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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2 - To the Close of the 19th Century
by George Saintsbury
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[Sidenote: Madelon.]

All these books, and perhaps one or two others, are about the same length—an equality possibly due (as we have seen in English examples on a different scale) to periodical publication. But once, in Madelon, About attempted something of much "longer breath," as his countrymen say. Here we have nearly six hundred pages instead of three hundred, and each page (which is a large one) contains at least half as much again as a page of the others. The book is a handsome one, with a title in red ink; and the author says he took three years to write the novel—of course as an avocation from his vocation in journalism. It is difficult to repress, though probably needless to utter, the most obvious remark on this; but it is not hard to give it another turn. Diderot said (and though some people believe him not, I do) that Rousseau originally intended, in the Dijon prize essay which made his fate and fame, to argue that science and letters had improved morality, etc.; and that he, Diderot, had told Jean Jacques that this was le pont aux anes, and determined him to take the paradoxical side instead. The "Asses' bridge" (not in the Euclidic sense, nor as meaning that all who took it were asses) of the mid-nineteenth century French novelist was the biography of the demi-monde. Balzac had been the first and greatest engineer of these ponts et chaussees; Dumas fils had shown that they might lead to no mean success; so all the others followed in a fashion certainly rather ovine and occasionally asinine. Madelon is a young woman, attractive rather than beautiful, who begins as a somewhat mysterious favourite of men of fashion in Paris; establishes herself for a time as a married woman in an Alsatian town; ruins nearly, mais non tout, a country baron; and ends, as far as the book goes, by being a sort of inferior Lola Montes to a German princeling. It has cost considerable effort to justify even this short summary. I have found few French novels harder to read. But there is at least one smart remark—of the "publicist" rather than the novelist kind—towards the end:

C'est un besoin inne chez les peuplades germaniques; il faut, bon gre mal gre, qu'ils adorent quelqu'un.

They did not dislike puns and verbal jingles, either in France or in England in the mid-nineteenth century, as much as their ancestors and their descendants in both countries have done before and since. A survivor to-day might annotate "Et quel quelqu'un quelquefois!"

[Sidenote: Maitre Pierre, etc. Summing up.]

In fact, to put the matter brutally, but honestly, as far as the present writer's knowledge extends, Edmond About was not a novelist at all "in his heart." He was a journalist (he himself admits the impeachment so far), and he was a journalist in a country where novel- or at least tale-writing had long established itself as part of the journalist's business. Also he was really a good raconteur—a gift which, though perhaps few people have been good novelists without it, does not by itself make a good novelist. As a publicist, too, he was of no small mark: his Question Romaine could not be left out of any sufficient political library of the nineteenth century. Some of his shorter tales, such as Le Nez d'un Notaire and L'Homme a l'Oreille Cassee, have had a great vogue with those who like comic situations described with lively, if not very refined, wit. He was also a good topographer; indeed this element enters largely into most of his so-called novels already noticed, and constitutes nearly all the interest of a very pleasant book called Maitre Pierre. This is a description of the Landes between Bordeaux and Arcachon, and something like a "puff" of the methods used to reclaim them, diversified by an agreeable enough romance. The hero is a local "king," a foundling-hunter-agriculturist who uses his kingdom, not like Hadji Stavros, to pillage and torment, but to benefit his subjects. The heroine is his protegee Marinette, a sort of minor Isopel Berners, with a happier end.[428] The throwing into actual tale-form of curious and decidedly costly local fashions of courtship is clever; but the whole thing is a sort of glorified advertisement. Other books, Les Mariages de Paris and Les Mariages de Province, almost tell their tales, and something more,[429] in their titles.

One cannot but be sorry if this seems an unfair or shabby account of a pleasant and popular writer, but the right and duty of historical criticism is not to be surrendered. One of the main objects of literary history is to separate what is quotidian from what is not. To neglect the quotidian altogether is—whatever some people may say—to fall short of the historian's duty; to put it in its proper place is that duty.

* * * * *

[Sidenote: Ponson du Terrail and Gaboriau.]

What ought to be said and done about Ponson du Terrail and Gaboriau—the younger Sue and Soulie; the protagonists of the melodramatic and criminal feuilleton during the later middle of the century—has been rather a problem with me. Clearly they cannot be altogether neglected. Deep would answer to deep, Rocambole to M. Lecoq, in protesting against such an omission of their manufacturers. I do not know, indeed, that any English writer of distinction has done for M. le Vicomte Ponson du Terrail what Mr. Lang did, "under the species of eternity" which verse confers, for "(Miss Braddon and) Gaboriau." I have known those who preferred that other Viscount, "Richard O'Monroy"—who shared with "Gyp" and Armand Silvestre the cheerful office of cheering the cheerable during the 'eighties and later—to the more canonical possessor of the title before him. But du Terrail was what I believe is called, in Scottish "kirk" language, a "supply"—a person who could undertake the duty of filling gaps—of enormous efficacy in his day. That is a claim on this history which cannot be neglected, though the people who would fain have Martin Tupper blotted out of the history of English poetry, might like to drop Ponson du Terrail in that of the French novel down an oubliette, like one of his own heroes, and not give him the file mercifully furnished to that robustious marquis. Gaboriau claims, in the same way, even more "clamantly."

The worst of it is (to play cards on table with the strictness which is the only virtue of this book, save perhaps an occasional absence of ignorance) that neither of them appeals to me. I have no doubt that this recalcitrance to the crime-novel is a culpa, if not a culpa maxima. I suppose it was born in me. It is certainly not merely due to the fact that, in my journalist days, perhaps because I was a kind of abortion of a barrister, I had to write endless articles on crimes.

Penge murders knew The pencil blue

as regards my "copy," and a colleague once upbraided me for arguing in favour of Mrs. Maybrick. But I had read crime-novels before those days, and they never amused me. Yet perhaps it may be possible to show cause—other than my personal likings—for not ranking these high.

[Sidenote: The first—his general character.]

I have somewhere seen it said that Ponson du Terrail, before he took to driving feuilletons five-in-hand, showed some power of less coarse fiction-writing on a smaller scale. But I have not seen any of these essays, and real success in them on his part would surprise me. For it is exactly in the qualities necessary to such a success that he seems to me to come short. He did possess what, though it may seem almost profane to call it imagination, is really a cheap and drossy lower kind thereof. He could frame and accumulate, even to some extent connect, melodramatic situations, not so very badly, and not in very glaring imitation of anybody else. But, perhaps for that very reason, the difference between him and the others strikes one all the more painfully. Les Orphelins de la Saint-Barthelemy awakes the saddest sighs for Dumas or Merimee. La Femme Immortelle, with its diablerie explained and then dis-explained and then clumsily solved with a laugh, makes one wish for an hour or two even of Soulie. And when one comes to the nineteenth century and Les Gandins and a fiendish docteur rouge[430] (who is in every conceivable way inferior to Vigny's docteur noir), and a wicked count who undergoes a spotty transcorporation, it is worse. If any one says, "This is possible, but you yourself have said that excellence in some one else ought not to affect the estimate of the actual subject," I reply, "Granted; but Ponson du Terrail bores me." I have dropped every book of his that I have taken up, and only at a second—even a third—struggle have been able to get knowledge enough of it to speak without critical treason. Moreover, his style (always under caution given) seems to me flat, savourless, and commonplace; his thought childish, his etceteras (if I may so say) absurd. The very printing is an irritation. Who can read such stuff as this?

Tout a coup une sonnette se fit entendre.

Nana se leva.

Cette sonnette etat celle qui avertissait la soubrette que sa maitresse reclamait son office.

La jolie fille prit un flambeau et quitta la cuisine.

Here you have four separate paragraphs, five lines, and thirty-five words to express, in almost idiotic verbiage, the following:

"Here her mistress's bell rang, and she left the kitchen."

One might conduct not merely five, but five and twenty novels abreast at this rate.

[Sidenote: The second.]

Not thus would it be proper to write of Gaboriau. With him, except incidentally, and when he is diverging from his proper line,[431] one finds no mere "piffle." He has a business and he does that. Moreover, it is a business which, if not intrinsically, is historically important. Of course there had been crime-novels and crime-tales before: there always has been everything before. But Gaboriau undoubtedly refashioned and restarted them, and has been ever since the parent or master of a family, or whole school, of novelists and tale-tellers who have sometimes seemed, at any rate to themselves, to be pillars, and to be entitled to talk about politics and religion and morals, and the other things which, as Chesterfield so delightfully remarked, need no troublesome preparation in the talker. His place here, therefore, is secured. If it is not a large place, that is not entirely due to the mere fact that, as has been frankly acknowledged, the present writer takes little pleasure in the crime-novel. It is because the kind, plentiful for those who like it to read, can be conveniently knocked off in specimen for others. For the latter purpose it would not matter very much whether L'Affaire Lerouge, or Le Crime d'Orcival, or M. Lecoq itself, or perhaps even others, were taken. The first named, which was, I think, one of the first, if not the actual overture of the series, and which happens to be best known to the historian, will perhaps suffice.

[Sidenote: L'Affaire Lerouge.]

No one who takes it up, having some little critical aptitude and experience, will fail to see, very shortly, that it does mean business and does do it. The murder of Claudine Lerouge is well plunged into; the arrangements for its detection—professional and amateur—are "gnostically" laid out; and the plot thickens and presents various sides of itself, like a craftsmanly made and tossed pancake. If you read it at all, you will not skip much; first, because the interest, such as it is, is continuous; and, secondly, for one of those reasons which keep would-be sinners in other paths of rectitude—that, if you skip, you will almost certainly find you have lost your way when you come down from skipping. Some oddities—partly, but not entirely, connected with the strange and well-known differences between French and English criminal procedure—will, of course, strike an Englishman—the collaboration of professional juge d'instruction and amateur detective being perhaps the most remarkable. The love-affair, in which the Judge himself and the plotted-against Albert de Commarin are rivals, though a useful poker to stir the fire, is not quite a well-managed one: and the long harangue of Madame Gerdy, between her resurrection from brain-fever and her death, seems a little to strain probability. But no one of these things, nor all together, need be fatal to the enjoyment of the book on the part of, as was once said, "them as likes" the kind.[432]

[Sidenote: Feydeau—Sylvie.]

Short notice may again serve for another novelist enormously popular in his day; very characteristic of the Second Empire; a favourite[433] for a time (rather inexplicably) of Sainte-Beuve; but not much of a rose, and very much of many days before yesterday—Ernest Feydeau. He did one thing, Sylvie, as different as possible from Gerard's book of the same name, but still, as it seems to me, good enough, though it never enjoyed a tenth part of the popularity of his more "scabrous" things, though itself is very far from prudish, and though it makes no appearance in some lists and collections of his work. Feydeau (it is a redeeming point) was one of "those about" Gautier, and Sylvie is by no means unlike a pretty free and fairly original transfer from Les Jeune-France. The hero is a gentleman, decadent by anticipation and romantic by survival to the very nth. He abides in a vast chamber, divanned, and hung with Oriental curtains: he smokes endless tchibouks, and lives chiefly upon preserved ginger. To him enters Sylvie, a sort of guardian angel, with a rather Mahometan angelism, who devotes herself to him, and succeeds, by this means and that, in converting him to a somewhat more rational system of life and "tonvelsasens," as Swift would say. It is slight enough, but very far from contemptible.

[Sidenote: Fanny.]

As has been said or hinted, however, this was not at all the sort of thing that brought or, so long as he did keep it, kept Feydeau's vogue. Fanny, with which he "broke out" considerably more than "ten thousand strong," as far as sale of copies went, is certainly not a book of the "first-you-meet" kind. There is some real passion in its handling of the everlasting triangle. But it is passion of the most morbid and least "infinite" kind possible. Whenever Feydeau's heroes are sincere they have a peculiar kind of sentimental immorality—a sort of greasy gush—which is curiously nauseous. His Aphrodite, if the goddess will pardon the profanation of her name, is neither laughter-loving, nor tragic (as Aphrodite can be), nor Uranian in the sense, not of being superior to physical passion, but of transcending it. She is not exactly Pandemic, for Feydeau, like Malvolio, does talk, or tries to talk, of ladies; but she is something like the patroness of the old Sensibility novel "gone to the bad."

[Sidenote: Others—Daniel.]

Madame de Chalis, according to a memory of many years which I have not thought it worth while to freshen, has a weaker draught of this rancid and mawkish sentimentality. But having in those days missed (or failed over) Daniel, I thought it incumbent on me to gird myself up to its eight hundred pages. A more dismal book, even to skim, I have seldom taken up. The hero—a prig of the first water—marries one of those apparently only half-flesh-and-blood wives who, novelistically, never fail to go wrong. He cannot, in the then state of French law, divorce her, but he is able to return her on her mother's hands. Going to Trouville (about which, then a quite new-fashioned resort, there is a great deal in the book), he meets a beautiful girl, Louise de Grandmont, and the pair fall—not merely hopelessly, which is, in the circumstances, a matter of course, but, it would seem, innocently—in love with each other. But in such a case scandal must needs come; and it is engineered by revenge of the discarded wife and the mother-in-law, by the treachery of some of Daniel's friends and the folly of others, as well as, it must be added, by his own weak violence, thoughtless conduct, and general imbecility. All this is developed at enormous length, and it ends in a general massacre, Louise's uncle being killed in a duel which Daniel ought to have fought (he is no coward, but a hopeless blunderer), the girl herself dying of aneurism, and Daniel putting an end to himself in her grave, much more messily and to quite infinitely less tragic effect than Romeo. There is one scene in which he is represented as gathering all his enemies together (including a lawyer, who is half-rogue, half-dupe) and putting them all to confusion by his oratory. The worst of it is that one does not in the least see why they were confused, except in one case, where the foe is literally kicked downstairs—an effective method, and one rare enough in French novels up to this date to be worth notice.[434]

* * * * *

[Sidenote: Droz.]

It was, for all contemporary readers of the French novel, except those of the gravest and most precise kind, a day to be marked, not with vanishing forms in chalk, but with alabaster or Parian, when "Marcellin" of the Vie Parisienne—one of those remarkable editors who, without ever writing themselves, seem to have the knack of attracting and almost creating writers, enlisted one "Z," the actual final letter of the name of Gustave Droz, and published the first article of those to be later collected as Monsieur, Madame et Bebe and Entre Nous. Although the contents of these books only added a fresh sprout to the age-old tree that, for more than half a millennium, had borne fabliau and nouvelle and conte and histoire, and so forth, they had a remarkable, if not easily definable, differentia of their own, and have influenced fiction-writing of the same kind for a good half-century since. The later-working "Gyp" and others owed a good deal to them; and I am bound to say that—reading the two books recently after a long interval—I found my old favourites just as amusing as I found them the very first time, shortly after they came out.

Of course—and only those who have made much study of criticism know how seldom critics recognise this "of course"—you must take the things in, and not out of, their own class. They are not bread, or meat, or milk of literature. They are, to take one order of gastronomic preference and taste, devilled biscuits; to take another, chocolate with whipped cream on it. And the devilling and the creaming are sometimes better than the chocolate and the biscuit.

[Sidenote: Mr., Mme. et Bebe and Entre Nous.]

It is not very easy to say—and perhaps not very important to know—whether the mixture of naughtiness and sentimentality which characterises these books[435] was what Mr. Carlyle, I think, was first to call an "insurance" or only a spontaneous and in no way "dodgy" or "hedgy" expression of the two sides of the French character. For everybody ought to know that the complaint of Dickens's "Mr. the Englishman" as to the French being "so d—d sentimental" is at least as well justified as Mr. Arnold's disapproval of their "worship of Lubricity." I suppose there are some people who would prefer the sentiment and are others who would choose the "tum-te-dy," while yet a third set might find each a disagreeable alternative to the other. For myself, without considering so curiously, I can very frankly enjoy the best of both. The opening story of the earlier and, I think, more popular book, "Mon Premier Reveillon," is not characteristic. It might have been written by almost anybody, and is in substance a softened and genteel version of the story of Miss Jemima Ivins, and her luckless (but there virtuous) suitor, in the "Boz" Sketches. "L'Ame en Peine," which follows, strikes the peculiar Drozian note for the first time; and very pleasant is the painting of the struggles of a pious youth—pious and pudibund to a quite miraculous extent for a French collegien of good family—with the temptations of a beautiful Marquise and cousin who, arrayed in an ultra-Second-Empire bathing-costume, insists on his bathing with her. "Tout le Reste de Madame de K." may a little remind an English reader of the venerable chestnut about the Bishop and the housemaid's knee; but the application is different. There is nothing wicked in it, but it contains some of the touches of varying estimate of "good form" in different countries which make the comparative reading of English and French novels so interesting. "Souvenirs de Careme" is (or rather are, for the piece is subdivided) the longest of several bits of Voltairianism, sometimes very funny and seldom offensive. But, alas! one cannot go through them all. The most remarkable exercise in the curious combination or contrast noticed above is afforded by Une Nuit de Noce and Le Cahier Bleu (tricks of ingeniously "passed-off" naughtiness which need not shock anybody), combined with the charming and pathetic "Omelette" which opens the second book, and which gives the happy progress and the sad termination of the union so merrily begun. All are drawn with equal skill and with no real bad taste. In one or two articles of both books the gauloiserie broadens and coarsens, while in the more purely "Bebe" sections of the first the sentimentality may seem a little watered out. But you cannot expect acrobatics on wine-glasses of this kind always to "come off" without some slips and breakages.

On the whole, I think Entre Nous contains the very best things, and most good ones. The pathos of the first (which is itself by no means mere pleurnicherie) is balanced at the other end by the audacity of "Le Sentiment a l'Epreuve," a most agreeable "washing white" of the main idea of Wycherley's Country Wife; and between the two, few in the whole score are inferior. "Nocturne," "Oscar," "Causerie," and "Le Maillot de Madame" were once marked for special commendation by a critic who certainly deserved the epithet of competent, in addition to those of fair and gentle. It is, however, in this volume that what seems to me Droz's one absolute failure occurs. It is neither comic nor tragic, neither naughty nor nice, and one really wonders how it came to be put in. It is entitled "Les de Saint-Paon," and is a commonplace, hackneyed, quite unhumorous, and rather ill-tempered satire on certain dubious aristocrats and anti-modernists. Nothing could be cheaper or less pointed. And the insertion of it is all the stranger because, elsewhere, there is something very similar, in subject and tendency, but of half the length and ten times the wit, in "Le Petit Lever," a conversation between a certain Count and his valet.

The plain critical fact is that the non-pathetic serious was in no way Droz's trade. His satire on matters ecclesiastical is sometimes delightful when it is mere persiflage: an Archbishop might relax over the conversation in Paradise between two great ladies, one of whom has charitably stirred up the efforts of her director in favour of her own coachman to such effect, that she actually finds that menial promoted to a much higher sphere Above than that which she herself occupies. But here, also, the more gravity the less goodness.

Yet, as was hinted at the beginning of this notice, we ought not to quarrel with him for this, and to do so would be again to fall into the old "gin-shop and leg-of-mutton" unreasonableness. It was M. Droz's mission to start a new form of Crebillonade—panache (to use an excellent term of French cookery), here and there, with another new form of Sensibility. He did it quite admirably, and he taught the simpler device—the compound one hardly—to pupils, some of whom still divert, or at least distract, the world. I am not at all ashamed to say that I think the best of his and their work capital stuff, continuing worthily one of the oldest and most characteristic strains of French literature; displaying no contemptible artistry; and contributing very considerably to that work of pleasure-giving which has been acknowledged as supplying the main subject of this book.

* * * * *

[Sidenote: Cherbuliez.]

[Sidenote: His general characteristics.]

Few more striking contrasts—though we have been able to supply a fair number of such things—could be found than by passing from Gustave Droz to Victor Cherbuliez. Scion of a Genevese family already distinguished in letters, M. Cherbuliez became one of the Deux-Mondains, a "publicist" as well as a novelist of great ability, and finally an Academician; but his novels, clever as they are, were never quite "frankly" liked in France—at least, by the critics. This may have been partly due to the curious latent grudge with which French writers—to the country as well as to the language and manners born—have always regarded their Swiss comrades or competitors—the attitude as to a kind of poacher or interloper.[436] But to leave the matter there would be not only to miss thoroughness in the individual case, but also to overlook a point of very considerable importance to the history of the French novel generally. There is undoubtedly something in M. Cherbuliez's numerous, vigorous, and excellently readable novels which reminds one more of English than of French fiction. We have noticed a certain resemblance in Feuillet to Trollope: it is stronger still in Cherbuliez. Not, of course, that the Swiss novelist denies himself—though he uses them more sparingly—the usual latitudes of the French as contrasted with the English novelist during nine-tenths of the nineteenth century. But he does use them more sparingly, and he is apt to make his heroines out of unmarried girls, to an extent which might at that time seem, to the conventional French eye, simply indecent. He is much more prodigal of "interest"—that is to say, of incident, accident, occurrence—than most French novelists who do not affect somewhat melodramatic romance. On the other hand, his character-drawing, though always efficient, is seldom if ever masterly; and that "schematisation," on which, as is pointed out in various places of this book, French critics are apt to insist so much, is not always present. Of actual passion he has little, and his books are somewhat open to the charge—which has been brought against those of so many of our own second-best novelists—that they are somewhat machine-made, or, if that word be too unkind, are rather works of craft than of art. Yet the work of a sound craftsman, using good materials, is a great help in life; and a person who wants good story-pastime for a certain number of nights, without possessing a Scheherazade of his own, will find plenty of it in the thirty years' novel turn-out of Victor Cherbuliez.

[Sidenote: Short survey of his books.]

He did not find his way at once, beginning with "mixed" novels of a Germanish kind—art-fiction in Un Cheval de Phidias; psychological-literary matter (Tasso's madness) in Le Prince Vitale; politico-social subjects in Le Grand-oeuvre. But these things, which have not often been successes, certainly were not so in M. Cherbuliez's hands. He broke fresh ground and "grew" a real novel in Le Comte Kostia, and he continued to till this plot, with good results, for the rest of his life. The "scenes and characters" are sufficiently varied, those in the book just mentioned being Russian and those in Ladislas Bolski Polish—neither particularly complimentary to the nationalities concerned, and the latter decidedly melodramatic. Le Comte Kostia is sometimes considered his best novel; but I should put above it both Le Roman d'une Honnete Femme (his principal attempt in purely French society and on Feuilletesque lines, with a tighter morality) and Meta Holdenis, a story of a Swiss girl—not beautiful, but "vurry attractive," and not actually "no better than she should be," but quite ready to be so if it suited her. Miss Rovel with another girl-heroine—eccentric, but not in the lines of the usual French-English caricatures—is a great favourite with some. La Revanche de Joseph Noirel is again melodramatic; and Prosper Randoce is not good for much. But Paule Mere, one of its author's best character-books, is very much better—it is a study of ill-starred love, as is Le Fiance de Mlle. Saint-Maur, a book not so good, but not bad. Samuel Brohl et Cie is a very clever story of a rascal. I do not know that any of his subsequent novels, L'Idee de Jean Teterol, Noirs et Rouges, La Ferme du Choquard, Olivier Maugant, La Vocation du Comte Ghislain, La Bete, Une Gageure, which closes the list of my acquaintance with them, will disappoint the reader who does not raise his expectation too high. Olivier Maugant is perhaps the strongest. But the expression just used must not be taken as belittling. In both France and England such novel-writing had become almost a trade—certainly a profession: and the turning out of workmanlike and fairly satisfying articles for daily consumption is, if not a noble ambition, a quite respectable aim. M. Cherbuliez did something more than this: there are numerous scenes and situations in his work which do not merely interest, but excite, if they never exactly transport. And the provision of interest itself is, as has been allowed, remarkably bounteous. I should not despise, though I should be a little sorry for, a reader—especially an English reader—who found more of it in Cherbuliez than even in Feuillet, and much more than in Flaubert or Maupassant. The causes of such preference require no extensive indication, and I need not say, after or before what is said elsewhere, that this order of estimate is not mine. But it is to some extent a "fact in the case."[437]

* * * * *

[Sidenote: Three eccentrics.]

Before finishing this chapter we ought, perhaps, to consider three odd persons, two of them much extolled by some—Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly, Leon Cladel, and "Champfleury" of Les Excentriques. The two first were themselves emphatically "eccentrics"—one an apostle of dandyism (he actually wrote a book about Brummel, whom he had met early), a disdainful critic of rather untrustworthy vigour, and a stalwart reactionary to Catholicism and Royalism; the other a devotee of the exact opposite of dandyism, as the title of his best-known book, Les Va-nu-pieds, shows, and a Republican to the point of admiring the Commune. The opposition has at least the advantage of disproving prejudice, in any unfavourable remarks that may be made about either. To Barbey d'Aurevilly's criticism I have endeavoured to do justice in a more appropriate place than this.[438] His fiction occupied a much smaller, but not a small, proportion of his very voluminous work. Les Diaboliques and L'Ensorcelee, as well as Les Va-nu-pieds, are titles which entitle a reader to form certain more or less definite expectations about the books they label; and an author, by choosing them, deprives himself, to some extent, of the right justly claimed for him in Victor Hugo's well-known manifesto, to be judged merely according to his own scheme, and the goodness or badness of its carrying out. If Hugo himself had made Les Orientales studies of Montmartre and the Palais Royal, he could not have made out his right to the privilege he asserted. The objection applies to Barbey d'Aurevilly even more than to Cladel, but as the work of the latter is the less important, we may take it first.

[Sidenote: Leon Cladel—Les Va-nu-pieds, etc.]

At more times in my life than one I have striven to like—or at any rate to take an interest in—Les Va-nu-pieds. Long ago it had for me the passport of the admiration of Baudelaire,[439] to whom and to Victor Hugo (this latter circumstance an important visa to the former) Cladel announced himself a pupil. But an absolute, if perhaps unfortunate, inability to follow anything but my own genuine opinion prevented me from enjoying it. And I cannot enjoy it now. It is not a commonplace book, nor is anything else of its author's; but the price paid for the absence of commonplaceness is excessive. A person possessing genius, and sure of it, does not tell you that he has been rewriting his book (not for correction of fact, but for improvement of style) for ten years, and that now he doesn't care anything for critics, and endorses it NE VARIETUR (sic).[440] The style itself is a mosaic of preciousness, literary jargon, and positive argot—not quite contemptible, but, like some actual mosaic, unattractive; and the matter does not attract me, though it may attract people who like tiger-taming scenes, crimes, grimes, etc. The address of the dedication, "Mienne," and nothing more, is rather nice, and some of the local scenes (Cladel was passionately patriotic towards his remote province of Quercy-Rouergue) are worth reading. But this devotion is better shown in the short single book (Les Va-nu-pieds is a collection) called Crete-Rouge—the regimental nickname of the heroine (an Amazon), who actually serves in the war of the Terrible Year, and comes off much better, when her sex is discovered by the Prussians, than she would have done forty and odd years later. The end-scenes of this book, with her Druid-stone marriage to a comrade, are really good. Of Le Bouscassie, Titi-Froissac IV, and La Fete Votive de Saint-Bartholomee Porte-Glaive I shall not say much. The "province," which is strong in them, saves them sometimes. But Cladel's hopeless lack of self-criticism shows itself in the fact of his actually reprinting in full an article of Veuillot's (by no means uncomplimentary) on himself, as a prelude in the book last mentioned, and adding a long reply. The proceeding was honest, but rather suicidal. One may not wholly admire the famous editor of the Univers.[441] But nothing could better throw up his clear, vigorous, classical French and trenchant logic, than the verbose and ambaginous preciousness, and the cabbage-stick cudgel-play, of Cladel.[442]

[Sidenote: Barbey d'Aurevilly—his criticism of novels.]

Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly, also a favourite of Baudelaire's, is a writer of an altogether greater clan—indeed one of those who come short but a little, and one does not quite know how, of individual greatness. Something has been said of his criticism, but a volume of it which was not within my reach when I wrote what is there quoted, Le Roman Contemporain, is a closer introduction to a notice of him as a novelist. As of all his work it may be said of this, that anybody who does not know the subjects will probably go away with a wrong idea of them, but that anybody who does know them will receive some very valuable cross-lights. The book consists[443] of a belittlement, slightly redressed at the end, of Feuillet as a feeble person and an impertinent patroniser of religion; of a rather "magpie" survey of the Goncourts; of a violent and quite blind attack on Flaubert (the worst criticism of Barbey's that I have ever read); of a somewhat unexpectedly appreciative notice of Daudet; of an almost obligatory panegyric of Fabre; of another ereintement, at great length, of Zola; and of shorter articles, again "magpied" of praise and blame, on MM. Richepin, Catulle Mendes, and Huysmans.[444]

[Sidenote: His novels themselves—Les Diaboliques and others.]

[Sidenote: His merits.]

All this is interesting, but I fear it confirms a variation of the title of a famous Elizabethan play—"Novelists beware novelists." Poets have a worse reputation in this way, or course; but, I think, unjustly. Perhaps the reason is that the quality of poetry is more definite, if not more definable, than that of prose fiction, or else that poets are more really sure of themselves. Barbey d'Aurevilly[445] had an apparently undoubting mind, but perhaps there were unacknowledged doubts, which transformed themselves into jealousies, in his heart of hearts. For myself, I sympathise with his political and religious (if not exactly with his ecclesiastical) views pretty decidedly; I think (speaking as usual with the due hesitation of a foreigner) that he writes excellent French; and I am sure—a point of some consequence with me, and not too commonly met—that he generally writes (when he does not get too angry) like a gentleman. He sometimes has phrases which please me very much, as when he describes two lovers embracing so long that they "must have drunk a whole bottle of kisses," or when he speaks of the voice of a preacher "tombant de la chaire dans cette eglise ou pleuvaient les tenebres du soir," where the opposition-combination of "tombant" and "pleuvaient," and the image it arouses, seem to me of a most absolute fancy. He can write scenes—the finale of his best book, L'Ensorcelee; the overture of Un Pretre Marie; and nearly the whole of the last and best Diabolique, "Une Vengeance de Femme"—which very closely approach the first class. And, whether he meant me to do so or not, I like him when in "Un Diner d'Athees" he makes one of them "swig off" (lamper) a bumper of Picardan, the one wine in all my experience which I should consider fit only for an atheist.[446] But a good novelist I cannot hold him.

The inability does not come from any mere "unpleasantness" in his subjects, though few pleasant ones seem to have lain in his way, and he certainly did not go out of that way to find them. But L'Ensorcelee can only be objected to on this score by an absurdly fastidious person, and I do not myself want any more rose-pink and sky-blue in Un Pretre Marie;[447] while the last Diabolique, already mentioned, is a capital example of grime made more than tolerable.[448] Indeed, nothing of the sort can be more unmistakable than the sincerity of Barbey's "horrors." They mark, in that respect, nearly the apex of the triangle, the almost disappearing lower angles of which may be said to be represented by the crude and clumsy vulgarities of Janin's Ane Mort, and the more craftsmanlike, indeed in a way almost artistic, but unconvinced and unconvincing atrocities of Borel's Champavert.

[Sidenote: And defects.]

[Sidenote: Especially as shown in L'Ensorcelee.]

The objection, and the defect which occasions the objection, are quite different. Barbey d'Aurevilly has many gifts and some excellencies. But his work in novel constantly reminds me of the old and doubtless well-known story of a marriage which was almost ideally perfect in all respects but one—that the girl "couldna bide her man." He can do many things, but he cannot or will not tell a story, save in such fragments and flashes as those noted above. His longueurs are exasperating and sometimes nearly maddening, though perhaps many readers would save themselves by simply discontinuing perusal. The first Diabolique has metal attractive enough of its kind. A young officer boards with a provincial family, where the beautiful but at first silent, abstracted, and, as the Pleiade would have said, marbrine daughter suddenly, though secretly, develops frantic affection for him, and shows it by constant indulgence in the practice which that abominable cad in Ophelia's song put forward as an excuse for not "wedding." But, on one of these occasions, she translates trivial metaphor into ghastly fact by literally dying in his arms. Better stuff—again of its kind—for a twenty-page story, or a little more, could hardly be found. But Barbey gives us ninety, not indeed large, but, in the usual editions, of exceptionally close and small print, watering out the tale intolerably almost throughout, and giving it a blunt and maimed conclusion. Le Bonheur dans le Crime,[449] Le Dessous de Cartes, and the above-mentioned Diner d'Athees, which fill a quarter of a thousand of such pages, invite slashing with a hook desperate enough to cut each down to a quarter of a hundred. Un Pretre Marie, which perhaps comes next to L'Ensorcelee in merit, would be enormously improved by being in one volume instead of two. Of Une Vieille Maitresse I think I could spare both, except a vigorously told variant (the suggestion is acknowledged, for Barbey d'Aurevilly was much too proud to steal) of Buckingham's duel[450] and the Countess (not "Duchess," by the way) of Shrewsbury. Une Histoire sans Nom, a substantial though not a very long book, is only a short story spun out. Even in L'Ensorcelee itself the author, as a critic, might, and probably would, have found serious fault, had it been the work of another novelist. There is less surplusage and more continuous power, so that one is carried through from the fine opening on the desolate moor (a little suggested, perhaps, by the meeting of Harry Bertram and Dandie Dinmont, but quite independently worked out) to the vigorous close above referred to. But the story is quite unnecessarily muddled by information that part of it was supplied by the Norman Mr. Dinmont, and part by an ancient countess. We never get any clear idea why Jeanne le Hardouey was bewitched, and why the Chevalier-Abbe de la Croix-Jugan suffered and diffused so gruesome a fate.[451] Yet the fate itself is enough to make one close, with the sweet mouth, remarks on this very singular failure of a genius. Few things of the sort in fiction are finer than the picture of the terrible unfinished mass (heralded over the desolate moor at uncertain times by uncanny bell-ringing), which the reprobate priest (who has been shot at the altar-steps before he could accomplish the Sacrifice of Reconciliation[452]) endeavours after his death to complete, being always baffled before the consecrating moment.

[Sidenote: Champfleury.]

Cladel had a considerable, and Barbey d'Aurevilly an almost exclusive, fancy for the tragical. On the other hand, Champfleury (who, no doubt partly for a bibliographical memory,[453] prefixed the Champ- to his actual surname) occupies, as has been said, a curious, but in part far from unsatisfactory, position in regard to our subject, and one blessed by the Comic Spirit. His confessed fictions are, indeed, not very successful. To take one volume only, Madame Eugenio, the title-story, not the first in order, but the longest, is most unfortunately, but far too accurately, characterised by a phrase towards its end, "ce triste recit," the adjective, like our "poor," being capable of two different meanings. Histoire du Lieutenant Valentin, on the other hand—a story of a young soldier, who, leaving Saint-Cyr in cholera-time, has to go to hospital, and, convalescing pleasantly while shelling peas and making rose-gays for the Sisters, is naively surprised at one of them being at first very kind and then very cold to him—is a miss of a masterpiece, but still a miss, partly owing to too great length. And so with others.

[Sidenote: Les Excentriques.]

But in his much earlier Les Excentriques (not unnaturally but wrongly called "Contes Excentriques" by some), handling what profess to be true stories, he shows a most excellent narrative faculty. Whether they are true or not (they rather resemble, and were perhaps inspired by, some things of Gautier and Gerard) matters little—they are quite good enough to be false. They are, necessarily, not quite equal, and there may be for some tastes, not for all, too much of the Fourierism and other queernesses of the mid-nineteenth century. Indeed, the book is of 1852, and its subjects are almost all of the decade preceding. But some are exceedingly refreshing, the dedication, of some length, to the great caricaturist Daumier being not the least so. Yet it is not so unwise as to disappoint the reader by being better than the text. "Lucas," the circle-squarer, who explains how, when he was in a room with a lady and her two daughters, he perceived that "this was all that was necessary for him to attain the cubation of two pyramids," is very choice. "Cambriel"—who not only attained the philosopher's stone and the universal medicine, but ascertained that God is six feet six high, of flame-coloured complexion, and with particularly perfect ankles—runs him hard. And so does Rose Marius Sardat, who sent a copy of his Loi d'Union, a large and nicely printed octavo, to every Parisian newspaper-office, informing the editors that they might reprint it in feuilletons for nothing, but that he should not write the second volume unless the first were a success. Some of us ought to be particularly obliged to Rose Marius for holding that persons over seventy are indispensable, and that, if there are not enough in France, they must be imported. The difference of this from the callous short-sightedness which talks about "fixed periods" is most gratifying. But perhaps the crown and flower of the book is the vegetarian Jupille, who wrote pamphlets addressed:

AUX GOURMANDS DE CHAIR!

decided that meat is of itself atheistical, though he admitted a "siren" quality about it; and held that the fact of onions making human beings weep attests their own "touching sensibility for us" (albeit he had to admit again that garlic was demoniac). M. Jupille (who was a practical man, and cooked cabbage and cauliflower so that his meat-eating visitor could not but acknowledge their charm) explained St. Peter's net of animal food with ease as a diabolic deception, but was floored by crocodiles' teeth. And not the worst thing in the book is the last, where a waxwork-keeper—a much less respectable person than Mrs. Jarley, and of the other sex—falls in love with one of his specimens, waltzes with her, and unwittingly presents a sort of third companion to one of the less saintly kings of the early Graal legends, and to yet another character of Dickens's, much less well known than Mrs. Jarley, the hairdresser in Master Humphrey's Clock, who, to the disgust of his female acquaintances, "worshipped a hidle" in the shape of the turning bust of a beautiful creature in his own shop-window. The book is a book to put a man in a good temper—and to keep him in one—for which reason it affords an excellent colophon to a chapter.[454]

FOOTNOTES:

[407] The technical-scholastic being "things born with a man."

[408] By some curious mistake, his birth used for a long time to be ante-dated ten years from 1822 to 1812. At the risk of annoying my readers by repeating such references, I should perhaps mention that there is an essay on Feuillet in the book already cited.

[409] I give Delilah (for whom Milton's excessive rudeness naturally inspires a sort of partisanship) the benefit of a notion that her action was, partly if not mainly, due to unbearable curiosity. How many women are there who could resist the double temptation of seeing whether the secret did lie in the hair, and if so, of possessing complete mistress-ship of their lovers? Some perhaps: but many?

[410] V. sup. Vol. I. pp. 420-1.

[411] It may be worth while to remind the reader that Maupassant included this in his selection of remarkable novels of all modern times and languages.

[412] How sad it is to think that a specific reference to that all-but-masterpiece, as a picture of earlier fin-de-siecle society, Miss Edgeworth's Belinda, may perhaps be necessary to escape the damning charge of unexplained allusion!

[413]

"Where'er I came I brought calamity."

When I read the foolish things that foolish people still write about Tennyson, I like to repeat to myself that "lonely word" in its immediate context.

[414] If you can "take arms against a sea" you can, I suppose, make head against a sewer.

[415] His brother Ernest was a novelist of merit sufficient to make it not unnatural that he should—as, unless my memory plays me tricks, he did—resent being whelmed in the fraternal reputation. But he does not require much notice here.

[416] I do not call Flaubert "his fellow," or the fellow of any one noticed in this chapter, for which reason I kept him out of it.

[417] It must be remembered that it was long before even 1870. I suppose some one, in the mass of war-literature, must have dealt with "The Ideal German in European Literature between 1815 and 1864." If nobody has, an excellent subject has been neglected.

[418] And, according to one reviewer, the deficient sense of humour.

[419] They might serve to exemplify About's often doubtful taste. The central story and main figures of Tolla were taken from a collection of the poor girl's letters published by her family a few years before; and the original of "Lello" was still alive. His relations tried to buy up the book, and nearly succeeded. In the MS. About had, while slightly altering the names, referred pretty fully to this document. The whole thing has, however, rather a much-ado-about-nothing air and, save as connected with a periodical of such undoubted "seriousness," might suggest a trick.

[420] "It" was Timon of Athens.

[421] It may please the historically given reader to regard this as an actual survival of the Scudery histoireHistoire de Madame Fratieff et de sa fille Nadine. Only it would, as such, have occupied a score or two of pages for each one.

[422] Tolla is not so very delightful: but she is meant to be.

[423] About has a gird or two at Balzac, but evidently imitates him. In this very book, when the old duke (v. inf.) comes under Madame Chermidy's influence, he suggests Baron Hulot; and Madelon (v. inf. ib.) is almost throughout imitation-Balzacian.

[424] For Honorine, though managing to retain some public reputation, has long been practically "unclassed"; and it is not only her husband's profession which has made him leave her.

[425] Germaine, quite naturally and properly, starts with a strong dislike to her husband. When he takes her to Italy, and devotes himself to the care of her health, this changes to affection. And the more it changes, the more disagreeable she makes herself to him.

[426] This also has, in matters not political, the "charming and useful" side. It would be very unpleasant if she always saw all sides of all questions.

[427] I am quite aware that the giving up of the islands was not the immediate result of his mission.

[428] That is to say, supposing that Isopel ever could have been happy with a lover

So laggard in love, though so dauntless in war

as George Borrow.

[429] As well as the Balzacian following, haud passibus aequis, above referred to.

[430] I do not know whether any other novelists continued the series of diversely coloured "doctors," as the fly-makers have done.

[431] He could "piffle" when he went out of it. The would-be satirical characterisation of two aristocrats, Madame d'Arlange and M. de Commarin, in the book shortly to be noticed, is the thinnest and most conventional of things, except, perhaps, the companion trap-to-catch-the-French-Philistine of anti-clericalism which also shows itself sometimes.

[432] Two people, thinking of moving house in London, went once to inspect an advertised abode in the Kensington district. They did not much like the street; they still less liked a very grim female who opened the door and showed them over the house; and there was nothing to reconcile them in the house itself. But, wishing to be polite, the lady of the couple, as they were leaving, addressed to the grim guardian some feeble compliment on something or other as being "nice." "P'raps," was the reply, "for them as likes the —— Road." It is unnecessary to say that the visitors went down the steps in a fashion for which we have no exact English term, but which is admirably expressed by the French verb degringoler.

[433] The favouritism declined, and the history of its decline was anecdotised in a fashion somewhat gaulois, but quite harmless. "Uncle Beuve," to the astonishment of literary mankind, put the portrait of this "nephew" of his in his salon. After Daniel (I think) it was moved to the dining-room, and thence to his bedroom. Later it was missed even there, and was, or was said to be, relegated to un lieu plus intime encore. The trovatore of this probably remembered his Rabelais.

[434] The labour of reading the book has been repaid by a few useful specimens of Feydeau's want of anything like distinction of thought or style. He makes his hero (whom he does not in the least mean for a fool, though he is one) express surprise at the fact that when he was in statu pupillari he liked fredaines, but when he became his own master did not care about them! Again: "Were I to possess the power and infinite charm of HIM [sic] who invented the stars I could never exactly paint the delightful creature who stood before me." Comment on either of these should be quite needless. Again: "Her nose, by a happy and bold curve, joined itself to the lobes, lightly expanded, of her diaphanous nostrils." Did it never occur to the man that a nose, separately considered from its curve and its nostrils, is terribly like that of La Camarde herself? I wasted some time over the tedious trilogy of Un Debut a L'Opera, M. de Saint Bertrand, Le Mari de la Danseuse. Nobody—not even anybody qui Laclos non odit—need follow me.

[435] Their author wrote others—Babolin, Autour d'une Source etc. But the wise who can understand words will perhaps confine themselves to Mr., Mme. et Bebe and its sequel.

[436] Cf. inf. on M. Rod.

[437] There is a paper on Cherbuliez in Essays on French Novelists, where fuller account of individual works, and very full notice, with translations, of Le Roman d'une Honnete Femme and Meta Holdenis will be found.

[438] History of Criticism, vol. iii. See also below.

[439] The author of the Fleurs du Mal himself might have been distinguished in prose fiction. The Petits Poemes en Prose indeed abstain from story-interest even more strictly than their avowed pattern, Gaspard de la Nuit. But La Fanfarlo is capitally told.

[440] Hugo might do this; hardly a Hugonicule.

[441] There used to be a fancy for writing books about groups of characters. Somebody might do worse in book-making than "Great Editors," and Veuillot should certainly be one of them.

[442] The inadvertences which characterise him could hardly be better instanced than in his calling the eminent O'Donovan Rossa "le depute-martyr de Tipperary." In English, if not in French, a "deputy-martyr" is a delightful person.

[443] Its articles are made up—rather dangerously, but very skilfully—of shorter reviews of individual books published sometimes at long intervals.

[444] Who replied explosively.

[445] There used to be something of a controversy whether it should be thus or Aurevilly. But the modern editions, at least, never have the accent.

[446] Very little above it I should put the not wholly dissimilar liquor obtained, at great expense and trouble, by a late nobleman of high character and great ability from (it was said) an old monkish vineyard in the Isle of Britain. The monks must have exhausted the goodness of that clos; or else have taken the wine as a penance.

[447] Huysmans on this is very funny.

[448] A Spanish duchess of doubly and trebly "azured" blood revenges herself on her husband, who has massacred her lover before her eyes and given his heart to dogs, by becoming a public prostitute in Paris, and dying in the Salpetriere. It is almost, if not quite, a masterpiece.

[449] Barbey's dislike of Feuillet was, evidently and half-confessedly, increased by his notion that M. de Camors had "lifted" something from L'Ensorcelee. There is also perhaps a touch of Le Bonheur dans le Crime in La Morte.

[450] He knew a good deal (quite independently of Byron and Brummel) about English literature. One is surprised to find somewhere a reference to Walpole's story of Fielding and his dinner-companions.

[451] Observe that this is no demand for the explanation of the supernatural. Let the supernatural remain as it is, by all means. But curses should have causes. Ate and Weird are terrible goddesses, but they are not unreasonable ones. They might be less terrible if they were.

[452] He has for two years been ordered to be present, but forbidden to celebrate; in punishment for his having, uncanonically, fought as a Chouan—if not also for attempted suicide. But we hear of no amorousness, and the husband Le Hardouey's jealousy, though prompted by his wife's apparent self-destruction, is definitely stated to have no foundation in actual guilt with the priest. On the contrary, she declares that he cared nothing for her.

[453] Of Geoffroy Tory's book which (v. sup. Vol. I. p. 124) helped to give us the Limousin student.

[454] It is possible that some readers may say, "Where are Erckmann-Chatrian?" The fact is that I have never been able to find, in those twin-brethren, either literature or that not quite literary interest which some others have found. But I do not wish to abuse them, and they have given much pleasure to these others. So I let them alone.



CHAPTER XIII

NATURALISM—THE GONCOURTS, ZOLA, AND MAUPASSANT

[Sidenote: The beginnings.]

If I were writing this History on the lines which some of my critics (of whom, let it be observed, I do not make the least complaint) seem to prefer, or at least to miss their absence, a very large part of this chapter would give me the least possible difficulty. I should simply take M. Zola's Le Roman Experimental and M. Brunetiere's Le Roman Naturaliste and "combine my information." The process—easy to any one of some practice in letters—could be easier to no one than to me. For I read and reviewed both books very carefully at their first appearance; I had them on my shelves for many years; and the turning of either over for a quarter of an hour, or half at the most, would put its contents once more at my fingers' ends. But, as I have more than once pointed out, elaborate boiling down of them would not accord with my scheme and plan. Inasmuch as the episode or passage[455] is perhaps, of all those which make up our story, the most remarkable instance of a deliberate "school"—of a body of work planned and executed under more or less definite schedules—something if not much more of the critical kind than usual may be given, either here or in the Conclusion.[456] But we shall, I think, learn far better things as to M. Zola and those about him by considering what they—at least what he, his would-be teachers, and his greatest disciple—actually did, than by inquiring what they meant, or thought they meant, to do, or what other people thought about them and their doings.

Let us therefore, in the first place and as usual, stick to the history, though even this may require more than one mode and division of dealing.

[Sidenote: "Les deux Goncourt."]

The body of Naturalist or Experimental novels which, beginning in the 'sixties of the century, extended to, and a little over, its close, has long been, and will probably always continue to be, associated with the name of Emile Zola. But the honour or dishonour of the invention and pioneering of the thing was claimed by another, for himself and a third writer, that is to say, by Edmond de Goncourt for himself and his brother Jules. The elder of the Goncourts—the younger died in early middle age, and knowledge of him is in a way indirect, though we have some letters—might be said to have, like Restif, a manie de paternite, though his children were of a different class. He thought he invented Naturalism; he thought he introduced into France what some unkind contemporaries called "Japoniaiserie";[457] he certainly had a good deal to do with reviving the fancy for eighteenth-century art, artists, bric-a-brac generally, and in a way letters; and he ended by fathering and endowing an opposition Academy. It was with art that "Les deux Goncourt"[458] (who were inseparable in their lives, and whom Edmond—to do him the justice which in his case can rarely be done pleasantly—did his best to keep undivided after Jules's death) began their dealings with eighteenth-century and other artists[459]—perhaps the most valuable of all their work. But it was not till the Second Empire was nearly half-way through, till Jules was thirty and Edmond thirty-eight, that they tried fiction (drama also, but always unsuccessfully), and brought out, always together and before 1870 (when Jules died), a series of some half-dozen novels: Charles Demailly (afterwards re-titled) (1860), Soeur Philomene (next year), Renee Mauperin (1864), Germinie Lacerteux (next year), Manette Salomon (1867), and Madame Gervaisais (1869).

[Sidenote: Their work.]

It is desirable to add that, besides the work already mentioned and published before 1870, the two had given a book called Idees et Sensations, setting forth their literary psychology; and that, after the cataclysm, Edmond published a description of their house and its collections, his brother's letters, and an immense Journal des Goncourt in some half-score of volumes, which was, naturally enough, one of the most read books of its time. Naturally, for it appealed to all sorts of tastes, reputable and disreputable, literary-artistic and Philistine, with pairs enough of antithetic or complementary epithets enough to fill this page. Here you could read about Sainte-Beuve and Gautier, about Taine and Renan, about Tourguenieff and Flaubert, as well as about Daudet and Zola, and a score of other more or less interesting people. Here you could read how Edmond as a boy made irruptions into a newly-married cousin's bedroom, and about the interesting sight he saw there; how an English virtuoso had his books bound in human skin; how people dined during the siege of Paris, and a million other things; the whole being saturated, larded, or whatever word of the kind be preferred, with observations on the taste, intellect, and general greatness of the MM. de Goncourt, and on the lamentable inferiority of other people, etc., etc. If it could be purged of its bad blood, the book would really deserve to rank, for substance, with Pepys' diary or with Walpole's letters.[460] As it is, when it has become a little forgotten, the quarterly reviewers, or their representatives, of the twenty-first century will be able to make endless rechauffes of it. And though not titularly or directly of our subject, it belongs thereto, because it shows the process of accumulation or incubation, and the temper of the accumulators and incubators in regard to the subjects of the novels themselves.

[Sidenote: The novels.]

To analyse all these novels, or even one of them, at length, would be a process as unnecessary as it would be disagreeable. The "chronicles of wasted grime" may be left to themselves, not out of any mere finical or fastidious superiority, but simply because their own postulates and axioms make such analysis (if the word unfairness can be used in such a connection) unfair to them. For they claimed—and the justice, if not the value, of the claim must be allowed—to have rested their fashion of novel-writing upon two bases. The substance was to be provided by an elaborate observation and reproduction of the facts of actual life, not in the least transcendentalised, inspirited, or in any other way brought near Romance, but considered largely from the points of view which their friend Taine, writing earlier, used for his philosophical and historical work—that of the milieu or "environment," that of heredity, though they did not lay so much stress on this as Zola did—and the like. The treatment, on the other hand, was to be effected by the use of an intensely "personal" style, a new Marivaudage, compared to which, as we remarked above, Flaubert's doctrine of the single word was merely rudimentary. After Jules's death Edmond wrote, alone, La Fille Elisa, which was very popular, La Faustin, and Cherie, the last of which, with Germinie Lacerteux, may form the basis of a short critical examination. Those who merely wish to see if they can like or tolerate the Goncourtian novel had perhaps better begin with Renee Mauperin or Madame Gervaisais. Both have been very highly praised,[461] and the first named of them has the proud distinction of putting "le mot de Cambronne" in the mouth of a colonel who has been mortally wounded in a duel.

[Sidenote: Germinie Lacerteux and Cherie taken as specimens.]

To return to our selected examples, Germinie Lacerteux is the story of an actual bonne of the brothers, whose story, without "trimmings," is told in the Journal itself.[462] The poor creature is as different as possible, not merely from the usual heroine, but from the grisette of the first half of the century and from the demi-mondaine of Dumas fils, and Daudet, and even Zola. She is not pretty; she is not fascinating in any way; she is neither good- nor ill-natured in any special fashion; she is not even ambitious of "bettering" herself or of having much pleasure, wealth, etc. If she goes to the bad it is in the most commonplace way and with the most unseductive seducer possible. Her progress and her end are, to borrow a later phrase and title metaphorically, merely a tale of the meanest streets; untouched and unconfirmed by the very slightest art; as destitute of any aesthetic attraction, or any evidence of artistic power, as the log-books of a common lodging-house and a hospital ward could be. In Cherie there is nothing exactly improper; it is merely an elaborate study of a spoilt—at least petted—and unhealthy girl in the upper stages of society, who has at last the kindness—to herself, her relations, and the reader—to die. If M. de Goncourt had had the slightest particle of humour, of which there is no trace in any of his works, one might have taken this, like other things perhaps, as a slightly cryptic parody—of the poitrinaire-heroine mania of times a little earlier; but there is no hope of this. The subject was, in the sense attached to the word by these writers, "real"; it could be made useful for combined physiological and psychological detail; and, most important of all, it was more or less repulsive.[463]

[Sidenote: The impression produced by them.]

For this is what it really comes to in the Goncourts, in Zola, and in the rest, till Guy de Maupassant, not seldom dealing with the same material, sublimes it, and so robs it of its repulsiveness, by the force of true comic, tragic, or romantic art. Or course it is open to any one to say, "It may repel you, but it does not repel me." But this is very cheap sophistry. We do not require to be told, in the words which shocked Lord Chesterfield but do not annoy a humble admirer of his, that "One man's meat is another man's poison." Carrion is not repulsive to a vulture. Immediately before writing these words I was reading the confession of an unfortunate American that he or she found The Roundabout Papers "depressing." For my part, I have never given up the doctrine that any subject may be deprived of its repulsiveness by the treatment of it. But when you find a writer, or a set of writers, deliberately and habitually selecting subjects which are generally held to be repellent, and deliberately and habitually refusing or failing to pass them through the alembic in the manner suggested—then I think you are justified, not merely in condemning their taste, but in thinking not at all highly of their art. A cook who cannot make his meat savoury unless it is "high" is not a good cook, and if he cannot do without pepper and garlic[464] he is not much better.

[Sidenote: The rottenness of their theory.]

Dismissing, however, for a moment the question of mere taste, it should be evident that the doctrine of rigid "observation," "document," "experience," and the like is bad in art. Like so many—some optimists would say like all—bad things, it is, of course, a corruption, by excess and defect both, of something good or at least true. It cannot be necessary here, after scores of expressions of opinion on the subject throughout this book, to admit or urge the importance of observation of actual life to the novelist. The most ethereal of fairy-tales and the wildest of extravaganzas would be flimsy rubbish if not corroborated by and contrasted with it: it can be strengthened, increased, varied almost at discretion in the novel proper. I hold it, as may be argued perhaps in the Conclusion, to be the principle and the justification of Romance itself. But, independently of the law just mentioned, that you must not confine your observation to Ugliness and exclude Beauty—it will not do to pull out the pin of your cart, and tilt a collection of observed facts on the hapless pavement of the reader's mind. You are not a reporter; not a compiler of dossiers; not a photographer. You are an artist, and you must do something with your materials, add something of yourself to them, present something not vamped from parts of actual life itself, but reinforcing those parts with aesthetic re-creation and with the sense of "the whole." I find this—to confine ourselves strictly to the famous society so often mentioned in the Journal—eminently in Flaubert, and as far as one can judge from translations, in Tourguenieff; I find it, to a less extent, in Daudet; I find it sometimes even in Zola, especially, but not merely, in his shorter stories; I find it again, and abundantly, in Maupassant. But I never find it in the Goncourts: and when I find it in the others it is because they have either never bowed the knee to, or have for the nonce discarded, the cult of the Naturalist, experimental, documentary idol, in itself and for itself.

"But," some one may say, "you have neglected one very important point to which you have yourself referred, and as to which you have just recommitted yourself. Did not les deux 'add something,' a very considerable something, 'of their own'? How about their style?"

[Sidenote: And the unattractiveness of their style.]

Certainly they prided themselves on this, and certainly they took a great deal of trouble about it. If any one likes the result, let him like it. It appears to me only to prove that an unsound principle is not a certain means to secure sound practice. Possibly, as Edmond boasted, this style is not the style de tout le monde. And tout le monde may congratulate itself on the fact. One can see that it must have given them a good deal of trouble—perhaps as much as, say, Paul de Saint-Victor's gave him. But then his excites a cheerful glow of satisfaction, whereas theirs only creates, as Saint-Victor himself (to one's regret) says of Swift, un morne etonnement.

* * * * *

[Sidenote: Emile Zola to be treated differently.]

The tone which has been adopted[465] in speaking of the Goncourts (or rather of Edmond de Goncourt, for Jules seems to have been the better fellow pretty certainly, as well as probably the more genuine talent, of the two) would be grossly unfair in dealing with Emile Zola. One may think his principle demonstrably wrong, and his practice for the most part a calamitous mistake. One may, while, if indeed it concerned us, clearing him of the charge of doing any moral harm—such harm would be as likely to be done by records of Bedlam, or the Lock Hospital, or a dipsomaniacs' home—put on the wrong side of his account a quantity of dull and dirty trash,[466] which, without his precept and example, would never have been written, or, if written, read. But the great, if mostly wasted, power displayed in his work is quite undeniable by any real critic; he did some things—and more parts of things—absolutely good; and if, as has been admitted, he did literary evil, he upset in a curious fashion the usual dictum that the evil that men do lives after them. At least it was not his fault if such was the case. He undoubtedly, whether he actually invented it or not, established, communicated, spread the error of Naturalism. But he lived long enough and wrote hard enough to "work it out" in a singular fashion—to illustrate the rottenness of the tree by the canker of the fruit to such an extent, and in such variety of application and example, that nobody for a long time has had any excuse for grafting the one or eating the other. Personally—in those points of personality which touch literature really, and out of the range of mere gossip—he had many good qualities. He was transparently honest, his honesty being tested and attested by a defect which will be noticed presently. He appears to have had no bad blood in him. His fidelity and devotion to what he thought art were as unflinching as Flaubert's own.

[Sidenote: Some points in his personality—literary and other.]

Nor was he deficient in good qualities which were still more purely literary. We shall speak later of the excellence of his short stories; if he had never written anything else there would be hardly anything but praise for him. When he does not lose himself in the wilderness of particulars, he sometimes manages to rise from it to wonderful Pisgah-sights of description. He has a really vast, though never an absolute or consummate, and always a morbid, hold on what may be called the second range of character, and a drastic, if rather mechanical, faculty of combining scenes and incidents. The mass of the Rougon-Macquart books is very much more coherent than the Comedie Humaine. He has real pathos. But perhaps his greatest quality, shown at intervals throughout but never fully developed till the chaotic and sometimes almost Blake-like Apocalypses of his last stage, was a grandiosity of fancy—nearly reaching imagination, and not incapable of dressing itself in suitable language—which, though one traces some indebtedness to Lamennais and Michelet and Hugo, has sufficient individuality, and, except in these four, is very rarely found in French literature later than the sixteenth or early seventeenth century. To set against these merits—still leaving the main fault alone—there are some strange defects. Probably worst of all, for it has its usual appalling pervasiveness, is his almost absolute want of humour. Humour and Naturalism, indeed, could not possibly keep house together; as we shall see in Maupassant, the attempt has happier results than in the case of "Long John Brown and Little Mary Bell," for the fairy expels the Devil at times wholly. The minor and particular absurdities which result from this want of humour crop up constantly in the books; and it is said to have been taken advantage of by Maupassant himself in one instance, the disciple "bamming" the master into recording the existences of peculiarly specialised places of entertainment, which the fertile fancy of the author of Boule de Suif had created.

[Sidenote: The Pillars of Naturalism.]

The Naturalist Novel, as practised by Zola, rests on three principal supports, or rather draws its materials from, and guides its treatment by, three several processes or doctrines. The general observational-experimental theory of the Goncourts is very widely, in fact almost infinitely extended, "documents" being found or made in or out of the literal farrago of all occupations and states of life. But, as concerns the definitely "human" part of the matter, immense stress is laid on the Darwinian or Spencerian doctrines of heredity, environment, evolution, and the like. While, last of all in order, if the influence be taken as converging towards the reason of the failure, comes the "medico-legal" notion of a "lesion"—of some flaw or vicious and cancerous element—a sort of modernised [Greek: protarchos ate] in the family, which develops itself variously in individuals.

Now, before pointing out the faulty results of this as shown generally in the various books, let us, reversing the order in which the influences or elements have been stated, set out the main lines of error in the elements themselves.

In the first place, it must surely be obvious that insistence on the "lesion," even if the other points of the theory were unassailable, is grossly excessive, if not wholly illegitimate. If you are to take observation and experience for your sole magazine of subjects, you must take all experience and all observation. Not the veriest pessimist who retains sense and senses can say that their results are always evil, ugly, and sordid. If you are to go by heredity you must attend to:

Fortes creantur fortibus et bonis,

as well as to:

Aetas parentum pejor avis tulit, etc.

Remounting the stairs, it must be evident that Heredity, Natural Selection, Evolution, Environment, etc., are things which, at the very best, can be allowed an exceedingly small part in artistic re-creation. Not only do they come under the general ban of Purpose, but their purpose-character is of the most thankless and unsucculent kind. I do not know that any one has ever attempted a mathematical novel, though the great Mr. Higgins of St. Mary Axe, as we all know, wrote a beautiful mathematical poem, of which the extant fragments are, alas! too few. If he had only lived a generation later, how charming would have been the fytte or canto on Quaternions! But, really, such a thing would not be more than a "farthest" on a road on which heredity-and-selection novels travel far. It is no use to say, "Oh! but human beings exemplifying those things can be made interesting." If they are it will not be because they are dealt with sub specie hereditatis, and confined in the circle of milieu.

Yet the master error lies, farther back still, in the strictly "Naturalist" idea itself—the theory of Experiment, the observation-document-"note," all for their own sake. Something has been said of this in relation to the Goncourts, but M. Zola's own exemplification of the doctrine was so far "larger" in every sense than theirs, and reinforced with so much greater literary power, that it cannot be left merely to the treatment which was sufficient for them. Once more, it is a case of "corruption of the best." It is perfectly true that all novel-writing—even in a fashion all romance-writing too—ought to be based on experience[467] in practical life, and that infinite documents are procurable, infinite notes may be made, from that life. It is utterly untrue that any observation, any experiment, any document is good novel or romance stuff.

A very few remarks may perhaps be made on approaches to Zolaism—not in the sense of scabrousness—before Zola.

[Sidenote: "Document" and "detail" before Naturalism.]

A writer of one of those theses a la mode Germanorum, of which, at different times and in different occupations, it is the hard lot of the professional man of letters to read so many, would probably begin with the Catalogue of Ships, or construct an inventory of the "beds and basons" which Barzillai brought to David. Quite a typical "program" might be made of the lists of birds, beasts, trees, etc., so well known in mediaeval literature, and best known to the ordinary English reader from Chaucer, and from Spenser's following of him. We may, however, pass to the Deluge of the Renaissance and the special emergence therefrom of French fiction. It would not be an absolute proof of the "monographitis" just glanced at if any one were to instance the curious discussions on the propriety of introducing technical terms into heroic poetry—which is, of course, very close to heroic romance, and so to prose fiction generally.

[Sidenote: General stages traced.]

But, for practical purposes, Furetiere and the Roman Bourgeois (vide Vol. I.) give the starting-point. And here the Second Part, of which we formerly said little, acquires special importance, though the first is not without it. All the details of bourgeois life and middle-class society belong to the department which was afterwards preferred—and degraded—by the Naturalists; and the legal ins and outs of the Second Part are Zola in a good deal more than the making. Indeed the luckless "Charroselles" himself had, as we pointed out, anticipated Furetiere in not a few points, such as that most interesting reference to bisque.[468] Scarron himself has a good deal of it; in fact there is so much in the Spanish picaresque novel that it could not be absent from the followings thereof. For which same reason there is not a very little of it in Lesage, while, for an opposite one, there is less in Marivaux, and hardly any at all in Crebillon or Prevost. The philosophes, except Diderot—who was busy with other things and used his acquaintance with miscellaneous "documents" in another way—would have disdained it, and the Sentimentalists still more so. But it is a sign of the shortcomings of Pigault-Lebrun—especially considering the evident discipleship to Smollett, in whom there is no small amount of such detail—that, while in general he made a distinct advance in "ordinary" treatment, he did not reinforce this advance with circumstantial accounts of "beds and basons."

But with the immense and multifarious new birth of the novel at the beginning of the nineteenth century, this development also received, in the most curiously diverse ways, reinforcement and extension. The Terror novel itself had earlier given a hand, for you had to describe, more or less minutely, the furniture of your haunted rooms, the number and volume of your drops of blood, the anatomical characteristics of your skeletons, and the values of your palette of coloured fires. The Historical novel lugged document in too often by head and shoulders, introducing it on happier occasions as the main and distinguishing ornament of its kind. Romanticism generally, with its tendency to antiquarian detail, its liking for couleur locale, its insistence on the "streaks of the tulip" and the rest, prompted the use and at least suggested the abuse.

[Sidenote: Some individual pioneers—especially Hugo.]

Nor did the great individual French novelists—for we need not specify any others—of the earlier part of the century, while they themselves kept to the pleasant slopes above the abyss, fail to point the way to it. Chateaubriand with his flowery descriptions of East and West, and Madame de Stael with her deliberate guide-bookery, encouraged the document-hunter and detail-devotee. Balzac, especially in the directions of finance and commerce, actually set him an example. George Sand, especially in pure country stories, was prodigal of local and technical matters and manners. The gorgeous scenery of Gautier, and the soberer but important "settings" of Merimee, might be claimed as models. And others might be added.

But from one point of view, as an authority above all earlier authorities, and from another as a sinner beyond all earlier sinners, might be quoted Victor Hugo, even putting his juvenilia aside. He had flung a whole glossary of architecture, not to mention other things of similar kind, into Notre Dame de Paris; and when after a long interval he resumed prose fiction, he had ransacked the encyclopaedia for Les Miserables. Les Travailleurs de la Mer is half a great poem and half a real-lexikon of mechanics, weather-lore, seafaring, ichthyology, and God knows what else! If L'Homme Qui Rit had been written a very little later, parts of it might have been taken as a deliberate burlesque, by a French Sir Francis Burnand, of Naturalist method. Now, as the most acute literary historians have always seen, Naturalism was practically nothing but a degeneration of Romanticism:[469] and degeneracy always shows itself in exaggeration. Naturalism exaggerated detail, streak of tulip, local colour, and all the rest, of which Romanticism had made such good use at its best. But what it exaggerated most of all was the Romantic neglect of classical decorum, in the wider as well as the narrower sense of that word. Classicism had said, "Keep everything indecorous out." Naturalism seemed sometimes to say, "Let nothing that is not indecorous come in."[470]

[Sidenote: Survey of books—the short stories.]

It was, however, by no means at first that M. Zola took to the "document" or elaborated the enormous scheme of the Rougon-Macquart cycle: though whether the excogitation of this was or was not due to the frequentation, exhortation, and imitation of MM. de Goncourt is not a point that we need discuss. He began, after melodramatic and negligible juvenilia, in 1864 with a volume of delightful short stories,[471] Contes a Ninon, in which kind he long afterwards showed undiminished powers. And he continued this practice at intervals for a great number of years, with results collected, after the first set, in Nouveaux Contes a Ninon, and in volumes taking their general titles from special tales—Le Capitaine Burle and Nais Micoulin. In 1880 he gave the first story, L'Attaque du Moulin, to that most remarkable Naturalist "symposium," Les Soirees de Medan, which, if nothing of it survived but that story itself and Maupassant's Boule de Suif, and if this represented the sole extant work of the School, would certainly induce the fortieth century to think that School one of the very best in fiction, and to utter the most pathetic wails over the loss of the rest of its production. Of Boule de Suif—in more senses than one the feminine of the pair—more presently. But L'Attaque itself is a splendid and masculine success—the best thing by far, in respect of flawlessness, that its author ever did, and not far below Merimee's Prise de la Redoute.

Unfortunately it was not in these breaches that M. Zola chose to abide. After the war, having no doubt laid his plans long before, he undertook the vast Rougon-Macquart scheme with its score of volumes; and when this was finished, carried on two others, smaller in bulk but hardly less ambitious in scope, "Les Trois Villes"—Lourdes, Paris, Rome; and "Les Quatre Evangiles"—Fecondite, Travail, and Verite, the fourth of which was never written, while the third, Verite, appeared with a black line round its cover, denoting posthumous issue.

[Sidenote: "Les Rougon-Macquart."]

In all these books the Experimental and Documentary idea is worked out, with an important development in the other directions above glanced at. The whole of the Rougon-Macquart series was intended to picture the varying careers of the branches, legitimate and illegitimate, of two families, under the control of heredity, and the evolution of the cerebral lesion into various kinds of disease, fault, vice, crime, etc. But further scope was found for the use of the document, human and other, by allotment of the various books, both in this and in the later groups, to the special illustration of particular places, trades, professions, habits of life, and quicquid agunt homines generally. The super-title of the first and largest series, "Les Rougon-Macquart: Histoire naturelle et sociale d'une famille sous le Second Empire," can hardly need comment or amplification to any intellect that is not hopelessly enslaved to the custom of having its meat not only killed, dressed, cooked, and dished, but cut up, salted, peppered, and put into its mouth with assiduous spoonings. La Fortune des Rougon, in the very year when Europe invited a polemos aspondos by acquiescing in the seizure of Alsace-Lorraine, laid the foundation of the whole. La Curee and Son Excellence Eugene Rougon show how the more fortunate members of the clan prospered in the somewhat ignoble tripotage of their time. Anybody could see the "power" of which the thing was "effect" (to borrow one half of a celebrated aphorism of Hobbes's); but it must have been a curious taste to which (borrowing the other) the books were "a cause of pleasure." La Faute de l'Abbe Mouret rose to a much higher level. To regard it as merely an attack on clerical celibacy is to take a very obvious and limited view of it. It is so, of course, but it is much more. The picture of the struggle between conscience and passion is, for once, absolutely true and human. There is no mistake in the psychology; there is no resort to "sculduddery"; there is no exaggeration of any kind, or, if there is any, it is in a horticultural extravagance—a piece of fairy Bower-of-Bliss scene-painting, in part of the book, which is in itself almost if not quite beautiful—a Garden of Eden provided for a different form of temptation.[472] There is no poetry in La Conquete de Plassans or in Le Ventre de Paris; but the one is a digression, not yet scavenging, into country life, and the other empties one of M. Zola's note-books on a theme devoted to the Paris Markets—the famous "Halles" which Gerard had done so lightly and differently long before.[473] The key of this latter is pretty well kept in one of the most famous books of the whole series, L'Assommoir, where the beastlier side of pot-house sotting receives hundreds of pages to do what William Langland had done better five centuries earlier in a few score lines. Pot-Bouille—ascending a little in the social but not in the spiritual scale—deals with lower middle-class life, and Au Bonheur des Dames with the enormous "stores" which, beginning in America, had already spread through Paris to London. Une Page d'Amour recovers something of the nobler tone of L'Abbe Mouret; and La Joie de Vivre—a title, as will readily be guessed, ironical in intention—still keeps out of the gutter. Nana may be said, combining decency with exactitude, to stand in the same relation to the service of Venus as L'Assommoir does to that of Bacchus, though one apologises to both divinities for so using their names. It was supposed, like other books of the kind, to be founded on fact—the history of a certain young person known as Blanche d'Antigny—and charitable critics have pleaded for it as a healthy corrective or corrosive to the morbid tone of sentimentality-books like La Dame aux Camelias. I never could find much amusement in the book, except when Nana, provoked at the tedious prolongation of a professional engagement, exclaims, "Ca ne finissait pas!" or "Ca ne voulait pas finir."[474] The strange up-and-down of the whole scheme reappears in L'Oeuvre—chiefly devoted to art, but partly to literature—where the opening is extraordinarily good, and there are fine passages later, interspersed with tedious grime of the commoner kind. La Terre and Germinal are, I suppose, generally regarded as, even beyond L'Assommoir and Nana, the "farthest" of this griminess. Whether the filth-stored broom of the former really does blot out George Sand's and other pictures of a modified Arcadia in the French provinces, nothing but experience, which I cannot boast, could tell us; and the same may be said of Germinal, as to the mining districts which have since received so awful a purification by fire. That more and more important person the railway-man takes his turn in La Bete Humaine, and the book supplies perhaps the most striking instance of the radically inartistic character of the plan of flooding fiction with technical details. But there is, in the vision of the driver and his engine as it were going mad together, one of the earliest and not the least effective of those nightmare-pieces in which Zola, evidently inspired by Hugo, indulged more and more latterly. Then came what was intended, apparently, for the light star of this dark group, Le Reve. Although always strongly anti-clerical, and at the last, as we shall see, a "Deicide" of the most uncompromising fanaticism, M. Zola here devoted himself to cathedral services and church ritual generally, and, as a climax, the administration of extreme unction to his innocent heroine. But, as too often happens in such cases, the saints were not grateful and the sinners were bored. L'Argent was at least in concatenation accordingly, seeing that the great financial swindle and "crash"[475] it took for subject had had strong clerical support; but purely financial matters, stock-exchange dealings, and some exceedingly scabrous "trimmings" occupied the greater part of it. Of the penultimate novel, La Debacle, a history of the terrible birth-year of the series itself, few fair critics, I think, could speak other than highly; of the actual ultimatum, Le Docteur Pascal, opinions have varied much. It is very unequal, but I thought when it came out that it contained some of its author's very best things, and I am not disposed to change my opinion.

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