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

Before giving any general comment on this mass of fiction, it will probably be best to continue the process of brief survey, with the two remaining groups. It is, I believe, generally admitted that in "Les Trois Villes" purpose, and the document, got altogether the better of any true novel-intention. The anti-religiosity which has been already remarked upon seems not only to have increased, but for the moment to have simply flooded our author's ship of thought and art, and to have stopped the working of that part of its engine-room which did the novel-business. The miracles at, and the pilgrimages to, Lourdes filled the newspapers at one time, and Zola could think of nothing else; the transition to Rome was almost inevitable in any such case; and the return upon Paris quite inevitable in a Frenchman.

[Sidenote: "Les Quatre Evangiles."]

With the final and incomplete series—coinciding in its latter part with the novelist's passionate interference, at no small inconvenience to himself, in that inconceivable modern replica of the Hermocopidae business, the Dreyfus case, and cut short by his unfortunate death—things are different. I have known people far less "prejudiced," as the word goes, against the ideas of these books than I am myself, who plumply declare that they cannot read Fecondite, Travail, or (most especially) Verite: while of course there are others who declare them to be not "Gospels" at all, but what Mr. Carlyle used to call "Ba'spels"—not Evangels but Cacodaemonics. I read every word of them carefully some years since, and I should not mind reading Fecondite or Travail again, though I have no special desire to do so.[476]

Both are "novels of purpose," with the purpose developing into mania. Fecondite is only in part—and in that part mainly as regards France—revolutionary. It is a passionate gospel of "Cultivate both gardens! Produce every ounce of food that can be raised to eat, and every child that can be got to eat it:" an anti-Malthusian and Cobbettist Apocalypse, smeared with Zolaesque grime and lighted up with flashes, or rather flares, of more than Zolaesque brilliancy. The scene where the hero (so far as there is one) looks back on Paris at night, and his tottering virtue sees in it one enormous theatre of Lubricity, has something of Flaubert and something of Hugo.

Travail is revolutionary or nothing, revolutionary "in the most approved style," as a certain apologist of robbery and murder put it not long ago as to Bolshevism, amid the "laughter and cheers" of English aspirants thereto. It takes for scene a quite openly borrowed representation of the famous forges of Creusot, and attacks Capital, the bourgeois, and everything established, quite in the purest Bolshevist fashion. Both books, and Verite, display throughout a singular delusion, aggravating the anti-theism rather than atheism above mentioned, my own formulation of which, in another book some decade ago, I may as well, in a note,[477] borrow, instead of merely paraphrasing it. The milder idiosyncrasy referred to therein will certainly not adjust itself, whatever it might do to the not ungenial ideals of Fecondite, to those of Travail. This ends in a sort of Paradise of Man, where electricity takes every kind of labour (except that of cultivating the gardens?) off men's hands, and the Coquecigrues have come again, and the pigs run about ready roasted, and a millennium or milliardennium of Cocaigne begins. Yet there are fine passages in Travail, and the author reflects, powerfully enough, the grime and glare and scorch of the furnaces; the thirst and lust and struggles of their slaves; the baser side of the life of their owners and officials—and of the wives of these. There is nothing in the book quite equal to the Vision of the City of Lubricity in Fecondite, but there are one or two things not much below it. And the whole is once more Blake-like, with a degraded or defiled Blakishness. In fact, Fecondite and Travail, illustrated in the spirit of the Prophetic Books, are quite imaginable possessions; and, though a nervous person might not like to go to sleep in the same room with them, not uncovetable ones.[478]

The everlasting irony of things has seldom, in literature (though, as we have seen, it reigns there if anywhere), secured for itself a more striking opportunity of exemplification than this ending, in a pseudo-apocalyptic paroxysm, of the Roman Experimental; perhaps one may add that never has Romanticism, or indeed any school of letters, scored such a triumphant victory over its decriers. It has been contended here, and for many years in other places by the present writer, that Naturalism was itself only a "lesion," a sarcoma, a morbidly allotropic form of Romance. At this point the degeneration turned into a sort of parody of the attitude of Ezekiel or Hosea; the business-like observer, in counting-house and workshop, in church and stock-exchange, in tavern and brothel, in field and town generally, became himself a voyant, beholding all things in nightmare. Yet, in doing so, he effected a strange semi-reconciliation with some who had been, if not exactly his enemies, the exceedingly frank critics and unsparing denouncers of his system. Not much more than half sane, and almost more than half disgusting, as are Fecondite and Travail, they connect themselves, as wholes, not with L'Assommoir or Nana, not with La Terre or Germinal, but with La Faute de l'Abbe Mouret, with Une Page d'Amour, and La Joie de Vivre, with the best things in L'Oeuvre, La Debacle, and Le Docteur Pascal. Students of English literature will remember how the doctrine of Furor poeticus was once applied to Ben Jonson by a commentator who, addressing him, pointed out that he was very mad in his primer works, not so mad in his dotages. There was always a good deal of furor prosaicus smouldering in Zola, and it broke out with an opposite result on these occasions, the flames, alas! being rather devastating, but affording spectacles at least grandiose. He kept sane and sordid to his loss earlier, and went mad later—partially at least to his advantage.

[Sidebar: General considerations.]

Passing to those more general considerations which have been promised—and which seem to be to some readers a Promised Land indeed, as compared with the wilderness of compte-rendu and book-appreciation—let us endeavour briefly to answer the question, "What is the general lesson of Zola's work?" I think we may say, borrowing that true and final judgment of Wordsworth which doth so enrage Wordsworthians, that whenever Zola does well he either violates or neglects his principles, and that the more carefully he carries these out the worse, as a rule, his work is. The similarity, of course, is the more quaint because of the dissimilarity of the personages and their productions; but it has not been insisted on from any mere spirit of mischief, or desire to make a paradoxical parallel. On the contrary, this parallel has been made in order to support, at least obiter, a more general dictum still, that principles are much more often fatal than useful to the artist. The successful miniatures of the short stories hardly prove more thoroughly than the smoky flaming Blakish-Turneresque cartoons of the latest "Gospels," though they may do so more satisfactorily, that Emile Zola had the root of the Art of Fiction in him. But he chose to subject the bulk of the growths from this root to something much worse than the ars topiaria, to twist and maim and distort them like Hugo's Comprachicos; to load their boughs, forbidding them to bear natural fruit, with clumsy crops of dull and foul detail, like a bedevilled Christmas-tree. One dares say quite unblushingly, that in no single instance[479] has this abuse of the encyclopaedia added charm, or value, or even force to Zola's work. A man with far less ability than he possessed could have given the necessary touch of specialism when it was necessary, without dumping and deluging loads and floods of technicalities on the unhappy reader.

Little more need be said about the disastrous ugliness which, with still rarer exception, pervades the whole work. There are those who like the ugly, and those—perhaps more numerous—who think they ought to like it. With neither is it worth while to argue. As for me and my house, we will serve Beauty, giving that blessed word the widest possible extension, of course, but never going beyond or against it.

[Sidenote: Especially in regard to character.]

A point where there is no such precedent inaccessibility of common ground concerns Zola's grasp of character. It seems to me to have been, if not exactly weak, curiously limited. I do not know that his people are ever unhuman; in fact, by his time the merely wooden character had ceased to be "stocked" (as an unpleasant modern phrase has it) by the novelist. The "divers and disgusting things" that they do are never incredible. The unspeakable villain-hero of Verite itself is a not impossible person. But the defect, again as it seems to me, of all the personages may best be illustrated by quoting one of those strange flashes of consummate critical acuteness which diversify the frequent critical lapses of Thackeray. As early as The Paris Sketch-book, in the article entitled "Caricatures and Lithography," Mr. Titmarsh wrote, in respect of Fielding's people, "Is not every one of them a real substantial have been personage now?... We will not take upon ourselves to say that they do not exist somewhere else, that the actions attributed to them have not really taken place."

There, put by a rather raw critic of some seven and twenty, who was not himself to give a perfect creative exemplification of what he wrote for nearly a decade, is the crux of the matter. Observe, not "might have been" merely, but "have been now." The phrase might have holes picked in it by a composition-master or -monger.[480] Thackeray is often liable to this process. But it states an eternal verity, and so marks an essential differentia.

This differentia is what the present writer has, in many various forms, endeavoured to make good in respect of the novels and the novelists with which and whom he has dealt in this book, and in many books and articles for the last forty years and more. There are the characters who never might or could have been—the characters who, by limp and flaccid drawing; by the lumping together of "incompossibilities"; by slavish following of popular models; by equally slavish, though rather less ignoble, carrying out of supposed rules; by this, that, and the other want or fault, have deprived themselves of the fictitious right to live, or to have lived, though they occupy the most ghastly of all limbos and the most crowded shelves of all circulating libraries. At the other end of the scale are the real men and women of fiction—those whom more or less (for there are degrees here as everywhere) you know, whose life is as your life, except that you live by the grace of God and they by that of God's artists. These exist in all great drama, poetry, fiction; and it never would cause you the least surprise or feeling of unfamiliarity if they passed from one sphere to the other, and you met them—to live with, to love or to hate, to dance or to dine with, to murder (for you would occasionally like to kill them) or to marry.[481] But between the two—and perhaps the largest crowd of the three, at least since novel-writing came to be a business—is a vast multitude of figures occupying a middle position, sometimes with little real vitality but with a certain stage-competence; sometimes quite reaching the "might-have-been," but never the full substance of "has been" for us. To these last, I think, though to a high division of them, do Zola's characters belong.

Of plot I never care to say very much, because it is not with me a wedding-garment, though I know an ugly or ill-fitting one when I see it, and can say, "Well tailored or dress-made!" in the more satisfactory circumstances. Moreover, Zola hardly enters himself for much competition here. There is none in the first two Apocalypses; Verite has what it has, supplied by the "case" and merely adjusted with fair skill; the Trois Villes lie quite outside plot; and the huge synoptic scheme of the Rougon-Macquart series deals little with it in individual books. Of conversation one might say very much what has been said of character. The books have the conversation which they require, and sometimes (in examples generally even more difficult to quote than that of Nana's given above) a little more. But in Description, the Naturalist leader rises when he does not fall. It is obviously here that the boredom and the beastliness of the details offend most. But it is also by means of description that almost all the books well spoken of before, from the too earthly Paradise of L'Abbe Mouret to the Inferno of Travail, produce some of their greatest effects.

So let this suffice as banning for what is bad in him, and as blessing for what is good, in regard to Emile Zola: a great talent—at least a failure of a genius—in literature; a marvellous worker in literary craft. As for his life, it can be honestly avowed that the close of it, in something like martyrdom, had little or nothing to do with the fact that the writer's estimate of his work changed, from very unfavourable, to the parti-coloured one given above. Until about 1880 I did not read his books regularly as they came out, and the first "nervous impression" of what I did read required time and elaboration to check and correct, to fill in and to balance it. I have never varied my opinion that his methods and principles—with everything of that sort—were wrong. But I have been more and more convinced that his practice sometimes came astonishingly near being right.

* * * * *

My introduction to the greatest of M. Zola's associates was more fortunate, for it was impossible to mistake the quality of the new planet.[482] One day in 1880 the editor of a London paper put into my hands a copy of a just-issued volume of French verse, which had been specially sent to him by his Paris correspondent in a fit of moral indignation. It was entitled Des Vers, and the author of it was a certain Guy de Maupassant, of whom I then knew nothing. The correspondent had seen in it a good opportunity for a denunciation of French wickedness; and my editor handed it over to me to see what was to be done with it. I saw no exceptional wickedness, and a very great deal of power; indeed, though I was tolerably familiar with French verse and prose of the day, it seemed to me that I had not seen so much promise in any new writer since Baudelaire's death;[483] and I informed my editor that, though I had not the slightest objection to blessing Maupassant, I certainly would not curse him. He thought the blessing not likely to please his public, while it would annoy his correspondent, and on my representation declined to have anything to do with the cursing. So nous passasmes oultre, except that, like Mr. Bludyer, I "impounded" the book; but, unlike him, did not either sell it, dine off it, or abuse the author.

Shortly afterwards, I think, the Soirees de Medan reached me, and this very remarkable person appeared likewise, but in a new character. Certainly no one can ever have shown to better advantage in company than M. de Maupassant did on this occasion. L'Attaque du Moulin, which opened the volume, has already been spoken of as part of the best of all M. Zola's voluminous work. But as for the works of the young men, other than M. de Maupassant, they had the Naturalist faults in fullest measure, unredeemed by their master's massive vigour and his desperate intensity. The contribution of M. Huysmans, in particular (v. inf.) has always appeared to me one of those voluntary or involuntary caricatures, of the writer's own style and school, which are well known at all times, and have never been more frequent than recently. But Boule de Suif? Among the others that pleasant and pathetic person was not a boule; she was a pyramid, a Colossus, a spire of Cologne Cathedral. Putting the unconventionality of its subject aside, there is absolutely no fault to be found with the story. It is as round and smooth as "Boule de Suif" herself.

Maupassant's work is of very substantial bulk. Of the verse enough for our purpose has been or will be said, though I should like to repeat that I put it much higher than do most of Maupassant's admirers. The volumes of travel-sketches do not appear to me particularly successful, despite the almost unsurpassed faculty of their writer for sober yet vivid description. They have the air of being written to order, and they do not seem, as a rule, to arrive at artistic completeness either objectively or subjectively. Of the criticism, which concerns us more nearly, by far the most remarkable piece is the famous Preface to Pierre et Jean (to be mentioned again below), which contains the author's literary creed, refined and castigated by years of practice from the cruder form which he had already promulgated in the Preface to Flaubert's Correspondence with George Sand. It extols the "objective" as against the psychological method of novel-writing, but directs itself most strongly against the older romance of plot, and places the excellence of the novelist in the complete and vivid projection of that novelist's own particular "illusion" of the world, yet so as to present events and characters in the most actual manner. But, as promised, we shall return to it.

[Sidenote: Bel-Ami.]

To run through the actual "turn-out" in novel[484] and tale as far as is possible here, Bel-Ami started, in England at least, with the most favouring gales possible. It was just when the decree had gone forth, issued by the younger Later Victorians, that all the world should be made naughty; that the insipid whiteness of their Early and Middle elders should be washed black and scarlet, and especially "blue"; and that if possible, by this and other processes, something like real literature might be made to take the place of the drivellings and botcheries of Tennyson and Browning; of Dickens and Thackeray; of Ruskin and Carlyle. To these persons Bel-Ami was a sweet content, a really "shady boon." The hero never does a decent thing and never says a good one; but he has good looks and insinuating manners of the kind that please some women, whence his name, originally given to him by an innocent little girl, and taken up by her by no means innocent mamma and other quasi-ladies.[485] He starts as a soldier who has served his time in Algeria, but has found nothing better to do than a subordinate post in a railway office. He meets a former comrade who is high up in Paris journalism, and who very amiably introduces Georges Duroy to that bad resting-place but promising passageway. Duroy succeeds, not so much (though he is not a fool) by any brains as by impudence; by a faculty of making use of others; by one of the farce-duels in which combatants are put half a mile off each other to fire once, etc.; but most of all by his belamyship (for the word is good old English in a better sense). The women of the book are what is familiarly called "a caution." They revive the old Helisenne de Crenne[486] "sensual appetite" for the handsome bounder; and though of course jealous of his infidelities, are quite ready to welcome the truant when he returns. They also get drunk at restaurant dinners, and then call their lovers—quite correctly, but not agreeably—"Cochon!" "Sale bete," etc. This of course is what our fin-de-siecle critics could "recommend to a friend."

But if the reader thinks that this summary is a prelude to anything like the "slate" that I thought it proper to bestow upon Les Liaisons Dangereuses, or even to such remarks as those made on the Goncourts, he is quite mistaken. Laclos had, as it seemed to me, a disgusting subject and no real compensation of treatment. In Bel-Ami the merits of the treatment are very great. The scenes pass before you; the characters play their part in the scenes—if not in an engaging manner, in a completely life-like one. There is none of the psychologie de commande, which I object to in Laclos, but a true adumbration of life. The music-hall opening; the first dinner-party; the journalist scenes; the death of Forestier and the proposal of re-marriage over his corpse;[487] the honeymoon journey to Normandy—a dozen other things—could not be better done in their way, though this way may not be the best. It did not fall to me to review Bel-Ami when it came out, but I do not think I should have made any mistake about it if it had. There are weak points technically; for instance, the character of Madeleine Forestier, afterwards Duroy—still later caught in flagrant delict and divorced—is left rather enigmatic. But the general technique (with the reservations elsewhere made) is masterly, and two passages—a Vigny-like[488] descant on Death by the old poet Norbert de Varenne and the death-scene of Forestier itself—give us Maupassant in that mood of macabre sentiment—almost Romance—which chequers and purifies his Naturalism.

But the main objection which I should take to the book is neither technical nor goody. The late Mr. Locker, in, I think, that most fascinating "New Omniana" Patchwork,[489] tells how, in the Travellers' Club one day, a haughty member thereof expressed surprise that he should see Mr. Locker going to the corner-house next door. The amiable author of London Lyrics was good enough to explain that some not uninteresting people also used the humbler establishment—bishops, authors, painters, cabinet-ministers, etc. "Ah!" said the Traverser of Perilous Ways, "that would be all very well if one wanted to meet that sort of people. But, you see, one doesn't want to meet them." Now, I do not want to meet anybody in Bel-Ami; in fact, I would much rather not.

[Sidenote: Une Vie.]

Une Vie is, in this respect and others, a curious pendant to Bel-Ami. It illustrates another side of Maupassant's pessimism—the overtly, but for the most part quietly, tragic. It might almost (borrowing a second title from the Index) call itself "Jeanne; ou Les Malheurs de la Vertu." The heroine is perfectly innocent, though both a femmelette and a fool. She never does any harm, nor, except through weakness and folly, deserves that any should be done to her. But she has an unwise and not blameless though affectionate and generous father, with a mother who is an invalid, and whom, after her death, the daughter discovers to have been, in early days, no better than she should be. Both of them are, if not exactly spendthrifts, "wasters," very mainly through careless and excessive generosity. She marries the first young man of decent family, looks, and manners that she comes across; and he turns out to be stingy, unfaithful in the most offensive way, with her own maid and others, and unkind. She loses him, by the vengeance of a husband whom he has wronged, and her second child is born dead in consequence of this shock. Her first she spoils for some twenty years, till he goes off with a concubine and nearly ruins his mother. We leave her consoling herself, in a half-imbecile fashion, with a grandchild. Her only earthly providence is her bonne Rosalie, the same who had been her husband's mistress, but a very "good sort" otherwise. The book is charged with grime of all kinds. It certainly cannot be said of M. de Maupassant, to alter the pronoun in Mr. Kipling's line, that "[He] never talked obstetrics when the little stranger came," for Une Vie contains two of these delectable scenes; and in other respects we are treated with the utmost "candour." But the book is again saved by some wonderful passages—specially those giving Jeanne's first night at the sea-side chateau which is to be her own, and her last visit to it a quarter of a century after, when it has passed to strangers—and generally by the true tragedy which pervades it. When Maupassant took Sorrow into cohabitation and collaboration, there was no danger of the result.

Mont-Oriol, though not, save in one respect, the most "arresting" of Maupassant's books, has rather more varied and at the same time coherent interest than some others. It is also that one which most directly illustrates—on the great scale—the general principles of the Naturalist school. Not, indeed, in specially grimy fashion, though there is the usual adultery (not behind the scenes) and the (for Maupassant) not unusual accouchement. (His fondness for this most unattractive episode of human life is astonishing: if he were a more pious person and a political feminist, one might think that he was trying to make us modern Adams share the curse of Eve, at least to the extent of the disgust caused by reading about its details.) The main extra-amatory theme throughout is the "physiologie" of an inland watering-place, its extension by the discovery of new springs, the financing of them, the jealousies of the doctors, the megrims of the patients, etc. All these are treated quite on the Zolaesque scheme, but with a lightness and beauty not often reached by the master, though common enough in the pupil.[490] The description of Christiane Andermatt's first bath, and the sensations of mild bliss that it gave her, is as true as it is pretty; and others of scenery have that vividness without over-elaboration which marks their author's work. Nor are his ironic-human touches wanting. Almost at its birth he satirises, in his own quiet Swiftian way, an absurd tendency which has grown mightily since, and flourishes now: "'Tres moderne'—entre ses levres, etait le comble de l'admiration." As for the love-affair itself, one's feelings towards it are mixed. A good deal of it shows that unusual grasp of the proper ways of the game with which Maupassant is fully credited here. Personally, I should not, after quoting Baudelaire to a lady (so far so good), inform her that I was a donkey for expecting her to enjoy anything so subtle. But perhaps Paul Bretigny, though neglectful of the Seventh Commandment, was an honester man than I am. And it is quite true that Christiane was not subtle. Her hot lover's[491] cooling partly dated from the time when she expected him to show palpable interest in the fact that she was likely to have a child by him. And though her cry (on the question what name this infant, of course accepted as his own by the unfortunate Andermatt, should bear) that as for her name, "Cela promet trop de souffrances de porter le nom du Crucifie," could not be better as a general sentiment, the particular circumstances in which it is uttered show a slight want of grace of congruity. Still, the minor characters are not only more in number, but more interesting than is always the case; and the book, if you skip the obstetrics, is readable throughout. Yet it is, to use wine-language, not above "Maupassant premier bourgeois," except in some of the earlier love-scenes.

[Sidenote: Fort comme la Mort.]

In Fort comme la Mort the author rises far above these two books, powerful as they are in parts. The basis is indeed the invariable and unsatisfactory "triangle." But the structure built on it might almost have been lifted to another, and stands foursquare in nearly all respects of treatment. The chief technical objection that can be brought against it is that there is a certain want of air and space; the important characters are too few, the situations too uniform; so that a kind of oppression results. Olivier Bertin, one of the most popular of Parisian painters though no longer young, a great man of society, etc., has, for many years, been the lover of the Countess de Guilleroy, and, of course, the dear friend of her husband. We are introduced to them just at the time when a sort of disgust of middle age is coming over him, as well as a certain feeling that the springs of his genius are running low. He is not tired of the Countess, who is passionately devoted to him; and, except that they do not live together, their relations are rather conjugal than anything else. Just at this moment her daughter Annette comes home from a country life with her grandmother, and proves to be the very double of what her mother was in her own youth. Bertin, without ceasing to love the mother, conceives a frantic passion for the daughter; and the vicissitudes of this take up the book. At last the explosives of the situation are "fused," as one may say, by one of the newspaper attacks of youth on age. Annette's approaching marriage, and this Figaro critique of his own "old-fashioned" art, put Bertin beside himself. Either hurrying heedlessly along, or deliberately exposing himself, he is run over by an omnibus, is mortally hurt, and dies with the Countess sitting beside him and receiving his last selfishness—a request that she will bring the girl to see him before he dies.

The story, though perhaps, as has been said, too much concentrated as a whole, is brilliantly illuminated by sketches of society on the greater and smaller scale: of Parisian club-life; of picture-shows; of the diversions of the country, etc.: but its effect, though certainly helped by, is not derived from, these. As always with Maupassant, it is out of the bitter that comes the sweet. Hardly anywhere outside of Ecclesiastes, Thackeray,[492] and Flaubert is the irony of life more consummately handled in one peculiar fashion; while the actual passion of love is nowhere better treated by this author,[493] or perhaps by any other French novelist of the later century, except Fromentin.

[Sidenote: Pierre et Jean.]

The line of ascent was continued in Pierre et Jean. It is not a long book—a fact which perhaps has some significance—and no small part of it is taken up by a Preface on "Le Roman" generally (v. sup.), which is the author's most remarkable piece of criticism; one of the most noteworthy from a man who was not specially a critic; and one of the few but precious examples of an artist dealing, at once judicially and masterfully, with his own art.[494] In fact, recognising the truth of the "poetic moment," he would extend it to the moments of all literature; and lays it down that the business of the novelist is, first to realise his own illusion of the world and then to make others realise it too.

Pierre et Jean itself has no weakness except that narrowing of interest which has been already noted in Maupassant, and which is rather a limitation than a positive fault. There is practically one situation throughout; and though there are several characters, their interest depends almost wholly on their relations with the central personage. This is Pierre Roland, a full-fledged physician of thirty, but not yet successful, and still living with, and on, his parents. His father is a retired Paris tradesman, who has come to live at Havre to indulge a mania for sea-fishing; he has a mother who is rather above her husband in some ways; and a brother, Jean, who, though considerably younger, is also ready to start in his own profession—that of the law. A "friend of the family," Mme. Rosemilly—a young, pretty, and rather well-to-do widow—completes the company, with one or two "supers." Just as the story opens, a large legacy to Jean by an older friend of the family—this time a man—is announced, to the surprise of almost everybody, but at first only causing a little natural jealousy in Pierre. Charitable remarks of outsiders, however, suggest to him the truth—that Jean is the fruit of his mother's adultery with the testator—and this "works like poison in his brain," till—Jean, having gained another piece of luck in Mme. Rosemilly's hand, and having, though enlightened by Pierre and by his mother's confession, very common-sensibly decided that he will not resign the legacy, smirched as it is—Pierre accepts a surgeon-ship on a Transatlantic steamer, and the story ends.

On its own scheme and showing there is scarcely a fault in it. The mere settings—the fishing and prawn-catching; the scenery of port and cliff; the "interiors"; the final sailing of the great ship—are perfect. The minor characters—the good-tempered, thick-headed bourgeois husband and father; the wife and mother, with her bland acceptance of the transferred wages of shame, and (after discovery only) her breaking down with the banal blasphemy of "marriage before God" and the rest of it; the younger brother—not exactly a bad fellow, but thoroughly convinced of the truth of non olet; the widow playing her part and no more,—all are artistically just what they should be. And so, always remembering scale and scheme, is Pierre. One neither likes him (for he is not exactly a likeable person) nor dislikes him (for he is quite excusable) very much; one is only partially sorry for him. But one knows that he is—he has that actual and indubitable existence which is the test and quality alike of creator and creation. His first vague envy of his brother's positive luck in money and probable luck in love—for both have had floating fancies for the pretty widow; the again perfectly natural spleen when this lucky brother, by an accident, secures the particular set of rooms in which Pierre had hoped to improve his position as a doctor; the crushing blow of finding out his mother's shame; the process (the truest thing in the whole book, though it is all true) by which he tortures both her and himself in constant oblique references to her fault; the explosion when he directly informs his brother; and all the rest, could hardly be improved. It is not a novel on the great scale, but rather what may be called a long short story. It does not quite attain to the position of some books on a small scale in different kinds—Manon Lescaut itself, Adolphe, La Tentation de Saint-Antoine. But the author has done what he meant to do, and has done it in such a fashion that it could not, on its own lines, be done better.

Maupassant's last novel of some magnitude, Notre Coeur, was written when the shadow was near enveloping him; and it cannot be said to have the perfection of Pierre et Jean. But it still rises higher in certain very important ways—it is perhaps the book that one likes him best for, outside of pure comedy; and there is none which impresses one more with the sense of his loss to French literature.

[Sidenote: Notre Coeur.]

The story, like all Maupassant's stories, is of the simplest. Andre Mariolle, a well-to-do young Parisian bachelor of no profession, is a member of a set of mostly literary and artistic people, almost all of whom have, as a main rendezvous, the house of a beautiful, wealthy, and variously gifted young widow, Mme. de Burne. She lives chaperoned in a manner by her father; indisposed to a second marriage by the fact that she has had a tyrannical husband; accepting homage from all her familiars and being very gracious in differing degrees to all of them; but having no "lover in title" and not even being suspected of having (in the French novel-sense[495]) any "lover" at all. For a long time Mariolle has, from whim, refused introduction to her, but at last he consents to be taken to the house by his friend the musician Massival, and of course falls a victim. It cannot be said that she is a Circe,[496] nor that, as perhaps might be expected, she revenges herself for his holding aloof by snaring and throwing him away. Quite the contrary. She shows him special favour: when she has to go to stay with friends at Avranches she privately asks him to follow her; and finally, when the party pass the night at Mont Saint-Michel, she comes—uninvited, though of course much longed for—to his room, and (as they used to say with elaborate decency) "crowns his flame." Nor does she turn on him—as again might be expected—even then. On the contrary, she comes constantly to a secret Eden which he has prepared for her in Paris, and though, after long practice of this, she is sometimes rather late, and once or twice actually puts off her assignation, it is "no more than reason,"[497] and she by no means jilts or threatens jilting, though she tells him frankly that his way of loving (which is more than reason) is not hers. At last he cannot endure seeing her surrounded with admirers, and flies to Fontainebleau, where he is partly—only partly—consoled by a pretty and devoted bonne. Yet he sends a despairing cry to Mme. de Burne; and she, gracious as ever, actually comes to see him, and induces him to return to Paris. He does so, but takes the bonne Elisabeth with him; and the book ends abruptly, leaving the reader to imagine what is the outcome of this "double arrangement"—or failure to arrange.

But, as always with Maupassant's longer stories and not quite never with his shorter ones, the "fable is the least part." The "atmosphere"; the projection of character and passion; the setting; the situations; the phrase—these are the thing. And, except for the enigmatic and "stump-ended" conclusion, and for a certain overdose of words (which rather grew on him), they make a very fine thing. It is here that, on one side at least, the author's conception of love—which at some times might appear little more than animal, at others conventional-capricious in a fashion which makes that of Crebillon universal and sincere—has sublimed itself, as it had begun to do in Fort comme la Mort (Pierre et Jean is in this respect something of a divagation), into very nearly the true form of the Canticles and Shakespeare, of Donne and Shelley and Heine, of Hugo and Musset and Browning. But it is curious, in the first place, that he whom his friends fondly called a fier male, who has sometimes pushed masculinity near to brutality, and who is always cynical more or less, has made his Andre Mariolle, though a very good lover, a distinct weakling in love. He is a "too quick despairer," and his despair is more illogical than even a lover's has a right to be. And this is very interesting, because, evidently without the author's knowledge (though perhaps, if things had gone more happily, he might have come to that knowledge later), it shows the rottenness of the foundation, and the flimsiness of the superstructure, on and in which the Covenant of Adultery—even that of Free Love—is built. Michelle de Burne gives Andre Mariolle everything with one exception, if even with that, that the greediest lover can want. She "distinguishes" him at once; she shows keen desire for his company; she makes the last (or first) surrender like a goddess answering a hopeless and unspoken prayer; she is strangely generous in continuing the don d'amoureux merci; she never really wearies of or jilts him, though he is a most exacting lover; and when he has flung away from her she allows him, in the most gracious manner, to whistle himself back. But there is one thing, or rather two which are one, that she will not, or perhaps cannot, give him. It is the idealised passion which nature has denied to her, though not to him, and the absolute faithfulness and "forsaking of all others" proper to what?—to a perfect wife. So here, in the realms of spouse-breach, marriage is once more king, or rather the throne is felt to be empty—the kingdom an anarchy—without it!

The lighter side of the matter reminds one of two celebrated utterances. The first is Paul de Florac's criticism on the Lady Clara-Barnes-Highgate triangle, "Do not adopt our institutions a demi." Here the situation is topsy-turvied in the most curious fashion, for it is the character of marriage that is desiderated in the absence thereof, and in a country where that character itself is scoffed at. Further, it reminds one still more of Sydney Smith's excellent jest when Lady Holland, having previously asked him to stay at Holland House, sent him a formal invitation to dinner, for a day within the period of the larger hospitality. This, said Sydney, was "an attempt to combine the stimulus of gallantry with the security of connubial relations." That was precisely the moon that Mariolle sighed for, and that his not exactly Artemis would not—indeed could not be expected to—give him.

Of Michelle de Burne herself there is less to be said. The curious misogyny which chequered Maupassant's gynomania seems to have tried hard to express itself in her portrait. It is less certain that it does. The other characters are quite subordinate, except the bonne Elisabeth (who, promising as she is, merely makes her debut) and a novelist, Gaston de Lamarthe, who may sometimes be taken as the author's mouthpiece, but who does not do him justice. The book on the whole does much to confirm, and hardly anything to invalidate, the position that its writer had far more to say than he ever said.

[Sidenote: Les Dimanches, etc.]

The ordinary list of Maupassant's "Romans," as distinct from "Nouvelles" and "Contes," ends with Les Dimanches d'un Bourgeois de Paris. This, however, is merely a series of tales (some of them actually rehandled from earlier ones), with a single figure for centre, to wit, a certain M. Patissot, a bachelor government-official, who is a sort of mixture of Leech's Mr. Briggs and of Jerome Paturot, with other predecessors who get into scrapes and "fixtures." It is not unamusing, but scarcely first-class, the two political skits at the end being about the best part of it.

[Sidenote: Yvette.]

On the other hand, Yvette, which is only allowed the eponymship of a volume of short stories, though it fills to itself some hundred and seventy pages, is one of Maupassant's most carefully written things and one of his best—till the not fully explained, but in any case unsatisfactory, end[498]. Its heroine is the daughter of a sham Marquise and real courtesan, who has attained wealth, who can afford herself lovers "for love"[499] and not for money, when she chooses, and who keeps up a sort of demi-monde society, in which most of the men are adventurers and all the women adventuresses, but which maintains outward decencies. In consequence of this Yvette herself—in a fashion a little impossible, but artistically made not improbable—though she allows herself the extreme "tricks and manners" of faster society, calls half the men by nicknames, wanders about alone with them, etc., preserves not merely her personal purity but even her ignorance of unclean things in general, and especially of her mother's real character and conduct. Her relations with a clever and not ungentlemanly roue, one M. de Servigny; his difficulties (these are very curiously and cleverly told) in making love to a girl not of the lower class (at least apparently) and not vicious; his attempt to brusque the matter; her horror at it and at the coincident discovery of her mother's ways; her attempt to poison herself; and her salvage by Servigny's coolness and devotion—are capitally done. Out of many passages, one, where Madame la Marquise Obardi, otherwise Octavie Bardin, formerly domestic servant, drops her mask, opens her mouth, and uses the crude language of a procuress-mother to her daughter, is masterly. But the end is not from any point of view satisfactory. Apparently (for it is not made quite clear) Yvette retracts her refusal to be a kept mistress. In that case certainly, and in the almost impossible one of marriage probably, it may be feared that the catastrophe is only postponed. Now Yvette has been made too good (I do not mean goody) to be allowed to pine or poison herself, as a soon-to-be-neglected concubine or a not-much-longer-to-be-loved wife.

[Sidenote: Short stories—the various collections.]

That the very large multitude[500] of his short stories (or, one begs pardon, brief-narratives) is composed of units very different in merit is not wonderful. It was as certain that the covers of the author of Boule de Suif[501] would be drawn for the kind of thing frequently, as that these would sometimes be drawn either blank, or with the result of a very indifferent run. To an eye of some expertness, indeed, a good many of these pieces are, at best, the sort of thing that a clever contributor would turn off to editorial order, when he looked into a newspaper office between three and five, or ten and midnight. I confess that I once burst out laughing when, having thought to myself on reading one, "This is not much above a better written Paul-de-Kockery," I found at the end something like a frank acknowledgment of the fact, with the name. In fact, Maupassant was not good at the pure grivoiserie; his contemporary M. Armand Silvestre (v. inf.) did it much better. Touches of tragedy, as has been said, save the situation sometimes, and at others the supernatural element of dread (which was to culminate in Le Horla, and finally to overpower the author himself) gives help; but the zigzags of the line of artistic success are sharp and far too numerous. For a short story proper and a "proper" short story, L'Epave, where an inspector of marine insurance visits a wreck far out on the sands of the Isle of Rhe, and, finding an Englishman and his daughter there, most unprofessionally forgets that the tides come up rapidly in such places, is nearly perfect. On the other hand, Le Rosier de Mme. Husson, one of the longest, is almost worthless.

[Sidenote: Classes—stories of 1870-71.]

At one time I had designed—and to no small extent written—a running survey of a large number of these stories as they turn up in the volumes, most of which—the Contes de la Becasse is the chief exception—have no unity, and are merely "scoopings" of pieces enough to fill three hundred pages or so. But it would have occupied far too much space for its importance and interest. As a matter of fact, they are to some extent classifiable, and so may be dealt with on a representative system. There is the division of "La Revanche," which might have saved some of our fools at home from mistaking the Prussian for anything but a Prussian. Boule de Suif heads this, of course; but Mlle. Fifi, which is a sort of tragic Boule de Suif—the tragedy being, one is glad to say, at the invaders' expense—is not far below it. Deux Amis, one of the best, records how two harmless Parisian anglers, pursuing their beloved sport too far, were shot for refusing to betray the password back; and La Mere Sauvage, the finest of all, how a French mother, hearing of her son's death, burnt her own house with some Germans billeted in it, and was, on her frank confession, shot. But Un Duel, though a Prussian officer (vile damnum) pays for his brutality with his life, restores the comic element, partly at the expense of the two English seconds.[502]

Connected with the war of 1870 too, though not military, is the capital Coup d'Etat, in which a Monarchist French squire checkmates, for the moment at least, a blatant Republican village doctor.

[Sidenote: Norman stories.]

Very much larger than any other group is, naturally enough, that on Norman subjects. Maupassant does not flatter his fellow-subjects of the great Duchy, but he loves them, and knows them, and delights to talk of them—talking always well and often at his best. There must be, in all, several volumes-full of these, though they are actually scattered over a dozen: and it is not easy to go wrong with them. Perhaps a new "Farce du Cuvier," quite different from those known to readers of Boccaccio and the Fabliaux (a very drunk peasant sells his wife[503] by weight or measure to another, and scientifically ascertains the exact sum to be paid by making her fill a butt with water and putting her into it—the displacement giving the required result) is the merriest. The story of the schoolboy who negotiates a marriage between his Latin tutor and a young person is excellent; and that of "Boitelle," a poor fellow who is prevented (through that singular abuse of patria potestas so long allowed by French law) from marrying an agreeable negress, is the most pathetic. But I myself am rather fond of the Legende du Mont Saint-Michel. At first one is a little shocked at finding "the great vision of the guarded mount"[504] yoked to the old Scandinavian troll-and-farmer story of the fraudulent bargain as to alternate upper- and under-ground crops. But the magnificent opening description of "the fairy castle planted in the sea"[505] excuses, and is thrown up by, the sequel. Mont-Saint-Michel is not like Naples. When you have seen it, it is not your business to die, but to live and remember the sight of it; and, if you are lucky, your remembrance will have anticipated Maupassant's words, and be freshened by them.

[Sidenote: Algerian and Sporting.]

Algiers and the Riviera were also fruitful in quantity, rather less so in quality. But on the former two stories, Allouma and Au Soir, may be found together, the whole of the first of which, and the beginning of the second, are first-rate. The above mentioned Contes de la Becasse are almost all good, though by no means all sporting.

[Sidenote: Purely comic.]

For pure comedy one might put as the first three—with the caution that Mrs. Grundy had better keep away from them—Les Soeurs Rondoli,[506] for which I feel certain that, when Maupassant reached the Elysian Fields, Aristophanes and Rabelais jointly requested the pleasure of introducing him to the company, and crowned him with the choicest laurels; Mouche, which is really touching as well as tickling at the end, though the grave and precise must be doubly warned off this; and Enragee—which is a sort of blend of an old smoking-room story of the perils of the honeymoon when new, and that curious tale[507] of Vigny's which has been given above.

[Sidenote: Tragic.]

For pure, or almost pure, tragedy and pathos, again, Monsieur Parent stands first—the history of the late vengeance of a deceived husband and friend. Miss Harriet gives us something more than a stage Englishwoman with large feet, projecting teeth, tartan skirts, and tracts, though it gives us this too. Madame Baptiste—the very short tale of a hapless woman who, having been the victim of crime in her youth, is pursued by the scandal thereof to suicide, in spite of her having found a worthy husband—is one of Maupassant's intensest.

[Sidenote: Tales of Life's Irony.]

As examples, bending sometimes to the comic, sometimes to the pathetic side of studies in the irony of life, one may recommend A Cheval (a holiday taken by a poor but well-born family, which saddles them with an unconscionable "run-over" Old-Woman-of-the-Land); La Parure and Les Bijous (the first a variant of A Cheval, the second a discovery by a husband, after his wife's death, of her shame); and perhaps best of all, Regret, in which a gentleman of sixty, reflecting on his wasted life, remembers a picnic, decades earlier, where the wife of his lifelong friend—both of them still friends and neighbours—behaved rather oddly. He hurries across to ask her (whom he finds jam-making) what she would have done if he had "failed in respect," and receives the cool answer, "J'aurais cede." It is good; but fancy not being able to take a walk, and observe the primroses by the river's brim, without being bound in honour to observe likewise whether the lady by your side was ready to "cede" or not! It seems to me that in such circumstances one would, to quote a French critic on an entirely different author and matter, "lose all the grace and liberty of the composition."

[Sidenote: Oddments.]

Some oddments[508] may deserve addition. Fini, which might have been mentioned in the last group, is a very perfect thing. A well-preserved dandy in middle age meets, after many years, an old love, and sees, mirrored in her decay, his own so long ignored. Nobody save a master could have done this as it is done. Julie Romain is a quaint half-dream based on some points in George Sand's life, and attractive. The title of L'Inutile Beaute has also always been so to me (the story is worth little). It would be, I think, a fair test of any man's taste in style, whether he did or did not see any difference between it and La Beaute Inutile. In Adieu, I think, Maupassant has been guilty of a fearful heresy in speaking of part of a lady's face as "ce sot organe qu'on appelle le nez." Now that a nose, both in man and woman, can be foolish, nobody will deny. But that foolishness is an organic characteristic of it—in the sense of inexpressiveness, want of character, want of charm—is flatly a falsehood.[509] Neither mouth nor eyes can beat it in that respect; and if it has less variety individually, it gives perhaps more general character to the face than either. However, he is, if I mistake not, obliged to retract partially in the very story.

I have notes of many others—some of which may be special favourites with readers of mine—but room for no more. Yet for me at least among all these, despite the glaring inequality, despite the presence of some things utterly ephemeral and not in the least worth giving a new day to; despite the "salete bete"[510] and the monotonous and obligatory adultery,[511] there abides, as in the large books, and from circumstances now and then with gathered intensity, that quality of above-the-commonness which has obliged me to speak of Maupassant as I have spoken.

[Sidenote: General considerations.]

The vividness and actuality of his power of presentation are unquestioned, and there has been complaint rather of the character of his "illusions" (v. sup.) than of his failure to convey them to others. It is not merely that nature, helped by the discipline of practice under the severest of masters, had endowed him with a style of the most extraordinary sobriety and accuracy—the style of a more scholarly, reticent, and tightly-girt Defoe. It is not merely that his vision, and his capacity of reproducing that vision, were unsurpassed and rarely equalled for sharpness of outline and perfection of disengagement. He had something else which it is much less easy to put into words—the power of treating an incident or a character (character, it is true, less often and less fully than incident) as if it were a phrase or a landscape, of separating it, carving it out (so to speak), and presenting it isolated and framed for survey. His performances in these tracks are so numerous that it is difficult to single out any. But I do not know that finer examples (besides those noticed above in Une Vie) of his power of thus isolating and projecting a scene are to be found than two of the passages in Pierre et Jean, the prawn-catching party and Pierre's meditation at the jetty-head. Of his similar but greater faculty of treating incident and character Monsieur Parent is perhaps the very finest example (for Boule de Suif is something greater than a mere slice), though Promenade, Les Soeurs Rondoli, Boitelle, Deux Amis, and others are almost as good. But this very excellence of our author's carries with it a danger which most of his readers must have recognised. His definition and vignetting of separate scenes, incidents, and characters is so sharp and complete that he finds a difficulty in combining them. The attempt to disdain and depreciate plot which the above-mentioned Preface contains is, I suspect (though I am, as often confessed, no plot-worshipper), as our disdains and depreciations so often are, itself a confession. At any rate, it is allowed that the longer books, with the exception of Pierre et Jean (which was for that very reason, and perhaps for others, disdained by the youngest and most impressionist school of critics), are deficient in beginning, middle, and end. Une Vie and Bel-Ami are surveys or chronicles, not dramas or histories. Mont-Oriol, open enough to objection in some ways, is rather better in this point. Fort Comme la Mort relapses under the old curse of the situation of teasing unhappiness from which there is no outlet, and in which there is little action. Notre Coeur should perhaps escape criticism on this head, as the shadow of the author's fate was already heavy on him. In fact, as observed above, it is little more than a torso. Even Pierre et Jean, by far the greatest of all, if scale and artistic perfection be taken together, falls short in the latter respect of Boule de Suif, which, small as it is, is a complete tragi-comedy in little, furnished with beginning, middle, and end, complying fully with those older exigences which its author affected to despise, and really as great as anything of Merimee's—greater it could not be.

There is no doubt that the theory which Maupassant says he learnt from Flaubert (in whose own hands it was always subordinated to an effort at larger completeness) does lead to the composition of a series or flock of isolated vignettes or scenes rather than to that of a great picture or drama. For it comes perilously close—though perhaps in Maupassant's own case it never actually reached—the barest and boldest (or baldest) individualising of impressions, and leaving them as they are, without an attempt at architectonic. For instance, once upon a time[512] I was walking down the Euston Road. There passed me a fellow dragging a truck, on which truck there were three barrels with the heads knocked out, so that each barrel ensheathed, to a certain extent, the one in front of it. Astride of the centre barrel, his arms folded and a pipe in his mouth, there sat a man in a sort of sailor-costume—trousers, guernsey, and night-cap—surveying the world, and his fellow who dragged him, with an air of placid goguenarderie. It was really a striking impression, and absorbed me, I should think, for five or six seconds. I can conceive its coming into a story very well. But Maupassant's theories would have led to his making a whole story out of it, and his followers have already done things quite as bad, while he has himself come near to it more than once.[513] In other words, the method tends to the presentations of scraps, orts, fragments, instead of complete wholes. And Art should always seek the whole.

As for the character of Maupassant's "illusions," there could never be much doubt about some of them. Boule de Suif itself pretty clearly indicated, and La Maison Tellier shortly after showed, at the very opening of his literary career, the scenes, the society, and the solaces which he most affected: while it was impossible to read even two or three of his stories without discovering that, to M. de Maupassant, the world was most emphatically not the best of all possible worlds. This was by no means principally shown in the stories of supernatural terror to which, with an inconsistency by no means uncommon in declared materialists, and, had it not been for his unhappy end, very amusing, he was so much given. The chief of these, Le Horla, has not been much of a favourite with the lovers of "ghost-stories" in general. I think they are rather unjust to it. But if it has a fault, that fault lies (and, to avoid the charge of being wise after the event, I may observe that I thought so at the time) in too much conviction. The darkness is darkness which has been felt, and felt so much by the artist that he has lost his artistic grasp and command. There was, perhaps, in his own actual state, too much reason for this. In earlier things of the kind it is less perceptible. Fou? is rather splendid. Aupres d'un Mort—an anecdote of the death-bed of Schopenhauer, whom Maupassant naturally admired as the greatest of saccageurs de reves, though there are some who, admiring the first master of thoroughly good German prose style and one of the best of German critics, have kept the fort of their dreams safe from all he could do—has merits. Lettre trouvee sur un noye is good; L'Horrible not quite so good; Le Loup (a sort of fancy from the "bete du Gevaudan" story) better; Apparition of the best, with La Morte to pair it, and Un Cas de Divorce and Qui sait? to make up the quartette. Perhaps the best of all (I do not specify its title in order that those who do not know it may read till they find it out) is that where the visionary sees the skeletons of the dead rising and transforming their lying epitaphs into confessions—the last tomb now bearing the true cause of his own mistress's death. But the double-titled La Nuit—Cauchemar runs it hard.

Yet it is not in these stories of doubt and dread, or in the ostensible and rather shallow philosophisings of the travel-books, that Maupassant's pessimism is most obvious. His preference for the unhappy ending amounts almost to a tic, and would amount wholly to a bore—for toujours unhappy-ending is just as bad as toujours marriage-bells—if it were not relieved and lightened by a real presence of humour. With this sovereign preservative for self, and more sovereign charm for others, Guy de Maupassant was more richly provided than any of his French contemporaries, and more than any but a very few of his countrymen at any time. And as humour without tenderness is an impossibility, so, too, he could be and was tender. Yet it was seldom and malgre lui, while he allowed the mere exercise of his humour itself too scantily for his own safety and his readers' pleasure. That there was any more fanfaronnade either of vice or of misanthropy about him, I do not believe. An unfortunate conformity of innate temperament and acquired theory made such a fanfaronnade as unnecessary as it would have been repugnant to him. But illusion, in such cases, is more dangerous, if less disgusting, than imposture. And so it happened that, in despite of the rare and vast faculties just allowed him, he was constantly found applying them to subjects distasteful if not disgraceful, and allowing the results to be sicklied over with a persistent "soot-wash" of pessimism which was always rather monotonous, and not always very impressive.

It was, of course, inevitable that, on this side of the Channel at least, strictures should be passed—and appealed against—on a writer of this kind. The impropriety of M. de Maupassant's subjects, the "cruelty," the "brutality," the "pessimism," and what not, of his handling, were sure to be denounced or defended, as the case may be. Although the merely "shoking" tone (as the spelling dear to Frenchmen has it) has waned persistently ever since his day, expressions in it have not been wanting; while, on the other hand, newer-fashioned and probably younger censors have scornfully waved aside the very consideration of this part of the subject. Further, no less a critic than my friend Mr. Traill entered, long ago, a protest against the admission of Maupassant's pessimism as a drawback. "He did not," says Mr. Traill (I quote from memory), "pose as a pessimist; he was perfectly sincere, and an artist's sincere life-philosophy, whatever it is, is not to be urged against the products of his art."

I think that these questions require a little discussion, even in a general History.

With reference to the impropriety matter, I have myself, after a lifetime of fighting against the heresie de l'enseignement, not the very slightest intention of deserting to or transacting with it. I do most heartily agree and affirm that the subject of a work of art is not, as such, the better or the worse, the more or the less legitimate, because of its tastefulness or distastefulness on moral considerations. But there is a perpetual danger, when we are clearing our minds of one cant, of allowing them to be invaded by another; and I think I have seen cases where the determination not to be moral of malice prepense has been so great that it has toppled over into a determination to be immoral of malice prepense. Now, the question is, whether Maupassant and some of Maupassant's admirers are not somewhat in this case? It is surely impossible for any impartial critic to contend that the unlucky novelist's devotion to the class of subjects referred to, and his manner of handling them, did not amount to what has been pedantically, but accurately, termed an "obsession of the lupanar." Now, it seems to me that all obsession, no matter of what class or kind, is fatal, or, at least, injurious, to the artist. It is almost impossible that he should keep his judgment and his taste cool and clear under it; it is almost impossible that his poring shall not turn into preaching. And I think it not much less hard to defend Maupassant from the charge of having become a kind of preacher in this way, and so a heretic of instruction, just as much as if he had taken to theology, dogmatic or undogmatic. Perpetual representation amounts to inculcation.[514]

So, again, in reference to the apologies for Maupassant's pessimism. I cannot see how it can be contended that the perpetual obtrusion of a life-philosophy of any special kind is other than a fault in art. I have no particular objection to pessimism as such; I suppose most people who have thought and felt a good deal are nearer to it than to its opposite; and, though both opposites bore me when they are obtruded, I think rose-pink and sky-blue bore me rather more than the various shades of grey and brown and black. I admit further that, but for the pessimist diathesis, we might not have had that peculiar tragedy in which he has been admitted to excel. But it seems to me that the creative artist, as such, and as distinguished from the critical, has no more business to display—to arborer—a life-philosophy, than he has to display a philosophy of any other kind. Signs of it may escape him at times; but they should be escapes, not deliberate exhibitions. He is to see life whole as far as he can; and it is impossible that he should see it whole if he is under the domination of any 'ism to the extent that Maupassant was under the domination of this. In the one supreme artist (I am talking, of course, throughout of the art of letters only) whom we know, there is, perhaps, no more distinctive peculiarity than his elusion of all attempts to class him as "Thissist" or "Thattist." And in those who come nearest to him, though they may have strong beliefs and strong proclivities, we always see the capacity of taking the other side. The fervent theologian of the Paradiso treats hardly any of his victims with more consideration than the inhabitants of the City of Dis: the prophet and poet of his own Uranian love for Beatrice swoons at the sight of Francesca's punishment, and feels "so that boiling glass were coolness," the very penalty of the Seventh Circle of Purgatory. But Maupassant's materialism and his pessimism combined shut out from him vast parts and regions of life and thought and feeling, as it were with the blank wall of his very earliest poem. The fantastic shadows of his peculiar imagination play on that wall fascinatingly enough; and the region of passion and of gloom within is not without a charm, if a somewhat unholy and unhealthy one. But beyond the wall there is a whole universe which Maupassant does not merely neglect, but of which he seems to be blankly ignorant and unconscious, except in flashes of ignorant disdain. That the infinite province of religious emotion and reflection is shut out is a matter of course; but most of the other regions, in which those who decline religion take refuge, are equally closed. I can remember in Maupassant only the slightest signs of interest in general literature (except so far as it bears upon his own special craft), in the illimitable ranges of history, in politics, in the higher philosophy.[515] It cannot be said of him, as of his master's dismal heroes, that tout lui a craque dans la main. There is no sign of trial on his part; he starts where Bouvard and Pecuchet end, and takes for granted a failure which he has not given himself the trouble to experience.

But, it may be said, "What does it matter what he does not do, know, feel, care for, if he treats what he does do, know, feel, and care for, well?" The objection is ingenious, and, as Petruchio would say, "'a might have a little galled me" if its ingenuity had not been the ingenuity of fallacy. For the question is whether this insensibility to large parts of life has not injured Maupassant's treatment of the parts in which he did feel an interest. I think it has. There were too many things in emotion and in thought of which he was ignorant. Mrs. Piozzi, in her Anecdotes of Johnson, observes that the Doctor, despite his freedom from gush and his dislike to religious verse, could never repeat the stanza of Dies Irae which ends "Tantus labor non sit cassus" without bursting into tears. I know a person very different from Johnson who, though he had not read the Anecdotes till an advanced period of his life, had never failed to experience something like the same result at the same line. And, for a third point, it is well known that actual agnostics have often confessed to like affections in similar cases. The numerous and complicated causes of this weakness, or, if any one prefers to call them so, the numerous and complicated causes of this enjoyment, had no hold whatever on Maupassant.

But this hemiplegia of the intellect and the imagination—this sterilising of one-half, or more than one-half, of the sources of intellectual and imaginative experience and delight—did not prevent him from leaving durable and perdurable results of the vigour of his mind and his sense, in the regions which were open to him. He wrote—as almost every popular writer in these days who does not shut himself up in a tour d'ivoire and neglect popularity must write—too much; and, in the special circumstances and limitations of his interests and his genius, this was specially unfortunate. He repeated himself too often; and he too frequently failed to come up to himself in the repetition. The better part of him, as with Flaubert before, transcended—even openly contemned—the 'isms of his day: but he too often let himself be subservient to them, if he was never exactly their Helot.

Yet in recompense—a recompense largely if not wholly due to the strong Romantic[516] element which countervails the Naturalist—he was certainly the greatest novelist who was specially of the last quarter of the nineteenth century in France. In verse he showed the dawn, and in prose the noon-day, of a combination of veracity and vigour, of succinctness and strength, which no Frenchman who made his debut since 1870 could surpass. The limitations of his art have been sufficiently dealt with; the excellences of it within those limitations are unmistakable. He had no tricks—the worst curse of art at all times, and the commonest in these days of what pretends to be art. He had no splash of so-called "style"; no acrobatic contortions of thought or what does duty for thought; no pottering and peddling of the psychological kind, which would fain make up for a faulty product by ostentatiously parading the processes of production. Had he once got free—as more than once it seemed that he might—from the fatal conventionalities of his unconventionalism, from the trammels of his obtrusive negations, there is hardly a height in prose fiction which he might not have attained. As it is, he gave us in verse Au bord de l'eau, which is nearly the "farthest possible" in a certain expression, of a certain mood of youth, and not of youth only; in prose Boule de Suif, Monsieur Parent, Pierre et Jean, which are all in their way masterpieces, and a hundred things hardly inferior. And so he put himself in the company of "Les Phares"—a light-giver at once and a warner of danger, as well as a part of

cet ardent sanglot qui roule d'age en age, Et vient mourir au bord de notre eternite.[517]

[Sidenote: Huysmans.]

The Naturalist rank and file are so far below Zola and Maupassant that they cannot now, whatever they might have done twenty years ago, claim much notice in such a history as this. The most remarkable of them was probably J. K. Huysmans. It has been charitably suggested or admitted above that his contribution to the Soirees de Medan—a deeply felt story, showing the extreme disadvantage, when, as Mr. De la Pluche delicately put it, "your midlands are out of order," of wandering quarters and vicissitudes in the country, and the intense relief experienced on return to your own comfortable chambers in town,—that this may have been written in the spirit of a farceur, reducing the Goncourtian and Zolaesque principle to the lowest terms of the absurd. But I am by no means sure that it was so, though this suspicion of parody pursues the earlier work of Huysmans to such an extent that a certain class of critic might take his later developments as evidence of design in it. Les Soeurs Vatard is a sort of apodiabolosis of the Goncourts and Zola—a history of entirely uninteresting persons (the "sisters" are work-girls in a printing-house, and their companions suit them) doing entirely uninteresting things, in an atmosphere of foul smells, on a scene littered with garbage, cheered by wine which is red ink, and brandy which is vitriol. A Rebours, not really a novel at all, is the history of a certain M. Des Esseintes, who is a sort of transposed "Bouvard et Pecuchet" in one—trying all arts and sensations; his experiences being made by his historian a vehicle of mostly virulent and almost always worthless criticism on contemporaries. Perhaps the most intolerable thing is the affiche of idolatry for Baudelaire. One remembers the glorious lines:

Et Charles Baudelaire Dedaigneux du salaire.

He certainly might have been disdainful of the salary of the admiration of one of the farceurs of his own "Coucher du Soleil Romantique." But on the whole there is a better way of taking leave of this first Naturalist, and then mystic, and always blagueur. "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Philistine." Which perhaps was his cryptic and circuitous intention. Later M. Huysmans took to Black Arts; and at the last he turned devout—a sort of sequence not by any means uncommon, and one of the innumerable illustrations of the irony of things. Gautier and others had anticipated and satirised all these stages in the Romantic dawn; they reappeared, serious and dreary, in the twilight of the dusk.

[Sidenote: Belot and others.]

Adolphe Belot was not, strictly speaking, a Naturalist, for he was a dozen years older than Zola, and ran up a huge list of novels ranging in character between Naturalism and melodrama. His most famous book, Mlle. Giraud ma Femme, was the most popular of a large number of attempts, about the last third of the century, in the school of La Religieuse, but with more or less deliberately pornographic effect. There is, however, some power in this book, and the "curtain"—the foiled husband, after Mlle. Giraud's death, seeing his she-rival swimming, swims out after and drowns her—is quite refreshing. But I have always liked M. Belot best for a thoughtful and delightful remark in La Femme de Feu. "Heureuse elle-meme, elle trouva naturel de faire les autres heureux," which, translated into plain English, means that she was so happy with her husband that she couldn't help making her lover happy. M. Belot did not work out this modification of the Golden Rule—he was not a philosophic novelist. But it is very humorous in itself, and the extensions and applications of it are illimitable and vertiginous.[518]

Below him it is unnecessary to go.


[455] For the early divisions of verse and prose story were all Topsies, and simply "growed"; although the smaller romances of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century, and the larger of the latter date, were undoubtedly influenced by the Greek, it was more a case of general imitation than specific endeavour; the Sensibility school was very limited and chiefly attended to tricks of manner; and the "Romantic vague" was never vaguer than in the vast and rather formless, though magnificent and delightful, novel-work started by Nodier, Merimee, Vigny, and Hugo. The Naturalists, on the other hand, had a deliberate idea of revolutionising the novel—of abolishing old things and creating new. They could not, and did not, succeed: but their scheme, as well as its results, may claim consideration.

[456] To which a brief consideration of the curious fancy of some French critics that there is something "classical" about Naturalism may be specially relegated.

[457] Merimee, though after his fashion making no fuss about it, was also an early virtuoso in this kind; and one of his letters contains an excellent example of the quiet cynicism in which he excelled. Some ladies had asked to see his collection, and he had very properly warned them that the "curios" of that ingenious and valiant nation were sometimes "curious" in a special sense, and had offered to "select." "Elles ont tout vu," he adds simply, and one hopes his correspondent (I forgot whether it was one of the Inconnues or Madame de Montijo) appreciated the Mount-Everest-like Laconism.

[458] The banal phrase has been framed in the amber of "Theo's" verse, and so debanalised.

[459] The first book of theirs, or rather of Edmond's, though it bore both names, that I read, and the second French book I ever reviewed, was the mainly artistic Gavarni of 1873. One has a human weakness in such cases, but I think one might not have been wholly well disposed to the author from it.

[460] Pepys had nothing that could be called bad blood. Horace perhaps had a little, but it was sweet and childlike compared to the "acrid-quack" fluid of Edmond de Goncourt's veins and heart. Probably several people have seen in M. de Goncourt the suggestion of an un-Puritan Malvolio.

[461] Not, however, in the second case, by Sainte-Beuve, whose lukewarmness Edmond—a "Sensitive Plant" in this way if hardly in others—never forgave.

[462] She served them for a very long period without giving them any apparent cause for complaint. They only found out her delinquencies after her death, or in her last illness—I forget which. Probably nothing could better show "the nature of the animals" than this post-mortem grubbing belowstairs for a "subject," and washing your own household dirty linen in public—for profit.

[463] It may be well to smash, in a passing note, a silly catchword popular with some rather belated English admirers of the Naturalist school a few years ago. They praised its "frankness." You might as well praise the "straightforwardness" of a man who goes out of his way to explore laystalls and, having picked up ordure, holds it up to public view.

[464] Both excellent things in their way, of course. Perhaps it would be better to say asafoetida.

[465] It is perhaps only fair to warn readers who may not know the fact, that some very good and (in the French as well as the English sense) respectable judges think much better of the work, and even of the men or man, than I do. Renee Mauperin especially (as indeed I have admitted) has a considerable body of suffrage; the general style pleases some, and it has been urged for Edmond that good men liked him. But these good men had not read his diary. There is, however, no doubt that it is an exceptionally strong case of "rubbing the [right or the] wrong way." Books and men and style all rub me the wrong way; and, though I have some knack at using the brushes and fixatures of pure criticism, I can't get myself smoothed down.

[466] See note at close of chapter. One of the most comic things in the whole Naturalist episode was the rising up of some of these disciples to rebuke their master, in a round robin, for "right-hand and left-hand defections" from the pure gospel of the sect.

[467] The word is used, designedly but not fraudulently, as combining "observation" and "experiment" to the extent proper to art. Deliberate and after-thought "experiments" in actual life are (except in trivial matters) very risky things; and the Summa Rerum itself is apt to resent them, as, for instance, Mr. Thomas Day and Mr. Felix Graham found in the matter of wife-culture.

[468] V. sup. Vol. I. p. 278. I was much pleased to find that the quotation considerably "put out" one of my few unfavourable critics. "The Importance of Gastronomy in Novels" is a beautiful subject—still, I think, virgin, though Thackeray has touched on it in others once or twice, and illustrated it magnificently himself.

[469] For something on the opposite view, that Naturalism is "classical," see Conclusion.

[470] That Flaubert escaped their error only so far as by fire has been allowed. One might indeed say so by death. For Bouvard et Pecuchet as it stands, and as outlined further, is very near Naturalism. Earlier he had carried the principle far in Salammbo, and would have carried it farther if he had not listened to good advice for once. But he had fire enough in his interior to burn the rubbish and smelt the ore in his better books, and skill enough to run off the metal from the dross, into proper shape. The others had not.

[471] I learn from the lucubrations of some Americans—who, having been, rather late and with some difficulty, induced to perceive that Edgar Poe was their chief literary glory, have taken vehemently to his favourite kind, and written voluminously in and on it—that it ought to be called a "brief-narrative," the hyphen being apparently essential. This is very interesting: and throws much light on the subject. However, having read a great deal on it, I do not find myself much advanced beyond a position which I think I occupied some fifty years ago—to wit, that a short story is not merely a long one cut down, nor a long story a short one spun out.

[472] Barbey d'Aurevilly's (v. sup.) attack on the book is one of the most remarkable instances of the irresponsibility of his criticism.

[473] V. sup. p. 258.

[474] One ought perhaps to verify; but that would be hard lines to have to read Nana twice!

[475] That of the Union Generale.

[476] Verite, though a remarkable "human document" itself, and an indispensable historical document for any student of the particular popular madness with which it deals, need surely be inflicted a second time on no mortal. It is a transposition into the regions of the unmentionable, of the Dreyfus case itself. But nobody save a failure of something like a novelist of genius, with this failure pushed near the confines of madness, could have written it.

[477] "M. Zola [is] apparently persuaded that, if you can only kill God, the Devil will die—an idea which seems to leave out of consideration the idiosyncrasy of a third personage, Man" (The Later Nineteenth Century, Edinburgh and London, 1907, pp. 93, 94).

[478] Only it would have to be real Blake, not imitation, which latter is one of the furthest examples of dreary futility known to the present writer.

[479] The horticulture of L'Abbe Mouret is nearest to an exception; but even that is overdone.

[480] Who might even say, "Is not this a slip of pen or press? Has not 'might' dropped out?" I should doubt it, even if a copy of the original edition had the missing word, for it might easily have been put in by a dull but conscientious "reader." The plural, in Thackeray's careless way, comes from his thinking as he wrote "Are they not all ... personages...." The context confirms this.

[481] There are, of course, comparatively few of these; but the fewness is not positive, even keeping to prose-fiction. Poetry and drama—under their less onerous conditions for this special task—would enlarge the list in goodly fashion.

[482] Shortly after Maupassant's death, I contributed an article on him to the Fortnightly Review. It has never been reprinted, but, by the kindness of the Editor of that Review, I have been permitted to use it as a basis for this notice. I have, however, altered, omitted, and added to a much greater extent than in the few other rehandlings acknowledged in this History. The account of the actual books is wholly new.

[483] I had known Verlaine since his appearance in the Parnasse Contemporain years earlier, but not yet in his most characteristic work.

[484] The following summary, to p. 505, formed no part of the original article and is based on fresh and continuous reading. It is purposely rather more minute than anything else in these later chapters, and was not the easiest part of the book to do, owing to the large number of Maupassant's short stories.

[485] Maupassant could draw gentlemen and ladies, but he often did not do so. His pretty young countesses (not the same persons as those referred to in text), who get drunk together tete-a-tete, and discourse on the best way of making more effectual Josephs out of their footmen, are not pleasing, though they are right in holding that no perfume, save Eau de Cologne, doth become a man.

[486] Vol. I. pp. 150-1.

[487] The usual gutter-Naturalist certainly would—and even M. Zola, I fear, might—have done the "Ephesian matron" business thoroughly: Maupassant, as so often, knew other and better things.

[488] It may suggest Leconte de Lisle to others and may even have been meant for him, but I think it worthy of the earlier and greater poet.

[489] It went, I fear, by mistake with the rest of my books; so I quote from memory. But Southey and Locker have had their duet pleasantly changed into a trio since by Mr. Austin Dobson's Bookman's Budget.

[490] It may be just, and only just necessary to observe (what I know perfectly well) that Maupassant was, in the direct sense, Flaubert's pupil and not Zola's.

[491] He was, says his historian well, "de la race des amants et non point de la race des peres."

[492] The resemblances between Thackeray and Maupassant are very numerous and most remarkable. That they have both been accused of cynicism and sentimentality is only, as it were, the index-finger to the relationship.

[493] At the risk, however, of wearying the reader and "forcing open doors," one may exemplify, from this book also, the artificial character of this obligatory adultery. Anne de Guilleroy has all the qualifications of an almost perfect mistress (in the honourable sense) and wife. She is charming; a flirt to the right point and not beyond it; passionate ditto; affectionate; not capricious; inviolably faithful (in her unfaithfulness, of course); jealous to her own pain, but with no result of malice to others. Yet in order to show all this she has to be an adulteress first—in obedience to this mysterious modernisation and topsy-turvification of ancient Babylonian custom, and the jus primae noctis, and the proverb as to second thoughts being best, and Heaven or the other place knows what else. Here also, as elsewhere, Maupassant—satirist of women as he is—makes her lover a very inferior creature to herself. For Bertin is a selfish coxcomb, and does, at least half, allow himself to be "snuffed out by an article."

[494] Any one who chooses may compare it with the utterances of the late Mr. Henry James. Maupassant's own selection of novels, to illustrate the impossibility of defining a novel, is of the first interest. They are: Manon Lescaut, Paul et Virginie, Don Quichotte, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Werther, Les Affinites Electives, Clarissa [he adds Harlowe, an unauthentic addition, pardonable in a Frenchman, though not in one of us], Emile, Candide, Cinq-Mars, Rene, Les Trois Mousquetaires, Mauprat, Le Pere Goriot, La Cousine Bette, Colomba, Le Rouge et Le Noir, Mademoiselle de Maupin, Notre Dame de Paris, Salammbo, Madame Bovary, Adolphe, M. de Camors, L'Assommoir, and Sapho.

[495] "Amant" as accurately distinguished by M. Jean Richepin in Cesarine (for the benefit of an innocent Hungarian) from "amoureux."

[496] Not that I wish to blaspheme Circe, who always seems to me to have adjusted herself to a disconcertingly changed situation with more than demi-goddesslike dexterity and good humour. It may perhaps be not irrelevant, to discussion of novels in general, to mention something which I have never yet seen put in Homeric discussion, though the bare idea of anything new there being possible may seem preposterous. The arguments of the splitters-up are, naturally enough, seldom if ever literary, belonging as they do to the class of Biblical, that is to say, unliterary, criticism. But strictly literary considerations, furnishing argument of the strongest kind for unity, might be brought by comparing the behaviour of Circe, at the moment referred to, and that of Helen when Paris returned from his defeat. These situations are, of course, in initial circumstance as opposite as possible, though they arrivent a pareille fin. But behind their very opposition there is a conception of the eternal feminine—partly human, partly divine—which it would be very surprising to find in two different persons, and which might, if any one cared to do it, be interestingly worked out from divers other Homeric characters of women or goddesses, from Hera and Aphrodite in the one poem to Nausicaa and Calypso in the other. "How great a novelist was in Homer lost" is a theme too much neglected.

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