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city of Peking.

We cannot follow the author through his intellectual
adventures, on a scene the most mysterious and the
most tragic in the modern world, where, it is true, the
agony of movement had ceased, but where, in the sus-
pense and hush, the mental excitement was perhaps
even greater than it had been during the siege. Every-
where was brooding the evidence of massacre, every-
where the horror of catastrophe, in what had so lately
been the most magnificent city in the world, and what
was now merely the most decrepit. The author, by
virtue of his errand and his fame, had the extreme good
fortune to be passed from the ruined French Embassy,
in and in, through the Yellow City and the Pink City,
to the very Holy of Holies, the ultimate and mysterious
shrine, never before exhibited or even described to a
Western eye, where, above the fabulous Lake of Lotus,
the Empress and the Emperor had their group of secluded
palaces. He was lodged in a gallery, walled entirely
with glass and rice-paper, where marvellous ebony
sculptures dropped in lacework from the ceiling, and
where Imperial golden-yellow carpets, incredibly soft
and sumptuous, rolled their dragons along the floor.
Here the Empress, until a month or two before, had
played the goddess among her great ladies in an indolent
magnificence of flowers and satins and music.

But, perhaps, more incalculable still was the little
dark chamber, furnished with a deep austerity of taste,
and faintly pervaded with an odour of tea, of withered
roses and of old silks, where, on a low bed, the dark blue
coverlid thrown hastily aside, no change had been made
since the pale and timid Emperor, whose innermost lair
this was, had risen, in a paroxysm of terror, to fly for his

Pierre Loti


life into the darkness, into the unknown spaces, guided
only by that fierce and wonderful woman, of whose
personal greatness everything that reaches us through
the dimness of report merely seems to intensify our

It is impossible here to do more than indicate the
fullness of the descriptive passages which throng this
volume. All the scenes, by day and night, in the Pink
City, with its ramparts the colour of dried blood ; all
the pictures of temples and pagodas, half-lost in groves
of immemorial cedars, and stained, in their exquisite
and precious beauty, by dust, and corruption, and
neglect ; all the visits to sinister mandarins ; all the
chiaroscuro of night, scented and twinkling, falling upon
this foul and fairylike nightmare — all must be read in
the author's own language. How concise that is, how
unaffected, how competent to transfer to us the image
strongly imprinted upon Loti's own delicately ductile
vision, one extract must suffice to exemplify. It is the
conclusion of the account he gives of his visit to the
triple Temple of the Lamas, where all had been in
contrast, in its colour of ochre and rust, with the rose-
colour and golden yellow of purely Chinese state
ornament : —

" Ce dernier temple — le plus caduc peut-etre, le plus
dejete, et le plus vermoulu — ne presente que la repetition
obsedante des deux autres — sauf pourtant I'idole du
centre qui, au lieu d'etre assise et de taille humaine,
surgit debout, geante, imprevue et presnue effroyable.
Les plafonds d'or, coupes pour la laisser passer, lui
arrivent a mi-jambe, et elle montetoute droitesous une
espece de clocher dore, qui la tient par trop etroitement
emboitee. Pour voir son visage, il faut s'approcher
tout contre les autels, et lever la tete au milieu des brulc-

232 French Profiles

parfums et des rigides fleurs ; on dirait alors une momie
de Titan erigee dans sa gaine, et son regard baisse, an
premier abord, cause quelque crainte. Mais, en la
fixant, on subit d'elle un malefice plutot charmeur; on
se sent hypnotise et retenu la par son sourire, qui tombe
d'en haut si detache et si tranquille, sur tout son en-
tourage de splendeur expirante, d'or, et de poussiere, de
froid, de crepuscule, de mines, et de silence."

Pierre Loti's brief visit was paid just when the tide
was turning. Even while he stayed in his fairy palace
he noted the rapid recovery of Peking. The corpses
were being buried out of sight, the ruins repaired, the
raw edges of useless and barbarous destruction healed
over. And now, after so short an absence, the mysterious
Empress and her flock of mandarins are back once more,
to restore as best they may their sparkhng terraces of
alabaster and their walls of sanguine lac. Once more
the secrets of the Pink City will fold their soft curtains
around them, and that inscrutable existence of cere-
monious luxury resume its ancient course. Will any
living Western man see again what Loti and his comrades
saw in the winter of 1900 ? In one sense it is impossible
that he should, since the adorable palace of the Empress,
occupied b}' Field-Marshal von Waldersee, was burned
down by accident in April 1901. But even what survives
is only too likely to be hidden again for ever from Euro-
pean eyes, unless, indeed, another massacre of Christians
throws it open to our righteous Vandalism.




The talent of M. Paul Bourget has but rarely consented
to submit itself to that precision of form and rapidity
of narrative which are necessary for the conduct of a
short story. His novels, indeed, have been becoming
longer and longer, and the latest, Un Crime d' Amour,
had, we are bound to confess, such an abundance of
reflections and so little plot that it seemed to take us
back to the days of Marivaux and Richardson. It was,
therefore, a pleasant surprise to open M. Bourget's new
volume, and discover that it is a collection of six inde-
pendent stories, not one of them lengthy. The title,
Voyageuses, is explained by a brief preface. These are
tales of female travellers, whom the author has met
(or feigns to have met) in the course of those restless
perambulations of the world which he describes to us,
every now and then, in his graceful " sensations."
M. Bourget appears to us in Voyagettses in his very
happiest vein, with least of his mannerism and most
of his lucid gift of penetrating through action to motive.
The first of these stories is also the most subtle and
pleasing. " Antigone " is the name the author gives
to a Frenchwoman whom he meets in Corfu. She is
the sister of a deputy who has been attainted in the
Panama scandal, and who still tries to be dignified in
exile. This ignoble person affects complete innocence,


236 French Profiles

and has deceived a noble Ionian burgher, Napoleon
Zaffoni, into a belief in him, so that Zaffoni entrusts to
him the MS. of a book, the work of his lifetime, on the
history and constitution of the Ionian Islands. From
this the deputy grossly plagiarises, and would be cast
forth even from Corfu were he not protected by the
fervent good faith of his sister, who, in spite of all his
rogueries, persists in believing in him. His character
is presently whitewashed in Paris, and he returns to the
Chamber of Deputies triumphant, owing all to the long-
suffering old maid whom he probably robs and upon
whom he certainly tramples.

We pass over to America in the somewhat fantastic
tale called " Deux Menages." The author has been
told in Paris that he must make the acquaintance of
Mrs. Tennyson R. Harris, who is " such " a bright,
cultured woman with a " lovely " home at Newport.
Unfortunately there is a husband, a common millionaire,
without any conversation ; but one need take no notice
of him. M. Bourget visits Mrs. Tennyson R. Harris,
but finds her pretentious, scandalous and empty, and
her lovely home a crazy shop of knick-knacks. But,
on the other hand, he becomes deeply interested in the
husband, a silent, down -trodden man, horribly over-
worked and beginning to suffer from " nerve-trouble."
He is ordered south for rest, and invites the author to
come with him. At Thomasville, a fashionable watering-
place in Georgia, they have a curious experience, which
M. Bourget must be left to tell in his own words.

We are next in Ireland, in the exquisite story called
" Neptunevale." Two young Parisians of fashion, the
one as empty-headed as the other, but, beneath their
frivolity, deeply and mutually enamoured, receive soon
after their marriage a singular legacy. It is nothing

M. Paul Bourget 237

less than a small property on the west coast of Ireland,
where an uncle of the hero's, having persisted against
the wish of his family in marrying a governess, retired
half a century ago in dogged determination of exile.
The young people do not know what to do with this
little white Irish elephant, except to sell it for as much
cash as it would fetch. But they have a curiosity to
see it first, and, utterly ignorant, they persuade M.
Bourget, who " knows the language," to come over
with them. Neptunevale — for that is the name of their
uncle's home — lies on the coast of county Galway ; they
have to get out at Oranmore station and drive to it.
The arrival at the strange house, the reception of the
French visitors by the old Irish servants, the way that
the Celtic sentiment invades and engulfs the new-
comers, so that at last they are afraid to sell the place
at all, but find it exercising a curious fascination over
them, an attraction half of terror and half of love — all
this is described with extreme skill and delicacy. Nor
can we fail to remark, with some degree of surprise as
well as of admiration, how exactly M. Bourget, who
can have but a slight and superficial knowledge of
Ireland, has caught the note of Irish mysticism. There
is a scene in which an old mad woman and a little boy
sacrifice a cock, with horrid rites, to some dim Celtic
deity, which is calculated to give Mr. Yeats himself a

Much more conventional is " Charite de Femme,"
a story which I should be inclined to describe as in-
significant, were it not that it contains an incident, very
naturally and unexpectedly introduced, which illuminates
it, as with a flash of lightning. The scene of this tale,
moreover, is laid in the islands off the coast of Provence,
a territory which seemed to belong till lately to Guy de


French Profiles

Maupassant, and has since been annexed by M. Melchior
de Vogiie. There is a vague sense in which we conceive
that certain districts are the property of particular
novelists, and resent the intrusion of others, unless the
newcomers bring with them some ver\' marked freshness
of the point of view. This is wanting in " Charite de
Femme." More striking is " Odile," which is composed,
in point of fact, of two distinct episodes. In a Parisian
drawing-room the author meets a strange Marquise
d'Estinac, ver\' distinguished, shy and mysterious, who
invites him to take a drive with her in her carriage, for
the purpose, as he afterwards divines, of enabling her
to conquer an otherwise irtesistible tendency to suicide.
He learns that she is extremely fond of her husband, who
neglects her for a belle mondaine, Madame Justel. While
the author is still bewildered at a circumstance which is
unparalleled in his career — for the companion of his
drive refused to sp)eak to him or look at him — he abruptly
hears of the sudden and mysterious death of Madame
d'Estinac. A couple of years afterwards, being at
Maloja, he meets in the hotel there the Marquis, who
has in the meantime married Madame Justel. A third
person is of the party. Mademoiselle Odile d'Estinac, a
girl of fourteen, the exact counterpart of her unfortunate
mother. M. Bourget soon perceives that between this
proud, reser\'ed child and her new stepmother the re-
lations are more than strained. He is witness to the
insulting t\Tanny of the one, the isolation and despair
of the other; and the body of Odile is presently dis-
covered in the tarn below the hotel.

The longest and the most elaborated of these stories
is the last, and it does not properly belong to them, foi
" La Pia " is no vi/yagettsg, but a dweller, against her
will, in the tents of Shem. This beautiful and extra-

M. Paul Bourget


ordinary tale of a masterpiece stolen from the remote
basilica of San Spirito in Val d'Elsa is one of the most
effective examples we have met with of M. Bourget's
method. It would be unfair to describe it fully, for while
the five previous stories, of which we have given the
brief outlines, depend exclusively for their effect on their
execution, here the surprises of the plot have their
adventitious value. The English readers of this v^olume
will be inclined to see in it a curious tribute to an artist
of our own race. It is hardly possible to believe that
M. Bourget, who has always shown himself sensitive, as
perhaps no other French writer of equal value, to exotic
influences, has been an inattentive reader of Mr. Henry
James's latest volumes, and, in particular, of Embarrass-
ments and Terminations. He remains, of course,
essentially himself; but, as Guy de Maupassant in Notre
Cceur was evidently trying his hand at an essay in the
Bourget manner, so in " Antigone " and " La Pia " M.
Bourget is discovered, so it seems at least to us, no less
indubitably trying what he can produce with the pencils
and two-inch square of ivory that are the property of
Mr. Henry James.



The violence of public movements in France in 1897
was so great as to produce an unusual scarcity in literary
productions. In such a barren season, therefore, the
fecundity of M. Paul Bourget is remarkable. La Duchesse
Bleue is the third volume which he has published this
year, and it is one of the most solid and elaborate of his
novels. But it is not quite new, although it is now given
to the public for the first time in book form. Five years
ago, if I remember right, the " Journal " applied to

240 French Profiles

M. Bourget in great haste for a new novel, and he wrote,
somewhat in a hurry and for that special purpose, a story
called Trois Ames d' Artistes. He was dissatisfied with
it, and left it there in the lost columns of a daily news-
paper, from which he has now redeemed it, taking the
opportunity to revise, adapt and indeed rewrite it as
La Duchesse Bleue. We are not sure that this is ever
a very fortunate method of producing a book, and,
although the novel before us bears trace of extraordinary
care and fastidious correction, it lacks that spontaneity
which comes with work which has been run on right lines
from its very inception. La Duchesse Bleue, let me
admit at once, is not M. Bourget's masterpiece.

But it possesses a dedication, which is something of
a literary event. The dedications of M. Bourget have
always been a curious feature of his work. They are
often, as in the present case, essays of some length and
seriousness ; they frequently develop a theory or a
philosophy of the ingenious writer's. On principle, we
are adverse to such prefatory disquisitions. If an
author, long after the date of original publication, hkes
to gossip to us about the mode in which the plot and
place commended themselves to him, we are well pleased
to listen.^But to open a new novel, and to find that a
critical or metaphysical essay divides us from the tale,
is not, to our mind, a happy discovery. 'It tends to
destroy the illusion ; it is, in its distinguished way, of
the same order of obstacle as " this is a fact " of the very
clumsy narrator. We begin by passing under a cold
shower of scepticism ; the effort to believe in the story
is vastly increased. The dedicatory prefaces of M.
Bourget are peculiarly disillusioning. He talks in them
so much about the craftsman and the artist, so much
about methods and forms ; in short, he takes the music-

M. Paul Bourget 241

box to pieces before us so resolutely, that we start with
a sense of artificiality. Even in these complex days, we
hke to pretend that we are sitting in a ring around the
story-teller, under the hawthorn-tree, and that when
he says, " There was, once upon a time," once upon a
time there was.

In the case before us we are, as usual, of opinion that
the " dedication " is no help to the reader in giving him
faith in the incidents about to be related to him, but it
forms in itself an agreeable and suggestive piece of
literature. It is addressed to Madame Matilde Serao,
the Neapolitan novelist, whose astonishing // paese di
Cuccagna, by the way, has been excellently translated
out of the Italian by Madame Paul Bourget. M.
Bourget has been reading this brilhant book, and he
has felt, once more, what a chasm divides the crowded
and animated scenes of Madame Serao from his own
limited studies of psychological problems. Accordingly
he writes a long letter to explain this to Madame Serao,
and to remind her that in the house of the novel there
are many chambers. The great central hall, no doubt,
is that occupied by herself and Balzac, Zola and Tolstoi
— and, we may add, by Fielding and Dickens — where
an eager creative energy sets on their feet, and spurs
to concerted action personages of every kind, in hundreds
at a time. This prodigious power to crowd the canvas
with figures belongs to Madame Serao alone among
the living novelists of Italy. One has only to recollect
how entirely it is wanting to Gabriele d'Annunzio. It
is a gift not to be despised ; it suggests a virility of intel-
lect and a breadth of sympathy which are rewarded by a
direct influence over a wide circle of readers. The
success of such novels, in the hands of a great artist, is
not problematical, because they possess, obviously and


242 French Profiles

beyond contradiction, what M. Bourget calls " le coloris
de la vie en mouvement."

If, however, this kind of scene-painting were the only
species of fiction permitted, there are many novelists who
could never earn their daily bread, and M, Bourget is
one of them. Accordingly his flattering address to
Madame Serao is merely the prelude to an ingenious
apology for the painting of sentiments and emotions in
the novel which analyses minute and fugitive impres-
sions. This demands a closeness of texture and a
strenuous uniformity of technical effort which are in
themselves advantages, but which are with difficulty
exercised in the huge world-romance. In the course
of his essay M. Bourget pauses to express his warm
admiration of Mr. Henry James, whom he takes as the
first living exponent of this peculiarly intense and vivid
manner of contemplating, as through a microscope, the
movement of intellectual life. We cannot but record
this fact with complaisance, since, in reviewing Voya-
genses last year, we remarked that, if it were possible to
imagine that a prominent French writer could undergo
the influence of an Anglo-Saxon contemporary, the
transition which the style and attitude of M. Bourget
are now undergoing would point to a deliberate study of
Mr. James's manner. M. Bourget, in the dedication to
La Duchesse Bleue, practically confesses that we were
con"ect in what seemed our almost daring conjecture.
He names Mr, James's volume called Terminations as
the model which he has placed before himself in his
recent treatment of problems of artistic psychology.

The original name of the story before us was Trois
Ames d' Artistes, as we have already said. M. Bourget
explains that, on reflection, he thought this too am-
bitious a title. It was at least descriptive, whereas

M. Paul Bourget 243

La Duchessc Bleue suggests nothing; it proves upon
examination to be the nickname of a part in a play in
which the heroine made a success. M. Bourget has
portrayed in this book three artistic temperaments set
side by side. These are respectively those of a novelist
and dramatist, an actress and a painter, and he has
shown these three persons to us in a mutual crisis of
tragical passion. Jacques Moran, the dramatist, has a
play being acted, for the principal role in which a charm-
ing little actress, with a Botticelli face, Camille Favier,
makes a great success ; the painter is Vincent la Croix,
who tells the story. Moran is adored by Camille, but
deserts her for a woman of fashion, Madame do Bonnivet,
while Vincent, worked upon by his generous indignation
at this treatment, fails to perceive through three hundred
pages that he himself loves Camille, and might be loved
in return. The plot is no more complicated than this,
and we confess that it requires some respect for M.
Bourget and some enthusiasm for the processes of the
psychological novel to carry us through so long a book
attached to so slender a thread of plot.

Moran and Camille are entirely successful in life,
Vincent la Croix is a failure in everything he touches,
and the object of La Duchesse Bleue seems to be to
distinguish between the one race of artists which trans-
lates marvellously without itself experiencing, and the
other race which experiences without being able to
translate. For a phrase to say on the boards, for a
sentence to write in a book, the former class would sell
their father or their mother.

The moral of La Duchesse Bleue, in a nutshell, is that
if we wisB to keep our hearts tender and fresh, we must
be content to be ourselves mediocre and obscure. The
thesis is a not unfamiliar one. It occurred to the fiery


244 French Profiles

spirit of Elizabeth Browning while she watched the
great god Pan, down by the reeds in the river, " draw
out the pith like the heart of a man." In the hypo-
thesis of the French novelist, a love, a hatred, a joy,
a sorrow, is to the really successful artist nothing more
than so much manured earth out of which he can force
the flower of his talent, that blossom of delicacy and
passion, to perfect which he will not hesitate for a
moment to kill in himself every true delicacy and every
living emotion. It is not a pleasant theory, and the
ugliness of it may help us who form the vast majority
of men and women to bear with fortitude the mortifying
fact that we were not born to be geniuses. But we
think that M. Bourget makes a mistake in attributing
this peculiarly inhuman hardness of heart exclusively
to the artist of the highest class. We are afraid that
our experience has led us to observe the vanity — which
is really at the root of this moral deformity — in those
who have nothing of genius in their nature except its
fretfulness and its ferocity.

Complications Sentimentales

In reading M. Bourget's collection of short stories
called Voyageuses, we observed that he had quitted for
a moment that perfumed atmosphere of the salon and
the boudoir which he loves, and that he had consented
to take us with him out into the fresh air. It was but
an episode ; in Complications Sentimentales we find
ourselves once more in the scented world of Parisian
elegance, among those well-bred people of wealth,
without occupation, whose intrigues and passions M.
Bourget has taught himself to analyse with such extra-
ordmary precision. His new book consists of three

M. Paul Bourget 245

tales, or short novels, one of which at least, " L'fecran."
might easily be expanded into the form of a complete
work. These three stories deal with three critical
conditions of the mind and temper of a woman. The
first and second end in a moral tragedy : the third ends
well, after excursions and alarms, and may be called a
tragi-comedy of the soul. All three analyse symptoms
of that disease which M. Bourget believes to be so
widely disseminated in the feminine society of the
day, " la trahison de la femme," deception under the
guise of a bland and maiden candour. The heroines of
the three stories are all liars : but while two of them
are minxes, the third is a dupe. Admirers of that
clever novel, Mensongcs, will find themselves quite in
their element when they read Complications Sentimen-

One of thes£jhree stories^ "X^crarr," Is in its way
a masterpiece. M. Bourget has never written anything
which better exemplifies his peculiar quahties, the
insinuating and persistent force of his style, his pre-
occupation with delicate subtleties and undulations
of feeling, the skill with which he renders the most
fleeting shades of mental sensation.") In " L'Ecran,"
moreover, he avoids to a remarkable degree that defect
of movement which has seriously damaged several of
his most elaborate books : which, for instance, makes
, Une J^ylle Tragiquc scarcely readable. ' His danger,
liTce'that of Mr. Henry James, whom he resembles on
more sides than one, is to delay in interminable psycho-
logical reflections until our attention has betrayed us,

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Online LibraryEdmund GosseFrench profiles → online text (page 16 of 25)