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

As to Argow le Pirate[159] and Jane la Pale (I have never ceased lamenting that he did not keep the earlier title, Wann-Chlore) and the rest, they have interest of various kinds. Some of it has been glanced at already—you cannot fully appreciate Balzac without them. But there is another kind of interest, perhaps not of very general appeal, but not to be neglected by the historian. They are almost the only accessible body, except Pigault-Lebrun's latest and Paul de Kock's earliest, of the popular fiction before 1830, of the stuff of which, as previously mentioned, Ducray-Duminil, the lesser Ducange, and many others are representatives, but representatives difficult to get at. This class of fiction, which arose in all parts of Europe during the last years of the eighteenth century and the earlier of the nineteenth, has very similar characteristics, though the examples differ very slightly in different countries. What are known with us as the Terror Novel, the Minerva Press, the Silver Fork school, etc. etc., all have their part in it, and even higher influences, such as Scott's, are not wanting. Han d'Islande and Bug-Jargal themselves belong to some extent to the class, and I am far from certain that the former is at all better than some of these juvenilia of Balzac's. But as a whole they are of course little more than curiosities.

Whether these curiosities are more widely known than they were some five-and-twenty, or thirty, years ago, when Mr. Louis Stevenson was the only friend of mine who had read them, and when even special writers on Balzac sometimes unblushingly confessed that they had not, I cannot say. Although printed in the little fifty-five-volume[160] edition which for so many years represented Balzac, they were excluded, as noted above, from the statelier "Definitive," and so may have once more "gone into abscondence." I do not want to read them again, but I no more repent the time once spent on them than I did earlier. In fact I really do not think any one ought to talk about Balzac who has not at least gained some knowledge of them, for many of their defects remained with him when he got rid of the others. These defects are numerous enough and serious enough. The books are nothing if not uncritical, generally extravagant, and sometimes (especially in Jean Louis) appallingly dull. Scarf-pins, made of poisoned fish-bones (Argow le Pirate), extinction of virgins under copper bells (Le Centenaire), attempts at fairy-tales (La Derniere Fee) jostle each other. The weaker historical kind figures largely in L'Excommunie (one of the least bad), L'Israelite, L'Heritiere de Birague, Dom Gigadas. There is a Vicaire des Ardennes (remarkably different from him of Wakefield), which is a kind of introduction to Argow le Pirate, and which, again, is not the worst. When I formerly wrote about these curious productions, after reading them, I had not read Pigault-Lebrun, and therefore did not perceive, what I now see to be an undoubted fact, that Balzac was, sometimes at least, trying to follow in Pigault's popular footsteps. But he had not that writer's varied knowledge of actual life or his power of telling a story, and though he for the most part avoided Pigault's grossierete, the chaotic plots, the slovenly writing, and other defects of his model abode with him.

[Sidenote: Les Chouans.]

There are not many more surprising things, especially in pari materia, to be found in literary history than the sun-burst of Les Chouans after this darkness-that-can-be-felt of the early melodramas. Not that Les Chouans is by any means a perfect novel, or even a great one. Its narrative drags, in some cases, almost intolerably; the grasp of character, though visible, is inchoate; the plot is rather a polyptych of separate scenes than a connected action; you see at once that the author has changed his model to Sir Walter and think how much better Sir Walter would have done the thing. But there is a strange air of "coming alive" in some of the scenes, though they are too much separated, as in the case of the finale and of the execution of the rather hardly used traitor earlier. These possess a character of thrill which may be looked for in vain through all the ten volumes of the Oeuvres de Jeunesse. Montauran is a hero in more than one sense, and Mlle. de Verneuil is still more a heroine. Had Balzac worked her out as he worked out others, who did not deserve it so well, later, she might have been one of the great characters in fiction. Even as it is, the "jour sans lendemain," which in one sense unites, and in another parts, her and her lover for ever, is one of the most really passionate things that the French novel, in its revival, had yet seen. Besides this, there is a sort of extrinsic appeal in the book, giving that curious atmosphere referred to already, and recalling the old prints of the earth yawning in patches and animals rearing themselves from it at the Creation. The names and personages of Hulot and Corentin were to be well known later to readers of the "fifty volumes," and even the ruffianly patriot[161] Marche-a-Terre had his future.

[Sidenote: La Peau de Chagrin.]

The second[162] blast of the horn with which Balzac challenged admission to the Inner Sanctuaries or strongholds of the novel, La Peau de Chagrin, had that character of difference which one notices not seldom in the first worthy works of great men of letters—the absence of the mould and the rut. Les Chouans was a Waverley novel Gallicised and Balzacified; La Peau de Chagrin is a cross between the supernatural romance and the novel of psychology. It is one of the greatest of Balzac's books. The idea of the skin—a new "wishing" talisman, which shrinks with every exercise of the power it gives, and so threatens extinction at once of wishing and living—is of course not wholly novel, though refreshed in detail. But then nothing is wholly novel, and if anything could be it would probably be worthless. The endless changes of the eternal substance make the law, the curse, and the blessing of life. In the working out of his theme it may possibly be objected that Balzac has not interested the reader quite enough in his personages—that he seems in a way to be thinking more of the play than of the actors or the audience. His "orgie" is certainly not much of a success; few orgies in print are, except when they are burlesqued. But, on the other hand, the curiosity-shop is splendid. Yet it is not on the details of the book, important as these have been allowed to be throughout Balzac, that attention should be mainly concentrated. The point of it is the way in which the necessary atmosphere of bad dream is kept up throughout, yet with an appropriate contrast of comparatively ordinary life. A competent critic who read Les Chouans, knowing nothing about its author or his work, should have said, "Here is more than a promising craftsman"; reading La Peau de Chagrin in the same conditions he should have said, "Here is a great, though by no means a faultless, artist." One who read both ought to have had no doubt as to the coming of something and somebody extraordinary.

[Sidenote: The short stories.]

Thenceforward Balzac, though hardly ever faultless except in short stories, was almost always great, and showed what may be called a diffused greatness, to which there are few parallels in the history of the novel. Some of the tales are simply wonderful. I cannot think of any one else, even Merimee, who could have done La Grande Breteche—the story of a lover who, rather than betray his mistress, allows himself to suffer, without a word, the fate of a nun who has broken her vows—as Balzac has done it. La Recherche de l'Absolu is one, and Le Chef-d'oeuvre Inconnu is another, of the greatest known masterpieces in the world of their kind. La Fille aux Yeux d'Or and Une Passion dans le Desert have not the least need of their "indexable" qualities to validate them. In the most opposite styles Jesus Christ en Flandre and La Messe de l'Athee have their warmest admirers. In fact it is scarcely too much to say that, in the whole list of nearer two than one score—as they were published in the old collection from Le Bal de Sceaux to Maitre Cornelius—scarcely any are bad or insignificant, few mediocre, and not a few equal, or hardly inferior, to those specially pointed out just now. As so often happens, the short story estopped Balzac from some of his usual delinquencies—over-detail, lingering treatment, etc.,—and encouraged his virtues—intensity, grandeur, and idiosyncratic tone.

[Sidenote: The Contes Drolatiques.]

Of his one considerable collection of such stories—the Contes Drolatiques—it is not possible to speak quite so favourably as a whole; yet the reduction of favour need not be much. Of its greatest thing, La Succube, there have hardly been two opinions among competent and unprejudiced judges. "Pity and terror" are there well justified of their manipulator. The sham Old French, if not absolutely "according to Cocker" (or such substitute for Cocker as may be made and provided by scholarly authority), is very much more effective than most such things. Not a few of the stories are good and amusing in themselves, though of course the votaries of prunes and prism should keep clear of them. The book has perhaps only one serious fault, that of the inevitable and no doubt invited suggestion of, and comparison with, Rabelais. In some points this will hold not so badly, for Balzac had narrative power of the first order when he gave it scope; the deficiencies of mere style which sometimes affect his modern French do not appear so much in this pastiche, and he could make broad jokes well enough. But—and this "but" is rather a terrible one—the saving and crowning grace of Pantagruelist humour is not in him, except now and then in its grimmer and less catholic variety or manifestation. And this absence haunts one in these Contes Drolatiques, though it is to some extent compensated by the presence of a "sentiment" rare elsewhere in Balzac.

[Sidenote: Notes on select larger books: Eugenie Grandet.]

Turning to the longer books, the old double difficulty of selection and omission comes on one in full force. There are, I suppose, few Balzacians who have not special favourites, but probably Eugenie Grandet, Le Pere Goriot, and the two divisions of Les Parents Pauvres would unite most suffrages. If I myself—who am not exactly a Balzacian, though few can admire him more, and not very many, I think, have had occasion for knowing his work better—put Eugenie Grandet at the head of all the "scenes" of ordinary life, it is most certainly not because of its inoffensiveness. It is perhaps partly because, in spite of that inoffensiveness, it fixes on one a grasp superior to anything of Beyle's and equal to anything of Flaubert's or Maupassant's. But the real cause of admiration is the nature of the grasp itself. Here, and perhaps here only—certainly here in transcendence—Balzac grapples with, and vanquishes, the bare, stern, unadorned, unbaited, ironic facts of life. It is not an intensely interesting book; it is certainly not a delightful one; you do not want to read it very often. Still, when you have read it you have come to one of the ultimate things: the flammantia moenia of the world of fiction forbid any one to go further at this particular point. And when this has been said of a novel, all has been said of the quality of the novelist's genius, though not of its quantity or variety.

[Sidenote: Le Pere Goriot and Les Parents Pauvres.]

The other three books selected have greater "interest" and, in the case of the Parents Pauvres at least, much greater variety; but they do not seem to me to possess equal consummateness. Le Pere Goriot is in its own way as pathetic as Eugenie Grandet, and Balzac has saved its pathos from being as irritating as that of the all but idiotic grandfather in The Old Curiosity Shop. But the situation still has a share of that fatal helpless ineffectiveness which Mr. Arnold so justly denounced. Of the remaining pair, La Cousine Bette is, I suppose, again the favourite; but I am not a backer. I have in other places expressed my opinion that if Valerie Marneffe is part-model[163] of Becky Sharp, which is not, I believe, absolutely certain, the copy far—indeed infinitely—exceeds the original, and not least in the facts that Becky is attractive while Valerie is not, and that there is any amount of possibility in her. I should not wonder if, some day, a novelist took it into his head to show Becky as she would have been if she had had those thousands a year for which, with their accompanying chances of respectability, she so pathetically sighed. Now Valerie is, and always must have been, a catin, and nothing else. Lisbeth, again, though I admit her possibility, is not, to me, made quite probable. Hulot, very possible and probable indeed, does not interest or amuse me, and the angelic Adeline is good but dull. In fact the book, by its very power, throws into disastrous eminence that absence of delightfulness which is Balzac's great want, uncompensated by the presence of the magnificence which is his great resource. La Peau de Chagrin and some of the smaller things have this relief; La Cousine Bette has not. And therefore I think that, on the whole, Le Cousin Pons is the better of the two, though it may seem to some weaker, further "below proof." Everything in it is possible and probable, and though the comedy is rather rueful, it is comedy. It is a play; its companion is rather too much of a sermon.

[Sidenote: Others—the general "scenic" division.]

The "Scenes de la Vie Privee" (to pass to a rapid general survey of the "Acts" of the Comedy) provide an especially large number of short stories, almost the only ones of length being Modeste Mignon and Beatrix, a strongly contrasted couple. Modeste Mignon is perhaps one of the best of Balzac's second best. Beatrix, a book of more power, appeals chiefly to those who may be interested in the fact (which apparently is the fact) that the book contains, almost more than any other, figures taken from real people, such as George Sand—the "Camille" of the novel—and some of those about her. The "Scenes de la Vie de Province" are richer in "magnums." Eugenie Grandet is here, with a sort of companion, cheerfuller generally, in Ursule Mirouet. The shorter stories are grouped under the titles of Les Parisiens en Province (with the first appearance of Gaudissart) and Les Rivalites. Le Lys dans la Vallee (which one is sometimes anxiously begged to distinguish from "the lily of the valley," otherwise muguet) holds, for some, an almost entirely unique place in Balzac's work, or one shared only in part by Memoires de Deux Jeunes Mariees. I have never, I think, cared much for either. But there is more strength in two pairs of volumes which contain some of the author's masterpieces—Les Celibataires with Pierrette, Le Cure de Tours, and the powerful, if not particularly pleasant, Un Menage de Garcon;[164] and Illusions Perdues, running up well with Un Grand Homme de Province a Paris and the semi-idyllic Eve et David.

But I suppose the "Scenes of Parisian Life" seem to be the citadel to most people. Here are three of the four books specially selected above, Le Pere Goriot and both the constituents of Les Parents Pauvres. Here are the Splendeurs et Miseres des Courtisanes, which some rank among the very first; not a few short stories in the volumes taking their titles from La Derniere Incarnation de Vautrin and La Maison Nucingen; with Cesar Birotteau (Balzac on Bankruptcy, as it has been profanely called) and the celebrated Histoire des Treize.

This last, I confess frankly, has always bored me, even though the volume contains La Fille aux Yeux d'Or. The idea of a secret society in Society itself was not new; it was much more worthy of Sue or Soulie than of Balzac, and it does not seem to me to have been interestingly worked out. But perhaps this is due to my perverse and elsewhere confessed objection to crime and conspiracy novels generally.

Neither have I ever cared much for the group of "Scenes de la Vie Politique," ranging from Une Tenebreuse Affaire to Le Depute d'Arcis, the last being not entirely Balzac's own. The single volume, "Scenes de la Vie Militaire," consisting merely of Les Chouans and Une Passion dans le Desert, is much better, and the "Scenes de la Vie de Campagne" reach a high level with Le Medecin de Campagne, Le Cure de Village, and the late, grim, but very noteworthy Les Paysans.

None, however, of these sometimes rather arbitrary groups of Balzac's contains such thoroughly satisfactory matter as that which he chose to call "Etudes Philosophiques." It includes only one full-volume novel, but that is the Peau de Chagrin itself.[165] And here are most of the short stories singled out at first, La Recherche de l'Absolu, Jesus Christ en Flandre, Le Chef-d'oeuvre Inconnu, with Melmoth Reconcilie[166] in the same batch. The two volumes entitled L'Enfant Maudit and Les Marana contain all but a dozen remarkable tales. Here, too, is the curious treatise Sur Catherine de Medicis, with another, to some people among the most interesting of all, the autobiographic Louis Lambert, and also the mystical, and in parts very beautiful, Seraphita.

The "Etudes Analytiques," which complete the original Comedie with the two notorious volumes of Physiologie du Marriage and Petites Miseres de la Vie Conjugale, are not novels or tales, and so do not concern us. They are not the only instance in literature showing that the sarcasm

The God you took from a printed book

extends to other things besides divinity. The old conventional satires on marriage are merely rehashed with some extra garlic. Balzac had no personal experience of the subject till just before his death, and his singular claustral habits of life could not give him much opportunity for observation.

[Sidenote: "Balzacity": its constitution.]

Experience, indeed, and observation (to speak with only apparent paradox), though they played an important, yet played only a subordinate part at any time in the great Balzacian achievement. Victor Hugo, in what was in effect a funeral oration, described that achievement as "un livre qui est l'Observation et qui est l'Imagination." But no one familiar with the Victorian rhetoric will mistake the clou, the dominating and decisive word of that sentence. It is the conjunction. Hugo meant to draw attention to the astonishing union of Imagination with Observation—two things which, except in the highest poetry, are apt to be rather strangers to each other—and by putting Imagination last he meant also doubtless that this was the dominating—the masculine—element in the marriage. In the immense volume of discussion of Balzac which the long lifetime succeeding his death has seen, and which thickened and multiplied towards the close of the last century and a little later—owing to the conclusion of the Edition Definitive with its additions and illustrative matter—this point has perhaps been too frequently lost sight of. The great critics who were his contemporaries and immediate survivors were rather too near. The greatest of the later batch, M. Brunetiere, was a little too eager to use Balzac as a stick to beat the Romantics with for one thing, and to make him out a pioneer of all succeeding French fiction for another. But, quite early, Philarete Chasles hit the white by calling him a voyant (a word slightly varying in signification from our "seer"), and recently a critic of less repute than Brunetiere, but a good one—M. Le Breton—though perhaps sometimes not quite fair to Balzac, recognises his Romanticism, his frenesie, and so the Imagination of which the lunatic and the lover are—and of which the devotee of Romance in verse and prose should be—compact.

Nevertheless it would be of course highly improper, and in fact absurd, to deny the "observation"—at least in detail of all kinds. Although—as we have seen and may see again when we come to Naturalism and look back—M. Brunetiere was quite wrong in thinking that Balzac introduced "interiors" to French, and still more wrong in thinking that he introduced them to European, novel-writing, they undoubtedly make a great show in his work—are, indeed, one of its chief characteristics. He actually overdoes them sometimes; the "dragging" of Les Chouans is at least partly due to this, and he never got complete mastery of his tendency that way. But undoubtedly this tendency was also a source of power.

Yet, while this observation of things is not to be denied, Balzac's observation of persons is a matter much more debatable. To listen to some of the more uncritical—especially among the older and now almost traditional—estimates of him, an unwary reader who did not correct these, judging for himself, might think that Balzac was as much of an "observational" realist in character as Fielding, as Scott when it served his turn, as Miss Austen, or as Thackeray. Longer study and further perspective seem recently to have put more people in the position which only a few held some years ago. The astonishing force, completeness, relative reality of his creations is more and more admitted, but it is seen (M. Le Breton, for instance, admits it in almost the very words) that the reality is often not positive. In fact the Comedie may remind some of the old nautical laudation of a ship which cannot only sail close to the wind, but even a point or two on the other side of it. If even Frenchmen now confess that Balzac's characters are very often not des etres reels, no Englishman need be ashamed of having always thought so.

The fact is that this giant in novel-writing did actually succeed in doing what some of his brethren in Hyperion would have liked to do—in setting up a new world for himself and getting out of the existing universe. His characters are never inhuman; they never fail to be human; they are of the same flesh and blood, the same soul and spirit, as ourselves. But they have, as it were, colonised the fresh planet—the Balzacium Sidus—and taken new colour and form from its idiosyncrasies.[167]

[Sidenote: Its effect on successors.]

It is for this reason that one hesitates to endorse the opinions quoted above as to the filiation of all or most subsequent French fiction upon Balzac. Of course he had a great influence on it; such a genius, in such circumstances, could not but have. The "interior" business was largely followed and elaborated; it might be argued—though the contention would have to be strictly limited and freely provisoed—that Naturalism in general—as the "Rougon-Macquart" scheme certainly was in particular—was a sort of bastard of the Comedie. Other points of relationship might be urged. But all this would leave the most characteristic Balzacities untouched. In the most obvious and superficial quality—pessimistic psychology—the other novelist dealt with in this chapter—Beyle—is far more of a real origin than Balzac is. If one takes the most brilliant of his successors outside the Naturalist school—Flaubert and Feuillet—very little that is really Balzacian will be found in either. At least Madame Bovary and M. de Camors—which, I suppose, most people would choose to represent the greatest genius and the most flexible talent of the Second Empire in novel-writing—seem to me to show hardly anything that is like Balzac. The Goncourts have something of degraded Balzacianism on its lower side in them, and Zola approaches, at least in his "apocalyptic" period, something like a similar though less offensive degradation of the higher. But I can hardly conceive anything less like Balzac's work than Maupassant's.

[Sidenote: And its own character.]

For the fact is that the real Balzac lies—to and for me—almost entirely in that aura of other-worldliness of which I have spoken. It is in the revelation of this other world, so like ours and yet not the same; in the exploration of its continents; in the frequentation of its inhabitants; that the pleasure which he has to give consists. How he came himself to discover it is as undiscoverable as how his in some sort analogue Dickens, after pottering not unpleasantly with Bozeries, "thought of Mr. Pickwick," and so of the rest of his human (and extra-human) comedy. But the facts, in both cases fortunately, remain. And it may be possible to indicate at least some qualities and characteristics of the fashion in which he dealt with this world when he had discovered it. In Les Chouans he had found out not so much it, as the way to it; in the books between that and La Peau de Chagrin he was over the border, and with La Peau itself he had "crossed Jordan,"—it was all conquest and extension—as far as permitted—of territory afterwards.

[Sidenote: The "occult" element.]

There can, I should suppose, be very little doubt that the fancy for the occult, which played a great part, as far as bulk goes, in the Juvenilia, but produced nothing of value there, began to bear fruit at this time. The Supernatural (as was remarked of woman to the indignation of Mr. Snodgrass) is a "rum creetur." It is very difficult to deal with; to the last degree unsatisfactory when of bad quality and badly handled; but possessing almost infinite capabilities of exhibiting excellence, and conveying enjoyment. Of course, during the generation before Balzac's birth and also that between his birth and 1830, the Terror Novel—from the Castle of Otranto to Maturin—had circled through Europe, and "Illuminism" of various kinds had taken particular hold of France just before the Revolution. But Balzac's "Occult," like Balzac's everything, was not the same as anybody else's. Whether you take it in La Peau de Chagrin itself, or in Seraphita, or anywhere, it consists, again, rather in atmosphere than in "figures." A weaker genius would have attached to the skin of that terrible wild ass—gloomier, but more formidable than even the beast in Job[168]—some attendant evil spirit, genie, or "person" of some sort. A bit of shagreen externally, shrinking—with age—perhaps? with weather?—what not?—a life shrinking in mysterious sympathy—that is what was wanted and what you have, without ekings, or explanations, or other trumpery.

[Sidenote: Its action and reaction.]

Nor is it only in the ostensibly "occult" or (as he was pleased to call them) "philosophic" studies and and stories that you get this atmosphere. It spreads practically everywhere—the very bankruptcies and the sordid details of town and country life are overshadowed and in a certain sense dis-realised by it. Indeed that verb which, like most new words, has been condemned by some precisians, but which was much wanted, applies to no prose writer quite so universally as to Balzac. He is a dis-realiser, not by style as some are, but in thought—at the very same time that he gives such impressions of realism. Sometimes, but not often, he comes quite close to real mundane reality, sometimes, as in the most "philosophical" of the so-called philosophical works, he hardly attempts a show of it. But as a rule when he is at his very best, as in La Peau de Chagrin, in La Recherche de l'Absolu, in Le Chef-d'oeuvre Inconnu, he attains a kind of point of unity between disrealising and realising—he disrealises the common and renders the uncommon real in a fashion actually carrying out what he can never have known—the great Coleridgian definition or description of poetry. In fact, if prose-poetry were not a contradiction in terms, Balzac would be, except in style,[169] the greatest prose-poet of them all.

[Sidenote: Peculiarity of the conversation.]

On[170] one remarkable characteristic of the Comedie very little has usually been said. It has been neglected wholly by most critics, though it is of the very first importance. And that is the astonishingly small use, in proportion, which Balzac makes of that great weapon of the novelist, dialogue, and the almost smaller effect which it accordingly has in producing his results (whatever they are) on his readers. With some novelists dialogue is almost all-powerful. Dumas, for instance (as is pointed out elsewhere), does almost everything by it. In his best books especially you may run the eye over dozens, scores, almost hundreds of pages without finding a single one printed "solid." The author seldom makes any reflections at all; and his descriptions, with, of course, some famous exceptions, are little more than longish stage directions. Nor is this by any means merely due to early practice in the drama itself; for something like it is to be found in writers who have had no such practice. In Balzac, after making every allowance for the fact that he often prints his actual conversations without typographical separation of the speeches, the case is just the other way. Moreover, and this is still more noteworthy, it is not by what his characters do say that we remember them. The situation perhaps most of all; the character itself very often; the story sometimes (but of that more presently)—these are the things for and by which we remember Balzac and the vast army of his creations; while sometimes it is not even for any of these things, but for "interiors," "business," and the like. When one thinks of single points in him, it is scarcely ever of such things as the "He has got his discharge, by——!" of Dickens; as the "Adsum" of Thackeray; as the "Trop lourd!" of Porthos' last agony; as the longer but hardly less quintessenced malediction of Habakkuk Mucklewrath on Claverhouse. It is of Eugenie Grandet shrinking in automatic repulsion from the little bench as she reads her cousin's letter; of Henri de Marsay's cigar (his enjoyment of it, that is to say, for his words are quite commonplace) as he leaves "la Fille aux Yeux d'Or"; of the lover allowing himself to be built up in "La Grande Breteche." Observe that there is not the slightest necessity to apportion the excellence implied in these different kinds of reminiscence; as a matter of fact, each way of fastening the interest and the appreciation of the reader is indifferently good.[171] But the distinction remains.

[Sidenote: And of the "story" interest.]

There is another point on which, though no good critic can miss it, some critics seem to dislike dwelling; and this is that, though Balzac's separate situations, as has just been said, are arresting in the highest degree, it is often distinctly difficult to read him "for the story." Even M. Brunetiere lets slip an admission that "interest" of the ordinary kind is not exactly Balzac's forte; while another admirer of his grants freely that his affabulation is weak. Once more, we need not and must not make too much of this; but it is important that it should not be forgotten, and the extreme Balzacian is sometimes apt to forget it. That it comes sometimes from Balzac's mania for rehandling and reshaping—that he has actually, like the hero of what is to some his most unforgettable short story, daubed the masterpiece into a blur—is certain. But it probably comes more often, and is much more interesting as coming, from want of co-ordination between the observing and the imagining faculties which are (as Hugo meant) the yoked coursers of Balzac's car.

The fact is that exceptis excipiendis, of which Eugenie Grandet is the chief solid example, it is not by the ordinary means, or in the ordinary ways, that Balzac makes any considerable part of his appeal. He is very much more der Einzige in novel-writing than Jean Paul was in novel-writing or anything else; for a good deal of Richter's uniqueness depended[172] upon eccentricities of style, etc., from which Balzac is entirely free. And the same may be said, with the proper mutations, of George Meredith. No one ever made less use—despite his "details" and "interiors"—of what may be called intellectual or artistic costume and properties than the author of the Comedie Humaine. The most egotistical of men in certain ways, he never thrusts his ego upon you. The most personal in his letters, he is almost as impersonal in most of his writings (Louis Lambert, etc., being avowedly exceptional) as Shakespeare. Now, though the personal interest may be not illegitimate and sometimes great, the impersonal is certainly greater. Thanks to industrious prying, not always deserving the adjective impertinent, we know a great deal about Balzac; and it is by no means difficult to apply some of the knowledge to aid the study of his creation. But in reading the creation itself you never need this knowledge; it never forces itself on you. The hundreds, and almost thousands, of persons who form the company of the Comedie—their frequently recurring parts adjusted with extraordinary, though by no means obtrusive or offensive, consistency to the enormous world of detail and scenery and general "surroundings" in which their parts are played—are never interfered with by the pointing-stick or the prompter. They are there; they can't help being there, and you have to make the best or the worst of them as you can. Considering the general complexion of this universe, its inevitableness and apparent [Greek: autarkeia] may seem, in some moods and to some persons, a little oppressive; it is always, perhaps, as has been admitted, productive rather of admiration than of pleasure. Faults of various kinds may be found with it. But it is almost always wonderful; it is often great, and it is sometimes of the greatest.[173]


[124] Of course there are exceptions, Le Rouge et le Noir and La Peau de Chagrin being perhaps the chief among long novels; while some of Balzac's short stories possess the quality in almost the highest degree.

[125] He tried several pseudonyms, but settled on this. Unfortunately, he sometimes (not always) made it "De Stendhal," without anything before the "De," and more unfortunately still, in the days of his Napoleonic employment he, if he had not called himself, had allowed himself to be called "M. de Beyle"—an assumption which though dropped, was not forgotten in the days of his later anti-aristocratism.

[126] Beyle himself recognized the necessity of the reader's collaboration.

[127] This does not apply to poets as much as to prose writers: a fact for which reasons could perhaps be given. And it certainly does not apply to Balzac.

[128] He was now forty-four, and had published not a few volumes, mostly small, of other kinds—travel description (which he did uncommonly well), and miscellaneous writing, and criticism, including the famous Racine et Shakespeare, an avant-coureur of Romanticism which contained, besides matter on its title-subjects, some sound estimate of Scott as a writer and some very unsound abuse about him as a man. This last drew from Byron, who had met Beyle earlier at Milan, a letter of expostulation and vindication which did that noble poet infinite credit, but of which Beyle, by no means to his credit, took notice. He was only too like Hazlitt in more ways than one: though few books with practically the same title can be more different than De l'Amour and Liber Amoris.

[129] As for instance, those from Dekker and Massiger; Camoens and Ercilla are allowed their native tongues "neat."

[130] The actual "Chartreuse" of Parma only makes its appearance on the very last page of the book, when the hero, resigning his arch bishopric, retires to it.

[131] He is the younger son of a rich and noble family, but his father disowns and his older brother denounces him quite early. It is characteristic of Beyle that we hear very little of the father and are practically never even introduced to the brother.

[132] These four words somehow make me think of Samuel Newcome's comment on the unfortunate dinner where "Farintosh" did not appear: "Scarcely anything was drank."

[133] See note above.

[134] Both would have declined to meddle with her, I think, but for different reasons.

[135] Beyle, who had himself no good looks, is particularly lavish of them to his heroes.

[136] Perhaps one of the rare biographical details which, as has been explained, may "force the consigne" here, is that Beyle in his youth, and almost up to middle age, was acquainted with an old lady who had the very unenviable reputation of having actually "sat for" Madame de Merteuil.

[137] This bad bloodedness, or [Greek: kakoetheia], of Beyle's heroes is really curious. It would have qualified them later to be Temperance fanatics or Trade Union demagogues. The special difference of all three is an intense dislike of somebody else "having something."

[138] In that merry and wise book Clarissa Furiosa.

[139] She keeps the anniversary of his execution, and imitates Marguerite in procuring and treasuring, at the end of the story, Julien's severed head. (It may be well to note that Dumas had not yet written La Reine Margot.)

[140] In proper duel, of course; not as he shot his mistress.

[141] Its great defect is the utter absence of any poetical element. But, as Merimee (than whom there could hardly be, in this case, a critic more competent or more friendly) said, poetry was, to Beyle, lettre close.

[142] It seems curiously enough, that Beyle did mean to make the book gai. It is a a very odd kind of gaiety!

[143] This attraction of the forcat is one of the most curious features in all French Romanticism. It was perhaps partly one of the general results of the Revolutionary insanity earlier, partly a symptom or sequel of Byronism. But the way it raged not only among folks like Eugene Sue, but among men and women of great talent and sometimes genius—George Sand, Balzac, Dumas, Victor Hugo—the last and greatest carrying it on for nearly two generations—is a real curiousity of literature. (The later and different crime-novel of Gaboriau & Co. will be dealt with in its place.)

[144] V. sup. vol. i. p. 39.

[145] A pseudonymous person has "reconstituted" the story under the title of Lucien Leeuwen (the hero's name). But some not inconsiderable experience of reconstitutions of this kind determined me to waste no further portion of my waning life on any one of them.

[146] It may be desirable to glance at Beyle's avowed or obvious "intentions" in most if not all his novels—in the Chartreuse to differentiate Italian from French character, in Le Rouge et le Noir to embody the Macchiavellian-Napoleonic principle which has been of late so tediously phrased (after the Germans) as "will to" something and the like. These intentions may interest some: for me, I must confess, they definitely get in the way of the interest. For essays, "good": for novels, "no."

[147] Vide Guy Mannering as to the "macers."

[148] Les Chouans.

[149] Forty vols. London: 1895-8.

[150] Quarterly Review for January 1907.

[151] I believe I may say, without fatuity, that the general Introduction and the Quarterly article, above referred to, contain most things that anybody but a special student will need.

[152] It is, however, important to remember that almost the whole of the first of these three decades was taken up with the tentatives, while the concluding lustrum was comparatively infertile. The Comedie was, in the main, the crop of fifteen years only.

[153] It ought always to be, but has not always been, put as a round sum to his credit in this part of the account that he heartily recognised the value of Scott as a novelist. A hasty thinker might be surprised at this; not so the wiser mind.

[154] This remarkable person deserves at least a note here "for one thing that he did"—the novel of Fragoletta (1829), which many should know of—though they may not know it—from Mr. Swinburne's poem, and some perhaps from Balzac's own review. It is one of the followings of La Religieuse, and is a disappointing book, not from being too immoral nor from being not immoral enough, but because it does not "come off." There is a certain promise, suggestion, "atmosphere," but the actual characterisation is vague and obscure, and the story is told with no grasp. This habit of "flashing in the pan" is said to have been characteristic of all Latouche's work, which was fairly voluminous and of many different kinds, from journalism to poetry; and it may have been partly due to, partly the cause of, a cross-grained disposition. He had, however, a high repute for spoken if not written criticism, had a great influence as a trainer or mentor on George Sand, and perhaps not a little on Balzac himself. During the later years of his fairly long life he lived in retirement and produced nothing.

[155] One of the friends who have read my proofs takes a more Alexandrian way with this objection and says "But there are." I do not know that I disagree with him: but as he does not disagree with what follows in itself, both answers shall stand.

[156] Cf. Maupassant's just protest against this, to which we shall come.

[157] An actual reduction of Balzac's books to smaller but still narrative scale is very seldom possible and would be still more rarely satisfactory. The best substitute for it is the already glanced at Repertoire of MM. Christophe and Cerfbeer, a curious but very satisfactory Biographical Dictionary of the Comedy's personae.

[158] "Sans genie je suis flambe," as he wrote early to his sister.

[159] This is about the best of the batch, and I agree with those who think that it would not have disfigured the Comedie. Indeed the exclusion of these juvenilia from the Edition Definitive was a critical blunder. Even if Balzac did once wish it, the "dead hand" is not to be too implicitly given way to, and he was so constantly changing his views that he probably would have altered this also had he lived.

[160] A certain kind of commentator would probably argue from Mr. Browning's well-known words "fifty volumes long" that he had, and another that he had not read the Oeuvres de Jeunesse.

[161] He would not have liked the name "patriot" because of its corruption, but he was one.

[162] Not a few things, some of them very good, came between—the pleasant Maison du Chat-qui-Pelote, several of the wonderful short stories, and the beginning of the Contes Drolatiques. But none of them had the "importance"—in the artistic sense of combined merit and scale—of the Peau.

[163] I mean, of course, as far as books go. We have positive testimony that there was a live Becky, and I would I had known her!

[164] Originally and perhaps preferably called La Rabouilleuse from the early occupation of its heroine, Flore Brazier, one of Balzac's most notable figures.

[165] It is one of the strangest instances of the limitations of some of the best critics that M. Brunetiere declined even to speak of this great book.

[166] The immense influence of Maturin in France, and especially on Balzac, is an old story now, though it was not always so.

[167] It is possible that some readers may miss a more extended survey, or at least sample, of these characters. But the plea made above as to abstract of the stories is valid here. There is simply not room to do justice to say, Lucien de Rubempre, who pervades a whole block of novels and stories, or to others from Rastignac to Corentin.

[168] It has sometimes occurred to me that perhaps the skin was that of Job's onager.

[169] He does try a sort of pseudo-poetical style sometimes; but it is seldom successful, and sometimes mere "fine-writing" of no very fine kind. The close of Peau de Chagrin and Seraphita contain about the best passages.

[170] The two next paragraphs are, by the kind permission of the Editor and Publisher of the Quarterly Review, reprinted, with some slight alterations, from the article above referred to.

[171] I have known this denied by persons of authority, who would exalt the gift of conversation even above the pure narrative faculty. I should admit the latter was commoner, but hardly that it was inferior.

[172] I believe I may speak without rashness thus, for a copy of the sixteen-volume (was it not?) edition was a cherished possession of mine for years, and I even translated a certain amount for my own amusement—especially Die unsichtbare Loge.

[173] I have said nothing here on a point of considerable interest to myself—the question whether Balzac can be said ever (or at least often) to have drawn a gentleman or a lady. It would require too much "justification" by analysis of particular characters. And this would pass into a more general enquiry whether these two species exist in the Balzacium Sidus itself. Which things open long vistas. (V. inf. on Charles de Bernard.)



[Sidenote: George Sand—generalities about her.]

There is a Scotch proverb (not, I think, among those most generally known), "Never tell your foe when your foot sleeps"; and some have held that this applies specially to the revelation, by an author, of his own weak points. I do not agree with them, having always had a fancy for playing and seeing cards on table—except at cards themselves, where a dummy seems to me only to spoil the game. Therefore I admit, in coming to George Sand, that this famous novelist has not, as a novelist, ever been a favourite of mine—that I have generally experienced some, and occasionally great, difficulty in reading her. Even the "purged considerate mind" (without, I venture to hope, much dulling of the literary palate) which I have brought to the last readings necessary for this book, has but partially removed this difficulty. The causes of it, and their soundness or unsoundness as reasons, must be postponed for a little—till, as usual, sufficient survey and analysis of at least specimens (for here as elsewhere the immense bulk of the total work defies anything more than "sampling") have supplied due evidence. But it may be said at once that no kind of prejudice or dislike, arising from the pretty notorious history and character of Amantine (Amandine? Armandine?) Lucile Aurore Dupin or Dudevant, commonly called George Sand, has anything to do with my want of affection or admiration for her work. I do not recommend her conduct in her earlier days for imitation, and I am bound to say that I do not think it was ever excused by what one may call real love. But she seems to have been an extremely good fellow in her age, and not by any means a very bad fellow in her youth. She was at one time pretty, or at least good-looking;[174] she was at all times clever; and if she did not quite deserve that almost superhuman eulogy awarded in the Devonshire epitaph to

Mary Sexton, Who pleased many a man and never vexed one,[175]

she did fulfil the primal duty of her sex, and win its greatest triumph, by complying with the first half of the line, while, if she failed as to the second, it was perhaps not entirely her fault.[176] Finally, Balzac's supposed picture of her as Camille in Beatrix has the almost unique peculiarity, among its author's sketches of women, of being positively attractive—attractive, that is to say, not merely to the critic as a powerful study and work of art; not perhaps at all to the sentimentalist as a victim or an adorable piece of candeur; not to the lover of physical beauty or passion, but to the reader—"sensible" in the old sense as well as in the new—who feels that here is a woman he should like to have known, even if he feels likewise that his weather-eye would have had to be kept open during the knowledge.

[Sidenote: Phases of her work.]

It has been customary—and though these customary things are sometimes delusive and too often mechanical, there is also occasionally, and, I think, here, her work, something not negligible in them, if they be not applied too rigidly—to divide George Sand's long period (nearly half a century) of novel-production into four sub-periods, corresponding roughly with the four whole decades of the thirties, forties, fifties, and sixties.[177] The first, sometimes called, but, I think, misleadingly, "Romantic," is the period of definite and mainly sexual revolt, illustrated by such novels as Indiana, Valentine, Lelia, and Jacques. The second is that of illumine mysticism and semi-political theorising, to which Spiridion, Consuelo, La Comtesse de Rudolstadt, and others belong. The third, one of a certain apaisement, when the author had finally settled at her country-house of Nohant in Berry, turns to studies of rural life: La Petite Fadette, Francois le Champi, La Mare au Diable, etc. The last is represented by novels of no one particular, or at least single, scope or bent, Les Beaux Messieurs de Bois-Dore, Le Marquis de Villemer, Mademoiselle La Quintinie, etc., reaching to Flamarande and its sequel shortly before her death. The thing, as has been hinted already, is one of those first rough sketches of the ground which, if not too closely adhered to, are often useful. As a matter of fact, the divisions often—as one might be sure they would—run cross. There is a lot of occult or semi-occult stuff in Lelia, and the "period of appeasement" did not show much reconciliation and forgiveness of injury in Elle et Lui, whether we take this as by the injured or as by her who had done the wrong. But if we take the two first novels briefly and Lelia itself more fully for Period I.; Consuelo and its sequel (Spiridion has been "done and done thoroughly"[178] by Thackeray in the Paris Sketch-book) for II.; the three above-mentioned berquinades for the Third, with Lucrezia Floriani thrown between as an all-important outsider, and Les Beaux Messieurs de Bois-Dore for IV., giving each some detailed criticism, with a few remarks on others, it ought to suffice as a fairly solid groundwork for a general summing-up.

[Sidenote: Indiana.]

To understand the furore with which Indiana and Valentine were received, one must remember the time and the circumstance with even more care than is usually desirable. They were—if not quite so well written as they seemed even to Thackeray—written very well; they expressed the full outburst of the French Sturm und Drang movement; there was nothing like them either in French or in any other literature, though Bulwer was beginning similar things with us. Essentially, and when taken sub specie aeternitatis, they are very nearly rubbish. The frail (extremely frail) and gentle Indiana, with her terrible husband, whose crimes against her and nature even reach the abominable pitch of declaring himself ready to shoot expected poachers and possible burglars; her creole maid and foster-sister "Noun," who disguises herself in Indiana's garments and occupies her room, receives there a lover who is afterwards her mistress's, but soon commits suicide; the lover himself, a most appalling "tiger," as his own time would have called him; and the enigmatic English cousin, indifferently designated as "Sir Rodolphe Brown," "Sir Ralph," "Sir Brown," and "M. Brown," with whom Indiana makes a third trial of hitherto "incomprised" and unattained happiness—are all inhabitants of a sort of toy doll's-house partaking of the lunatic-asylum. But the author's three prefaces, written at intervals of exactly ten years, passably inconsistent in detail, but all agreeing in contempt of critics and lofty anarchist sentiment, are great fun, and are almost a reward for reading the book.

[Sidenote: Valentine.]

Valentine has more of the really admirable description of her beloved Berry with which the author so often honeys her drugs; but the novel-part of it is largely composed of the same sort of violent bosh which almost monopolises Indiana. In fact, the peasant-bourgeois hero Benedict, whom every woman loves; who is a conceited and ill-mannered mixture of clown and prig; who is angry with his mistress Valentine (Madame de Lansac) for "not knowing how to prefer him to her honour," though one would have said she had given ample proofs of this preference; and who finally appeases the reader by tumbling on the points of a pitchfork placed in his way by an (as it happens) unduly jealous husband, is a more offensive creature than any one in the earlier book.[179] One is, on the other hand, a little sorry for Valentine, while one is sorry for nobody in Indiana except perhaps for the husband, who has the sense to die early.

[Sidenote: Lelia.]

Lelia, some years younger than these and later than the Musset tragedy, is a good deal better, or at least less childish. It is beyond all question an extraordinary book, though it may be well to keep the hyphen in the adjective to prevent confusion of sense. It opens, and to a large extent continues, with a twist of the old epistolary style which, if nothing else, is ingeniously novel. George Sand was in truth a "well of ingenuity" as D'Artagnan was a puits de sagesse, and this accounts, to some extent, for her popularity. You have not only no dates and no places, but no indication who writes the letters or to whom they are written, though, unless you are very stupid, you soon find out. The personae are Lelia—a femme incomprise, if not incomprehensible; Stenio, a young poet, who is, in the profoundest and saddest sense of the adverb, hopelessly in love with her; and a mysterious personage—a sort of Solomon-Socrates-Senancour—who bears the Ossianesque name of Trenmor, with a later and less provincially poetical alias of "Valmarina."[180] The history of the preuves of Trenmor's novel-nobility are soon laid before the reader. They are not, in their earlier stages, engaging to the old-fashioned believer in "good form."

Trenmor is the sort of exaggeration of Childe Harold which a lively but rather vulgar mind might conceive. "He was born great; but they developed the animal in him." The greatness postponed its appearance, but the animality did credit to the development. "He used to love to beat his dogs; before long he beat his prostitutes." This harmless diversion accentuated itself in details, for which, till the acme, the reader must be referred to the original. The climacteric moment came. He had a mistress called "La Mantovana," whom he rather preferred to the others, because she was beautiful and impudent. "In a night of noise and wine" he struck her, and she drew a dagger. This made him love her for a moment; but unfortunately she made an improper observation; thereupon he tore off her pearl necklace and trod it under his feet. She wept. This annoyed Trenmor very much. "She had wished revenge for a personal insult, and she cried for a toy!" Accordingly he had a "crispation of nerves," which obliged him to take a large cut-glass decanter and hit her on the head with it. According to the natural perversity on such occasions of such persons, she died. The brutal justice of mankind—so hateful to Godwin and George Sand and Victor Hugo—sent Trenmor, not, indeed, to the gallows, as it should have done, but to the galleys. Yet the incident made Lelia, who (she must have had a sweet set of friends) somehow knew him, very fond of Trenmor, though she certainly told him that he might as well repent of what he had done, which seems inconsistent.

They let him out after five years (why, Heaven or the other place knows!) and he became a reformed character—the Solomon-Socrates-Senancour above mentioned plus a sort of lay "director" to Lelia, with a carbonaro attitude of political revolutionary and free-thinking illumine. Now corruptio pessimi is seldom optima.

The main interest, however, shifts (with apparitions of Trenmor-Valmarina) to the loves (if they may be called so) of the pitiable Stenio and the intolerable heroine. She is unable to love anybody, and knows it; she can talk—ye Demons, how she can talk!—but she can never behave like a woman of this world. She alternately hugs Stenio, so that she nearly squeezes his breath out, and, when he draws natural conclusions from this process, pushes him away. But worse and more preposterous things happen. Lelia has a sister, Pulcherie, who is very like her (they are of course both impossibly beautiful) in body, and so far resembles her in mind and soul as to be unable to behave decently or sensibly. But her want of decency and sense takes the more commonplace line of becoming an actual courtesan of the "Imperia" kind in Italy. By a series of muddles for which Lelia is—as her plain-spoken sister points out after the catastrophe—herself really responsible, Stenio is induced, during the excitement of an al fresco fete at night in the grounds of a sort of fairy palace, to take the "coming" sister for the recalcitrant one, and avail himself of her complaisance, usque ad finem. Lelia reproaches him (which she has not the least right to do), and he devotes himself entirely to Pulcherie (La Zinzolina is her professional name) and her group of noble paramours. He gets, however, generally drunk and behaves with a brutal rudeness, which would, in the Italy of tradition, have finished things up very soon by a stiletto thrust, and in honest England by a kicking into the street. There are mysterious plots, cardinals, and anything else you like or don't like. Lelia becomes an abbess, Stenio a suicide, the above-mentioned priest, Magnus, being much concerned in this. She admits her unfortunate lover to burial, and is degraded and imprisoned for it—or for having saved Trenmor-Valmarina from the law. Everybody else now dies, and the nightmare comes to an end.

[Sidenote: The moral of the group and its tragi-comedy.]

The beauties of style which softened the savage breast of Thackeray himself in the notice above mentioned, and which, such as they are, appear even in George Sand's earliest work, will receive attention when that work comes to be discussed as a whole. Meanwhile, at the risk of any charge of Philistinism, I confess that this part of it seems to me, after fifty years and more of "corrected impression," almost worthless au fond. It is, being in prose, and therefore destitute of the easements or at least masquerades which poetry provides for nonsense, the most conspicuous and considerable example—despite the undoubted talent of the writer—of the mischief which Byronism did on the Continent. With us, though it made a great stir, it really did little harm except to some "silly women" (as the apostle, in unkindly and uncourtly, but truly apostolic fashion, had called similar persons of the angelic sex ages before). Counter-jumpers like Thackeray's own Pogson worshipped "the noble poet"; boys of nobler stamp like Tennyson thought they worshipped him, but if they were going to become men of affairs forgot all about him; if they were to be poets took to Keats and Shelley as models, not to him. Critics hardly took him seriously, except for non-literary reasons. There was, as I think somebody (perhaps Thackeray himself) says upon something, "too much roast beef about" for us to fill our bellies with this worse than east wind of Sensibility gone rotten. But abroad, for reasons which would be easy but irrelevant to dwell upon, Byron hit the many-winged bird of popular favour on nearly all its pinions. He ran strikingly and delightfully contrary to the accepted Anglais, whether of the philosophical or the caricature type; he was noble, but revolutionary; he looked (he never was, except in non-essentials) Romantic; he was new, naughty, nice, all at once. And they went mad over him, and to a large extent and for a long time remained so; indeed, Continental criticism, whether Latin, Teutonic, Scandinavian, or Slav, has never reached "the centre" about Byron. Now George Sand was at no time exactly a silly woman, but she was for a long time a woman off her balance. Byronism was exactly the -ism with which she could execute the wildest feats of half-voluntary and half-involuntary acrobatics, saltimbanquery, and chucking of her bonnet over all conceivable and inconceivable mills. Childe Harold, Manfred, Conrad, Lara, Don Juan, Sardanapalus—the shades of these caught her and waltzed with her and reversed and figured and gesticulated,

With their Sentimentalibus lacrimae rorum, and pathos and bathos delightful to see,

—or perhaps not so very delightful?

But let us pass to the next stage.

[Sidenote: Consuelo.]

Those persons (I think, without tempting Nemesis too much, I might say those fortunate persons) to whom the world of books is almost as real as the other two worlds of life and of dream, may or must have observed that the conditions and sensations of the individual in all three are very much the same. In particular, the change from a state of discomfort to one of comfort—or vice versa unluckily, but with that we have nothing immediately to do—applies to all. In actual life you are hot, tired, bored, headachy, "spited with fools," what not. A change of atmosphere, a bath, a draught of some not unfermented liquor, the sight of a face, what not again, nay, sometimes a mere shift of clothing, will make you cool, satisfied, at peace. In dreams you have generally to wake, to shake off the "fierce vexation," and to realise that it is a dream; but the relief comes sooner or later. If anybody wants to experience this change from discomfort to comfort in the book-world of a single author, I cannot commend anything better than the perusal, with a short interval—but there should be some—of Consuelo after Lelia. We may have some things to say against the later novel; but that does not matter.

[Sidenote: Much better in parts.]

It opens with no tricks or tours de force; in no atmosphere of darkened footlights and smell of sawdust; but in frank and free novel-fashion, with a Venetian church, a famous maestro (Porpora), a choir of mostly Italian girls, and the little Spanish gipsy Consuelo, the poorest, humblest, plainest (as most people think) of all the bevy, but the possessor of the rarest vocal faculties and the most happiness-producing-and-diffusing temper. There is nothing in the least milk-soppy or prudish about Consuelo, though she is perfectly "pure"; nor is there anything tractified about her, though she is pious and generous. The contrast between her and her betrothed, the handsome but worthless Anzoleto, also a singer, is, at first, not overworked; and one scene—that in which, when Consuelo has got over the "scraggy" age and is developing actual beauty, she and Anzoleto debate, in the most natural manner, whether she is pretty or not—is quite capital, one of the things that stick in one's memory and stamp the writer's genius, or, at any rate, consummate talent.

[Sidenote: The degeneration.]

This happy state of affairs continues without much deterioration, though perhaps with some warnings to the experienced, for some two hundred pages. The situations and the other characters—the Professor Porpora himself; Count Zustiniani, dilettante, impresario and of course gallant; his prima donna and (in the story at least) first mistress, La Corilla; her extravagances and seduction of the handsome Anzoleto; his irresolution between his still existing affection for Consuelo, who passes through all these things (and Zustiniani's siege of her) "in maiden meditation, fancy-free"—all discharge themselves or play their parts quite as they ought to do. But this comparatively quiet, though by no means emotionless or unincidented, part of the story "ends in a blow-up," or rather in a sink-down, for Anzoleto, on a stolen gondola trip with Clorinda, third cantatrice and interim mistress of Zustiniani (beautiful, but stupid, and a bad singer), meets the Count in another gondola with Corilla herself, and in his fury rams his rival and the perfidious one. Consuelo, who has at last had her eyes opened, quits Venice and flees, with a testimonial from Porpora, to Germany. Even then one hopes for the best, and acknowledges that at any rate something not far from the best, something really good, has been given one for two hundred well-filled pages—more than the equivalent of the first deck of one of our old average "three-deckers."

But in the mind of experience such hopes are always accompanied by fears, and alas! in this instance "the fears have it." There is on the border of Bohemia a "Castle of the Giants"; and oh! how one wishes that my Uncle Toby had allowed the sea to execute the ravages he deprecated and sweep that castle into nothingness! When we get there Byronism is back—nay, its papa and mamma, Lewisism and Radcliffism, are back also—with their cardboard turrets and precipices and grottos; their pine-woods reminding one of the little bristly green things, on round cinnamon-coloured bases, of one's youth; their floods and falls so obviously supplied at so much a thousand gallons by the nearest water company, and their mystery-men and dwarfs and catalepsies and all the rest of the weary old "tremblement." Count Christian of Rudolstadt is indeed a gentleman and an almost too affectionate father; his brother, Baron Frederick, a not disagreeable sportsman and bon vivant; their sister, the Canoness, a not too theatrical old maid; and Frederick's daughter, Amelie, though pert and not too good-natured, the most human creature of them all, albeit with the humanities of a soubrette rather than of a great lady. But what shall one say of Albert of Rudolstadt, the heir, the betrothed of Amelie (this fact excusing much in her), and, when Consuelo has joined the circle at Porpora's recommendation as music-mistress and companion in the higher kind to Amelie—her slave, conqueror, tormentor, and in the long-run husband? He is perhaps the most intolerable hero[181] ever designed as a gentleman by a novelist who has been classed as great, and who certainly has some qualities necessary to greatness. In reading about him vague compunctions even come over the mind at having spoken harshly of Stenio and Trenmor. Stenio was always a fool and latterly a cad; Trenmor first a brute and then a bore. Albert is none of these (except perhaps the last), but he is madder than the Mad Hatter and the March Hare put together, and as depressing as they are delightful. He has hallucinations which obliterate the sense of time in him; he thinks himself one of his ancestors of the days of Ziska; he has second sight; he speaks Spanish to Consuelo and calls her by her name when he first sees her, though he has not the faintest sane idea who she is or whence she comes; and he reduces his family to abject misery by ensconcing himself for days in a grotto which can be isolated by means of a torrent turned on and off at pleasure by a dwarf gipsy called Zdenko, who is almost a greater nuisance than Albert himself. Consuelo discovers his retreat at the risk of being drowned; and various nightmarish scenes occur, resulting in the slight return to sanity on Albert's part involved in falling in love with her, and a very considerable advance towards insanity on hers by falling in love with him. But perhaps this give-and-take of lovers may seem attractive to some. And when after a time we get into mere hocus-pocus, and it seems to Consuelo that Albert's violin "speaks and utters words as through the mouth of Satan," the same persons may think it fine. For myself, I believe that without fatuity I may claim to be, if not a visionnaire (perhaps that also), at least a lover of visions, and of Isaiah and Ezekiel and the Revelation. Dante, Blake, Shelley, the best of Lamennais and the best of Hugo excite in me nothing but a passionate reverence. I can walk day-long and night-long by Ulai and Chebar and Lethe-Eunoe and have no thought of sneer or slumber, shrug or satiety. But when you ask me to be agitated at Count Albert of Rudolstadt's violin ventriloquising Satan I really must decline. I do even remember the poor creature Paul de Kock, and would fain turn to one of the things he was writing at this very time.

[Sidenote: Recovery; but not maintained quite to the end.]

Consuelo is a very long book—it fills three of the tightly printed volumes of the old Michel-Calmann-Levy collection, with some three or four hundred pages in each; and we have not got, in the above survey, to more than the middle of the second. But in its afternoon and evening there is some light. The creature Anzoleto recurs; but his immediate effect is good,[182] for it starts the heroine on a fresh elopement of an innocent kind, and we get back to reality. The better side of George Sand's Bohemianism revives in Bohemia itself; and she takes Consuelo to the road, where she adopts male dress (a fancy with her creatress likewise), and falls in with no less a person than the composer Haydn in his youth. They meet some Prussian crimps, and escape them by help of a coxcombical but not wholly objectionable Austrian Count Hoditz and the better (Prussian) Trenck. They get to Vienna (meeting La Corilla in an odd but not badly managed maternity-scene half-way) and rejoin old Porpora there. There are interviews with Kaunitz and Maria Theresa:[183] and a recrudescence of the Venetian musical jealousies. Consuelo endeavours to reopen communications with the Rudolstadts, but Porpora—chiefly out of his desire to retain her on the stage, but partly also from an honest and not wholly unsound belief that a union between a gipsy girl and a German noble would itself be madness—plays false with the letters. She accepts a professional invitation from Hoditz to his castle in Moravia, meets there no less a person than Frederic the Second incognito, and by his order (after she has saved his life from the vengeance of the re-crimped deserter rescued with her by Hoditz and Trenck) is invited to sing at Berlin. The carrying out of the invitation, which has its Fredericianities[184] (as one may perhaps be allowed to call them), is, however, interrupted. The mysterious Albert, who has mysteriously turned up in time to prevent an attempt of the other and worse (Austrian) Trenck on Consuelo, is taken with an apparently mortal illness at home, and Consuelo is implored to return there. She does so, and a marriage in articulo mortis follows, the supposed dead Zdenko (whom we did not at all want) turning up alive after his master's death. Consuelo, fully if not cheerfully adopted by the family, is offered all the heirloom jewels and promised succession to the estates. She refuses, and the book ends—with fair warning that it is no ending.

[Sidenote: La Comtesse de Rudolstadt.]

When her history begins again under the title she has "reneged," the reader may for no short time think that the curse of the sequel—a curse only too common, but not universal—is going to be averted. She is in Berlin alone (see note above); is successful, but not at all happy—perhaps least of all happy because the king, partly out of gratitude for his safety, partly out of something like a more natural kind of affection than most authors have credited him with, pays her marked attentions. For a time things are not unlively; and even the very dangerous experiment of a supper—one of those at which Frederic's guests were supposed to have perfectly "free elbows" and availed themselves of the supposition at their peril—a supper with Voltaire, La Mettrie, Algarotti, D'Argens, Poellnitz, and "Quintus Icilius" present—comes off not so badly. One of the reasons of this is that George Sand has the sense to make Voltaire ill and silent, and puts the bulk of the "business" on La Mettrie—a person much cleverer than most people who have only read book-notices of him may think, but not dangerously brilliant. Then Consuelo, or "La Porporina," as her stage name is, gets mixed up—owing to no fault of her own in the first place at any rate—with the intrigues of the Princess Amelie of Prussia and her lover, the less bad Trenck. This has two awkward results—for herself an imprisonment at Spandau, into which she is cast by Frederic's half jealous, half purely tyrannical wrath, and for us a revival of all the massacrant illuminism in which the Princess herself is dabbling. So we have on the scene not only (as the reader sees at once, though some rather clumsy efforts are made to hide it) the resuscitated Albert, who passes as a certain Trismegistus, not only the historical charlatan Saint-Germain, but another charlatan at this time not at all historical (seeing that the whole story ends in 1760, and he never left Palermo till nine years later), Cagliostro. Even at Spandau Consuelo herself is not quite uninteresting; but the Illuminati determine to rescue her, and for the latter part of the first volume and the whole of the second the entire thing is, once more, Bosh. The most absurd "double-gangings" take place between an inconnu named Liverani, whom Consuelo cannot help loving, and Albert himself, who is Liverani, as everybody but herself sees at once, interspersed between endless tracts of the usual rubbish about underground tribunals, and judges in red cloaks, and skeletons, and museums of torture-implements, and all the Weishauptian trumpery of mixed occultism and revolutionary sentiment. The author has even the insufferable audacity to fling at us another resuscitation—that of the Countess Wanda, Albert's mother, who appears to have transmitted to him her abominable habit of catalepsy. So ends, unsatisfactorily enough—unless anybody is satisfied by the fact that two solid children result from the still mystifying married life of the pair—the story which had begun so well in the first volume of Consuelo, and which in the major part of Consuelo itself, though not throughout, maintains the satisfaction fairly.

[Sidenote: The "making good" of Lucrezia Floriani.]

If any reader, in two ways gentle, has been good enough to take some interest in the analysis of these books, but is also so soft-hearted as to feel slightly froisse by it, as showing a disqualifying inability to sympathise with the author, I hope I may put myself right by what I am going to say of another. Lucrezia Floriani is to me the most remarkable book that George Sand ever wrote; and the nearest to a great one, if it be not actually that. I have read it, with no diminution of interest and no abatement of esteem, at very different times of my life, and I think that it is on the whole not only the most perfect revelation of what at any rate the author would have liked to be her own temperament, but—a much greater thing—a presentment in possible and human form of a real temperament, and almost of a real character. Further, it is much the most achieved example of that peculiar style of which more will be said in a general way presently, and it contains comparatively few blots. One always smiles, of course, at the picture of Lucrezia swinging in a hammock in the centre of a large room, the four corners of which are occupied by four bedsteads containing four children, in the production of whom not exactly four fathers, as they ought for perfect symmetry, but as a compromise three, have assisted. One always shudders at her notion of restoring a patient, suffering under a nervous ailment, by surrounding his couch with the cherubic countenances and the balmy breaths of these infants.[185] Prince Karol, the hero (such as there is), is a poor creature, though not such a cad as Stenio; but then, according to Madame Dudevant, men as a rule were poor creatures, unless they were convicts or conjurors, so the presentation is ex hypothesi or secundum hypothesin correct. And the whole is firmly drawn and well, but neither gaudily nor pitchily, coloured. It ought to be remembered that, with the possible exception of Jane Austen, who has no peer or second among lady novelists, these either confine themselves to representation of manners, external character, ton, as was said of Fanny Burney, or else, like the other "George" and Charlotte Bronte, endeavour to represent themselves as they are or as they would like to be on the canvas. They never create; if they "imitate" not in the degraded modern but the original classical sense, and do it well, punctum feruntsuum if not omne.

[Sidenote: The story.]

Lucrezia Floriani does this higher imitation well—almost, if not quite, greatly. Had George Sand been more of a blue-stocking and of an affected creature than she was, she might have called the book Anteros-Nemesis. The heroine, by her real name Antonietta Menapace, is the daughter of a fisherman on the Lago d'Iseo, and in her earliest girlhood the servant-maid of a rich neighbour's wife. As her father, a close-fisted peasant, wants her to marry a well-to-do churl of her own rank, she elopes with her employer's son and has two children by him; but develops a magnificent voice, with no small acting and managing capacity. So she makes a fortune by the time she is thirty, acquiring the two other children by two other lovers, and having so many more who do not leave permanent memorials of their love and necessitate polygonal rooms, that, as she observes, "she cannot count them."[186] At the above-mentioned age, however, she becomes weary of this sort of life, retires to her native district, buys the very house in which she had been a servant, and with the heir of which (now dead) she had eloped, and settles down to be a model mother, a Lady Bountiful, and a sort of recluse. No more "love" for her. In fact, in one of the most remarkable passages of the book she gives a story of her chief attachments, showing that, with brief accesses of physical excitement, it has always been amour de tete and never amour de coeur.

Things being so, there arrive one evening, at the only inn on the lake, a young German Prince, Karol von Roswald, and his friend the Italian Count Salvator Albani. They are travelling for the Prince's health, he being a sort of spoilt child, pitiably nervous, imperfectly educated, and half paralysed by the recent death of his mother and the earlier one of a fiancee. The inn is good to eat in (or rather out of), but for nothing else; and Salvator, hearing of Lucrezia, whose friend, though not her lover, he has formerly been, determines to ask a hospitality which she very cheerfully gives them. Cetera quis nescit, as George Sand herself in other but often-repeated words admits.[187] Karol falls in love at first sight, though he is horrified at his hostess's past. He also falls ill, and she nurses him. Salvator leaves them for a time, and though Lucrezia plays quite the reverse of the part of temptress, the inevitable does not fail to happen.

That they were not married and that they did not live happy ever after, everybody will of course be certain, though it is not Karol's fault that actual marriage does not take place. There is, however, an almost literal, if unsanctified and irregular honeymoon; but long before Salvator's[188] return, it has "reddened" more than ominously. Karol is insanely jealous, and it may be admitted that a more manly and less childishly selfish creature might be somewhat upset by the arrival of Lucrezia's last lover, the father of her youngest child, though it is quite evident that she has not a spark of love for this one left. But he is also jealous of Salvator; of an old artist named Beccaferri whom she assists; of a bagman who calls to sell to her eldest boy a gun; of the aged peasant whom she had refused to marry, but whose death-bed she visits; of the cure; of everybody. And his jealousy takes the form not merely of rage, which is bad enough for Lucrezia's desire of peace, but of cold insult, which revolts her never extinguished independence and pride. He has, as noted, begged her to marry him in the time of intoxication, but she has refused, and persists in the refusal. After one or two "scenes" she rows herself over to an olive wood on the other side of the lake, and makes it a kind of "place of sacrifice"—of the sacrifice, that is to say, of all hopes of happiness with him or any one thenceforward. But she neither dismisses nor leaves him; on the contrary, they live together, unmarried, but with no public scandal, for ten years, his own passion for her in its peculiar kind never ceasing, while hers gradually dies under the stress of the various torments he inflicts, unintentionally if not quite unconsciously, upon her. At last it is too much, and she dies of heart-failure at forty years of age.

[Sidenote: Its balance of power.]

One might make a few cavils at this. The exact reason of what has been called the "sacrifice" is not made clear, despite Lucrezia's soliloquy in the olive wood. If it were meant as an atonement for her ill-spent youth it would be intelligible. But there is no sign of this, and it would not be in George Sand's way. Lucrezia merely resolves that she will try to make everybody happy without trying or expecting to be happy herself. But she must know more and more that she is not making Karol happy, and that the cohabitation cannot, even in Italy, but be prejudicial to her children; though, to do him the very scanty justice he deserves, he does not behave ill to them, little as he likes them.

Again, this long self-martyrdom would need no explanation if she continued to love Karol. But it is very doubtful whether she had not ceased to do so (she was admittedly good at "ceasing to love") when she left the Wood of Olives, and the cessation admittedly took place long before the ten years' torture came to an end. One is therefore, from more than one point of view, left with a sort of Fakir self-mortification, undertaken and "dreed" neither to atone for anything, nor to propitiate any Power, nor really to benefit any man. After all, however, such a thing is quite humanly possible. And these aporiae hardly touch knots—only very small spots—in a reed of admirable strength and beauty. We know that George Sand did not sacrifice herself for her lovers—very much the reverse. But we know also that in her youth and early middle age she was very much of a Lucrezia Floriani, something of a genius, if not so great a one as she made her creature, something of a beauty, entirely negligent of ordinary sexual morality, but thoroughly, if somewhat heartlessly, good-natured, and (not merely at the times mentioned, but to the end of her life) an affectionate mother, a delightful hostess, and a very satisfactory friend. No imaginary Stenio or Karol, no actual Sandeau or Musset or Chopin could have caused her at any time of her life the misery which the Prince caused Lucrezia, because she would simply have "sent him walking," as the vigorous French idiom has it. But it pleased her to graft upon her actual nature something else that it lacked, and a life-like and tragical story resulted.

It is not a bad "turn over of the leaf" from this, the strongest, and in the best sense most faultless, of George Sand's novels of analysis, to the "idyllic" group of her later middle and later period—the "prettiest" division, and in another grade of faultlessness the most free from faults, in ordinary estimation, of her entire production.

[Sidenote: The "Idylls"—La Petite Fadette.]

The most popular of these, the prettiest again, the most of a bergerie-berquinade-conte-de-fees, is no doubt La Petite Fadette, the history of two twin-boys and a little girl—this last, of course, the heroine. The boys are devoted to each other and as like as two peas in person, but very different in character, one being manly, and the other, if not exactly effeminate, something like it. As for Fadette, she, though never exactly like the other girl of the saying "horrid," but only (and with very considerable excuses) naughty and untidy and rude, becomes "so very, very good when she is good" as to awake slight recalcitrances in those who have acquired the questionable knowledge of good and evil in actual life. But one does not want to cavil. It is a pretty book, and when the not exactly wicked but somewhat ill-famed grandmother's stocking yields several thousand francs and facilitates the marriage of Landry, the manly brother, and Fadette, one can be very cheerfully cheerful, and anticipate a real ever-after happiness for both. No doubt, too, the army did knock the girlishness out of the other brother, Sylvinet, and we hope that one of the village gossips was wrong when she said that he would never love any girl but one. For it is hardly necessary to say that his agreement with his twin extends to love for Fadette—love which is quite honourable, and quite kindly extinguished by that agreeable materialisation of one of Titania's lower-class maids-of-honour.

Only one slight piece of malice (in the mitigated French sense) may be permitted. We are told that Sylvinet, after the marriage, served for ten years "in the Emperor Napoleon's glorious campaigns." This will hardly admit of a later date for that marriage itself than the breach of the Peace of Amiens. And this, even if Landry was no more than eighteen or nineteen at that time (he could hardly be less), will throw the date of his and his brother's birth well before the Revolution. Now, to insist on chronological exactitude and draw inferences from its absence is—one admits most cheerfully, and more than admits—a mere curmudgeonly pedantry in most cases of great or good fiction, prose or verse. One knows what to think of people who make crimes of these things in Shakespeare or Scott, in Dumas or Thackeray. But when a writer makes a great point of Purpose and sets a high value on Questions, it is not unfair to expect him or her to mind their P's and Q's in other matters. George Sand is never tired, in other books, of insisting on the blessedness of the Revolution itself, on the immense and glorious emancipation from feudal tyranny, etc. But how does it come about that there is not the very slightest sign of that tyranny in the earlier part of the story, or of any general disturbance in the middle and later part? Glissons; n'appuyons pas on this point, but it may be permitted to put it.

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