A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2 - To the Close of the 19th Century
by George Saintsbury
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[497] For do not fixed hours always become a bore—except in respect of meals? To have to love, or to lecture, or to do anything but eat, at x A. or P.M. precisely, on such and such days in the week, is a weariness to the spirit and the flesh alike.

[498] "The Novelists Who Cannot End" is one of the title-subjects which, "reponing my senescent art," I relinquish to others.

[499] In the card sense.

[500] They run well into, if not over, the second hundred, and it is proper to warn readers (and still more buyers) that different editions vary the contents of individual volumes; so that, without some care, and even with it, duplication is nearly certain. This bad habit, not quite unknown in England, is rather common in France.

[501] If any one is fortunate, or unfortunate, enough not to know this admirable story, it may be well to say that the title is the nickname of a young person, more pleasing than proper, who forms part of a convoy or cartel of non-combatants passing through the Prussian lines in 1871. The Prussian officer, imitating more mildly (and without the additional villainy) the conduct of Colonel Kirke, refuses passage to the whole party, unless she will give him a cast of her office. The story is told as inoffensively as possible, and the crowning irony of the shocked attitude of her respectable companions at her liberating them, though they have been frantically anxious she should do so, is sublime.

[502] Maupassant does not caricature us (at least our men) very extravagantly. But he, like the rest of them, always makes us say, "Aoh." I have frequently endeavoured to produce, otherwise than as a diphthong, this mysterious word (a descendant, perhaps, of the equally mysterious Aoi of the Chanson de Roland?). But I cannot make it like the way in which I say, or in which any well-educated Englishman says, "Oh!" American it may be, and it is not unlike the "Ow" of some dialects, but pure English it is not. It may be, for aught I know, phonetic: and has been explained as representing an affected sneer. The curious thing is that "Oh-a" actually is a not unfrequent, though slovenly, pronunciation.

[503] Evidently, therefore, the practice with which we have been so often reproached is of French—at least Norman—origin.

[504] The other one, of course, but here one must admit the superiority of the foreign "strength." And the "story" has French antecedents.

[505] This is an actual translation of the Norman poet's words. It makes no bad blank-verse line.

[506] Its companions, in the volume to which it gives title, are mostly inferior specimens of the same class. But some, especially Le Pain Maudit, are very amusing, and Lui? is a curious and melancholy anticipation of Le Horla. La Maison Tellier, which opens and titles another volume of no very different kind, has never seemed to me quite worthy of its fame. It is not unamusing in itself, and very amusing when one thinks of its greatly-daring imitators, but rather schoolboyish or even monkeyish in its determination to shock. (It doesn't shock me.) Another "shocker," but tragic, not comic, La Femme de Paul, which closes the book, is more powerful. (It is on the theme of Mlle. Giraud ma Femme (v. inf.); only the male person, instead of drowning his she-rival, far less wisely drowns himself.) But most of its contents suffer, not merely from Naturalist grime, but from Naturalist meticulousness.

[507] V. sup. p. 269 sq.

[508] For the "Terror" group see below.

[509] Curiously enough, a few days after writing the above I came across, in the last Diabolique of that curious flawed genius, Barbey d'Aurevilly (v. sup. p. 453), the words which redress, by long anticipation, the wrong done by his fellow Norman: "Les ailes du nez, aussi expressives que des yeux."

[510] In a novel by a contemporary of his, otherwise not worth notice, Sir Walter Scott was accused of "pruderie bete"; I am sure the adjective and substantive are much better mated in my text.

[511] I remember, in a book which I have not seen for about two-thirds of a century, Miss Martineau's Crofton Boys, an agreeable anecdote (for the good Harriet, when not under the influence of Radicalism, the dismal science, Anti-Christianity, or Mr. Atkinson, could tell a story very well) of a little English girl. It occurred to her one morning that she should have to wash, dress, do her hair, etc., every day for her whole life, and she sat down and wept bitterly. Now, if I were a little boy or girl in French novel-world, when as I remembered that I should have, as the one, never to marry, or to commit adultery with every one who asked me; that, as the other, I must not be left five minutes alone with a married woman, without offering her the means of carrying out her and her husband's destiny; I really think I should imitate Miss Martineau's child, if I did not even go and hang myself. "Fay ce que voudras" may be rather a wide commandment. "Fay ce que dois" may require a little enlarging. But "Do what you ought not, not because you wish to do it, but because it is the proper thing to do" is not only "the limit," but beyond it. I think that if I were a Frenchman of the novel-type I should hate the sight of a married woman. Stone walls would not a prison make nor iron bars a cage—so odious as this unrelieved tyranny of concupiscentia carnis—to order! Perhaps Wilberforce's Agathos had a tedious time of it in being always ready to resist the Dragon; but how much more wearisome would it be to be always on the qui vive, lest you should miss a chance of not resisting him!

[512] The "time" was five and twenty years ago. But this passage, trifling as it may seem to some readers, appeared to me worth preserving, because my recent very careful reperusal of Maupassant, as a whole, made its appositeness constantly recur to me.

[513] Nearest, perhaps, in the story called "En Famille," to be found in the Maison Tellier volume.

[514] Remarks already made on the particular novels and stories from this point of view need only be referred to, not repeated. But it is fair to say that some good judges plead for "warning off" instead of "inculcation."

[515] There are some, but they are very few.

[516] See Conclusion. After the above notice of Maupassant was, in its reconstituted form, entirely completed, there came into my hands a long and careful paper on the novelist's Romanticism, published by Mr. Oliver H. Moore in the Transactions of the American Modern Language Association for March 1918. Those who are curious as to French opinion of him, and especially as to the strange superstition of his "classicism" (see Conclusion again), will find large extracts and references on this subject given by Mr. Moore, who promises further discussion.

[517] One never knows what is necessary or not in the way of explanation. But perhaps it is wiser to say that I am quite aware that, besides writing votre, not "notre," Baudelaire had originally written "ce long hurlement" before the immense improvement in the text, and that original "Light-houses" were painters.

[518] One slight alteration may seem almost to justify Belot's criticism of life: "Uncomfortable herself, she thought it natural to make others uncomfortable." There is certainly no want of psychological observation there.



[Sidenote: The last stage.]

The remaining novelists of the Third Republic, apart from the survivors of the Second Empire and the Naturalist School, need not occupy us very long, but must have some space. There would be no difficulty on my part in writing a volume on them, for during half the time I had to produce an article on new French books, including novels, every month,[519] and during no small part of the rest, I did similar work on a smaller and less regular scale, reading also a great deal for my own purposes. But acknowledging, as I have elsewhere done, the difficulty of equating judgment of contemporary and non-contemporary work exactly, I think I shall hardly be doing the new writers of this time injustice if I say that no one, except some excluded by our specifications as living, could put in any pretensions to be rated on level with the greater novelists from Lesage to Maupassant. There are those, of course, who would protest in favour of M. Ferdinand Fabre, and yet others would "throw for" M. Andre Theuriet, both of whom shall have due honour. I cannot wholly agree with them. But both of them, as well as, for very opposite reasons, MM. Ohnet and Rod, may at least require notice of some length.

[Sidenote: Ferdinand Fabre: L'Abbe Tigrane.]

L'Abbe Tigrane, by Ferdinand Fabre, may be described as one of not the least remarkable, and as certainly one of the most remarked, novels of the later nineteenth century. It never, I think, had a very large sale; for though at the time of its author's death, over thirty years and more after its appearance, it had reached its sixteenth thousand, that is not much for a popular French novel. Books of such different appeal as Zola's and Feuillet's (not to mention for the present a capital example to be noted below) boasted ten times the number. But it dared an extremely non-popular subject, and treated that subject with an audacious disregard of anything like claptrap. There is no love in it and hardly a woman; there is no—at least no military—fighting; no adventure of any ordinary sort. It is neither a berquinade, nor a crime-story, nor (except in a very peculiar way) a novel of analysis. It relies on no preciousness of style, and has not very much description, though its author was a great hand at this when and where he chose. It is simply the history of an ambitious, strong-willed, strong-minded, and violent-tempered priest in an out-of-the-way diocese, who strives for and attains the episcopate, and after it the archiepiscopate, and is left aspiring to the Papacy—which, considering the characters of the actual successors of Pius IX., the Abbe Capdepont[520] cannot have reached, in the fifty years (or nearly so) since the book was published.

Now, in the first place, it is generations since a clerical novel was likely to please the French novel-reading public. In this very book there is an amusing scene where the abbe, then a private tutor, induces his employer, a deputy, to invite clerics of distinction to a party, whereat the other guests melt away in disgust. And this was a long time before a certain French minister boasted that his countrymen "had taken God out of Heaven." Moreover, while there are two obvious ways of reconciling extremists to the subject, M. Fabre rejected both. His book is neither a panegyric on clericalism nor a libel on it. His hero is as far as possible from being a saint, but he is perfectly free from all the vulgar vices. The rest of the characters—all, with insignificant exceptions, clerics—are quite human, and in no case—not even in that of Capdepont's not too scrupulous aide-de-camp the Abbe Mical—offensive. But at the beginning the bishop, between whom and the hero there is truceless war, is, though privately an amiable and charitable gentleman (Capdepont is a Pyrenean peasant by origin), rather undignified, and even a little tyrannical; while a cardinal towards the end makes a distinction—between the impossibility of the Church lying and the positive duty of Churchmen, in certain circumstances, to lie—which would have been a godsend to Kingsley in that unequal conflict of his with a colleague of his Eminence's.[521]

Yet critics of almost all shades agreed, I think, in recognising the merits of M. Fabre's book; and it established him in a special position among French novelists, which he sustained not unworthily with nearly a score of novels in a score and a half of years. It is undoubtedly a book of no small power, which is by no means confined to the petty matters of chapter-and-seminary wrangling and intrigue. On the contrary, the scene where, owing to Capdepont's spite, the bishop's coffin is kept, in a frightful storm, waiting for admission to its inmate's own cathedral, is a very fine thing indeed—almost, if not quite, in the grand style—according to some, if not according to Mr. Arnold. The figure of the arch-priest Clamousse, both in connection with this scene[522] and others—old, timid, self-indulgent, but not an absolutely bad fellow—is of first-rate subordinate quality. Whether Capdepont himself has not a little too much of that synthetic character which I have discussed elsewhere—whether he is quite a real man, and not something of a composition of the bad qualities of the peasant type, the intriguing ecclesiastic type, the ambitious man, the angry man, and so on—must, I suppose, be left to individual tastes and judgments. If I am not so enthusiastic about the book as some have been, it is perhaps because it seems to me rather a study than a story.[523]

[Sidenote: Norine, etc.]

This criticism—it is not intended for a reproach—does not extend to other, perhaps not so powerful, but more pastimeous books, though M. Fabre seldom entirely excluded the clerical atmosphere of his youth.[524] A very pleasant volume-full is Norine, the title-piece of which is full at once of Cevenol scenery and Parisian contrast, of love, and, at least, preparations for feasting; of sketches of that "Institute" life which comes nearest to our collegiate one; and of pleasant bird-worship. But M. Fabre should have told us whether the bishop actually received and appreciated[525] the dinner of Truscas trout and Faugeres wine (alas! this is a blank in my fairly extensive wine-list), and the miscellaneous maigre cookery of the excellent Prudence, and the splendid casket of liqueurs borrowed from a brother cure. Cathinelle (an unusual and pretty diminutive of Catherine) is an admirably told pendant to it; and I venture to think the "idyllic" quality of both at least equal, if not superior, to the best of George Sand. Le R. P. Colomban is, according to M. Fabre's habit, a sort of double-edged affair—a severe but just rebuke of the "popular preacher," and a good-humoured touch at the rebuker, Monseigneur Onesime de la Boissiere, Eveque de Saint-Pons, who incidentally proposes to submit L'Abbe Tigrane to the Holy Congregation of the Index. Finally, the book closes with a delightful panegyric of Alexandre Dumas pere, and an anecdote avowedly autobiographic (as, indeed, the whole book gives itself out to be, though receivable with divers pinches of salt) of that best-natured of men franking a bevy of impecunious students at a premiere of one of his plays.

[Sidenote: Le Marquis de Pierrerue.]

To read Le Marquis de Pierrerue after these two books—one the piece with which Fabre established his reputation, and the other a product of his proved mastery—is interesting to the critic. Whether it would be so to the general reader may be more doubtful. It is the longest of its author's novels; in fact its two volumes have separate sub-titles;[526] but there is no real break, either of time, place, or action, between them. It is a queer book, quite evidently of the novitiate, and suggesting now Paul de Kock (the properer but not quite proper Paul), now Daudet (to whom it is actually dedicated), now Feuillet, now Murger, now Sandeau, now one of the melodramatic story-tellers. Very possibly all these had a share in its inspiration. It is redolent of the medical studies which the author actually pursued, between his abandonment of preparation for the Church and his settling down as a man of letters. Its art is palpably imperfect—blocks of recit, wedges of not very novel or acute reflection, a continual reluctance or inability to "get forrard." Of the two heroes, Claude Abrial, Marquis de Pierrerue—a fervent Royalist and Catholic, who lavishes his own money, and everybody else's that he can get hold of, on a sort of private Literary Fund,[527] allows himself to be swindled by a scoundrelly man of business, immures his daughter, against her wish, as a Carmelite nun, and dies a pauper—is a quite possible but not quite "brought off" figure. Theven Falgouet, the Breton buveur d'eau,[528] who is introduced to us at actual point of starvation, and who dies, self-transfixed on the sharp spikes of the Carmelite grille, is perhaps not impossible, and occasionally pathetic. But the author seems, in his immaturity as a craftsman, never to have made up his mind whether he is producing an "alienist" study, or giving us a fairly ordinary etudiant and aspirant in letters. Of the two heroines, the noble damsel Claire de Pierrerue—object of Falgouet's love at first sight, a love ill-fated and more insane than even love beseems—is quite nice in her way; and Rose Keller—last of grisettes, but a grisette of the Upper House, an artist grisette, and, as some one calls her, the "soeur de charite de la galanterie"[529]—is quite nice in hers. But Rose's action—in burning, to the extent of several hundred thousand francs' worth, notes and bonds, the wicked gains of one of her lovers (Grippon, the Marquis's fraudulent intendant), and promptly expiring—may pair off with Falgouet's repeating on himself the Spanish torture-death of the guanches,[530] as pure melodrama. In fact the whole thing is undigested, and shows, in a high degree, that initial difficulty in getting on with the story which has not quite disappeared in L'Abbe Tigrane, but which has been completely conquered[531] in Norine and Cathinelle.

[Sidenote: Mon Oncle Celestin.]

This mixed quality makes itself felt in others of Fabre's books. Perhaps there is none of them, except L'Abbe Tigrane itself, which has been a greater favourite with his partisans than Mon Oncle Celestin. Here we have something of the same easy autobiographic quality, with the same general scene and the same relations of the narrator and the principal characters, as in other books; but "Mr. the nephew" (the agreeable and continuous title by which the faithful parishioners address their beloved pastor's boy relative) has a different uncle and a different gouvernante, at least in name, from those in Norine and Cathinelle. The Abbe Celestin, threatened with consumption, exchanges the living in which he has worked for many years, and little good comes of it. He is persecuted, actually to the death, by his rural dean, a sort of duplicate of the hero of L'Abbe Tigrane; but the circumstances are not purely ecclesiastical. He has, in his new parish, taken for goat-girl a certain Marie Galtier, daughter of his beadle, but, unluckily, also step-daughter of a most abominable step-mother. Marie, as innocently as possible, "gets into trouble," and dies of it, accusations being brought against her guiltless and guileless master in consequence. There are many good passages; the opening is (as nearly always with M. Fabre) excellent; but both the parts and the whole are, once more, too long—the mere "flitting" from one parish to another seems never to be coming to an end. Still, the book should be read; and it has one very curious class of personages, the "hermits" of the Cevennes—probably the latest (the date is 1846) of their kind in literature. The general characteristics of that kind do not seem to have been exactly saintly;[532] and the best of them, Adon Laborie, after being "good" throughout, and always intending to be so, brings about the catastrophe by calmly suppressing, in the notion that he will save the Abbe trouble, three successive citations from the Diocesan Council, thereby getting him "interdicted." The shock, when the judgment in contumacy is announced by the brutal dean, proves fatal.

[Sidenote: Lucifer.]

In Lucifer M. Fabre is still nearer, though with no repetition, to the Tigrane motive. The book justifies its title by being the most ambitious of all the novels, and justifies the ambition itself by showing a great deal of power—most perhaps again, of all; though whether that power is used to the satisfaction of the reader must depend, even more than is usual, on individual tastes. Bernard Jourfier, at the beginning of the book and of the Second Empire, is a young vicaire, known to be of great talents and, in especial, of unusual preaching faculty, but of a violent temper, ill at ease about his own vocation, and suspected—at least by Ultramontanes—of very doubtful orthodoxy and not at all doubtful Gallicanism. He is, moreover, the grandson of a conventionnel who voted for the King's death, and the son of a deputy of extreme Liberal views. So the Jesuits, after trying to catch him for themselves, make a dead set at him, and secure his appointment to out-of-the-way country parishes only, and even in these his constant removal, so that he may acquire as little influence as possible anywhere. At last, in a very striking interview with his bishop, he succeeds in clearing his character, and enters on the way of promotion. The cabals continue; but later, on the overthrow of Bonapartism, he is actually raised to the episcopate. His violent temper, however, is always giving handles to the enemy, and he finally determines that life is intolerable. After trying to starve himself, he makes use of the picturesque but dangerous situation of his palace, and is crushed by falling, in apparent accident, through a breach in the garden wall with a precipice beneath—"falling like Lucifer," as his lifelong enemy and rival whispers to a confederate at the end. For the appellation has been an Ultramontane nickname for him long before, and has been not altogether undeserved by his pride at least. It has been said that the book is powerful; but it is almost unrelievedly gloomy throughout, and suffers from the extremely narrow range of its interest.

[Sidenote: Sylviane and Taillevent.]

Those who are not tired of the Cevenol atmosphere—which, it must be admitted, is quite a refreshing one—will find a lighter example in Sylviane, once more recounted by "Mr. the nephew," but with his movable uncle and gouvernante shifted back to "M. Fulcran" and "Prudence"; and in Taillevent, a much longer book, which is independent of uncle and nephew both. Sylviane has agreeable things in it, but perhaps might have been better if its form had been different. It is a long recit told by a gamekeeper, with frequent interruptions[533] and a very thin "frame." Taillevent ends with two murders, the second a quite excusable lynch-punishment for the first, and the marriage of the avenger just afterwards to the daughter of the original victim, a combination of "the murders and the marriages" deserving Osric's encomia on sword furniture. So vigorous a conclusion had need have a well-stuffed course of narrative to lead up to it, and this is not wanting. There is a wicked—a very wicked—Spaniard for the lynched-murderer part; an exceedingly good dog-, bear-, and man-fight in the middle; an extensive and well-utilised wolf-trap in the woods; bankruptcies; floods; all sorts of things; with a course of "idyllic" true love running through the whole. There is a cure—a rather foolish one; but the ecclesiastical interest in itself is almost absent from the book. The weakest part of it lies in the characters of what may be called the hero and heroine of the beginning and middle—Frederic Servieres and Madeleine his wife. That the former should fall into the most frantic love before marriage, and almost neglect his wife as soon as she has borne him a child, may be said to be common enough in books, and, unluckily, by no means uncommon in life. But there may be more question about the repetition of the inconsistency in other parts of the character—extreme business aptitude and fatal neglect of business, extreme energy and fatal depression over quite small things, etc. The general combination is not impossible; it is not even improbable; but it is not quite "made so." And something is the same with Madeleine, who is, moreover, left "in the air" in so curious a fashion that one begins to wonder whether the Mrs. Martha Buskbody attitude, so often jibed at, does not possess some excuse.

[Sidenote: Toussaint Galabru.]

A pleasant contrast in this respect, though the end here is tragic in a way, may be found in Toussaint Galabru, the last, perhaps, of M. Fabre's books for which we can find special room here, though no doubt some favourites of particular readers may have been omitted. The novel is divided into two pretty equal halves, with an interval first of ten years between them and, almost immediately, of sixteen more. The first half is occupied by an adventure of "Mr. the nephew's," though he is not here "Mr. the nephew," but "Mr. the son," living with his father and mother at Bedarieux, M. Fabre's actual birthplace. He plays truant from Church on Advent Sunday to join a shooting expedition with his school-fellow Baptistin and that school-fellow's not too pious father, who is actually a church suisse, but has received an exeat from the cure to catch a famous hare for that cure to eat. The vicissitudes of the chase are numerous, and the whole is narrated with extraordinary skill as from the boy's point of view, his entire innocence, when he is brought into contact with very shady incidents, being—and this is a most difficult thing to do—hit off marvellously well. It is only towards the end of this part (he has been heard of before) that Toussaint Galabru, sorcerer and Lothario, makes his appearance—as clever as he is handsome, and as vicious as he is clever. When he does appear he has his way—with the game shot by others, and with a certain metayer's wife—after the same hand-gallop fashion in which the personage in Blake's lines enjoyed both the peach and the lady.

The earlier and shorter, but not short, interval, mentioned above, passes to 1852, and does little more than bring the now "Parisian" narrator into fresh contact with his old school-fellow Baptistin, now a full-grown priest, but, though very pious, in some difficulties from his persistent love of sport. Sixteen years later, again, in 1868, reappears, "coming to his death,"[534] Galabru himself. The part is chiefly occupied by a recit of intervening history (including a sadly unsuccessful attempt, both at spiritual and physical combat, by Baptistin) and by a much-interrupted journey in snow.[535] But it gives occasion for another agreeable "idyll" between Vincinet, Galabru's son, and the Abbe Baptistin's god-child Lalie; and it ends with a striking procession to carry, hardly in time, the viaticum to the dying wizard, whereby, if not his own weal in the other world, that of the lovers in this is happily brought about.

Not very many generalities are required on M. Ferdinand Fabre. How completely his way lies out of most of the ruts in which the wain of the French novel usually travels must have been shown; and it may be hoped that enough has been said also to show that there are plenty of minor originalities about him. No novelist[536] in any language known to me (unless you call Richard Jefferies a novelist) has such an extraordinary command of "the country"—bird-nature and rock scenery being his favourite but by no means his only subjects. For "Scenes of Clerical Life" he stands admittedly alone in France, and has naturally been dealt with most often from this point of view. Of that intense provincialism, in the good sense, which is characteristic of French literature, there have been few better representatives. Wordsworth himself is scarcely more the poet of our Lake and Hill country than Fabre is the novelist of the Cevennes. Peasant life and child life of the country (he meddles little, and not so happily, with towns of any size) find in him admirably "vatical" properties and combinations; and if he does not run any risk of Feste's rebuke by talking much of "ladies," he knows as much about women as a man well may. His comedy is never coarse or trivial, and the tragedy never goes off through the touch-hole. Of one situation—very easy to spoil by rendering it mawkish—the early but not "calf"-love of rustic man and maid, beginning in childhood, he was curiously master. George Sand herself[537] has nothing to beat (if she has anything to equal) the pairs of Taillevent and Riquette (in the novel named from the lover), and of Vincinet and Lalie (in Toussaint Galabru). As for his pictures of clerical cabals and clerical weaknesses, they may be too much of a good thing for some tastes; but that they are a good thing, both as an exercise in craftsmanship and as an alternative to the common run of French novel subjects, can hardly be denied. In this respect, and not in this respect only, M. Fabre has his own place, and that no low one.

* * * * *

[Sidenote: Andre Theuriet.]

In coming to M. Andre Theuriet I felt a mixture of curiosity with a slight uneasiness. For I had read not a few of his books[538] carefully and critically at their first appearance, and in such cases—when novels are not of the very first order (which, good as these are, I think few really critical readers would allot them) nor possessed of those "oddments" of appeal which sometimes make more or less inferior books readable and readable again—fresh acquaintance, after a long time, is dangerous. It has been said here (possibly more than once) that, when a book possesses this peculiar readableness, a second reading is positively beneficial to it, because you neglect the "knots in the reed" and slip along it easily. This is not quite the case with others: and, unless great critical care is taken, a new acquaintance, itself thirty years old, has, I fear, a better chance than an old one renewed after that time. However, the knight of Criticism, as of other ladies,[539] must dare any adventure, and ought to be able to bring the proper arms and methods to the task. For the purposes of renewal I chose Sauvageonne, Le Fils Maugars, and Raymonde. With the first, though I did not remember much more than its central situation and its catastrophe, with one striking incident, I do remember being originally pleased; the second has, I believe, at least sometimes, been thought Theuriet's masterpiece; and the third (which, by the way, is a "philippine" containing another story besides the title-one) is an early book which I had not previously read.

[Sidenote: Sauvageonne.]

The argument of Sauvageonne can be put very shortly. A young man of four-and-twenty, of no fortune, marries a rich widow ten years older than himself, and, as it happens, possessed of an adopted daughter of seventeen. He—who is by no means an intentional scoundrel, but a commonplace and selfish person, and a gentleman neither by birth nor by nature—soon wearies of his somewhat effusive and exacting wife; the girl takes a violent fancy to him; accident hurries on the natural if not laudable consequences; the wife covers the shame by succeeding in passing off their result as her own child, but the strain is too much for her, and she goes mad, but does not die.

This tragic theme (really a tragic [Greek: hamartia], for there is much good in Sauvageonne, as she is called, from her tomboy habits, and, with happier chance and a nobler lover, all might have been well with her) is handled with no little power, and with abundant display of skill in two different departments which M. Theuriet made particularly his own—sketches of the society of small country towns, and elaborate description of the country itself, especially wood-scenery. In regard to the former, it must be admitted that, though there is plenty of scandal and not a little ill-nature in English society of the same kind, the latter nuisance seems, according to French novelists, to be more active with their country folk than it is with ours[540]—a thing, in a way, convenient for fiction. Of the descriptive part the only unfavourable criticism (and that a rather ungracious one) that could be made is that it is almost too elaborate. Of two fateful scenes of Sauvageonne, that where Francis Pommeret, the unheroic hero, comes across Denise (the girl's proper name) sitting in a crab-tree in the forest and pelting small boys with the fruit, is almost startlingly vivid. You see every detail of it as if it were on the Academy walls. In fact, it is almost more like a picture than like reality, which is more shaded off and less sharp in outline and vivid in colour. As for the character-drawing, if it does not attain to that consummateness which has been elsewhere described and desiderated—the production of people that you know—it attains the second rank; the three prominent characters (the rest are merely sets-off) are all people that you might know. Denise herself is very near the first rank, and Francis Pommeret—not, as has been said, by any means a scoundrel, for he only succumbs to strong and continued temptation, but an ordinary selfish creature—is nearer than those who wish to think nobly of human nature may like, to complete reality. One is less certain about the unhappy Adrienne Lebreton or Pommeret, but discussion of her would be rather "an intricate impeach." And one may have a question about the end. We are told that Francis and Denise keep together (the luckless wife living on in spite of her madness) because of the child, though they absolutely hate each other. Would it not be more natural that, if they do not part, they should vary the hatred with spasms of passion and repulsion?

[Sidenote: Le Fils Maugars.]

Le Fils Maugars is not only a longer book, but its space is less exclusively filled with a single situation, and the necessary prelude to it. In fact, the whole thing is expanded, varied, and peopled. Auberive, near Langres, the place of Sauvageonne, is hardly more than a large village; Saint-Clementin, on the Charente, though not a large town, is the seat of a judicial Presidency, of a sous-prefecture, etc. "Le pere Maugars" is a banker who, from having been a working stone-mason, has enriched himself by sharp practice in money-lending. His son is a lawyer by the profession chosen for him, and a painter by preference. The heroine, Therese Desroches, is the daughter of a Republican doctor, whose wife has been unfaithful, and who suspects Therese of not being his own child. The scene shifts from Saint-Clementin itself to the country districts where Poitou and Touraine meet, as well as to Paris. The time begins on the eve of the Coup d'Etat, and allows itself a gap of five years between the first and second halves of the book. Besides the love-scenes and the country descriptions and the country feasts there is a little general society; much business; some politics, including the attempted and at last accomplished arrest of the doctor for treason to the new regime; a well-told account of a contest for the Prix de Rome; a trial of the elder Maugars for conspiracy (with a subordinate usurer) to defraud, etc. The whole begins with more than a little aversion on everybody's part for the innocent Etienne Maugars, who, having been away from home for years, knows neither the fact nor the cause of his father's unpopularity; and it ends with condign poetical justice, on the extortioner in the form of punishment, and for the lovers in another way. It is thus, though a less poignant book than Sauvageonne, a fuller and wider one, and it displays, better than that book, the competence and adequacy which mark the author, though there may be something else to be said about it (or rather about its illustration of his general characteristics) presently.

[Sidenote: Le Don Juan de Vireloup and Raymonde.]

Le Don Juan de Vireloup, a story of about a hundred pages long, which acts as makeweight to Raymonde, itself only about twice the length, is a capital example of Theuriet at nearly his best—a pleasant mixture of berquinade and gaillardise (there are at least two passages at either of which Mrs. Grundy would require sal volatile, and would then put the book in the fire). The reformation and salvation of Jean de Santenoge—a poor (indeed penniless) gentleman, who lives in a little old manor, or rather farm-house, buried in the woods, and whose sole occupations are poaching and making love to peasant girls—are most agreeably conducted by the agency of the daughter of a curmudgeonly forest-inspector (who naturally regards Santenoge with special abhorrence). She is helped by her grand-uncle, a doctor of the familiar stamp, who has known Diderot's child, Madame de Vandeul (the scene, as in so many of the author's books, is close to Langres), and worships Denis himself. As for Raymonde, its heroine comes closer to "Sauvageonne," though she is less of a savagess: and the worst that can be said against her lucky winner is that he is a little of a prig. But, to borrow, and very slightly alter, one of Sir Walter's pieces of divine charity, "The man is mortal, and a scientific person." Perhaps fate and M. Theuriet are a little too harsh to another (but not this time beggarly) gentillatre, Osmin de Prefontaine, to whom, one regrets to say, Raymonde positively, or almost positively, engages herself, before she in the same way virtually accepts the physiological Antoine Verdier. And the denouement, where everything comes right, is a little stagy.[541] But the whole is thoroughly readable, competently charactered, and illustrated by some of the best of the author's forest descriptions.

[Sidenote: General characteristics.]

One has thus been able to give an account, very favourable in the main, of these three or four stories—selected with no hidden design, and in two cases previously unknown to the critic, who has, in addition, a fair remembrance of several others. But it will be observed that there is in them, with all their merits, some evidence of that "rut" or "mould" character which has been specified as absent in greater novelists, but as often found in company with a certain accomplishment, in ordonnance and readable quality, that marks the later novel. The very great prominence of description is common to all of them, and in three out of the four the scenes are from the same district—almost from the same patch—of country. The heroine is the most prominent character and, as she should be, the most attractive figure of all; but she is made up and presented, if not exactly a la douzaine, yet with a strong, almost a sisterly, family likeness. Far be it from the present writer to regret or desiderate the adorably candid creature who so soon smirches her whiteness. Even the luckless Sauvageonne—worst mannered, worst moralled, and worst fated of all—is a jewel and a cynosure compared with that other class of girl; while Raymonde (whose maltreatment of M. de Prefontaine is to a great extent excused by her mother's bullying, her real father's weakness, and her own impulsive temperament); the Therese of Le Fils Maugars; and the Marianne of Le Don Juan de Vireloup are, in ascending degrees, girls of quite a right kind. Only, it is just a little too much the same kind. And without unfairness, without even ingratitude, one may say that this sameness does somewhat characterise M. Theuriet.

* * * * *

[Sidenote: Georges Ohnet.]

There were some who did not share the general admiration, a good many years ago, of the dictum of a popular French critic on a more popular French novelist to the effect that, though it was his habit, in the articles he was writing, to confine himself to literature, he would break this good custom for once and discuss M. Ohnet. In the first place, this appeared to the dissidents a very easy kind of witticism; they knew many men, many women, and many schoolboys who could have uttered it. In the second, they were probably of the opinion (changing the matter, instead of, like that wicked Prince Seithenyn, merely reversing the order, of the old Welsh saying) that "The goodness of wit sleeps in the badness of manners." But if the question had been then, or were now, asked seriously whether the literary value of Le Maitre de Forges and its companion novels was high, few of them would, as probably, have been or be able to answer in the affirmative. For my own part, I always used to think, when M. Ohnet's novels came out, that they were remarkably like those of the eminent Mrs. Henry Wood[542] in English—of course mutatis mutandis. They displayed very fair aptitude for the business of novel manufacture, and the results were such as, in almost every way, to satisfy the average subscriber to a circulating library, supposing him or her to possess respectable tastes (scarcely "taste"), moderate intelligence, and a desire to pass the time comfortably enough in reading them once, without the slightest expectation of being, or wish to be, able to read them again. They might even sometimes excite readers who possessed an adjustable "tally" of excitableness. But beyond this, as it seemed to their critic of those days, they never went.

Re-reading, therefore—though perhaps the consequence may not seem downright to laymen—promised some critical interest. I first selected for the purpose, to give the author as good a chance as possible, Serge Panine, which the Academy crowned, and which went near its hundred and fifty editions when it was still a four-year-old; and Le Maitre de Forges itself, the most popular of all, adding Le Docteur Rameau and La Grande Marniere, which my memory gave me as having seemed to be of such pillars as the particular structure could boast.

[Sidenote: Serge Panine.]

I suppose the Forty crowned Serge Panine because it was a virtuous book, and an attack on the financial trickeries which, about the time and a little later, enriched the French language with the word "krach." Otherwise, though no one could call it bad, its royalty could hardly seem much other than that which qualifies for the kingdom of the blind. The situations are good, and they are worked up into a Fifth Act, as we may call it (it occupies almost exactly a fifth of the book, which was, of course, dramatised), melodramatic to the nth, ending in a discovery of flagrant delict, or something very like it, and in the shooting of a son-in-law by his mother-in-law to save the downfall of his reputation. But the characters do not play up to their parts, or each other, very well, with the possible or passable exception of the mother-in-law, and of one very minor personage, the secretary Marechal, whom M. Ohnet, perhaps distrustful of his power to make him more, left minor. The hero is a Polish prince, with everything that a stage Polish prince requires about him—handsome, superficially amiable, what the precise call "caressing" and the vulgar "carneying" in manner, but extravagant, quite non-moral, and not possessed of much common sense. His princess Micheline is a silly jilt before marriage and a sillier "door-mat" (as some women call others) of a wife. Her rival, and in a fashion foster-sister (she has been adopted before Micheline's birth), does things which many people might do, but does not do them in a concatenation accordingly. The jilted serious young man Pierre accepts a perfectly impossible position in reference to his former fiancee and his supplanter, and gives more proofs of its impossibility by his conduct and speech than was at all necessary. The conversation is very flat, and the descriptions are chiefly confined to long, gaudy inventories of rich parvenus' houses, which read like auctioneers' catalogues.

But the worst part of the book, and probably that which at its appearance exasperated the critics, though it did not disturb the abonne—or, more surprisingly, the Immortals—is the flatness of style which has been already noted in the conversation, but which overflows insupportably into the narrative. M. Ohnet speaks somewhere, justly enough, of "le style a la fois pretentieux et plat, familier aux reporters." But was he trying—there is no sign of it—to parody these unfortunate persons when he himself described dinner-rolls as "Ces boules dorees qui sollicitent l'appetit le plus rebelle, et accommodees dans une serviette damassee artistement pliee, parent si elegamment un couvert"? Or when he tells us that at a ball "Les femmes, leurs splendides toilettes gracieusement etalees sur les meubles bas et moelleux, causaient chiffons sous l'eventail, ou ecoutaient les cantilenes d'un chanteur exotique pendant que les jeunes gens leur chuchotaient des galanteries a l'oreille." This last is really worthy of the feeblest member of our "plated silver fork school" between the time of Scott and Miss Austen and that of Dickens and Thackeray.

[Sidenote: Le Maitre de Forges.]

In the year 1902, Le Maitre de Forges, which was then just twenty years old, had reached its three hundred and sixty-seventh edition. Six years later Fromentin's Dominique, which was then forty-five years old, had reached its twenty-seventh. The accident of the two books lying side by side on my table has enabled me to make this comparison, the moral of which will be sufficiently drawn by a reference to what has been said of Dominique above,[543] and by the few remarks on M. Ohnet's most popular book which follow.

One old receipt for popularity, "Put your characters up several steps in society," M. Ohnet has faithfully obeyed. We begin with a marquis unintentionally poaching on the ironmaster's ground, and (rather oddly) accepting game which he has not shot thereon. We end with the marquis's sister putting her dainty fingers before the mouth of a duke's exploding pistol—to the not surprising damage of those digits, but with the result of happiness ever afterwards for the respectable characters of the book. There is a great deal of gambling, though, unfortunately told in a rather uninteresting manner of recit, which is a pity, for gambling can be made excellent in fiction.[544] There are several of M. Ohnet's favourite inventories, and a baroness—not a bad baroness—who has frequented sales, and knows all about bric-a-brac. Also there are several exciting situations, even before we come to the application of a lady's fingers as tompions. M. Ohnet is, it has been said, rather good at situations. But situations, to speak frankly, are rather things for the stage than for the story, except very rarely, and of a very striking—which does not mean melodramatic—kind. And it is very important, off the stage, that they should be led up to, and acted in by, vigorously drawn and well filled in characters.

To do M. Ohnet justice, he has attempted to meet this requirement in one instance at least, the one instance by which the book has to stand or fall. Some of the minor personages (like Marechal in Serge Panine) are fair enough; and the little baroness who, arriving at a country-house in a whirl of travel and baggage, cries, "Ou est mon mari? Est-ce que j'ai deja egare mon mari?" puts one, for the moment, in quite a good temper. The ironmaster's sister, too, is not a bad sort of girl. He himself is too much of the virtuous, loyal, amiable, but not weak man of the people; the marquis is rather null, and the duke, who jilts his cousin Claire de Beaulieu, gambles, marries a rich and detestable daughter of a chocolate-man, and finally fires through Claire's fingers, is very much, to use our old phrase, a la douzaine. But Claire might save the book, and probably does so for those who like it. To me she seems quite wrongly put together. The novel has been so very widely read, in the original and in translations, that it is perhaps unnecessary to waste space on a full analysis of its central scene—a thing not to be done very shortly. It may be sufficient to say that Claire, treacherously and spitefully informed, by her successful rival, of the fact that she has been jilted, and shortly afterwards confronted with the jilter himself, recovers, as it seems to her, to the company, and I suppose to the author, the whip-hand by summoning the ironmaster (who is hanging about "promiscuous," and is already known to be attached to her, though she has given him no direct encouragement) and bestowing her hand upon him, insisting, too, upon being married at once, before the other pair. The act is supposed to be that of an exceptionally calm, haughty, and aristocratic damsel: and the acceptance of it is made by a man certainly deep in love, but independent, sharp-sighted, and strong-willed. To be sure, he could not very well refuse; but this very fact should have weighed additionally, with a girl of Claire's supposed temperament, in deciding her not to make a special Leap Year for the occasion. To hand yourself over to Dick because Tom has declined to have anything to do with you is no doubt not a very unusual proceeding: but it is not usually done quite so much coram populo, or with such acknowledgment of its being done to spite Tom and Tom's preferred one.[545]

[Sidenote: Le Docteur Rameau.]

Two more of "Les Batailles de la Vie" (as, for some not too obvious[546] reason, it pleased M. Ohnet to super-title his novels) may perhaps suffice to give a basis for a more general judgment of his position. Le Docteur Rameau is, at least towards its close, one of the most ambitious, if not the most ambitious of all its author's books. The hero is one of those atheistic and republican physicians who are apt rather to embeter us by their frequency in French novels. He is thrown into the also familiar situation of ascertaining, after his wife's death, that she has been false, and that his daughter, of whom he is very fond, is probably or certainly not his own. At the end, however, things come right as usual. Rameau is converted from hating his daughter, which is well, and from being an atheist, which is better. But, unluckily, M. Ohnet devotes several pages, in his own peculiar style, to a rhetorical exhibition of the logic of these conclusions. It seems to come to this. There is no God and no soul, because freewill is sufficient to account for everything. But M. le Docteur Rameau has willed, in the free-willingest manner, to hate his daughter, and finds he cannot. Therefore there is a God and a soul. A most satisfactory conclusion, but a most singular major premiss. Why should there be no God and no soul because there is (if there is) freewill?[547] But all is well that ends well: and how can you end better than by being heard to ejaculate, "Mon Dieu!" (quite seriously and piously, and not in the ordinary trivial way) by a scientific friend, at the church of Sainte-Clotilde, during your daughter's wedding?

[Sidenote: La Grande Marniere.]

La Grande Marniere does not aspire to such heights, and is perhaps one of the best "machined" of M. Ohnet's books. The main plot is not very novel—his plots seldom are—and, in parts as well as plots, any one who cared for rag-picking and hole-picking might find a good deal of indebtedness. It is the old jealousy of a clever and unscrupulous self-made man towards an improvident seigneur and his somewhat robustious son. The seigniorial improvidence, however, is not of the usual kind, for M. le Marquis de Clairefont wastes his substance, and gets into his enemy's debt and power, by costly experiments on agricultural and other machinery, partly due to the fact that he possesses on his estate a huge marl-pit and hill which want developing. There is the again usual cross-action of an at first hopeless affection on the part of the roturier's son, Pascal Carvajan, a rising lawyer, for Antoinette de Clairefont. But M. Ohnet—still fertile in situations—adds a useful sort of conspiracy among Carvajan's tools of various stations against the house of Clairefont; a conspiracy which actually culminates in a murder-charge against Robert de Clairefont, the victim being the pretty daughter of a local poacher, one of the gang, with whom the Viscount has notoriously and indeed quite openly flirted. Now comes Pascal's opportunity: he defends Robert, and not merely obtains acquittal, but manages to discover that the crime was actually committed by the village idiot, who betrays himself by remorse and sleep-walking. There is a patient, jilted lover, M. de Croix-Mesnil (it may just be noted that since French novel-heroines were allowed any choice at all in marriage, they have developed a faculty of altering that choice which might be urged by praisers of times past against the enfranchisement); a comic aunt; and several other promoters of business. It is no wonder that, given a public for the kind of book, this particular example of it should have been popular. It had reached its sixtieth edition before it had been published a twelvemonth.

[Sidenote: Reflections.]

Sixty editions of one book in one year; three hundred and sixty-seven of another in twenty; a hundred and forty-two of Serge Panine in five; sixty-nine of Le Docteur Rameau in certainly at the outside not more; these are facts which, whatever may be insinuated about the number of an "edition," cannot be simply put aside. Popularity, as the wiser critics have always maintained, is no test of excellence; but as they have also maintained when they were wise, it is a "fact in the case," and it will not do merely to sneer at it. I should say that the popularity of M. Ohnet, like other popularities in England as well as in France, is quite explicable. Novel-writing, once again, had become a business, and he set himself to carry that business out with a thorough comprehension of what was wanted. His books, it is to be observed, are generally quite modern, dealing either with his own day or a few years before it; and modernity has, for a long time, been almost a sine qua non of what is to please the public. They are, it has been said, full of situations, and the situation is what pleases the public most in everything. They came just when the first popularity of Naturalism was exhausting itself,[548] and they are not grimy; but, on the other hand, they do not aim at an excessive propriety. Their characters are not of the best, or even of the second-best class, as so often defined, but they are sufficient to work out the situations without startling inadequacy. The public never really cares, though part of it is sometimes taught to pretend to care, for style, and the same may be said of the finer kind of description. The conversation is not brilliant, but, like the character, it serves its turn. I once knew an excellent gentleman, of old lineage and fair fortune, who used to say that for his part he could not tell mutton from venison or Marsala from Madeira, and he thanked God for it. The novel-reading public,—that at least which reads novels by the three hundred and fifty thousand,—is very much of the same taste, and I am sure I hope it is equally pious.

* * * * *

[Sidenote: Edouard Rod.]

I have quite a lively remembrance of the advent of M. Edouard Rod, of the crowning of Le Sens de la Vie, and so forth. That advent formed part of the just mentioned counter-attack on Naturalism, in which, as usual, some of the Naturalist methods and weapons themselves were used; but it had a distinct character of its own. Unless I mistake, it was not at first very warmly welcomed by "mortal" French criticism. There may have been something in this of that curious grudge[549] against Swiss-French, on the part of purely French-French, men of letters which never seems to have entirely ceased. But there was something more than this, though this something more was in a way the reason, some might say the justification, of the grudge. M. Rod was exceedingly serious; the title of his laureated book is of itself almost sufficient to show it; and though the exclusive notion of "the gay and frivolous Frenchman" always was something of a vulgar error, and has been increasingly so since the Revolution, Swiss seriousness, with its strong Germanic leaven, is not French seriousness at all. But he became, if not exactly a popular novelist to the tune of hundreds or even scores of editions, a prolific and fairly accepted one. I think, though he died in middle age and produced other things besides novels, he wrote some twenty or thirty stories, and his production rather increased than slackened as he went on. With the later ones I am not so well acquainted as with the earlier, but there is a pervading character about these earlier ones which is not likely to have changed much, and they alone belong strictly to our subject.

[Sidenote: La Vie Privee de Michel Teissier.]

Next to Le Sens de la Vie and perhaps in a way, as far as popularity goes, above it, may be ranked, I suppose, La Vie Privee de Michel Teissier, with its sequel, La Seconde Vie de M. T. These books certainly made a bold and wide separation of aim and subject from the subject and the aim of most French novels in these recent years. Here you have, instead of a man who attempts somebody else's wife, one who wishes to get rid—on at least legally respectable terms—of his own, and to marry a girl for whom he has, and who has for him, a passion which is, until legal matrimony enfranchises it, able to restrain itself from any practical satisfaction of the as yet illicit kind. He avails himself of the then pretty new facilities for divorce (the famous "Loi Naquet," which used to "deave" all of us who minded such things many years ago), and the situation is (at least intentionally) made more piquant by the fact that Teissier, who is a prominent statesman and gives up not merely his wife but his political position for this new love of his, starts as an actual supporter of the repeal of the divorce laws. To an English reader, of course, the precise problem would not have the same charm of novelty, except in his capacity as a reader of French novels. But, putting that aside, the position is obviously capable of being treated with very considerable appeal. The struggles of the husband, who has loved his wife—M. Rod had not the audacity or the strength to make him love her still—between his duties and his desires; the indignant suffering of the wife; and most of all, the position of the girl who, by ill-fortune or the fault of others, finds herself expending, on an at first illicit and always ill-famed love, what she might have devoted to an honourable one, certainly has great capabilities. But I did not think when I read it first, and I do not think now when I have read it again, that these various opportunities are fully taken. It is not that M. Rod has no idea of passion. He is constantly handling it and, as will be seen presently, not without success occasionally. But he was too much what he calls his eidolon in one book, "Monsieur le psychologue," and the Psyche he deals with is too often a skinny and spectacled creature—not the love of Cupid and the mother of Voluptas.[550]

[Sidenote: La Sacrifiee.]

If he has ever made his story hot enough to make this pale cast glow, it is in La Sacrifiee. This is all the more remarkable in that the beginning of the book itself is far from promising. There is a rather unnecessary usher-chapter—a thing which M. Rod was fond of, and which, unless very cleverly done, is more of an obstacle than of a "shoe-horn." The hero-narrator of the main story is one of the obligatorily atheistic doctors—nearly as great a nuisance as obligatorily adulterous heroines—whom M. Rod has mostly discarded; and what is more, he is one of the pseudo-scientific fanatics who believe in the irresponsibility of murderers, and do not see that, the more irresponsible a criminal is, the sooner he ought to be put out of the way. Moreover, he has the ill-manners to bore the company at dinner with this craze, and the indecency (for which in some countries he might have smarted) to condemn out loud, in a court of justice, the verdict of the jury and the sentence of the judge on his pet. Neither can one approve the haste with which he suggests to the wife of his oldest and most intimate friend that she is not happy with her husband. But this time M. Rod had got the forge working, and the bellows dead on the charcoal. The development of the situation has something of that twist or boomerang effect which we have noticed in Michel Teissier. Dr. Morgex begins by defending murderers; he does not end, but starts the end, by becoming a murderer himself, though one with far more "extenuating circumstances" than those so often allowed in French courts. His friend—who is an advocate of no mean powers but loose life and dangerously full habit—has, when the doctor warns him against apoplexy, half scoffed, but also begged him, if a seizure should take place, to afford him a chance of euthanasia instead of lingering misery. The actual situation, though with stages and variations which are well handled, arises; the doctor, who has long since been frantically in love with the wife, succumbs to the temptation—which has been aggravated by the old request, by the sufferings of the victim, and by the urgent supplications of the family, that he shall give morphia to relieve these sufferings. He gives it—but in a dose which he knows to be lethal.

After a time, and having gone through no little mental agony, he marries the widow, who is in every sense perfectly innocent; and a brief period of happiness follows. But his own remorse continues; the well-meaning chatter of a lady, who has done much to bring about the marriage, and to whom Morgex had unwarily mentioned "obstacles," awakes the wife's suspicion, and, literally, "the murder is out." Morgex confesses, first to a lawyer friend, who, to his intense surprise, pronounces him legally guilty, of course, but morally excusable; then to a priest, who takes almost exactly the opposite point of view, and admitting that the legal crime may be excusable, declares the moral guilt not lessened; while he points out that while the wages of iniquity are retained, no pardon can be deserved or expected. And so the pair part. Morgex gives himself up to the hardest and least profitable practitioner-work. Of what the wife does we hear nothing. She has been perfectly guiltless throughout; she has loved her second husband without knowing his crime, and after knowing it; and so she is "La Sacrifiee." But this (as some would call it) sentimental appeal is not the real appeal of the book, though it is delicately led up to from an early point. The gist throughout is the tempering and purifying of the character and disposition of Morgex himself, through trial and love, through crime and sacrifice. It is not perfectly done. If it were, it would land the author at once in those upper regions of art which I cannot say I think he attains. But it is a very remarkable "try," and, with one other to be mentioned presently, it is nearest the goal of any of his books.

[Sidenote: Le Silence.]

On the other hand, if he ever wrote a worse book than Le Silence, I have not read, and I do not wish to read, that. The title is singularly unhappy. Silence is so much greater a thing than speech that a speaker, unless he is Shakespeare or Dante or Lucretius,[551] or at least the best kind of Wordsworth, had better avoid the subject, avoid even the word for it. And M. Rod's examples of silence, preluded in each case (for the book has two parts) by one of those curious harbingerings of his which are doubtfully satisfactory, are not what they call nowadays "convincing." The first and longest—it is, indeed, much too long and might have been more acceptable in twenty pages than in two hundred—deals with the usual triangle—brutal husband, suffering wife, interesting lover. But the last two never declare themselves, or are declared; and they both die and make no sign. In the second part there is another triangle, where the illegitimate side is established and results in a duel, the lover killing the husband and establishing himself with the wife. But a stove for tea-making explodes; she loses her beauty, and (apparently for that reason) poisons herself, though it does not appear that her lover's love has been affected by the change. In each case the situation comes under that famous and often-quoted ban of helpless and unmanageable misery.

[Sidenote: La-Haut.]

Nor can I think highly of La-Haut, which is quite literally an account of an Alpine village, and of its gradual vulgarisation by an enterprising man of business. Of the ordinary novel-interests there is little more than the introduction at the beginning of a gentleman who has triangled as usual, till, the husband has, in his, the lover's, presence, most inconsiderately shot his wife dead, has missed (which was a pity) M. Julien Sterny himself, and, more unconscionably still, has been acquitted by a court of justice, in which the officials, and the public in general, actually seemed to think that M. Sterny was to blame! He is much upset by this, and, coming to Vallanches to recuperate, is rewarded later for his good deeds and sufferings,[552] by the hand of a very attractive young woman with a fortune. This poetic justice, however, is by no means the point of the book, which, indeed, has no particular point. It is filled up by details of Swiss hotel-life: of the wicked conduct of English tourists, who not merely sing hymns on Sunday, but dance on wet evenings in the week (nearly the oddest combination of crimes known to the present writer); of a death in climbing of one of the characters which is not in the least required by the story; of the scalding of her arm by a paysanne in a sort of "ragging" flirtation, and the operation on the mortifying member by a cure who knows something of chirurgy; and of the ruin of some greedy peasants who turn their chalet into a hotel with no capital to work it, and are bought out, with just enough to cover their outlay and leave them penniless, by the general entrepreneur. It is a curious book, but the very reverse of a successful one.

[Sidenote: La Course a la Mort.]

The centre, not by any means in the chronological sense (for they were among his earliest), but in the logical and psychological, of M. Rod's novel production, is undoubtedly to be found in the two contrastedly titled books Le Sens de la Vie and La Course a la Mort. The first, which, as has been said, received Academic distinction, I approached many years ago without any predisposition against it, and closed with a distinct feeling of disappointment. The other I read more recently with a distinct apprehension of disapproval, which was, if not entirely, to a very large extent removed as I went on. It was strongly attacked as morbid and mischievous at its first appearance in 1885; and the author, some years afterwards, prefixed a defence to his fifth edition, which is not much more effective than such defences usually are. It takes something like the line which, as was mentioned above, Mr. Traill took about Maupassant—that Pessimism was a fact like other facts, and one was entitled to take it as a subject or motive. But it also contained a slip into that obvious but, somehow or other, seldom avoided trap—the argument that a book is "dramatic," and does not necessarily express the author's own attitude. Perhaps not; but the rejoinder that almost all, if not all, M. Rod's books are "sicklied o'er" in this way is rather fatal. One gets to expect, and seldom misses, a close and dreary air throughout, often aggravated by an actual final sentence or paragraph of lamentation and mourning and woe. But I do not resent the "nervous impression" left on me by La Course a la Mort, with its indefinitely stated but certain end of suicide, and its unbroken soliloquy of dreary dream. For it is in one key all through; it never falls out of tune or time; and it does actually represent a true, an existent, though a partial and morbid attitude of mind. It is also in parts very well written, and the blending of life and dream is sometimes almost Poesque. A novel, except by the extremest stretch of courtesy, it is not, being simply a panorama of the moods of its scarcely heroic hero. And he does not "set one's back up" like Rene, or, in my case at least, produce boredom like most of the other "World-pain"-ers. The still more shadowy appearances of the heroine Cecile, who dies before her lover, while the course of his love is more dream than action, are well brought in and attractive; and there is one passage descriptive of waltzing which would atone for anything. Many people have tried to write about waltzing, but few have done it well; this is almost adequate. I wonder if I dare translate it?

We never thought that people might be turning an evil eye on us; we cared nothing for the indignation of the mammas sitting passive and motionless; we hardly felt the couples that we jostled.[553] Thanks to the cradling of the rhythm, to the intoxication of our rapid and regular movement, there fell on us something like a great calm. Drunk with one another, hurried by the absorbing voluptuousness of the waltz, we went on and on vertiginously. People and things turned with us, surrounding us with a gyre of moving shadows, under a fantastic light formed of crossing reflections, in an atmosphere where one breathed inebriating perfumes, and where every atom vibrated to the ever more bewildering sound of music. Time passed, and we still went on; losing little by little all consciousness except that of our own movement. Then it even seemed that we came out of ourselves; we heard nothing but a single beat, marking the cadence with strokes more and more muffled. The lights, melting into one, bathed us in a dreamy glow; we felt not the floor under our feet; we felt nothing but an immense oblivion—the oblivion of a void which was swallowing us up.

And doubtless it was so, as has been seen of many in the Time of Roses.[554]

[Sidenote: Le Menage du Pasteur Naudie.]

To take one or two more of his books, Le Menage du Pasteur Naudie, though less poignant than La Sacrifiee and with no approach to the extra-novelish merit of La Course a la Mort, starts not badly with an interesting scene, no less a place than La Rochelle, very rarely met, since its great days, in a French novel—a rather unfamiliar society, that of French Protestantism at Rochelle itself and Montauban—and a certainly unusual situation, the desire of a young, pretty, and wealthy girl, Jane Defos, to marry an elderly pastor who is poor, and, though a widower, has four children.

That nothing but mischief can come of this proceeding—as of an abnormal leap-year—is clear enough: whether the way in which the mischief is brought about and recounted is good may be more doubtful. That a person like M. Naudie, simple, though by no means a fool, should be taken in by a very pretty girl falling apparently in love with him—even though, to the general dangers of the situation, are added frank warnings that she has been given to a series of freakish fancies—is not unnatural; that she should soon tire of him, and sooner still of the four step-children, is very natural indeed. But the immediate cause of the final disruption—her taking a new fancy to, and being atheistically converted by, a cousin who, after all, runs away from temptation—is not very natural, and is unconvincingly told. Indeed the whole character of Jane is insufficiently presented. She is meant to be a sort of Blanche Amory, with nothing real in her—only a succession of false and fleeting fancies. But M. Rod was not Thackeray.

[Sidenote: Mademoiselle Annette.]

[Sidenote: L'Eau Courante.]

With two or three more of his later-middle books (it does not seem necessary to deal with the very latest, which are actually beyond our limit, and could not alter the general estimate very favourably) the preparation of judgment may cease. Mademoiselle Annette is the history of a "house-angel" and her family, and the fortunes and misfortunes they go through, and the little town of Bielle on the Lake of Geneva.[555] It is told, rather in M. Ferdinand Fabre's way, by a bystander, from the time when the heroine was his school-dame and, as such dames sometimes, if not often, are, adored by her pupils. Annette dies at last, and M. Rod strews the dust of many others on her way to death. An American brother of the typical kind plays a large part. He is tamed partly by Annette, partly by a charming wife, whom M. Rod must needs kill, without any particular reason. L'Eau Courante is an even gloomier story. It begins with a fair picture of a home-coming of bride and bridegroom, on a beautiful evening, to an ideal farm high up on the shore of Leman. In a very few pages M. Rod, as usual, kills the wife after subjecting her to exceptional tortures at the births of her children, and then settles down comfortably to tell us the ruin of the husband, who ends by arson of his own lost home and drowning in his own lost pond. The interval is all blunder, misfortune, and folly—the chief causa malorum being a senseless interference with the "servitude" rights of neighbours, whom he does not like, by stopping, for a week, a spring on his own land. Almost the only cheerful character in the book (except a delightful juge de conciliation, who carries out his benevolent duties in his cellar, dispensing its contents to soften litigants) is a black billy-goat named Samuel, who, though rather diabolical, is in a way the "Luck of the Bertignys," and after selling whom their state is doomed. But we see very little of him.

The summing up need probably not be long. That M. Rod was no mere stuffer of the shelves of circulating libraries must have been made clear; that he could write excellently has been (with all due modesty) confessed; that he could sometimes be poignant, often vivid, even occasionally humorous, is true. He has given us a fresh illustration of that tendency of the later novel, to "fill all numbers" of ordinary life, which has been insisted upon. But that he is too much of a "dismal Jemmy" of novel-writing is certainly true also. The House of Mourning is one of the Houses of Life, and therefore open to the novelist. But it is not the only house. It would sometimes seem as if M. Rod were (as usual without his being able to help it) a sort of jettatore,—as if there were no times or places for him except that

When all the world is old, And all the trees are brown, And all the sport is cold, And all the wheels run down.

[Sidenote: Scenes de la Vie Cosmopolite.]

But there is something to add, and even one book not yet noticed to comment on, which may serve as a real light on this remarkable novelist. The way in which I have already spoken of La Course a la Mort, which was a very early book, may be referred to. Even earlier, or at least as early, M. Rod wrote some short stories, which were published as Scenes de la Vie Cosmopolite. They include "Lilith" (the author, though far from an Anglophile, had a creditable liking for Rossetti), which is a story of the rejection of a French suitor by an English governess; the ending of a liaison between a coxcomb and a lady much older than himself ("Le Feu et l'Eau"); "L'Ideal de M. Gindre," with a doubtful marriage-close; a discovery of falseness ("Le Pardon"); "La Derniere Idylle" (which may be judged from some of its last words: "I have made a spectacle of myself long enough, and now the play is over"), and "Noces d'Or," the shortest and bitterest of all, in which the wife, who has felt herself tyrannised over for the fifty years, mildly retaliates by providing for dinner nearly all the things that she likes and her husband does not, though she effects a reconciliation with pate de canard d'Amiens. I wonder if they ate duck-pies at Amiens in the spring of 1918?

The purpose of this postscript-account, and of the reference to La Course, should not be very obscure. It is clear that, at first and from the first, M. Rod's vocation was to be a prophet of discouragement and disappointment. You may be this and be quite a major prophet; but if you are not a major prophet your minority will become somewhat painfully apparent, and it will often, if not always, go near to failure. I think this was rather the case with M. Rod.

* * * * *

[Sidenote: Catulle Mendes.]

It is with reluctance that I find myself unable to give more than praise for admirable French, and "form" in the strict sense, to the work in prose fiction of M. Catulle Mendes, sometime Gautier's son-in-law[556] and always, I think, his disciple. His early verse-work in the Parnasse Contemporain fifty years ago, was attractive and promising, though perhaps open to the exception which some took to the Parnasse generally, and which may be echoed here, not with that general concernment, but as to his own novel and tale-work. His late critical survey of modern French poetry was a really difficult thing admirably done. But his fiction leaves me cold, as Parnassian poetry did others, but not me. A friend of mine, whom I should have thought quite unshockable, either by principles or practice, once professed himself to me aghast at Mephistophela. But M. Mendes's improprieties neither shock nor excite nor amuse me, because they have a certain air of being "machined." If anybody wishes to sample them at their very best, the half-score loosely and largely printed pages of "Tourterelle" in the volume entitled Lesbia will be no severe experiment. He may then take his choice of not going further at all, or of going further at the hazard of faring worse, or as well now and then, but hardly, I think, better.

* * * * *

I do not propose to add any further studies in detail to those already presented in this chapter. As I have (perhaps more than once) remarked, there are few periods of the century with the minor as well as major novel work of which I am better acquainted than with that of its last quarter. As I remember independently, or am in this or that way reminded, of the names of Jules de Glouvet; of at least three Pauls—Alexis, Arene, and Mahalin; of Ernest d'Hervilly; of the prolific Hector Malot; of Oscar Metenier, and Octave Mirbeau, and Jules Valles of the Commune, of the brothers Margueritte and of others too many to mention, a sort of shame invades me at leaving them out.[557] Some of them may be alive still, though most, I think, are dead. But dead or alive, I have no room for them, and, for reasons also elsewhere stated, it is perhaps as well. The blossoming of the aloe, not once in a hundred years but all through them, has been told as best I could tell it.

Not shame but sorrow attends the exclusion of others, some of them, I think, better novelists than those actually discussed in this chapter—especially "Gyp" and MM. Anatole France, Paul Bourget, Jean Richepin, and "Pierre Loti." It would have been agreeable to pay, once more, suit and service to the adorable chronicler of the little rascal Bob and the unpretentiously divine Chiffon; to recall the delighted surprise with which one read Le Crime de Silvestre Bonnard, and follow the train of triumphs that succeeded it; to do justice (unbribed, but pleasantly seasoned, by some private gratitude) to the vigour and acuteness of L'Irreparable and its companions; to salute that masterpiece of Realism at its best, La Glu, and the more complicated as well as more pathetic history of Cesarine; and to re-discover the countries and the manners depicted for us from Aziyade to Pecheur d'Islande. But the consigne elsewhere laid down and experienced forbids it, and I think that consigne should not be "forced."


[519] It was in connection with this, at some time in the 'eighties, that I came across a curious survival of the old prejudice against novels—deserving perhaps, with better claim than as a mere personal anecdote, record in this history. One French publisher, who held himself above the "three-fifty," and produced dainty books of art and letters, once sent a pathetic remonstrance against his wares being reviewed "sometimes unkindly, and always with the novels."

[520] "Tigrane" is a nickname, early accounted for and perhaps suggesting its own explanation.

[521] At the extreme end there is an interesting reminder of that curious moment when it was thought on the cards that Pius IX. might accept an English asylum at Malta, and that, as a part-consequence, not of course Newman but Manning might be his successor. The probable results of this, to "those who knew" at the time, are still matter of interesting, if unpractical, speculation.

[522] He is playing whist comfortably with the cathedral keys in his pocket, and has nearly made a slam (Fr. chelem), while the pelting of the pitiless storm is on the dead bishop's bier and its faithful guardians.

[523] There is something Browningesque about it, a something by no means confined to the use of the history—actually referred to in the text, but likely to be anticipated long before by readers—of Popes Formosus and Stephen. That it did not satisfy Ultramontanes is not surprising; v. inf. on one of the smaller pieces in Norine.

[524] He had actually been intended for the Church.

[525] One thing, for the credit of the Gallican Church, we may trust that he did not do. An Anglican prelate, like this his brother on a Confirmation tour, is alleged to have pointed to a decanter on his host's sideboard and said, "I hope, on my next visit, I shall not see that." I do not know what the rector answered: I do know what I should have said, despite my reverence for the episcopate: "My Lord, you will not have the opportunity."

[526] La Rue du Puits qui Parle and Le Carmel de Vaugirard.

[527] The Societe des Secours Intellectuels.

[528] See on Murger.

[529] Whenever she hears that any of her numerous lovers has fallen ill, she promptly "plants there" the man in possession, and tends and, as far as she can, supports the afflicted.

[530] Vide the frontispiece of Settle's Empress of Morocco.

[531] It would be curmudgeonly to say, "evaded by shortness of space."

[532] They are, however, orthodox after a fashion; and I do not think that M. Fabre, in the books that I have read, ever introduces descendants of the Camisards, though dealing with their country.

[533] M. Fabre is so fond of these interrupted recits that one is sometimes reminded of Jacques le Fataliste and its landlady. But, to do him justice, he "does it more natural."


"Come to thy death, Victor Galbraith."—LONGFELLOW.

[535] See note above on M. Fabre's weakness for this style of narrative.

[536] The next to be mentioned runs him hard perhaps.

[537] Her girls are perhaps as good, but scarcely her men.

[538] This had not been the case—to an extent which I am puzzled to account for—with those of M. Fabre.

[539] Deformem vocant quidam, as in other cases also: but that is because she has eyes and they have none.

[540] For instance, in Highbury or Cranford there might be scandal about a young bachelor's very late visits to a pretty widow. But the adult portion of the population, at any rate, would hardly lay booby-traps to trip him in a river on his return.

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