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His uncle follows and captures him, but the threatened
sermon turns into a benediction, the priestly male-
diction into an impassioned song to the blossoming
springtide. Babet and Jean receive the old man's
blessing on their betrothal.

Next follows a day in summer, five years later; Jean,
as a soldier in the Italian war, goes through the horrors
of a battle and is wounded, but not dangerously, in the
shoulder. Just as he marches into action he receives a
letter from Uncle Lazare and Babet, full of tender fears
and tremors; he reads it when he recovers conscious-
ness after the battle. Presently he creeps off to help
his excellent colonel, and they support one another
tiU both are carried off to hospital. This episode,
which has something in common with the Sevastopol of
Tolstoi, is exceedingly ingenious in its observation of the
sentiments of a common man under fire.

The third part of the story occurs fifteen years later.
Jean and Babet have now long been married, and Uncle
Lazare, in extreme old age, has given up his cure, and
hves with them in their farm by the river. All things
have prospered with them save one. They are rich,
healthy, devoted to one another, respected by all their
neighbours; but there is a single happiness lacking—
they have no child. And now, in the high autumn
splendour— when the corn and the grapes are ripe, and



Zola



m



the lovely Durance winds like a riband of white satin
through the gold and purple of the landscape — this gift
also is to be theirs. A httle son is born to them in the
midst of the vintage weather, and the old uncle, to whom
life has now no further good thing to offer, drops pain-
lessly from life, shaken down like a blown leaf by his
excess of joy, on the evening of the birthday of the child.
The optimistic tone has hitherto been so consistently
preserved, that we must almost resent the tragedy of
the fourth day. This is eighteen years later, and Jean
is now an elderly man. His son Jacques is in early
manhood. In the midst of their felicity, on a winter's
night, the Durance rises in spate, and all are swept away.
It is impossible, in a brief sketch, to give an impression
of the charm and romantic sweetness of this little master-
piece, a veritable hymn to the Ninon of Provence ; but
it raises many curious reflections to consider that this
exquisitely pathetic pastoral, with all its gracious and
tender personages, should have been written by the
master of Naturahsm, the author of Germinal and of
T*ot-Bonille.

Ill

In 1878, Zola, who had long been wishing for a place
whither to escape from the roar of Paris, bought a little
property on the right bank of the Seine, between Poissy
and Meulan, where he built himself the house which he
inhabited to the last, and which he made so famous.
Medan, the village in which this property is placed, is
a very quiet hamlet of less than two hundred inhabitants,
absolutely unillustrious, save that, according to tradition,
Charles the Bold was baptized in the font of its parish
church. The river Hes before it, with its rich meadows,
its poplars, its willow groves ; a deUcious and somnolent



138 French Profiles

air of peace hangs over it, though so close to Paris.
Thither the master's particular friends and disciples
soon began to gather : that enthusiastic Boswell, Paul
Alexis; Guy de Maupassant, a stalwart oarsman, in his
skiff, from Rouen ; others, whose names were soon to
come prominently forward in connection with that
naturahstic school of which Zola was the leader.

It was in 1880 that the little hamlet on the Poissy
Road awoke to find itself made famous by the publica-
tion of a volume which marks an epoch in French litera-
ture, and still more in the history of the short story.
Les Soirees de Medan was a manifesto by the naturalists,
the most definite and the most defiant which had up to
that time been made. It consisted of six short stories,
several of which were of remarkable excellence, and all
of which awakened an amount of discussion almost
unprecedented. Zola_ca me first with L'Attaque du
Moulin, which is rath er a short novel than a genuine
conte. The next story was Boide de Suif, a veritab le
masterpiec e in a new vein, by an entirely new novelist,
a certain M. Guy de Maupassant, thirty years of age,
who had been presented to Zola, with warm recommen-
dations, by Gustave Flaubert. The other contributors
were M. Henri^Ceard^ who also had as yet published
nothing, a man who seems to have greatly impressed all
his associates, but who has done little or nothing to
justify their hopes; M ^ Joris Karel Huysmans, older
than the rest, and already somewhat distinguished for
picturesque, malodorous novels; M. Leon Hennique. a
youth from Guadeloupe, who had attracted attention
by a very odd and powerful novel, I m Devouee, the story
of an inventor who murders his daughter that he may
employ her fortune on perfecting his machine; and
finally, the faithful Paul Alexis, a native, hke Zola



Zola 139

himself, of Aix in Provence, and full of the perfervid
extravagance of the South. The thread on which the
whole book is hung is the supposition that these stories
are broug ht to Medan to be read of an eyeningto Zola,
and that he lead s off bYJelljng a tgile,of his own.

Nothing need be said here, however, of the works of
those disciples who placed themselves under the flag
of Medan, and little of that story in which, with his
accustomed bonhomie of a good giant, Zola accepted their
comradeship and consented to march with them. The
Attack on the Mill is very well known to English readers,
who, even when they have not met with it in the original,
have been empowered to estimate its force and truth as
a narrative. Whenever Zola writes of war, he writes
seriously and well. Like the Julien of his late reminis-
cences, he has never loved war for its own sake. He has
little of the mad and pompous chivalry of the typical
Frenchman in his nature. He sees war as the disturber,
the annihilator ; he recognises in it mainly a destructive,
stupid, unintelligible force, set in motion by those in
power for the discomfort of ordinary beings, of workers
like himself. But in the course of three European wars
— those of his childhood, of his youth, of his maturity —
he has come to see beneath the surface, and in La Debacle
he almost agrees with our young Jacobin poets of one
hundred years ago, that Slaughter is God's daughter.

In this connection, and as a commentary on The
Attack on the Mill, I would commend to the earnest
attention of readers the three short papers entitled Trois
Guerres. Nothing on the subject lias been written more
picturesque, nor, in its simple way, more poignant, than
this triple chain of reminiscences. Whether Louis and
Julien existed under those forms, or whether the episodes
which thev illustrate are fictitious, matters little or



140 French Profiles

nothing. The brothers are natural enough, dehghtful
enough, to belong to the world of fiction, and if their
story is, in the historical sense, true, it is one of those
rare instances in which fact is better than fancy. The
crisis under which the timid Julien, having learned the
death of his spirited martial brother, is not broken
down, but merely frozen into a cold soldierly passion,
and spends the remainder of the campaign — he, the
poet, the nestler by the fireside, the timid club-man —
in watching behind hedges for Prussians to shoot or stab,
is one of the most extraordinary and most interesting
that a novelist has ever tried to describe. And the
light that it throws on war as a disturber of the moral
nature, as a dynamitic force exploding in the midst of
an elaborately co-related society, is unsurpassed, even
by the studies which Count Lyof Tolstoi has made in
a similar direction. It is unsurpassed, because it is
essentially without prejudice. It admits the discomfort,
the horrible vexation and shame of war, and it tears
aside the conventional purple and tinsel of it ; but at
the same time it admits, not without a sigh, that even
this clumsy artifice may be the only one available for the
cleansing of the people.

IV

In 1883, Zola published a third volume of short stories,
under the title of the opening one, Le Capitaine Burle.
This collection contains the dehcate series of brief semi-
autobiographical essays called Aux Champs, little studies
of past impression, touched with a charm which is almost
kindred to that of Robert Louis Stevenson's memories.
With this exception, the volume consists of four short
stories, and of a set of little death-bed anecdotes, called
Comment on Meiirt. This latter is hardly in the writer's



Zola 141

best style, and suffers by suggesting the immeasurably
finer and deeper studies of the same kind which the
genius of Tolstoi has elaborated. Of these little sketches
of death, one alone, that of Madame Rousseau, the
stationer's wife, is quite of the best class. This is an
excellent episode from the sort of Parisian life which
Zola understands best, the lower middle class, the small
and active shopkeeper, who just contrives to be respect-
able and no more. The others seem to be invented rather
than observed.

The four stories which make up the bulk of this book
are almost typical examples of Zola's mature style.
They are worked out with extreme care, they display
in every turn the skill of the practised narrator, they
are solid and yet buoyant in style, and the construction
of each may be said to be faultless. It is faultless to
a fault ; in other words, the error of the author is to be
mechanically and inevitably correct. It is difficult to
define wherein the over-elaboration shows itself, but in
every case the close of the story leaves us sceptical and
cold. The denouement is too brilliant and conclusive,
the threads are drawn together with too much evidence
of preoccupation. The impression is not so much of a
true tale told as of an extraordinary situation frigidly
written up to and accounted for. In each case a certain
social condition is described at the beginning, and a
totally opposite condition is discovered at the end of
the story. We are tempted to believe that the author
determined to do this, to turn the whole box of bricks
absolutely topsy-turvy. This disregard of the soft and
supple contours of nature, this rugged air of molten
metal, takes away from the pleasure we should otherwise
legitimately receive from the exhibition of so much fancy,
so much knowledge, so many proofs of observation.



142 French Profiles

The story which gives its name to the book, Lg_
Capitaine Biirh. is perhaps the best, because it has least
onnsair of artifice. In a mihtary county town, a
captain, who Hves with his anxious mother and his httle,
palUd, motherless son, sinks into vicious excesses, and
pilfers from the regiment to pay for his vices. It is a
great object with the excellent major, who discovers
this condition, to save his friend the captain in some
way which will prevent an open scandal, and leave the
child free for ultimate success in the army. After trying
every method, and discovering that the moral nature of
the captain is altogether too soft and too far sunken to
be redeemed, as the inevitable hour of publicity ap-
proaches, the major insults his friend in a cafe, so as to
give him an opportunity of fighting a duel and dying
honourably. This is done, and the scandal is evaded,
without, however, any good being thereby secured to
the family, for the little boy dies of weakness and his
grandmother starves. Still, the name of Burle has not
been dragged through the mud.

Zola has rarely displayed the quality of humour, but
it is present in the story called La Fete a Coqueville.
Coqueville is the name given to a very remote Norman
fishing-village, set in a gorge of rocks, and almost in-
accessible except from the sea. Here a sturdy popu-
lation of some hundred and eighty souls, all sprung
from one or other of two rival families, live in the
condition of a tiny Verona, torn between contending
interests. A ship laden with liqueurs is wrecked on the
rocks outside, and one precious cask after another comes
riding into Coqueville over the breakers. The villagers,
to whom brandy itself has hitherto been the rarest of
luxuries, spend a glorious week of perfumed inebriety,
sucking sphnters that drip with benedictine, catching



Zola



H3



noyau in iron cups, and supping up cura9ao from the
bottom of a boat. Upon this happy shore chartreuse
flows hke cider, and trappistine is drunk out of a mug.
The rarest drinks of the world— Chios mastic and
Servian shwowitz, Jamaica rum and arrack, creme de
moka and raki drip among the mackerel nets and deluge
the seaweed. In the presence of this extraordinary
and fantastic bacchanal all the disputes of the rival
families are forgotten, class prejudices are drowned,
and the mayor's rich daughter marries the poorest of
the fisher-sons of the enemy's camp. It is very amus-
ingly and very picturesquely told, but spoiled a little by
Zola's pet sin — the overcrowding of details, the theatrical
completeness and orchestral big-drum of the final scene.
Too many barrels of liqueur come in, the village becomes
too universally drunk, the scene at last becomes too
Lydian for credence.

In the two remaining stories of this collection — Pour
une Nuit d' Amour and L'Inondation — the fault of
mechanical construction is still more plainly obvious.
Each of these narratives begins with a carefully accentu-
ated picture of a serene hfe : in the first instance, that
of a timid lad sequestered in a country town; in the
second, that of a prosperous farmer, surrounded by his
family and enjoying all the delights of material and moral
success. In each case this serenity is but the prelude to
events of the most appalling tragedy — a tragedy which
does not merely strike or wound, but positively annihi-
lates. The story called L'Inondation, which describes
the results of a bore on the Garonne, would be as pathetic
as it is enthralling, exciting, and effective, if the destruc-
tion were not so absolutely complete, if the persons so
carefully enumerated at the opening of the piece were
not all of them sacrificed, and, as in the once popular



144 French Profiles

song called " An 'Orrible Tale," each by some different
death of peculiar ingenuity. As to Pour une Niiit
d' Amour, it is not needful to do more than say that it
is one of the most repulsive productions ever published
by its author, and a vivid exception to the general
innocuous character of his short stories.

No little interest, to the practical student of literature,
attaches to the fact that in L'Inondation Zola is really
re-writing, in a more elaborate form, the fourth section
of his Jean Gourdon. Here, as there, a farmer who has
Uved in the greatest prosperity, close to a great river, is
stripped of everything — of his house, his wealth, and
his family — by a sudden rising of the waters. It is
unusual for an author thus to re-edit a work, or tell the
same tale a second time at fuller length, but the sequences
of incidents will be found to be closely identical, although
the later is by far the larger and the more populous
story. It is not uninteresting to the technical student
to compare the two pieces, the composition of which
was separated by about ten years.



Finally, in 1884, Zola published a fourth collection,
named, after the first of the series, Na'is Micoulin.
This volume contained in all six stories, each of con-
siderable extent. I do not propose to dwell at any
length on the contents of this book, partly because they
belong to the finished period of naturalism, and seem
more hke castaway fragments of the Rougon-Macquart
epos than hke independent creations, but also because
they clash with the picture I have sought to draw of an
optimistic and romantic Zola returning from time to
time to the short story as a shelter from his theories.



Zola 145

Of these tales, one or two are trifling and passably
insipid ; the Parisian sketches called Nantas and Madame
Neigon have little to be said in favour of their existence.
Here Zola seems desirous to prove to us that he could
write as good Octave Feuillet, if he chose, as the author
of Monsieur de Camors himself. In Les Coquillages de
M. Chabre, which I confess I read when it first appeared,
and have now re-read with amusement, we see the heavy
Zola endeavouring to sport as gracefully as M. de
Maupassant, and in the same style. The impression
of buoyant Atlantic seas and hollow caverns is well
rendered in this most unedifying story. Na/s Micoulin,
which gives its name to the book, is a disagreeable tale
of seduction and revenge in Provence, narrated with the
usual ponderous conscientiousness. In each of the last
mentioned the background of landscape is so vivid that
we half forgive the faults of the narrative.

The two remaining stories in the book are more re-
markable, and one of them, at least, is of positive value.
It is curious that in La Mort d'Olivier Becailles and
Jacques Dantour Zola should in the same volume present
versions of the Enoch Arden story, the now familiar
episode of the man who is supposed to be dead, and
comes back to find his wife re-married. Ohvier Becaille
is a poor clerk, lately arrived in Paris with his wife ; he
is in wretched health, and has always been subject to
cataleptic seizures. In one of these he falls into a state
of syncope so prolonged that they believe him to be
dead, and bury him. He manages to break out of his
cofhn in the cemetery, and is picked up fainting by a
philanthropic doctor. He has a long illness, at the end
of which he cannot discover what has become of his
wife. After a long search, he finds that she has married
a very excellent young fellow, a neighbour ; and in the

L



146 French Profiles

face of her happiness, Ohvier Becaille has not the courage
to disturb her. Like Tennyson's " strong, heroic soul,"
he passes out into the silence and the darkness.

The exceedingly powerful story called Jacques Damour
treats the same idea, but with far greater mastery, and
in a less conventional manner. Jacques Damour is a
Parisian artisan, who becomes demoralised during the
siege, and joins the Commune. He is captured by the
Versailles army, and sentenced to penal servitude in
New Caledonia, leaving a wife and a little girl behind
him in Paris. After some years, in corrtpany with two
or three other convicts, he makes an attempt to escape.
He, in fact, succeeds in escaping, with one companion,
the rest being drowned before they get out of the colony.
One of the dead men being mistaken for him, Jacques
Damour is reported home deceased. When, after
credible adventures, and at the declaration of the
amnesty, he returns to Paris, his wife and daughter have
disappeared. At length he finds the former married to a
prosperous butcher in the Batignolles, and he summons
up courage, egged on by a rascally friend, to go to the
shop in midday and claim his law^ful wife. The suc-
cessive scenes in the shop, and the final one, in which
the ruddy butcher, sure of his advantage over this
squalid and prematurely wasted ex-convict, bids Felicie
take her choice, are superb. Zola has done nothing
more forcible or life-like. The poor old Damour retires,
but he still has a daughter to discover. The finale of the
tale is excessively unfitted for the young person, and no
serious critic could do otherwise than blame it. But, at
the same time, I am hardened enough to admit that I
think it very true to life and not a little humorous, which,
I hope, is not equivalent to a moral commendation. We
may, if we like, wish that Zola had never written Jacques



Zola



47



Damour, but nothing can prevent it from being a
superbly constructed and supported piece of narrative,
marred by unusually few of the mechanical faults of his
later work.

The consideration of the optimistic and sometimes
even sentimental short stories of Zola helps to reveal
to a candid reader the undercurrent of pity which exists
even in the most " naturalistic " of his romances. It
cannot be too often insisted upon that, although he tried
to write books as scientific as anything by Pasteur or
Claude Bernard, he simply could not do it. His innate
romanticism would break through, and, for all his
efforts, it made itself apparent even when he strove with
the greatest violence to conceal it. In his contes he
does not try to fight against his native idealism, and
they are, in consequence, perhaps the most genuinely
characteristic productions of his pen which exist.

1892.



FERDINAND FABRE



FERDINAND FABRE

On the nth of February, 1898, carried off by a brief
attack of pneumonia, one of the most original of the
contemporary writers of France passed away almost un-
observed. All his life through, the actions of Ferdinand
Fabre were inopportune, and certainly so ambitious an
author should not have died in the very central heat
of the Zola trial. He was just going to be elected,
moreover, into the French Academy. After several
misunderstandings and two rebuffs, he was safe at last.
He was standing for the chair of Meilhac, and " sur de
son affaire." For a very long while the Academy had
looked askance at Fabre, in spite of his genius and the
purity of his books. His attitude seemed too much like
that of an unfrocked priest ; he dealt with the world of
religion too intimately for one who stood quite outside.
Years ago. Cardinal Perraud is reported to have said,
" I may go as far as Loti — but as far as Fabre, never ! "
Yet every one gave way at last to the gentle charm of
the Cevenol novelist. Taine and Renan had been his
supporters; a later generation, MM. Halevy, Claretie,
and Jules Lemaitre in particular, were now his ardent
friends. The Cardinals were appeased, and the author
of L'Abbe Tigrane was to be an Immortal at last.
Ferdinand Fabre would not have been himself if he
had not chosen that moment for the date of his decease.
All his life through he was isolated, a httle awkward, not
in the central stream ; but for all that his was a talent
so marked and so individual that it came scarcely short

151



152 French Profiles

of genius. Taine said long ago that one man, and one
man only, had in these recent years understood the soul
of the average French priest, and that one man was
Ferdinand Fabre. He cared little for humanity unless
it wore a cassock, but, if it did, his study of its peculiari-
ties was absolutely untiring. His books are galleries of
the portraits of priests, and he is to French fiction what
Zurbaran is to Spanish painting.



Ferdinand Fabre was born in 1830 at Bedarieux, in
the Herault, that department which lies between the
southern masses of the Cevennes Mountains and the
lagoons of the Mediterranean. This is one of the most
exquisite districts in France; just above Bedarieux,
the great moors or ganigues begin to rise, and brilliant
little rivers, the Orb and its tributaries, wind and dash
between woodland and meadow, hurrying to the hot
plains and the fiery Gulf of Lyons. But, up there in
the Espinouze, all is crystal-fresh and dewy-cool, a mild
mountain-country positively starred with churches,
since if this is one of the poorest it is certainly one of
the most pious parts of France. This zone of broken
moorland along the north-western edge of the Herault
is Fabre's province; it belongs to him as the Berry
belongs to George Sand or Dorsetshire to Mr. Hardy.
He is its discoverer, its panegyrist, its satirist. It was
as little known to Frenchmen, when he began to write,
as Patagonia ; and in volume after volume he has made
them familiar with its scenery and its population. For
most French readers to-day, the Lower Cevennes are
what Ferdinand Fabre has chosen to represent them.

When the boy was born, his father was a successful
local architect, who had taken advantage of a tide of



Ferdinand Fabre 153

prosperity which, on the revival of the cloth-trade, was
sweeping into Bedarieux, to half-rebuild the town.
But the elder Fabre was tempted by his success to enter
into speculations which were unlucky ; and, in par-
ticular, a certain too ambitious high-road (often to be
mentioned in his son's novels), between Agde on the sea
and Castres on the farther side of the mountains, com-
pleted his ruin. In 1842, when the boy was twelve, the
family were on the brink of bankruptcy. His uncle,
the Abbe Fulcran Fabre, priest of the neighbouring
parish of Camplong, offered to take Ferdinand to himself
for awhile. In Ma Vocation the novelist has given an


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