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how far the daring apologist can go in the recommen-
dation of new French novel-writers, but to offer to the
notice of shy English readers a particularly " nice " one.
But, before attempting to introduce M. Rene Bazin, I
would reflect a moment on the very curious condition
of the French novel in general at the present time. No
one who observes the entire field of current French
literature without prejudice will deny that the novel is
passing through a period which must prove highly
perilous to its future, a period at once of transition and
of experiment. The school of realism or naturalism,
which was founded upon the practice of Balzac in direct
opposition to the practices of George Sand and of Dumas
fere, achieved, about twenty years ago, one of those
violent victories which are more dangerous to a cause
than defeat itself. It was in 1880 that M. Zola pub-
lished that volume of polemical criticism which had so
far-reaching an effect in France and elsewhere, and
which was strangely ignored in England — Le Roman
Experimental. This was just the point of time at which
the Kougon-Macquart series of socio-pathological
romances was receiving its maximum of hostile atten-
tion. M. Zola's book of criticism was a plausible,
audacious, magnificently casuistical plea, not merely
for the acceptance of the realistic method, but for the
exclusion of every other method from the processes of
fiction. It had its tremendous effect ; during the space
of some five years the " romanciers naturalistes," with
M. Zola at their head, had it all their own way. Then
came, in 1885, La Terrc, an object-lesson in the abuse
of the naturalistic formula, and people began to open
their eyes to its drawbacks. And then we all dissolved
in laughter over the protest of the " Cinq Purs," and the
defection of a whole group of disciples. M. Zola, like



M. Rene Bazin 263

the weary Titan that he was, went on, but the prestige
of naturalism was undermined.

But, meanwhile, the old forms of procedure in romance
had been dishonoured. It was not enough that the weak
places in the realistic armour should be pierced by the
arrows of a humaner criticism ; the older warriors whom
Goliath had overthrown had to be set on their legs again.
And it is not to be denied that some of them were found
to be dreadfully the worse for wear. No one who had
read Flaubert and the Goncourts, no one who had been
introduced to Tolstoi and Dostoieffsky, could any
longer endure the trick of Cherbuliez, It was like going
back to William Black after Stevenson and Mr. Barrie.
Even Ferdinand Fabre, the Thomas Hardy of the
Cevennes, seemed to have lost his savour. The novels
of Octave Feuillet were classics, but no one yearned for
fresh imitations of Monsieur de Cantors. Pierre Loti
turned more and more exclusively to adventures of the
ego in tropical scenery. Alphonse Daudet, after a melan-
choly eclipse of his fresh early genius, passed away.
Even before the death of Edmond, the influence of the
Goncourts, although still potent, spread into other fields
of intellectual effort, and became negUgible so far as the
novel, pure and simple, was concerned. What was most
noteworthy in the French belles-lettres of ten years ago
was the brilliant galaxy of critics that swam into our
ken. In men like MM. Lemaitre, Anatole France,
Brunetiere and Gaston Paris, the intelligent reader
found purveyors of entertainment which was as charming
as fiction, and much more solid and stimulating. Why
read dull novels when one could be so much better
amused by a new volume of La Vie LiUeraire ?

In pure criticism there is now again a certain de-
pression in French literature. The most brilliant of



264 French Profiles

the group I have just mentioned has turned from the
adventures of books to the analysis of life. But the
author of L'Anneau d'Amethyste is hardly to be counted
among the novelists. His philosophical satires, sparkling
with wit and malice, incomparable in their beauty of
expression, are doubtless the most exquisite productions
proceeding to-day from the pen of a Frenchman, but
L'Orme dii Mail is no more a novel than Friendship' s
Garland is. Among the talents which were directly
challenged by the theories of the naturahstic school,
the one which seems to have escaped least battered from
the fray is that of M. Paul Bourget. He stands apart,
like Mr. Henry James — the European writer with whom
he is in closest relation. But even over this delicious
writer a certain change is passing. He becomes less and
less a novelist, and more and more a writer of nouvelles
or short stories. La Duchesse Bleiie was not a roman,
it was a nonvelle writ large, and in the volume of con-
summate studies of applied psychology {Un Homme
d' Affaires), which reaches me as I write these lines, I
find a M. Paul Bourget more than ever removed from
the battle-field of common fiction, more than ever
isolated in his exquisite attenuation of the enigmas of
the human heart. On the broader field, M. Marcel
Prevost and M. Paul Hervieu support the Balzac
tradition after their strenuous and intelligent fashion.
It is these two writers who continue for us the manu-
facture of the " French novel " pure and simple. Do
they console us for Flaubert and Maupassant and Gon-
court ? Me, I am afraid, they do as yet but faintly
console.

Elsewhere, in the French fiction with which the
century is closing, we see little but experiment, and
that experiment largely takes the form of pastiche.



M. Rene Bazin 265



One thing has certainly been learned by the brief
tjTanny of realism, namely, that the mere exterior pheno-
mena of experience, briefl}^ observed, do not exhaust
the significance of life. It is not to be denied that a
worthy intellectual effort, a desire to make thought
take its place again in aesthetic literature, marks the
tentatives, often very unsatisfactory in themselves and
unrelated to one another, which are produced by the
younger novelists in France. These books address, it
must never be forgotten, an audience far more cultivated,
far less hide-bound in its prejudices, than does the
output of the popular English novelist. It is difficult
to conceive of a British Huysmans translating, with
the utmost disregard for plot, the voluptuous languors
of religion ; it is even more difficult to conceive of a
British Maurice Barres engaged, in the form of fiction,
in the glorification of a theory of individualism. It is
proper that we should do honour to the man who writes
and to the public that reads, with zeal and curiosity,
these attempts to deal with spiritual problems in the
form of fiction. But it is surely not unfair to ask whether
the experiment so courageously attempted is perfectly
successful ? It is not improper to suggest that neither
La Cathedrale nor Les Deracinh is exactly to be styled
an ideal novel.

More completely fulfilling the classic purpose of the
romance, the narrative, are some of the experimental
works in fiction which I have indicated as belonging to
the section of pastiche. In this class I will name but
three, the Aphrodite of M. Pierre Lou5^s, La Nichina of
M. Hugues Rebell, and La Route d'imeraude of M.
Eugene Demolder. These, no doubt, have been the most
successful, and the most deservedly successful, of a sort
of novel in these last years in France, books in which



266 French Profiles

the life of past ages has been resuscitated with a full
sense of the danger which lurks in pedantry and in a
didactic dryness. With these may be included the
extraordinary pre-historic novels of the brothers Rosny.
This kind of story suffers from two dangers. Firstly,
nothing so soon loses its pleasurable surprise, and be-
comes a tiresome trick, as pastiche. Already, in the
case of more than one of the young writers just men-
tioned, fatigue of fancy has obviously set in. The other
peril is a heritage from the Naturalists, and makes the
discussion of recent French fiction extremely difficult
in England, namely, the determination to gain a sharp,
vivid effect by treating, with surgical coolness, the
maladies of society. Hence — to skate as lightly as
possible over this thin ice — the difficulty of daring to
recommend to English readers a single book in recent
French fiction. We have spoken of a strong spiritual
digestion ; but most of the romances of the latest school
require the digestion of a Commissioner in Lunacy or of
the matron in a Lock hospital.

Therefore — and not to be always pointing to the
Quaker-coloured stories of M. Edouard Rod— the joy
and surprise of being able to recommend, without the
possibility of a blush, the latest of all the novelists of
France. It has been necessary, in the briefest language,
to sketch the existing situation in French fiction, in order
to make appreciable th e purity, the freshnes s, the
simplicity o f M. Rene Bazin. It is only within the last
season or two that he has come prominently to the front,
although he has been writing quietly for about fifteen
years. It would be absurd to exaggerate. M. Bazin
i s not, nnrl wi|j_ riotbp. here presented as being, a great
force-in-irteratureT If it were the part ot cfititism to
deal in negatives, it would be easy to mention a great



M. Rene Bazin 267

many things which M. Bazin is not. Among others, he
is not a profound psychologist ; people who hke the
novels of M. Elemir Bourges, and are able to understand
them, will, unquestionably, pronounce Les Noellet and
La Sarcelle Bleue very insipid. But it is possible that
the French novelists of these last five years have been
trying to be a great deal too clever, that they have
starved the large reading public with the extravagant
intellectuality of their stories. W hether that be s o or
not jt i s at least pl ea^ant-io-Jmve one man writing, in
excellent French, refined, cheerfu l, and sentimental
novel s of the mo st ultra-modes t kin d, books that every
girl may read, that every guardian of youth may safely
leave about in any room of the house. I do not say — I
am a thousand miles from thinking — that this is every-
thing ; but I protest — even in face of the indignant Bar
of Bruges — that this is much.

Little seems to have been told about the very quiet
career of M. Rene Bazin, who is evidently an enemy
to self-advertisement. He_ was born at Angers i n 1853,
and was educated at the_little_se minary of M ontgazon.
OfTTis purely literary career all that is known appears
to be that in 1886 he published a romance. Ma Tante
Giron, to which I shall presently return, which fell
almost unnoticed from the press. It found its way,
however, to one highly appropriate reader, M. Ludovic
Halevy, to whom its author was entirely unknown.
]\I,_Halevy was so much struck with the cleanliness and
the freshness of this new writer that he recommended
the editor of the Journal des Dehats to secure him
as a contributor. To^the amazement of M. Bazin, he
w-asinvited, by a total stranger,jtojqin_the staff of the
Dehais. He did so, and^r'that newspaper he has
written almost exclusivelv ever since, and there his sue-



268 French Profiles

cessive novels and books of travel have first appeared.
It is said that M. Halevy tried, without success, to induce
the French Academy to give one of its prizes to Ma
Xante Giron. That attempt failed, but no doubt it was
to the same admirer that was due the crowning of M.
Rene Bazin's second story, Une Tacke d'Encre. One
can hardly doubt that the time is not far distant when
M. Bazin will himself be in a position to secure the
prizes of the Academy for still younger aspirants. This
account of M. Bazin is meagre ; but although it is all
that I know of his blameless career, I feel sure that it
is, as Froude once said on a parallel occasion, " nothing
to what the angels know."

When we turn to M. Bazin's earliest novel, Ma Xante
Giron, it is not difficult to divine what it was that
attracted to this stranger the amiable author of L'Abbe
Constantin and Monsieur et Madame Cardinal. It is
a sprightl}^ story of provincial life, a dish, as was wickedly
said of one of M. Halevy's own books, consisting of
nothing but angels served up with a white sauce of virtue.
The action is laid in a remote corner of Western France,
the Craonais, half in Vendee, half in Brittan3\ There
are fine old sporting characters, who bring down hares
at fabulous distances to the reproach of younger shots;
there are excellent cures, the souls of generosity and
unworldliness, with a touch of eccentricity to keep them
human. There is an admirable young man, the Baron
Jacques, who falls desperately in love with the beautiful
and modest Mademoiselle de Seigny, and has just worked
himself up to the point of proposing, when he unfortun-
atel}^ hears that she has become the greatest heiress in
the country-side. Then, of course, his honourable
scruples overweigh his passion, and he takes to a caprici-
ous flight. Mademoiselle de Seigny, who loves him,



M. Reiic Bazin 269

will marry no one else, and both are horribly unhappy,
until Aunt Giron, who is the comic providence of the
tale, rides over to the Baron's retreat, and brings him
back, a blushing captive, to the feet of the young lady.
All comes well, of course, and the curtain falls to the
sound of wedding bells, while Aunt Giron, brusliing
away a tear, exclaims, " La joie des autres, comme cela
fait du bien ! "

But Ma Tante Giron is really the least bit too in-
genuous for the best of good little girls. Hence we are
not surprised to find M. Bazin's next novel at the same
time less provincial and less artless. It is very rare
for a second book to show so remarkable an advance
upon a first as Une Tache d'Encre does upon its pre-
decessor. This is a story which may be recommended
to any reader, of whatever age or sex, who wishes for a
gay, good-humoured and well-constructed tale, in which
the whole tone and temper shall be blameless, and in
which no great strain shall be put upon the intellectual
attention. It is excellently carpentered ; it is as neatly
turned-out a piece of fiction-furniture as any one could
wish to see. It has, moreover, beyond its sentimental
plot, a definite subject. In Une Tache d'Encre the
perennial hostility between Paris and the country-
town, particularly between Paris and the professional
countryman, is used, with excellent effect, to hang an
innocent and recurrent humour upon. Fabian Mouillard,
an orphan, has been educated by an uncle, who is a
family lawyer at Bourges. He has been brought up
in the veneration of the office, with the fixed idea that
he must eventually carry on the profession, in the same
place, among the same clients ; he is a sort of Dauphin
of the basoche, and it has never been suggested to him
that he can escape from being his uncle's successor. But



270 French Profiles

Fabian comes up to Paris, that dangerous city, hatred
and fear of which have been most carefully instilled
into him. He still continues, however, to be as good
as gold, when a blot of ink changes the whole current
of his life. He is engaged in composing a thesis on the
Junian Latins, a kind of slaves whose status in ancient
Rome offers curious difficulties to the student of juris-
prudence. To inform himself of history in this matter
he attends the National Library, and there, one after-
noon, he is so unlucky (or so lucky) as to flip a drop of
ink by accident on to a folio which is in process of being
consulted by M. Flamaran, of the Academy of Moral and
Political Sciences. M. Flamaran is a very peppery old
pedant, and he is so angry that Fabian feels obliged to
call upon him, at his private house, with a further
apology. The fond reader will be prepared to learn that
M. Flamaran, who is a widower, lives with a very charm-
ing daughter, and that she keeps house for him.

The course of true love then runs tolerably smoothly.
The virtuous youth without a profession timidly woos
the modest maiden without a mamma, and all would
go well were it not for the fierce old sohcitor at Bourges.
M. Flamaran will give his daughter if Fabian will live
in Paris ; but the uncle will accept no niece unless the
young couple will settle in the country. The eccentric
violence of M. Mouillard gives the author occasion for
a plentiful exercise of that conventional wit about
lawyers which never fails to amuse French people,
which animates the farces of the Renaissance, and
which finds its locus classicus in the one great comedy of
Racine. There follows a visit to Italy, very gracefully
described ; then a visit to Bourges, very pathetical and
proper ; and, of course, the end of it all is that the uncle
capitulates in snuff and tears, and comes up to Paris



M. Rene Bazin 271

to end his days with Fabian and his admirable wife.
A final conversation lifts the veil of the future, and
we learn that the tact and household virtues of the
bride are to make the whole of Fabian's career a
honeymoon.

The same smoothness of execution, the same grace
and adroitness of narrative, which render Une Tache
d'Encre as pleasant reading as any one of Mr. W. E.
Norris's best society stories, are discovered in La Sarcelle
Bleue, in which, moreover, the element of humour is
not absent. As a typical interpreter of decent French
sentiment, at points where it is markedly in contrast
with Enghsh habits of thought, this is an interesting
and even an instructive novel. We are introduced, in
a country-house of Anjou, to an old officer, M. Guil-
laume Maldonne, and his wife, and their young daughter,
Therese. With these excellent people lives Robert de
Kercdol, an old bachelor, also a retired officer, the life-
long friend of Maldonne. The latter is an enthusiastic
ornithologist, and keeper of the museum of natural
history in the adjoining country-town. His ambition
is to possess a complete collection of the birds of the
district, and the arrival of Robert de Keredol is due to
a letter inviting him to come to Anjou and bring his
gun. He has just been wounded in Africa, and the
invitation is opportune. He arrives, and so prolongs
his visit that he becomes a member of the household : —

" Robert recovered, and was soon in a fit state to go
out with his friend. And then there began fur both of
them the most astonishing and the most fascinating of
Odysseys. Each felt something of the old life return
to him ; adventure, the emotion of the chase, the need
to be on the alert, shots that hit or missed, distant
excursions, nights beneath the stars. All private



272 French Profiles

estates, princely domains, closed parks, opened their
gates to these hunters of a new type. What mattered
it to the proprietor most jealous of his rights if a rare
woodpecker or butcher-bird was slaughtered ? Wel-
comed everywhere, feted everywhere, they ran from one
end of the department to the other, through the copses,
the meadows, the vineyards, the marshlands. Robert
did not shoot, but he had an extraordinary gift for
divining that a bird had passed, for discovering its traces
or its nest, for saying casually, ' Guillaume, I feel that
there are woodcock in the thickets under that clump of
birches; the mist is violet, there is an odour of dead
leaves about it.' Or, when the silver Spring, along the
edges of the Loire, wakens all the little world of clustered
buds, he was wonderful in perceiving, motionless on a
point of the shore, a ruff with bristling plumage, or even,
posed between two alder catkins, the almost imperceptible
blue linnet."

It follows that this novel is the romance of orni-
thology, and in its pleasantest pages we follow the fugitive
" humeur d'oiseau." To the local collection at last but
one treasure is lacking. The Blue Teal (perhaps a re-
lative of the Blue Linnet) is known to be claimed among
the avifauna of Anjou, but Maldonne and Keredol can
never come within earshot of a specimen. Such is the
state of affairs when the book opens. Without per-
ceiving the fact, the exquisite child Therese Maldonne
has become a woman, and Robert de Keredol, who
thinks that his affection for her is still that of an adopted
uncle, wakens to the perception that he desires her for
his wife. Docile in her inexperience and in her maidenly
reserve, Therese accustoms her mind to this idea, but at
the deathbed of a village child, her protege, she meets
an ardent and virtuous young gentleman of her own



M. Rene Bazin 273

age, Claude Revel, and there is love almost at first sight
between them.

In France, however, and especially in the provinces,
the advances of Cupid must be made with extreme
decorum. Revel is not acquainted with M. Maldonne,
and how is he to be introduced ? He is no zoologist,
but he hears of the old collector's passion for rare birds,
and shooting a squirrel, he presents himself with its
corpse at the Museum. He is admitted, indeed, but with
some scorn ; and is instructed, in a high tone, that a
squirrel is not a bird, nor even a rarity. He receives
this information with a touching lowliness of heart, and
expresses a thirst to know more. The zoologist pro-
nounces him marvellously ignorant, indeed, but ripe
for knowledge, and deigns to take an interest in him.
By degrees, as a rising young ornithologist, he is intro-
duced into the family circle, where Keredol instantly
conceives a blind and rude jealousy of him. Therese,
on the contrary, is charmed, but he gets no closer to her
parents. It is explained to him at last by Therese that
his only chance is to present himself as a suitor, with a
specimen of the Blue Teal in his hands. Then we follow
him on cold mornings, before daybreak, in a punt on the
reedy reaches of the Loire ; and the gods are good to
him, he pots a teal of the most cerulean blueness. Even
as he brings it in, Keredol, an incautious lago, snatches
it from him, and spoils it. But now the scales fall from
everybody's eyes ; Keredol writes a long letter of fare-
well, and disappears, while Tlitirese, after some coy
raptures, is ceremoniously betrothed to the enchanted
Claude Revel. It is not suggested that he goes out
any longer, searching for blue teal, of a cold and misty
morning. La Sarcelle Bleue is a very charming story,
only spoiled a httle, as it seems to me, by the unsports-
T



274



French Profiles



manlike violence of Robert de Keredol's jealousy, which
is hardly in keeping with his reputation as a soldier and
a gentleman.

As he has advanced in experience, M. Rene Bazin has
shown an increasing ambition to deal with larger problems
than are involved in such innocent love intrigues as those
which we have just briefly analysed. But in doing so
he has, with remarkable persistency, refrained from any
realisation of what are called the seamy sides of life.
In De Toiitc_son Ame he attempted to deal with th e
aspects of class-feeling jn a large j)rovinciaiJ:Q^m^ and
in^d oing so was as cj.uti ous as Mrs. Gaske U or as An thony
Trollope . ^This story, indeed, has a very curious re-
semblance in its plan to a class of novel familiar to
English readers of half a century ago, and hardly known
outside England. One has a difficulty in persuading
oneself that it has not been written in direct rivalry with
such books as Mary Barton and John Halifax, Gentleman.
It is a deliberate effort to present the struggle of in-
dustrial life, and the contrasts of capital and labour, in
a light purely pathetic and sentimental. To readers
who remember how this class of theme is usually treated
in France — with so much more force and colour, per-
/ haps, but with a complete disregard of the illusions of
the heart — the mere effort is interesting. In the case
of De Toiite son Ame the motive is superior to the
execution. M. Bazin, greatly daring, does not wholly
succeed. The Latin temper is too strong for him, the
absence of tradition betrays him ; in this novel, ably
constructed as it is, there is a certain insipid tone of
sentimentality such as is common enough in English
novels of the same class, but such as the best masters
amongst us have avoided.

True to his strenuous _provincij Jily^_M. Bazin does



M. Rene Bazin 275

not take Paris as his scene, but Nantes. That city and
the lucid stretches of the vast Coire, now approaching
the sea, offer subjects for a series of accurate and pictur-
esque drop-scenes. The plot of the book itself centres
in a great factory, in the ateliers and the usines of the rich
firm of Lemarie, one of the most wealthy and prosperous
industrials of Nantes. Here one of the artisans is
Uncle Eloi, a simple and honest labourer of the better
class, who has made himself the guardian of his orphan
nephew and niece, Antoine and Henriette Madiot.


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