards we find him sword in hand. Where did he get it? By an unmentioned miracle?

[365] Tristan defeats an effort of Xaintrailles to rescue her, in a way vaguely resembling the defeat, in the greater Alexander's work, of the rescue of King Charles by the Four.

[366] Unluckily, with a young man's misjudgment, Dumas would not let it be the actual end, though that is not a couple of pages off. After the fight Tristan goes out of the tomb to rest himself; and meets the herald Bretagne, whom he had saved from the wolves in the overture. Bretagne tells him what has happened since the Maid's death, including the fate of his half-brother on the father's side, Gilles de Retz, who, like himself, has repented in time to save his soul, if not his life. Having also seen afar off a cavalcade in which are Olivier and Alix, now married and rapturous, Tristan retires into the tomb, which closes over him. His horse "Baal" and his dogs, the "Celtically" (in the latter case we may say Piratically) named Thor and Brinda, are petrified round its entrance.

[367] Crusading times, and Jof or Edessa for Rouen and Poitiers as places, might seem preferable. But the fifteenth century did a lot of diablerie in the West.

[368] A curious variant of this fancy of his will be noticed later. What is more curious still need, perhaps, hardly be indicated for any intelligent reader—the "sicklying over" of Paul-de-Kockery with a "cast of thought"—"pale," or "dry," or up to "Old Brown" in strength and character as it may seem to different people.

[369] As I have received complaints, mild and other, of the frequency of my unexplained allusions, I may here refer explicitly to Mr. Traill's Recaptured Rhymes; and if anybody, after looking up the book, is not grateful to me, I am sorry for him. For the commoner practice here I can only plead that I follow the Golden Rule. Nothing pleases me so much as an allusion that I understand—except one that I don't and have to hunt up.

[370] Rather too big a title for an adventurer to meddle with, surely?

[371] He has found out a secret about her. When she learns his crimes and his fate, she puts an end to herself in a way which I fear Octave Feuillet borrowed, rather unceremoniously, though he certainly improved it, in Julia de Trecoeur (v. inf.). I did not read Trois Hommes Forts till many years after I had read and praised Feuillet's work. Also, is it absolutely blasphemous to suggest that the beginning of the book has a faint likeness to that of Les Miserables much later?

[372] V. sup. last chapter, passim.

[373] One remembers, as so often, Dr. Johnson to Boswell: "This lady of yours, Sir, is very fit for," etc.

[374] This is, I think, the best of his short stories. Therese is rather a sermon on the somewhat unsavoury text of morbid appetite in the other sex, than a real story. The little Histories Vraies, which he wrote with a friend for the Moniteur in 1864, are fairly good. For the formally entitled Contes et Nouvelles and the collection headed by Ilka, v. inf.

[375] He represents himself as suffering forty-eight hours of very easy imprisonment for not mounting guard as a "National," and writing the story to pass the time.

[376] The author has shown his skill by inducing at least one very old hand to wonder, for a time at least, whether Dr. Servans is a quack, or a lunatic, or Hoffmannishly uncanny, when he is, in fact, something quite different from any of these.

[377] The other, Clementine (who is not very unlike a more modern Claire d'Orbe), being not nearly so "candid" as her comrade Marie, continues honest.

[378] V. sup. Vol. I. p. 204.


[Sidenote: Revenants. Sophie Printemps.]

Two early and slight books (one of them, perhaps, the "bad" one referred to above) may find place in a note. Revenants is a fantasy, in which the three most famous pairs of lovers of the later eighteenth century, Des Grieux and Manon, Paul and Virginie, Werther and Charlotte, are revived and brought together (v. sup. p. 378). This sort of thing, not seldom tried, has very seldom been a success; and Revenants can hardly be said to be one of the lucky exceptions. Sophie Printemps is the history of a good girl, who, out of her goodness, deliberately marries an epileptic. It has little merit, except for a large episode or parenthesis of some forty or fifty pages (nearly a sixth of the book), telling the prowess of a peremptory but agreeable baron, who first foils a dishonest banker, and then defends this very banker against an adventurer more rascally than himself, whom the baron kills in a duel. This is good enough to deserve extraction from the book, and separate publication as a short story.

[380] It is constantly called (and I fear I have myself sinned in this respect) L'Affaire Clemenceau. But this is not the proper title, and does not really fit. It is the heading of a client's instruction—a sort of irregular "brief"—to the advocate who (resp. fin.) is to defend him; and is thus an autobiographic narrative (diversified by a few "put-in" letters) throughout. The title is the label of the brief.

[381] This is probably meant as the first "fight" on the shady side of Iza's character; not that, in this instance, she means to insult or hurt, but that the probability of hurting and insulting does not occur to her, or leaves her indifferent.

[382] Second "light," and now not dubious, for it is made a point of later.

[383] It has sometimes amused me to remember that some of the warmest admirers of Dumas fils have been among the most violent decriers of Thackeray—for preaching. I suppose they preferred the Frenchman's texts.

[384] Neither morality, nor friendship, nor anything like sense of "good form" could be likely to hold him back. But he is represented as nothing if not un homme fort in character and temperament, who knows his woman thoroughly, and must perceive that he is letting himself be beaten by her in the very act of possessing her.

[385] Vide Mr. Midshipman Easy.

[386] This phrase may require just a word of explanation. I admitted (Vol. I. p. 409) the abnormality in La Religieuse as not disqualifying. But this was not an abnormality of the individual. Iza's is.

[387] Perhaps I may add another subject for those who like it. "Both Manon and Iza do prefer, and so to speak only love, the one lover. Does this in Iza's case aggravate, or does it partially redeem, her general behaviour?" A less disputable addition, for the reason given above, may be a fairly long note on the author's work outside of fiction.

[Sidenote: Note on Dumas fils' drama, etc.]

With the drama which has received such extraordinary encomia (the great name of Moliere having even been brought in for comparison) I have no exhaustive acquaintance; but I have read enough not to wish to read any more. If the huge prose tirades of L'Etrangere bore me (as they do) in the study, what would they do on the stage, where long speeches, not in great poetry, are always intolerable? (I have always thought it one of the greatest triumphs of Madame Sarah Bernhardt that, at the very beginning of her career, she made the heroine of this piece—if she did so—interesting.) Over the Fils Naturel I confess that even I, who have struggled with and mastered my thousands, if not my tens of thousands, of books, broke down hopelessly. Francillon is livelier, and might, in the earlier days, have made an amusing novel. But discounting, judicially and not prejudicially, the excessive laudation, one sees that even here he did what he meant to do, and though there is higher praise than that, it is praise only too seldom deserved. As for his Prefaces and Pamphlets, I think nearly as much must be granted; and I need not repeat what has been said above on the other side. The charity "puff" of Les Madeleines Repenties is an admirable piece of rhetoric not seldom reaching eloquence; and it has the not unliterary side-interest of suggesting the question whether its ironic treatment of the general estimate of the author as Historiographer Royal to the venal Venus is genuine irony, or a mere mask for annoyance. The Preface to the dreary Fils Naturel (it must be remembered that Alexander the Younger himself was originally illegitimate and only later legitimated), though rhetorical again, is not dreary at all. It contains a very agreeable address to his father—he was always agreeable, though with a suspicion of rather amusing patronage-upside-down, on this subject—and a good deal else which one would have been sorry to lose. In fact, I can see, even in the dramas, even in the prose pamphleteering, whether the matter gives me positive delight or not, evidence of that competence, that not so seldom mastery, of treatment which entitles a man to be considered not the first comer by a long way.

[388] The obliging gentleman who on this occasion plays the part of "substitute" in a cricket-match, is the most elaborate and confessed example of Dumas' "theorised" men. He is what the seedsmen call an "improved Valmont," with more of lion in him than to meddle with virgins, but absolutely destructive to duchesses and always ready to suggest substitution to distressed grass-widows.



[Sidenote: The contrast of Flaubert and Dumas fils.]

In doing, as may at least be hoped, justice to M. Alexandre Dumas fils in the last chapter, one point was excepted—that though I could rank him higher than I ever expected to do as a novelist, I could not exactly rank his work in the highest range of literature. When you compare him—not merely with those greatest in novel-work already discussed, but with Musset or Vigny, with Nodier, or with Gerard de Nerval, not to mention others, there is something which is at once "weird and wanting," as the admirable Captain Mayne Reid says at the beginning of The Headless Horseman, though one cannot say here, as there, "By Heavens! it is 'the head!'" There is head enough of a kind—a not at all unkempt or uncomely headpiece, very well filled with brains. But it has no aureole, as the other preferred persons cited in the last sentence and earlier have. This aureole may be larger or smaller, brighter or less bright—a full circlet of unbroken or hardly broken splendour, or a sort of will-o'-the-wisp cluster of gleam and darkness. But wherever it is found there is, in differing degrees, literature of the highest class; of the major prose gentes; literature that can show itself with poetry, under its own conditions and with its own possibilities, and fear no disqualification. Of this I am bound to say I do not find very much in this second division of our volume, and I find none in Dumas fils. But I find a great deal more than in any one else in Gustave Flaubert.

[Sidenote: Some former dealings with him.]

As I have said this, the reader may expect, magisterially, dreadingly, or perhaps in some very "gentle" cases hopefully, a full chapter on Flaubert. He shall have it. But the same cause, or group of causes, which has been at work before prevents this from being a very long one, and from containing very full accounts of his novels. One of the longest and most careful of those detailed surveys of forty years ago, to which I have perhaps too often referred, was devoted to Flaubert, and was slightly supplemented after his death. The earlier form had, though I did not know it for a considerable time, not displeased himself—a fortunate result not too common between author and critic[389]—and there are, consequently, special reasons for leaving it unaltered and unrehashed. I shall, therefore, as with Balzac and Dumas, attempt a shorter but more general judgment, which—his work being so much less voluminous than theirs—may be perhaps even less extensive than in the other cases,[390] but which should leave no doubt as to the writer's opinion of his "place in the story."

[Sidenote: His style.]

No small part of that high claim to purely literary rank which has been made for him rests, of course, upon his mere style—that famous and much debated "chase of the single word" which, especially since Mr. Pater took up the discussion of it, has been a "topic" of the most usitate in England as well as in France. When I left my chair and my library at Edinburgh I burnt more lecture-notes on the subject than would have furnished material for an entire chapter here, and I have no intention of raking my memory for their ashes. The battle on the one side with the anti-Unitarians who regard "monology" as a fond thing vainly invented, and on the other with Edmond de Goncourt's foolish and bumptious boast that Flaubert's epithets were not so "personal" as his own and his brother's, would be for a different division of literary history. But there is something—a very important, though not a very long something—which must be said on the subject here. I have never found myself in the very slightest degree gene—as the abonne was by Gautier's and as others are by the styles of Mr. George Meredith and Mr. Henry James—by Flaubert's style. It has never put the very smallest impediment, effected the most infinitesimal delay, in my comprehension of his meaning, or my enjoyment of his art and of his story.[391] What is more, though it has intensified that enjoyment, it has never—as may perhaps have been the case with some other great "stylists"—diverted, a little illegitimately, my attention and fruition from the story itself. Style-craft and story-craft have married each other so perfectly that they are one flesh for the lover of literature to rejoice in. And if there be higher praise than this to be bestowed in the cases and circumstances, I do not know what it is. It seems to belong in perfection—I do not deny it to others in lesser degree—to three writers only in this volume—Gautier, Merimee, and Flaubert—though if any one pleads hard for the addition of Maupassant, it will be seen when we come to him that I am not bound to a rigid non possumus; and though there is still one living writer with whom, if he were not happily disqualified by the fact of his living, I should not refuse to complete the Pentad. But let this suffice for the mere point of style in its purer and therefore more controversial aspect. There may be a little more to say incidentally as we take the general survey under the old heads of plot, etc. But before doing this we must—the books being so few and so individually remarkable—say a little about each of them, though only a very little about one.

[Sidenote: The books—Madame Bovary.]

Flaubert, after fairly early promise, the fulfilment of which was postponed, began late, and was a man of eight and thirty when his first complete book, Madame Bovary, appeared in 1859—a year, with its predecessor 1858, among the great years of literature, as judged by the books they produced. An absurd prosecution was got up against it by the authorities of that most moral of regimes, the Second Empire, with the even more absurd result of a "not guilty, but please don't do anything of the kind again" judgment. This, however, belongs mostly—not (v. inf.) entirely—to the biographical part of the matter, with which we have little or nothing to do.[392] The book itself is, beyond all question, a great novel—if it had a greater subject[393] it would have been one of the greatest of novels. The immense influence of Manon Lescaut appears once more in it; but Emma Bovary, with far more than all the bad points of Manon, has none of her good ones. Nor has she the half-redeeming greatness in evil of her somewhat younger sister Iza in Affaire Clemenceau. Except her physical beauty (of which we do not hear much), there is not one attractive point in her. She sins, not out of passion, but because she thinks a married woman ought to have lovers. She ruins her husband, not for any intrinsic and genuine love of splendour, luxury, or beauty, but because other women have things and she ought to have them. She has a taste for men, but none in them. Yet her creator has made her absolutely "real," and, scum of womanhood as she is, has actually evolved something very like tragedy out of her worthlessness, and has saved her from being detestable, because she is such a very woman. He has, indeed, subjected her to a kenosis, an evisceration, exantlation—or, in plain English, "emptying out"—of everything positively good (she has the negative but necessary salve of not being absolutely ill-natured) that can be added to an abstract pretty girl; and no more. I have paid a little attention to the heroines of the greater fiction; but she is the only one of all the mille e tre I know whom the author has managed to present as acceptable, without its being in the least possible to fall in love with her, and at the same time without its being necessary to detest her.

This defiant and victorious naturalness—not "naturalism"—pervades the book: from the other main characters—the luckless, brainless, tasteless, harmless husband; the vulgar Don Juans of lovers; the apothecary Homais[394]—one of the most original and firmly drawn characters in fiction—from all, down to the merest "supers." It floods the scene-painting (admirable in itself) with a light of common day—not too cheerful, but absolutely real. It animates the conversation, though Flaubert is not exactly prodigal of this;[395] and it presides over the weaving of the story as such in a fashion very little, if at all, inferior to that which prevails in the very greatest masters of pure story-telling.

[Sidenote: Salammbo.]

Hardly any one, speaking critically, could, I suppose, also speak thus positively about Flaubert's second book, Salammbo—a romance of Carthaginian history at the time of the Mutiny of the Mercenaries. Even Sainte-Beuve—no weak-stomached reader—was put off by its blotches of blood and grime, and by the sort of ghastly gorgeousness which, if it does not "relieve" these, forms a kind of background to throw them up. It was violently attacked by clever carpers like M. de Pontmartin, by eccentrics of half-genius and whole prejudice like M. Barbey d'Aurevilly, and by dull pedants like M. Saint-Rene Taillandier; while it may be questioned whether, to the present day, its friends have not mostly belonged to that "Save-me-from-them" class which simply extols the "unpleasant" because other people find it unpleasant.[396] For my own part, I did not enjoy it much at the very first; but I felt its power at once, and, as always happens in such cases when admiration does not come from the tainted source just glanced at, the enjoyment increased, and the sense of power increased with it, the "unpleasantness," as a known thing, becoming merely "discountable" and disinfected. The book can, of course, never rank with Madame Bovary, because it is a tour de force of abnormality—a thing incompatible with that highest art which consists in the transformation and transcendentalising of the ordinary. The leprosies, and the crucifixions, and the sorceries, and the rest of it are ugly; but then Carthage was ugly, as far as we know anything about it.[397] Salammbo herself is shadowy; but how could a Carthaginian girl be anything else? The point to consider is the way in which all this unfamiliar, uncanny, unpleasant stuff is fused by sheer power of art into something which has at least the reality of a bad dream—which, as most people know, is a very real thing indeed while it lasts, and for a little time after. It increases the wonder—though to me it does not increase the interest—to know that Flaubert took the most gigantic pains to make his task as difficult as possible by acquiring and piecing together the available knowledge on his subject. This process—the ostensible sine qua non of "Realism" and "Naturalism"—will require further treatment. It is almost enough for the present to say that, though not a novelty, it had been, and for the matter of that has been, rarely a success. It has, as was pointed out before, spoilt most classical novels, reaching its acme of boredom in the German work of Ebers and Dahn; and it has scarcely ever been very successful, even in the hands of Charles Reade, who used it "with a difference." But it can hardly be said to have done Salammbo much harm, because the "fusing" process which is above referred to, and to which the imported elements are often so rebellious, is here perfectly carried out. You may not like the colour and shape of the ingot or cast; but there is nothing in it which has not duly felt and obeyed the fire of art.

[Sidenote: L'Education Sentimentale.]

That there was no danger of Flaubert's merely palming off, in his novel work, replicas with a few superficial differences, had now been shown. It was further established by his third and longest book, L'Education Sentimentale. This was not only, as the others had been, violently attacked, but was comparatively little read—indeed it is the only one of his books, with the usual exception of Bouvard et Pecuchet, which has been called, by any rational creature, dull. I do not find it so; but I confess that I find its intrinsic interest, which to me is great, largely enhanced by its unpopularity—which supplies a most remarkable pendant to that of Jonathan Wild, and is by no means devoid of value as further illustrating the cause of the very limited popularity of Thackeray, and even of the rarity of whole-hearted enthusiasm for Swift. Satire is allowed to be a considerable, and sometimes held to be an attractive, branch of literature. But when you come to analyse the actual sources of the attraction, it is to be feared that you will generally find them to lie outside of the pure exposure of general human weaknesses. A very large proportion of satire is personal, and personality is always popular. Satire is very often "naughty," and "naughtiness" is to a good many, qua naughtiness, "nice." It lends itself well to rhetoric; and there is no doubt, whatever superior persons may say of it, that rhetoric does "persuade" a large portion of the human race. It is constantly associated with directly comic treatment, sometimes with something not unlike tragedy; and while the first, if of any merit, is sure, the second has a fair though more restricted chance, of favourable reception. Try Aristophanes, Horace, Juvenal, Lucian, Martial; try the modern satirists of all kinds, and you will always find these secondary sources of enjoyment present.

There is hardly one of them—if one—to be found in L'Education Sentimentale. It is simply a panorama of human folly, frailty, feebleness, and failure—never permitted to rise to any great heights or to sink to any infernal depths, but always maintained at a probable human level. We start with Frederic Moreau as he leaves school at the correct age of eighteen. I am not sure at what actual age we leave him, though it is at some point or other of middle life, the most active part of the book filling about a decade. But "vanity is the end of all his ways," and vanity has been the beginning and middle of them—a perfectly quiet and everyday kind of vanity, but vain from centre to circumference and entire surface. He (one cannot exactly say "tries," but) is brought into the possibility of trying love of various kinds—illegitimate-romantic, legitimate-not-unromantic, illegitimate-professional but not disagreeable, illegitimate-conventional. Nothing ever "comes off" in a really satisfactory fashion. He is "exposed" (in the photographic-plate sense) to all, or nearly all, the influences of a young man's life in Paris—law, literature, art, insufficient means, quite sufficient means, society, politics—including the Revolution of 1848—enchantments, disenchantments—tout ce qu'il faut pour vivre—to alter a little that stock expression for "writing materials" which is so common in French. But he never can get any real "life" out of any of these things. He is neither a fool, nor a cad, nor anything discreditable or disagreeable. He is "only an or'nary person," to reach the rhythm of the original by adopting a slang form in not quite the slang sense. And perhaps it is not unnatural that other ordinary persons should find him too faithful to their type to be welcome. In this respect at least I may claim not to be ordinary. One goes down so many empty wells, or wells with mere rubbish at the bottom of them, that to find Truth at last is to be happy with her (without prejudice to the convenience of another well or two here and there, with an agreeable Falsehood waiting for one). I do not know that L'Education Sentimentale is a book to be read very often; one has the substance in one's own experience, and in the contemplation of other people's, too readily at hand for that to be necessary or perhaps desirable. But a great work of art which is also a great record of nature is not too common—and this is what it is.

[Sidenote: La Tentation de Saint-Antoine.]

Yet, as has been remarked before, nothing shows Flaubert's greatness better than his absolute freedom from the "rut." Even in carrying out the general "Vanity" idea he has no monotony. The book which followed L'Education had been preluded, twenty years earlier, by some fragments in L'Artiste, a periodical edited by Gautier. But La Tentation de Saint-Antoine, when it finally appeared, far surpassed the promise of these specimens. It is my own favourite among its author's books; and it is one of those which you can read merely for enjoyment or take as a subject of study, just as you please—if you are wise you will give "five in five score" of your attentions to the latter occupation and the other ninety-five to the former. The people who had made up their minds to take Flaubert as a sort of Devil's Gigadibs—a "Swiss, not of Heaven," but of the other place, hiring himself out to war on all things good—called it "an attack on the idea of God"! As it, like its smaller and later counterpart Saint Julien l'Hospitalier, ends in a manifestation of Christ, which would do honour to the most orthodox of Saints' Lives, the "attack" seems to be a curious kind of offensive operation.

As a matter of fact, the book takes its vaguely familiar subject, and embroiders that subject with a fresh collection of details from untiring research. The nearest approach to an actual person, besides the tormented Saint himself, is the Evil One, not at first in propria persona, but under the form of the Saint's disciple Hilarion, who at first acts as usher to the various elements of the Temptation-Pageant, and at last reveals himself by treacherous suggestions of unbelief. The pageant itself is of wonderful variety. After a vividly drawn sketch of the hermitage in the Thebaid, the drama starts with the more vulgar and direct incitements to the coarser Deadly Sins and others—Gluttony, Avarice, Ambition, Luxury. Then Hilarion appears and starts theological discussion, whence arises a new series of actual visions—the excesses of the heretics, the degradation of martyrdom itself, the Eastern theosophies, the monstrous cults of Paganism. After this, Hilarion tries a sort of Modernism, contrasting the contradictions and absurdities of actual religions with a more and more atheistic Pantheism. This failing, the Temptation reverts to the moral forms, Death and Vice contending for Anthony and bidding against each other. The next shift of the kaleidoscope is to semi-philosophical fantasies—the Sphinx, the Chimaera, basilisks, unicorns, microscopic mysteries. The Saint is nearly bewildered into blasphemy; but at last the night wanes, the sun rises, and the face of Christ beams from it. The Temptation is ended.[398]

The magnificence of the style, in which the sweep of this dream-procession over the stage is conveyed to the reader, is probably the first thing that will strike him; and certainly it never palls. But, if not at once, pretty soon, any really critical mind must perceive something different from, and much rarer than, mere style. It is the extraordinary power—the exactness, finish, and freedom from any excess or waste labour, of the narrative, in reproducing dream-quality. A very large proportion—and there is nothing surprising in the fact—of the best pieces of ornate prose in French, as well as in English, are busied with dreams; but the writers have not invariably remembered one of the most singular—and even, when considered from some points of view, disquieting—features of a dream,—that you are never, while dreaming, in the least surprised at what happens. Flaubert makes no mistake as to this matter. The real realism which had enabled him to re-create the most sordid details of Madame Bovary, the half-historic grime and gorgeousness mixed of Salammbo, and the quintessentially ordinary life of L'Education, came mightily to his assistance in this his Vision of the Desert. You see and hear its external details as Anthony saw and heard them: you almost feel its internal influence as if Hilarion had been—as if he was—at your side.

[Sidenote: Trois Contes.]

The Trois Contes which followed, and which practically completed (except for letters) Flaubert's finished work in literature,[399] have one of those half-extrinsic interests which, once more, it is the duty of the historian to mention. They show that although, as has been said, Flaubert suffered from no monotony of faculty, the range of his faculty—or rather the range of the subjects to which he chose to apply it—was not extremely wide. Of the twin stories, Un Coeur Simple is, though so unlike in particular, alike in general ordinariness to Madame Bovary and L'Education Sentimentale. The unlikeness in particular is very striking, and shows that peculiar victoriousness in accomplishing what he attempted which is so characteristic of Flaubert. It is the history-no-history of a Norman peasant woman, large if simple of heart, simple and not large of brain, a born drudge and prey to unscrupulous people who come in contact with her, and almost in her single person uniting the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount. I admire it now, without even the touch of rather youthful impatience which used, when I read it first, to temper my admiration. It is not a berquinade, because a berquinade is never quite real. Un Coeur Simple shares Flaubert's Realism as marvellously as any equal number of pages of either of the books to which I have compared it. But there is, perhaps, something provocative—something almost placidly insolent—about the way in which the author says, "Now, I will give you nothing of the ordinary baits for admiration, and yet, were you the Devil himself, you shall admire me." And one does—in youth rather reluctantly—not so in age.

Herodias groups itself in the same general fashion, but even more definitely in particulars, with Salammbo—of which, indeed, it is a sort of miniature replica cunningly differentiated. Anybody can see how easily the story of the human witchcraft of Salome, and the decollation of the Saint, and the mixture of terror and gorgeousness in the desert fortress, parallel the Carthaginian story. But I do not know whether it was deliberate or unconscious repetition that made Flaubert give us something like a duplicate of the suffete Hanno in Vitellius. There is no lack of the old power, and the shortness of the story is at least partly an advantage. But perhaps the Devil's Advocate, borrowing from, but reversing, Hugo on Baudelaire, might say, "Ce frisson n'est pas nouveau."

The third story, Saint Julien l'Hospitalier, has always seemed to me as near perfection in its own kind as anything I know in literature, and one of the best examples, if not the very best example, of that adaptableness of the Acta Sanctorum to modern rehandling of the right kind, which was noticed at the beginning of this History.[400] The excessive devotion of the not yet sainted Julian to sport; the crime and the dooms that follow it; the double parricide which he commits under the false impression that his wife has been unfaithful to him; his self-imposed penance of ferrying, somewhat like Saint Christopher, and the trial—a harder one than that good giant bore, for Julian has, not merely to carry over but, to welcome, at board and bed, a leper—and the Transfiguration and Assumption that conclude the story, give some of the best subjects—though there are endless others nearly or quite as good—in Hagiology. And Flaubert has risen to them in the miraculous manner in which he could rise, retaining the strangeness, infusing the reality, and investing the whole with the beauty, deserved and required. There is not a weak place in the whole story; but the strongest places are, as they should be, the massacre of hart, hind, and fawn which brings on the curse; the ghastly procession of the beasts Julian has slain or not slain (for he has met with singular ill-luck); the final "Translation."[401] Nowhere is Flaubert's power of description greater; nowhere, too, is that other power noticed—the removal of all temptation to say "Very pretty, but rather added ornament"—more triumphantly displayed.

[Sidenote: Bouvard et Pecuchet.]

Little need be said of the posthumous torso and failure,[402] Bouvard et Pecuchet. Nothing ever showed the wisdom of the proverb about half-done work, children and fools, better; and, alas! there is something of the child in all of us, and something of the fool in too many. It was to be a sort of extended and varied Education, not Sentimentale. Two men of retired leisure and sufficient income resolve to spend the rest of their lives "in books and work and healthful play," and almost as many other recreative occupations (including "teaching the young idea how to shoot") as they or you can think of. But the work generally fails, the books bore and disappoint them, the young ideas shoot in the most "divers and disgusting" ways, and the play turns out to be by no means healthful. Part of it is in scenario merely; and Flaubert was wont to alter so much, that one cannot be sure even of the other and more finished part. Perhaps it was too large and too dreary a theme, unsupported by any real novel quality, to acquire even that interest which L'Education Sentimentale has for some. But the more excellent way is to atone for the mistake of his literary executors, in not burning all of it except the monumental phrase quoted above,

Ainsi tout leur a craque dans la main,

by simply remembering this—which is the initial and conclusion of the whole matter—and letting the rest pass.

There is one slight danger in the estimate of Flaubert to which, though I actually pointed it out, I think I may have succumbed a little when I first wrote about him. He is so great a master of literature that one may be led to concentrate attention on this; and if not to neglect, to regard somewhat inadequately, his greatness as a novelist. Here at any rate such failure would be petty, if not even high, treason.

[Sidenote: General considerations.]

One may look at his performance in the novel from two points of view—that of "judging by the result" simply and in the fashion of a summing-up; and that of bringing him under certain ticket-qualifications, and enquiring whether they are justly applicable to him or not. I need hardly tell any one who has done me the honour to read either this or any other critical work of mine, which of these two I think the more excellent way; but the less excellent in this particular instance, may demand a little following.

Was Flaubert a Romantic? Was he a Realist? Was he a Naturalist? This is how the enquiries come in chronological order. But for convenience of discussion the first should be postponed to the others.

"Realist," like a good many other tickets, is printed on both sides, and the answer to our question will be by no means the same whichever side be looked at. That Flaubert was a Realist "in the best sense of the term" has been again and again affirmed in the brief reviews of his novels given above. He cannot be unreal—the "convincingness" of his most sordid as of his most splendid passages; of his most fantastic diableries as of his most everyday studies of society; is unsurpassed. It is, in fact, his chief characteristic. But this very fact that it pervades—that it is as conspicuous in the Tentation and in Saint Julien l'Hospitalier as in Madame Bovary and the Education—at once throws up a formidable, I think an impregnable, line of defence against those who would claim him for "Realism" of the other kind—the cult of the ugly, because, being ugly, it is more real than the beautiful. He has no fear of ugliness, but he cultivates the ugly because it is the real, not the real because it is the ugly. Being to a great extent a satirist and (despite his personal boyishness) saturnine rather than jovial in temperament, there is a good deal in him that is not beautiful. But he can escape into beauty whenever he chooses, and in these escapes he is always at his best.

This fact, while leaving him a Realist of the nobler type, at once shuts him off from community with his friends Zola and the Goncourts, and saves him from any stain of the "sable streams." But besides this—or rather looking at the same thing from a slightly different point of view—there is something which not only permits but demands the most emphatic of "Noes!" to the question, "Was Flaubert a Naturalist?"

This something is itself the equally emphatic "Yes!" which must be returned to the third and postponed question, "Was he a Romantic?" There are many strange things in the History of Literature: its strangeness, as in other cases, is one of its greatest charms. But there have been few stranger than the obstinacy and almost passion with which the Romanticism of Heine, of Thackeray, and of Flaubert has been denied. Again and again it has been pointed out that "to laugh at what you love" is not only permissible, but a sign of the love itself. Moreover, Flaubert does not even laugh as the great Jew and the great Englishman did. He only represents the failures and the disappointments and the false dawns of Love itself, while in other respects he is romantique a tous crins. Compare Le Reve with La Tentation or Saint-Julien l'Hospitalier; compare Madame Bovary with Germinie Lacerteux; even compare L'Education Sentimentale, that voyage to the Cythera of Romance which never reaches its goal, with Sapho and L'Evangeliste, and you will see the difference. It is of course to a certain extent "Le Coucher du Soleil Romantique" which lights up Flaubert's work, but the crapauds imprevus and the froids limacons of Baudelaire's epitaph have not yet appeared, and the hues of the sunset itself are still gorgeous in parts of the sky.

Of Flaubert's famous doctrine of "the single word" perhaps a little more should, after all, be said. The results are so good, and the processes by which they are attained get in the way of the reader so little, that it is difficult to quarrel with the doctrine itself. But it was perhaps, after all, something of a superstition, and the almost "fabulous torments" which it occasioned to its upholder and practitioner seem to have been somewhat Fakirish. We need not grudge the five years spent over Salammbo; the seven over L'Education; the earlier and, I think, less definitely known gestation of Madame Bovary; and that portion of the twenty which, producing these also, filled out those fragments of La Tentation that the July Monarchy had actually seen. Perhaps with Bouvard et Pecuchet he got into a blind alley, out of which such labour was never like to get him, and in which it was rather likely to confine him. But if the excess of the preparation had been devoted to the completion of, say, only half a dozen of such Contes as those we actually have, it would have been joyful.

Yet this is idle pining, and the goods which the gods provided in this instance are such as ought rather to make us truly thankful. Flaubert was, as has been said, a Romantic, but he was born late enough to avoid the extravagances and the childishnesses of mil-huit-cent-trente while retaining its inspiration, its diable au corps, its priceless recovery of inheritances from history. Nor, though he subjected all these to a severe criticism of a certain kind, did he ever let this make him (as something of the same sort made his pretty near contemporary, Matthew Arnold, in England) inclined to blaspheme.[403] He did not, like his other contemporary and peer in greatness of their particular country and generation, Baudelaire, play unwise tricks with his powers and his life.[404] He was fortunately relieved from the necessity of journey-work—marvellously performed, but still journey-work—which had beset Gautier and never let go of him.[405]

And he utilised these gifts and advantages as few others have done in the service of the novel. One thing may be brought against him—I think one only. You read—at least I read—his books with intense interest and enjoyment, but though you may recognise the truth and humanity of the characters; though you may appreciate the skill with which they are set to work; though you may even, to a certain extent, sympathise with them, you never—at least I never—feel that intense interest in them, as persons, which one feels in those of most of the greatest novelists. You can even feel yourself in them—a rare and great thing—you can be Saint Anthony, and feel an unpleasant suspicion as if you had sometimes been Frederic Moreau. But this is a different thing (though it is a great triumph for the author) from the construction for you of loves, friends, enemies even—in addition to those who surround you in the actual world.

Except this defect—which is in the proper, not the vulgar sense a defect—that is to say, not something bad which is present, but only something good which is absent—I hardly know anything wrong in Flaubert. He is to my mind almost[406] incomparably the greatest novelist of France specially belonging to the second half of the nineteenth century, and I do not think that Europe at large has ever had a greater since the death of Thackeray.


[389] He might have said—to make a Thackerayan translation of what was actually said later of an offering of roses rashly made to some French men of letters at their hotel in London: "Who the devil is this? Let them flank him his vegetables to the gate!" But what he did say, I believe, though he did not know or mention my name, was that "a blonde son of Albion" had ventured something gigantesque on him. And gigantesque had, if I do not again fondly err, sometimes if not always its "milder shade" of meaning in Flaubert's energetic mouth.

[390] As in those cases, and perhaps even more than in most, I have taken pains to make the new criticism as little of a replica of the old as possible.

[391] Possibly this is exactly what M. de Goncourt meant.

[392] There is some scandal and infinite gossip about Flaubert, with all of which I was once obliged to be acquainted, but which I have done the best that a rather strong memory will allow me to forget. I shall only say that his early friend and quasi-biographer, Maxime du Camp, seems to me to have had nearly as hard measure dealt out to him as Mr. Froude in the matter of Mr. Carlyle. Both were indiscreet; I do not think either was malevolent or treacherous.

[393] For in novels, to a greater degree than in poems, greatness does depend on the subject.

[394] Somebody has, I believe, suggested that if Emma had married Homais, all would have been well. If this means that he would have promptly and comfortably poisoned her, for which he had professional facilities, there might be something in it. Otherwise, hardly.

[395] His forte is in single utterances, such as the unmatched "J'ai un amant!" to which Emma gives vent after her first lapse (and which "speaks" her and her fate, and the book in ten letters, two spaces, and an apostrophe), or as the "par ce qu'elle avait touche au manteau de Tanit" of Salammbo; and the "Ainsi tout leur a craque dans la main" of the unfinished summary of Bouvard et Pecuchet.

[396] It is known that Flaubert, perhaps out of rather boyish pique (there was much boyishness in him), had originally made its offence ranker still. One of the most curious literary absurdities I have ever seen—the absurd almost drowning the disgusting in it—was an American attempt in verse to fill up Flaubert's lacuna and "go one better."

[397] The old foreign comparison with London was merely rhetorical; but there really would seem to have been some resemblance between Carthage and modern Berlin, even in those very points which Flaubert (taking advice) left out.

[398] There is a recent and exceptionally good translation of the book.

[399] The Letters are almost, if not quite, of first-rate quality. The play, Le Candidat, is of no merit.

[400] Vol. I. p. 4.

[401] All these will be found Englished in the Essay referred to.

[402] Too much must not be read into the word "failure": indeed the next sentence should guard against this. I know excellent critics who, declining altogether to consider the book as a novel, regard it as a sort of satire and satura, Aristophanic, Jonsonian or other, in gist and form, and by no means a failure as such. But as such it would have no, or very small, place here. I think myself that it is, from that point of view, nearer to Burton than to any one else: and I think further that it might have been made into a success of this kind or even of the novel sort itself. But as it stands with the sketch of a completion, I do not think that Flaubert's alchemy had yet achieved or approached projection.

[403] I have sometimes wished that Mr. Arnold had written a novel. But perhaps Volupte frightened him.

[404] There is controversy on this point, and Baudelaire's indulgence in artificial and perilous Paradises may have been exaggerated. That it existed to some extent is, I think, hardly doubtful.

[405] I know few things of the kind more pathetic than Theo's quiet lament over the "artistic completeness" of his ill-luck in the collapse of the Second Empire just when, with Sainte-Beuve dead and Merimee dying, he was its only man of letters of the first rank left, and might have had some relief from collar-work. But it must be remembered that though he had ground at the mill with slaves, he had never been one of them, and perhaps this would always have prevented his promotion.

[406] Reserving Maupassant under the "almost."



If any excuse is needed for the oddity of the title of this chapter, it will not be to readers of Burton's Anatomy. The way in which the phrase "Those six non-natural things" occurs and recurs there; the inextinguishable tendency—in view of the eccentricity of its application—to forget that the six include things as "natural" (in a non-technical[407] sense) as Diet, to forget also what it really means and expect something uncanny—these are matters familiar to all Burtonians. And they may excuse the borrowing of that phrase as a general label for those novelists, other than Flaubert and Dumas fils, who, if their work was not limited to 1850-70, began in (but not "with") that period, and worked chiefly in it, while they were at once not "Naturalists" and yet more or less as "natural" as any of Burton's six. One of the two least "minor," Alphonse Daudet, was among Naturalists but scarcely of them. The other, Octave Feuillet, was anti-Naturalist to the core.

[Sidenote: Feuillet.]

This latter, the elder of the two, though not so much the elder as used to be thought,[408] was at one time one of the most popular of French novelists both at home and abroad; but, latterly in particular, there were in his own country divers "dead sets" at him. He had been an Imperialist, and this excited one kind of prejudice against him; he was, in his way, orthodox in religion, and this aroused another; while, as has been already said, though his subjects, and even his treatment of them, would have sent our English Mrs. Grundy of earlier days into "screeching asterisks," the peculiar grime of Naturalism nowhere smirches his pages. For my own part I have always held him high, though there is a smatch about his morality which I would rather not have there. He seems to me to be—with the no doubt numerous transformations necessary—something of a French Anthony Trollope, though he has a tragic power which Trollope never showed; and, on the other side of the account, considerably less comic variety.

[Sidenote: His novels generally.]

As a "thirdsman" to Flaubert and Dumas fils, he shows some interesting differences. Merely as a maker of literature, he cannot touch the former, and has absolutely nothing of his poetic imagination, while his grasp of character is somewhat thinner and less firm. But it is more varied in itself and in the plots and scenery which give it play and setting—a difference not necessary but fortunate, considering his very much larger "output." Contrasted with Dumas fils, he affords a more important difference still, indeed one which is very striking. I pointed out in the appropriate place—not at the moment thinking of Feuillet at all—the strange fashion in which Alexander the Younger constantly "makes good" an at first unattractive story; and, even in his most generally successful work, increases the appeal as he goes on. With Feuillet the order of things is quite curiously reversed. Almost (though, as will be seen, not quite) invariably, from the early days of Bellah and Onesta to La Morte, he "lays out" his plan in a masterly manner, and accumulates a great deal of excellent material, as it were by the roadside, for use as the story goes on. But, except when he is at his very best, he flags, and is too apt to keep up his curtain for a fifth act when it had much better have fallen for good at the end of the fourth. As has been noted already, his characters are not deeply cut, though they are faithfully enough sketched. That he is not strong enough to carry through a purpose-novel is not much to his discredit, for hardly anybody ever has been. But the Histoire de Sibylle—his swashing blow in the George Sand duel (v. sup. p. 204)—though much less dull than the riposte in Mlle. la Quintaine, would hardly induce "the angels," in Mr. Disraeli's famous phrase, to engage him further as a Hal-o'-the-Wynd on their side.

But Feuillet's most vulnerable point is the peculiar sentimental morality-in-immorality which has been more than once glanced at. It was frankly found fault with by French critics—themselves by no means strait-laced—and the criticisms were well summed up (I remember the wording but not the writer of it) thus: "An honest woman does not feel the temptations" to which the novelist exposes his heroines. That there is a certain morbid sentimentality about Feuillet's attitude not merely to the "triangle" but even to simple "exchange of fantasies" between man and woman in general, can hardly be denied. He has a most curious and (one might almost say) Judaic idea as to woman as a temptress, in fashions ranging from the almost innocent seduction of Eve through the more questionable[409] one of Delilah, down to the sheer attitude of Zuleika-Phraxanor, and the street-corner woman in the Proverbs. And this necessitates a correspondingly unheroic presentation of his heroes. They are always being led into serious mischief ("in a red-rose chain" or a ribbon one), as Marmontel's sham philosopher[410] was into comic confusion by that ingenious Presidente. Yet, allowing all this, there remains to Feuillet's credit such a full and brilliant series of novels, hardly one of which is an actual failure, as very few novelists can show. Although he lived long and wrote to the end of his life, he left no "dotages"; hardly could the youngest and strongest of any other school in France—Guy de Maupassant himself—have beaten La Morte, though it is not faultless, in power.

[Sidenote: Brief notes on some—Le Roman d'un jeune homme pauvre.]

I suppose few novels, succeeding not by scandal, have ever been much more popular than the Roman d'un jeune homme pauvre, the title of which good English folk have been known slightly to alter in meaning by putting the pauvre before the jeune. It had got into its third hundred of editions before the present century had reached the end of its own first lustrum, and it must have been translated (probably more than once) into every European language. It is perfectly harmless; it is admirably written; and the vicissitudes of the loves of the marquis dechu and the headstrong creole girl are conducted with excellent skill, no serious improbability, and an absence of that tendency to "tail off" which has been admitted in some of the author's books. It was, I suppose, Feuillet's diploma-piece in almost the strictest technical sense of that phrase, for he was elected of the Academy not long afterwards. It has plenty of merits and no important faults, but it is not my favourite.

[Sidenote: M. de Camors.]

[Sidenote: Other books.]

Neither is the novel which, in old days, the proud and haughty scorners of this Roman, as a berquinade, used to prefer—M. de Camors.[411] Here there is plenty of naughtiness, attempts at strong character, and certainly a good deal of interest of story, with some striking incident. But it is spoilt, for me, by the failure of the principal personage. I think it not quite impossible that Feuillet intended M. de Camors as a sort of modernised, improved, and extended Lovelace, or even Valmont—superior to scruple, destined and able to get the better of man or woman as he chooses. Unfortunately he has also endeavoured to make him a gentleman; and the compound, as the chemists say, is not "stable." The coxcombry of Lovelace and the priggishness, reversed (though in a less detestable form), of Valmont, are the elements that chiefly remain in evidence, unsupported by the vigorous will of either. I have myself always thought La Petite Comtesse and Julia de Trecoeur among the earlier novels, Honneur d'Artiste and La Morte among the later, to be Feuillet's masterpieces, or at least nearest approaches to a masterpiece. Un Mariage dans le Monde (one or the rare instances in which the "honest woman" does get the better of her "temptations") is indeed rather interesting, in the almost fatal cross-misunderstanding of husband and wife, and the almost fabulous ingenuity and good offices of the "friend of the family," M. de Kevern, who prevents both from making irreparable fools of themselves. Les Amours de Philippe is more commonplace—a prodigal's progress in love, rewarded at last, very undeservedly, with something better than a fatted calf—a formerly slighted but angelic cousin. But to notice all his work, more especially if one took in half- or quarter-dramatic things (his pure drama does not of course concern us) of the "Scene" and "Proverbe" kind, where he comes next to Musset, would be here impossible. The two pairs, early and late respectively, and already selected, must suffice.

[Sidenote: La Petite Comtesse.]

They are all tragic, though there is comedy in them as well. Perhaps La Petite Comtesse, a very short novel and its author's first thing of great distinction, might by some be called pathetic rather than tragic; but the line between the two is a "leaden" barrier (if indeed it is a barrier at all) and "gives" freely. Perhaps the Gigadibs in any man of letters may be conciliated by one of his fellows being granted some of the fascinations of the "clerk" in the old Phyllis-and-Flora debats of mediaeval times; but the fact that this clerk is also represented as a fool of the most disastrous, though not the most contemptible kind, should be held as a set-off to the bribery. It is a "story of three"—though not at all the usual three—graced (or not) by a really brilliant picture of the society of the early Second Empire. One of the leaders of this—a young countess and a member of the "Rantipole"[412] set of the time, but exempt from its vulgarity—meets in the country, and falls in love with, a middle-aged savant, who is doing archaeological work for Government in the neighbourhood. He despises her as a frivolous feather-brain at first, but soon falls under the spell. Yet what has been called "the fear of the 'Had-I-wist'" and the special notion—more common perhaps with men than is generally thought—that she cannot really love him, makes him resist her advances. By rebound, she falls victim for a time to a commonplace Lovelace; but finds no satisfaction, languishes and dies, while the lover, who would not take the goods the gods provided, tries to play a sort of altered part of Colonel Morden in Clarissa, and the gods take their revenge for "sinned mercies." In abstract (it has been observed elsewhere that Feuillet seldom abstracts well, his work being too much built up of delicate touches) there may seem to be something of the preposterous in this; but it must be a somewhat coarse form of testing which discovers any real preposterousness in the actual story.

[Sidenote: Julia de Trecoeur.]

It may, however, as has been said, seem to some to belong to the pathetic-sentimental rather than to the actually tragic; I at least could not allow any such judging of Julia de Trecoeur, though there are more actual faults in it than in La Petite Comtesse, and though, as has been mentioned elsewhere, the rather repulsive catastrophe may have been more or less borrowed. The donnee is one of the great old simple cross-purposes of Fate—not a mere "conflict," as the silly modern jargon has it. Julia de Trecoeur is a wilful and wayward girl, as are many others of Feuillet's heroines. Her mother is widowed early, but consoles herself; and Julia—as such a girl pretty certainly would do—resents the proceeding, and refuses to live at home or to see her stepfather. He, however, is a friend of his wife's own cousin, and this cousin, conceiving a passion for Julia, offers to marry her. Her consent, in an English girl, would require some handling, but offers no difficulties in a French one. As a result, but after a time, she agrees to meet her mother and that mother's new husband. And then the tragedy begins. She likes at once, and very soon loves, her stepfather—he succumbs, more slowly, to Moira and Ate. But he is horrified at the notion of a quasi-incestuous love, and Julia perceives his horror. She forces her horse, like the Duchess May, but over the cliffs of the Cotentin, not over a castle wall; and her husband and her stepfather himself see the act without being able—indeed without trying—to prevent it. The actual place had nearly been the scene of a joint suicide by the unhappy lovers before.

Once more, the thing comes badly out of analysis—perhaps by the analyst's fault, perhaps not. But in its own presentation, with some faults hardly necessary to point out, it is both poignant and empoignant, and it gives a special blend of pity and terror, the two feelings being aroused by no means merely through the catastrophe, but by the rise and progress of the fatal passion which leads to it. I know very few, if any, things of the same kind, in a French novel, superior, or indeed equal to, the management of this, and to the fashion in which the particular characters, or wants of character, of Julia's mother and Julia's husband (excellent persons both) are made to hurry on the calamity[413] to which she was fated.

[Sidenote: Honneur d'Artiste.]

This tragic undercurrent, surging up to a more tragic catastrophe, reappears in the two best of the later issues, when Feuillet was making better head against the burst sewers[414] of Naturalism. Honneur d'Artiste is the less powerful of the two; but what of failure there is in it is rather less glaring. Beatrice de Sardonne, the heroine, is a sort of "Petite Comtesse" transformed—very cleverly, but perhaps not quite successfully. Her "triangle" consists of herself, a somewhat New-Yorkised young French lady of society (but too good for the worst part of her); and her two lovers, the Marquis de Pierrepont, a much better Lovelace, in fact hardly a Lovelace at all, whom she is engineered into refusing for honourable love—with a fatal relapse into dishonourable; and the "Artiste" Jacques Fabrice. He adores her, but she, alas! does not know whether she loves him or not till too late; and, after the irreparable, he falls by the hazard of the lot in that toss-up for suicide, the pros and cons of which (as in a former instance) I should like to see treated by a philosophical historian of the duello.

[Sidenote: La Morte.]

In La Morte, on the other hand, the power is even greater—in fact it is the most powerful book of its author, and one of the most powerful of the later nineteenth century. But there is in it a reversion to the "purpose" heresy; and while it is an infinitely finer novel than the Histoire de Sibylle, it is injured, though not quite fatally, by the weapon it wields. One of the heroines, Sabine, niece and pupil of an Agnostic savant, deliberately poisons the other, Aliette, that she may marry Aliette's husband. But the Agnostic teaching extends itself soon from the Sixth Commandment to the Seventh, and M. de Vaudricourt, who, though not ceasing to love Aliette, and having no idea of the murder, has been ensnared into second marriage by Sabine, discovers, at almost the same time, that his wife is a murderess and a strumpet. She is also (one was going to say) something worse, a daughter of the horse-leech for wealth and pleasure and position. Now you may be an Agnostic and a murderess and a strumpet and a female snob all at once: but no anti-Agnostic, who is a critic likewise, will say that the second, third, and fourth characteristics necessarily, and all together, follow from Agnosticism. It may remove some bars in their way; but I can frankly admit that I do not think it need definitely superinduce them, or that it is altogether fair to accumulate the post hocs with their inevitable suggestion of propter.

However, "Purpose" here is simply at its old tricks, and I have known it do worse things than caution people against Agnostics' nieces.

[Sidenote: Misters the assassins.]

On the other hand, the vigour, the variety, and (where the purpose does not get too much the upper hand) the satiric skill are very nearly first-rate. And, with the cautions and admissions just given, there is not a little in the purpose itself, with which one may be permitted to sympathise. After all "misters the assassins" were being allowed very generous "law," and it was time for other people to "begin." As for Feuillet's opposition to the "modern spirit," which was early denounced, it is not necessary—even for any one who knows that this modern spirit is only an old enemy with a new face, or who, when he sees the statement that "Nothing is ever going anywhere to be the same," chuckles, and, remembering all history to the present minute, mutters, "Everything always has been, is, and always will be the same"—to call in these knowledges of his to the rescue of Feuillet's position as a novelist. That position is made sure, and would have been made sure if he had been as much of a Naturalist as he was the reverse, by his power of constructing interesting stories; of drawing, if not absolutely perfect, passable and probable characters; of throwing in novel-accessories with judgment; and of giving, by dint of manners and talk and other things necessary, vivid and true portrayals of the society and life of his time.

* * * * *

[Sidenote: Alphonse Daudet and his curious position.]

[Sidenote: His "personality."]

Perhaps there is no novelist in French literature—or, indeed, in any other—who, during his lifetime, occupied such a curiously "mixed" position as Alphonse Daudet.[415] No contemporary of his obtained wider general popularity, without a touch of irregular bait or of appeal to popular silliness in it, than he did with Le Petit Chose, with the charming bundle of pieces called Lettres de Mon Moulin, and later with the world-delighting burlesque of Tartarin de Tarascon. Jack and Fromont Jeune et Risler Aine contained more serious advances, which were, however, acknowledged as effective by a very large number of readers. But he became more and more personally associated with the Naturalist group of Zola and Edmond de Goncourt; and though he never was actually "grimy," he had, from a quite early period, when he was secretary or clerk to the Duc de Morny, adopted, and more and more strenuously persisted in, a kind of "personal" novel-writing, which might be regarded as tainted with the general Naturalist principle that nothing is tacendum—that private individuality may be made public use of, to almost any extent. Of course a certain licence in this respect has always been allowed to novelists. In the eighteenth century English writers of fiction had very little scruple in using and abusing that licence, and French, though with the fear of the arbitrary justice or injustice of their time and country before them, had almost less. As the nineteenth went on, the practice by no means disappeared on either side of the Channel. With us Mr. Disraeli indulged in it largely, and even Thackeray, though he condemned it in others, and was furious when it was exercised on himself, in journalism if not in fiction, pretty notoriously fell into it now and then. As to Dickens, one need not go beyond the too notorious instance of Skimpole. Quite a considerable proportion of Balzac's company are known to have been Balzacified from the life; of George Sand's practice it is unnecessary to say more.

[Sidenote: His books from this point of view and others.]

But none of these is so saturated with personality as Daudet; and while some of his "gentle" readers seem not to care much about this, even if they do not share the partiality of the vulgar herd for it, it disgusts others not a little. Morny was not an estimable public or private character, though if he had been a "people's man" not much fault would probably have been found with him. I daresay Daudet, when in his service, was not overpaid, or treated with any particular private confidence. But still I doubt whether any gentleman could have written Le Nabab. The last Bourbon King of Naples was not hedged with much divinity; but it is hardly a question, with some, that his decheance, not less than that of his nobler spouse, should have protected them from the catch-penny vulgarity of Les Rois en Exil. Gambetta was not the worst of demagogues; there was something in him of Danton, and one might find more recent analogies without confining the researches to France. But even if his weaknesses gave a handle, which his merits could not save from the grasp of the vulgariser, Numa Roumestan bore the style of a vulture who stoops upon recent corpses, not that of a dispassionate investigator of an interesting character made accessible by length of time. L'Evangeliste had at least the excuse that the Salvation Army was fair game; and that, if there was personal satire, it was not necessarily obvious—a palliation which (not to mention another for a moment) extends to Sapho. But L'Immortel revived—unfortunately, as a sort of last word—the ugliness of this besetting sin of Daudet's. Even the saner members of Academies would probably scout the idea of their being sacrosanct and immune from criticism. But L'Immortel, despite its author's cleverness, is once more an essentially vulgar book, and a vulturine or ghoulish one—fixing on the wounds and the bruises and the putrefying sores of its subject—dragging out of his grave, for posthumous crucifixion, a harmless enough pedant of not very old time; and throwing dirty missiles at living magnates. It is one of the books—unfortunately not its author's only contribution to the list—which leave a bad taste in the mouth, a "flavour of poisonous brass and metal sick."

[Sidenote: His "plagiarisms."]

Of another charge brought against Daudet I should make much shorter work; and, without absolutely clearing him of it, dismiss it as, though not unfounded, comparatively unimportant. It is that of plagiarism—plagiarism not from any French writer, but from Dickens and Thackeray. As to the last, one scene in Fromont Jeune et Risler Aine simply must be "lifted" from the famous culmination of Vanity Fair, when Rawdon Crawley returns from prison and catches Lord Steyne with his wife. But, beyond registering the fact, I do not know that we need do much more with it. In regard to Dickens, the resemblance is more pervading, but more problematical. "Boz" had been earlier, and has been always, popular in France. L'excentricite anglaise warranted, if it did not quite make intelligible, his extravaganza; his semi-republican sentimentalism suited one side of the French temperament, etc. etc. Moreover, Daudet had actually, in his own youth, passed through experiences not entirely unlike those of David Copperfield and Charles Dickens himself, while perhaps the records of the elder novelist were not unknown to the younger. In judging men of letters as shown in their works, however, a sort of "cadi-justice"—a counter-valuation of merits and faults—is allowable. I cannot forgive Daudet his inveterate personality: I can bid him sit down quickly and write off his plagiarism—or most of it—without feeling the withers of my judicial conscience in the very least wrung. For if he did not, as others have done, make what he stole entirely his own, he had, of his own, very considerable property in rather unusually various kinds.

[Sidenote: His merits.]

The charm of his short Tales, whether in the Lettres de Mon Moulin or in collections assuming the definite title, is undeniable. The satiric-pathetic—a not very common and very difficult kind—has few better representatives than La Chevre de M. Seguin, and the purely comic stories are thoroughly "rejoicing." Tartarin, in his original appearances, "touches the spot," "carries off all the point" in a manner suggestive at once of Horace and Homocea; and though, as was almost inevitable, its sequels are less effective, one would have been very glad indeed of them if they had had no forerunner. In almost all the books—Robert Helmont, by the way, though not yet mentioned, has some strong partisans—the grip of actual modern society, which is the boast of the later, as opposed to the earlier, nineteenth-century novel, cannot be missed. Even those who are most disgusted by the personalities cannot deny the power of the satiric presentation from Le Nabab to Numa Roumestan. Fromont Jeune et Risler Aine is, quite independently of the definite borrowing from us, more like an English novel, in some respects, than almost any other French one known to me up to its date; and I have found persons, not in the least sentimentalists and very widely read in novels both English and French, who were absolutely enthusiastic about Jack.

L'Evangeliste is perhaps the nearest approach to a failure, the atmosphere being too alien from anything French to be favourable to the development of a good story, and perhaps the very subject being unsuited to anything, either English or French, but an episode. In more congenial matter, as in the remark in Numa Roumestan as to the peculiar kind of unholy pleasure which a man may enjoy when he sees his wife and his mistress kissing each other, Daudet sometimes showed cynic acumen nearer to La Rochefoucauld than to Laclos, and worthy of Beyle at his very best. And I have no shame in avowing real admiration for Sapho. It does not by any means confound itself with the numerous studies of the infatuation of strange women which French fiction contains; and it is almost a sufficient tribute to its power to say that it does not, as almost all the rest do, at once serve itself heir to, and enter into hopeless competition with, Manon Lescaut. Nor is the heroine in the least like either Marguerite Gautier or Iza Clemenceau, while the comparison with Nana, whose class she also shares, vindicates her individuality most importantly of all these trials. She seems to me Daudet's best single figure: though the book is of too specialised a kind to be called exactly his best book.

He never had strong health, and broke down early, so that his total production is decidedly smaller than that of most of his fellows.[416] Nor has he, I think, any pretensions to be considered a novelist of the very first class, even putting bulk out of the question. But he can be both extremely amusing and really pathetic; he is never unnatural; and if there is less to be said about him than about some others, it is certainly not because he is less good to read. On the contrary, he is so easy and so good to read, and he has been read so much, that elaborate discussion of him is specially superfluous. It is almost a pity that he was not born ten or fifteen years earlier, so that he might have had more chance of hitting a strictly distinct style. As it is, with all his pathos and all his fun, you feel that he is of the Epigoni a successor of more than one or two Alexanders, that he has a whole library of modern fiction behind—and, in more than one sense of the word, before—him.

* * * * *

[Sidenote: About: Le Roi des Montagnes.]

There was a time when Englishmen of worth and Englishwomen of grace thought a good deal of Edmond About. Possibly this was because he was one of the pillars of the Revue des Deux Mondes. Far be it from me to speak with the slightest disrespect of that famous periodical, to which I have myself divers indebtednesses, and which has, in the last hundred years or thereabouts, harboured and fostered many of the greatest writers of France and much of her best literary work. But persons of some age and some memory must remember a time in England when it used to be "mentioned with hor" as Policeman X mentioned something or somebody else about the same date or a little earlier. Even Matthew Arnold, in whose comely head the bump of Veneration was not the most remarkable protuberance, used to point to it—as something far above us—to be regarded with reverence and striven towards with might and main. What justification there might be for this in general we need not now consider; but at any rate About has never seemed to the present historian very much of a pillar of anything. His chief generally accepted titles to the position in novel-writing are, I suppose, Le Roi des Montagnes and Tolla, each of which, and perhaps one other, we may examine in some detail, grouping the rest (with one further exception) more summarily. They are the better suited for our purpose in that one is comedy if not farce, and the other a gradually threatening and at last accomplished tragedy.

Of course it would be a very dull or a very curmudgeonly person who should fail to see or refuse to acknowledge "fun" in the history of Hadji or Hadgi Stavros. The mixture of sense, science, stupidity, and unconscious humour[417] in the German narrator; the satire on the toleration of brigandage by government in Greece (it must be confessed that, of all the reductions to the absurd of parliamentary and constitutional arrangements in countries unsuited for them, wherein the last hundred years have been so prolific, Greece has provided the most constant and reversed-sublime examples, as Russia has the most tragic); the contrast of amiability and atrocity in the brigands themselves—all these provide excellent opportunities, by no means always missed, for the display of a sort of anticipated and Gallicised Gilbertianism. Nor need the addition of stage Englishness in Mrs. Simons and her brother and Mary Ann, of stage Americanism in Captain John Harris and his nephew Lobster, spoil the broth.

But, to the possibly erroneous taste[418] of the present taster, it does not seem to be a consummated consomme. To begin with, there is too much of it; it is watered out to over three hundred pages when it might have been "reduced" with great advantage to one hundred. Nor is this a mere easy general complaint; it would be perfectly possible to point out where reductions should take place in detail. No one skilled in the use of the blue pencil could be at a loss where to apply it in the preliminary matter; in the journey; in the Hadgi's gravely burlesqued correspondence; in the escape of the ladies; in Hermann's too prolonged yet absurdly ineffective tortures; in the civil war between the King and his subjects; in the rather transpontine victory of the two Americans and the Maltese over both; and, above all, in the Royal Ball, where English etiquette requires that the rescuer must be duly introduced to those he has rescued. Less matter (or rather less talking about matter) with more art might have made it a capital thing, especially if certain traces of vulgarity, too common in About, were removed together with the mere superfluities. At any rate, this is how it strikes, and always has struck, a younger but now old contemporary.

[Sidenote: Tolla.]

The same fault of longueurs makes itself felt in Tolla: and indeed the author seems to have been conscious of it, and confesses it in an apologetic Preface to the editions after the first. But this does not form the chief ground of accusation against it. Nor, certainly, do the facts, as summarised in a note, justify any serious charge of plagiarism,[419] though the celebrated Buloz seems for once to have been an unwise editor, in objecting to a fuller acknowledgment of indebtedness on the part of his contributor. A story of this tragical kind will bear much fuller handling than a comic tale of scarcely more than one situation, recounted with a perpetual "tongue-in-cheek" accompaniment.

But, from another point of view, the book does justify the drawing of a general literary moral, that true donnees are very far from being certain blessings—that they are, in fact, dona Danaorum—to the novelist; that he should not hug the shore of fact, but launch out into the ocean of invention. About, in a fashion rather cheerfully recalling the boasts of poor Shadwell, who could "truly say that he had made it[420] into a play" and that "four of the humours were entirely new," assures us that he has invented everything but the main situation, and written everything out of his own head except a few of the letters of Tolla. Some of these added things are good, though one of the author's besetting sins may be illustrated by the fact that he gives nearly half a score pages to a retrospective review of the history of a Russian General's widow and her daughter, when as many lines—or, better still, a line or two of explanation here and there—would be all that the story requires.[421] But the "given" situation itself is a difficult one to handle interestingly: and, in some estimates at any rate, the difficulty has not been overcome here. The son—a younger, but still amply endowed son—of one of the greatest Roman families, compact of Princes and Cardinals, with reminiscences of Venetian dogedom, falls in love, after a half-hearted fashion, with the daughter of another house of somewhat less, but still old repute, and of fair, though much lesser wealth. By a good deal of "shepherding" on the part of her family and friends, and (one is bound to say) some rather "downright Dunstable" on her own, he is made to propose; but her family accepts the demand that the thing shall, for a time, be kept secret from his. Of course no such secrecy is long possible; and his people, especially a certain wicked cavaliere-colonel, with the aid of a French Monseigneur and the Russians above mentioned, plot to break the thing off, and finally succeed. "Lello" (Manuel) Coromila finds out the plot too late. Tolla dies of a broken heart.

It seems to me—speaking with the humility which I do not merely affect, but really feel on the particular point—that this might make a good subject for a play: that in the hands of Shakespeare or Shelley it might make a very great one in two different kinds. But—now speaking with very much less diffidence—I do not think it a promising one for a novel; and, speaking with hardly any at all, I think that it has certainly not made a good one here. Shut up into the narrow action of the stage; divested of the intervals which make its improbabilities more palpable; and with the presentation of Lello as a weaker and baser Hamlet, of Tolla as a betrayed Juliet—with all this brought out and made urgent by a clever actor and actress, the thing might be made very effective. Dawdled over in a novel again of three hundred pages, it loses appeal to the sympathy and constantly starts fresh difficulties for the understanding.

That a very delightful girl[422] may fall in love with a nincompoop who is also notoriously a light-of-love, is quite possible: and, no doubt, is fortunate for the nincompoops, and, after a fashion, good for the continuation of the human race. But, in a novel, you must make the process interesting, and that is not, me judice, done here. The nincompoop, too, is such an utter nincompoop (he is not a villain, nor even a rascal) that, no comic use being made of his nincompoopery, he is of no use at all. And though an old and haughty Italian family like the Feraldis might no doubt in real life—there is nothing that may not happen in real life—consent to clandestine engagements of the kind described, it certainly is one of the possible-improbables which are fatal, or nearly so, to art. Two or three subordinate characters—the good-natured and good-witted Marquis Filippo Trasimeni, the faithful peasant Menico, Tolla's foster-brother, and even the bad chambermaid Amarella—have some merit. But twenty of them could not save the book, which, after dawdling till close upon its end, huddles itself up in a few pages, chiefly of recit, in a singularly inartistic fashion.

[Sidenote: Germaine.]

Germaine, which has been (speaking under correction) a much less popular book than either Le Roi des Montagnes or Tolla, is perhaps better than either. Except for a very few pages, it does not attempt the somewhat cackling irony of the Greek book; and though it ends with one failure of a murder, one accomplished ditto, and two more deaths of no ordinary kind, it does not even attempt, as the Italian one does, real tragedy. But it has a fairly well-knit plot, some attempt at character, sufficient change of incident and scene, and hardly any longueurs. Even the hinge of the whole, though it presents certain improbabilities, is not of the brittle and creaking kind reprobated in that of Tolla.

A Neapolitan-Spanish Count of Villanera, whose second title is "Marquis of the Mounts of Iron," possessed also not only of the bluest of blood, but of mountains of gold, has fallen in love, after an honour-in-dishonour fashion, with the grass-widow of a French naval captain, Honorine Chermidy, and has had a child by her. She is really a worse Becky Sharp, or a rather cleverer Valerie Marneffe (who perhaps was her model[423]), and she forms a cunning plan by which the child may be legitimated and she herself, apparently renouncing, will really secure a chance of, the countdom, the marquisate, and the mountains of iron and gold. (Of the latter she has got a good share out of her lover already.) The plan is that Villanera shall marry some girl (of noble birth but feeble health and no fortune), which will, according to French law, effect or at least permit the legitimation of the little Marques de las Montes de Hierro—certain further possibilities being left ostensibly to Providence, but, in Madame Chermidy's private intentions, to the care of quite another Power. The Dowager Countess de Villanera—rather improbably, but not quite impossibly—accepts this, being, though proud, willing to derogate a little to make sure of an heir to the House of Villanera with at any rate a portion (the sceptical would say a rather doubtful portion[424]) of its own blood.

Villanera himself, though in most ways the soul of honour, accepts this shady scheme chiefly through blind devotion to his mistress; and it only remains to find a family whose poverty, if not their will, consents to sell their daughter. Through the agency of that stock and pet French novel-character, a doctor who is very clever, very benevolent, very sceptical, and not over-scrupulous, the exact material for the mischief is found. There is an old Duc de la Tour-D'Embleuse, who, half-ruined by the original Revolution, has been almost completely so by that of 1830, has thrown away what remained, and has become an amiable and adored but utterly selfish burden on his angelic wife and daughter, the latter of whom, like so many of the heroines of the 'fifties, especially in France, is an all but "given-up" poitrinaire. The price of the bargain—an "inscription" of fifty thousand francs a year in Rentes—is offered on the very day when the family has come to its last sou; accepted, after short and sham refusal, by the duke; acquiesced in unselfishly by the mother, who despairs of saving her husband and daughter from starvation in any other way; and submitted to by the daughter herself in a spirit of martyrdom, strengthened by the certainty that it is but for a little while. How the situation works out to an end of liberal but not excessive poetical justice, the reader may discover for himself: the book being, though not a masterpiece, nor even very high in the second rank, quite worth reading. One or two things may be noticed. The first is a really clever sketch, the best thing perhaps in About's novel-work, of the peculiar "naughty-childishness"[425] which belongs to lovely woman, which does not materially affect her charm or even her usefulness in some ways, but makes her as politically impossible in one way as does that "incapacity for taking more than one side of a question" which Lord Halsbury has pointed out, in another.[426] The second is the picture, in the later half of the book, of those Ionian Islands, then still English, the abandonment of which was the first of the many blessings conferred by Mr. Gladstone[427] on his country, and the possession of which, during the late or any war, would have enabled us almost to pique, repique, and capot the attempts of our enemies in the adjacent Mediterranean regions.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15     Next Part
Home - Random Browse