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that she is conceived with an equal clearness. But
Margaret produces her impression upon us by moving
before us and doing certain things, whereas Garda is
more explained, or rather she explains herself more,
tells us more about herself. She says somewhere, or
some one says of her, that she doesn't narrate, but in
fact she does narrate a good deal, for the purpose of
making the reader understand her. This the reader
does, very constantly, and Garda is a brilliant success.
I must not, however, touch upon the different parts
of East Angels, because in a work of so much patience
and conscience a single example carries us too far. I
will only add that in three places in especial the
author has been so well inspired as to give a definite
pledge of high accomplishment in the future. One of
these salient passages is the description of the closing
days of Mrs. Thorne, the little starved yet ardent
daughter of the Puritans, who has been condemned
to spend her life in the land of the relaxed, and who,
before she dies, pours out her accumulations of bitter-
ness relieves herself in a passionate confession of
everything she has suffered and missed, of how she
has hated the very skies and fragrances of Florida,
even when, as a consistent Christian, thankful for
every mercy, she has pretended most to appreciate
them. Mrs. Thorne is the pathetic, tragic form of
the type of which Mrs. Stowe's Miss Ophelia was the
comic. In almost all of Miss Woolson's stories the


New England woman is represented as regretting the
wholesome austerities of the region of her birth. She
reverts to them, in solemn hours, even when, like
Mrs. Thorne, she may appear for a time to have been
converted to mild winters. Remarkably fine is the
account of the expedition undertaken by Margaret
Harold and Evert Winthrop to look for Lanse in the
forest, when they believe him, or his wife thinks there
may be reason to believe him, to have been lost and
overtaken by a storm. The picture of their paddling
the boat by torchlight into the reaches of the river,
more or less smothered in the pestilent jungle, with
the personal drama, in the unnatural place, reaching
an acute stage between them this whole episode is
in a high degree vivid, strange, and powerful.
Lastly, Miss Woolson has risen altogether to the
occasion in the scene in which Margaret " has it out,"
as it were, with Evert Winthrop, parts from him and,
leaving him baffled and unsurpassably sore, gives him
the measure of her determination to accept the neces-
sity of her fate. These three episodes are not alike,
yet they have, in the high finish of Miss Woolson's
treatment of them, a family resemblance. Moreover,
they all have the stamp which I spoke of at first
the stamp of the author's conservative feeling, the
implication that for her the life of a woman is essen-
tially an affair of private relations.




" THE novel of manners grows thick in England, and
there are many reasons for it. In the first place it
was born there, and a plant always flourishes in its
own country." So wrote M. Taine, the French critic,
many years ago. But those were the years of Dickens
and Thackeray (as a prelude to a study of the latter
of whom the remark was made) ; and the branch of
literature mentioned by M. Taine has no longer, in
the soil of our English-speaking genius, so strong a
vitality. The French may bear the palm to-day in
the representation of manners by the aid of fiction.
Formerly, it was possible to oppose Balzac and
Madame Sand to Dickens and Thackeray ; but at
present we have no one, either in England or in
America, to oppose to Alphonse Daudet. The ap-
pearance of a new novel by this admirable genius is
to my mind the most delightful literary event that
can occur just now ; in other words Alphonse Daudet
is at the head of his profession. I say of his profes-


sion advisedly, for he belongs to our modern class of
trained men of letters ; he is not an occasional or a
desultory poet ; he is a novelist to his finger-tips
a soldier in the great army of constant producers.
But such as he is, he is a master of his art, and I
may as well say definitely that if I attempt to sketch
in a few pages his literary countenance, it will be
found that the portrait is from the hand of an ad-
mirer. We most of us feel that among the artists
of our day certain talents have more to say to us and
others less ; we have our favourites, and we have our
objects of indifference. The writer of these remarks
has always had a sympathy for the author of the
Leltres de mon Moulin ; he began to read his novels
with a prejudice in their favour. This prejudice
sprang from the Letters aforesaid, which do not con-
stitute a novel, but a volume of the lightest and
briefest tales. They had, to my mind, an extra-
ordinary charm ; they put me quite on the side of
Alphonse Daudet, whatever he might do in the
future. One of the first things he did was to pub-
lish the history of Fromont Jeune et Risler Ain6. It
is true that this work did not give me the pleasure
that some of its successors have done, and though it
has been crowned by the French Academy, I still
think it weaker than Les Rois en Exil and Numa
Roumestan. But I liked it better on a second read-
ing than on a first ; it contains some delightful
things. After that came Jack and Le Nabob, and
the two novels I have just mentioned, and that


curious and interesting tale of L' Evang6liste t which
appeared a few months since, and which proves that
the author's genius, though on the whole he has
pressed it hard, is still nervous, fresh, and young.
Each of these things has been better than the last,
with the exception, perhaps, of L'Evang&iste, which,
to my taste, is not superior to Numa Roumestan.
Numa Roumestan is a masterpiece ; it is really a
perfect work ; it has no weakness, no roughness ; it
is a compact and harmonious whole. Daudet's other
works have had their inequalities, their infirmities,
certain places where, if you tapped them, they
sounded hollow. His danger has always been a
perceptible tendency to the factitious ; sometimes he
has fallen into the trap laid for him by a taste for
superficial effects. In Fromont Jeune, for instance, it
seems to me difficult to care much for the horrid
little heroine herself, carefully as she is studied.
She has been pursued, but she has not been caught,
for she is not interesting (even for a coquine), not
even human. She is a mechanical doll, with nothing
for the imagination to take hold of. She is one
more proof of the fact that it is difficult to give the
air of consistency to vanity and depravity, though
the portraiture of the vicious side of life would seem,
from the pictorial point of view, to offer such attrac-
tions. The reader's quarrel with Sidonie Chebe is
not that she is bad, but that she is not felt, as the
aesthetic people say. In Jack the hollow spot, as I
have called it, is the episode of Doctor Rivals and


his daughter Cecile, which reminds us of the more
genial parts of Dickens. It is perhaps because to
us readers of English speech the figure of the young
girl, in a French novel, is almost always wanting in
reality seems to be thin and conventional ; in any
case poor Jack's love-affair, at the end of the book,
does not produce the illusion of the rest of his touch-
ing history. In Le Nabob this artificial element is
very considerable ; it centres about the figure of
Paul de Gery and embraces the whole group of M.
Joyeuse and his blooming daughters, with their
pretty attitudes taking in also the very shadowy
Andre Maranne, so touchingly re -united to his
mother, who had lived for ten years with an Irish
doctor to whom she was not married. In Les llois
en Exil, Tom Levis and the diabolical Sephora seem
to me purely fanciful creations, without any relation
to reality; they are the inferior part of the book.
They are composed by a master of composition, and
the comedian Tom is described with immense spirit,
an art which speaks volumes as to a certain sort of
Parisian initiation. But if this artistic and malig-
nant couple are very clever water-colour, they are
not really humanity. Ruffians and rascals have a
certain moral nature, as well as the better-behaved ;
but in the case I have mentioned M. Daudet fails to
put his finger upon it. The same with Madame
Autheman, the evil genius of poor Eline Ebsen, in
the L'Evangeliste. She seems to me terribly, almost
grotesquely, void. She is an elaborate portrait of


a fanatic of Protestantism, a bigot to the point of
monstrosity, cold-blooded, implacable, cruel The
figure is painted with Alphonse Daudet's inimitable
art ; no one that handles the pen to-day is such a
pictorial artist as he. But Madame Autheman
strikes me as quite automatic ; psychologically she
is a blank. One does not see the operation of her
character. She must have had a soul, and a very
curious one. It was a great opportunity for a piece
of spiritual portraiture ; but we know nothing about
Madame Autheman's inner springs, and I think we
fail to believe in her. I should go so far as to say
that we get little more of an inside view, as the
phrase is, of Eline Ebsen; we are not shown the
spiritual steps by which she went over to the enemy
vividly, admirably as the outward signs and conse-
quences of this disaster are depicted. The logic of
the matter is absent in both cases, and it takes all
the magic of the author's legerdemain to prevent us
from missing it These things, however, are excep-
tions, and the tissue of each of his novels is, for all
the rest, really pure gold. No one has such grace,
such lightness and brilliancy of execution ; it is a
fascination to see him at work. The beauty of Numa
Rmimestan is that it has no hollow places ; the idea
and the picture melt everywhere into one. Emile
Zola, criticising the work in a very friendly spirit,
speaks of the episode of Hortense Le Quesnoy and
the Proven9al tambourinaire as a false note, and de-
clares that it wounds his sense of delicacy. Valma-


jour is a peasant of the south of France; he is young,
handsome, wears a costume, and is a master of the
rustic fife and tambourine instruments that are much
appreciated in his part of the country. Mademoiselle
Le Quesnoy, living in Paris, daughter of a distin-
guished member of the French judiciary "le premier
magistrat de France " young, charming, imaginative,
romantic, marked out for a malady of the chest, and
with a certain innocent perversity of mind, sees him
play before an applauding crowd in the old Eoman
arena at Mmes, and forthwith conceives a secret, a
singular but not, under the circumstances, an abso-
lutely unnatural passion for him. He comes up to
Paris to seek his fortune at the " variety " theatres,
where his feeble and primitive music quite fails to
excite enthusiasm. The young girl, reckless and
impulsive, and full of sympathy with his mortifica-
tion, writes him in three words (upon one of her
little photographs) an assurance of her devotion ; and
this innocent missive, falling soon into the hands of
his rapacious and exasperated sister (a wonderful
figure, one of the most living that has ever come
from Daudet's pen), becomes a source of infinite
alarm to the family of Mademoiselle Le Quesnoy,
who see her compromised, calumniated and black-
mailed, and finally of complete humiliation to poor
Hortense herself, now fallen into a rapid consumption,
and cured of her foolish infatuation by a nearer view
of the vain and ignorant Valmajour. An agent of the
family recovers the photograph (with the aid of ten


thousand francs), and the young girl, with the bitter
taste of her disappointment still in her soul, dies in
her flower.

This little story, as I say, is very shocking to M.
Zola, who cites it as an example of the folly of a
departure from consistent realism. What is observed,
says M. Zola, on the whole very justly, is strong;
what is invented is always weak, especially what is
invented to please the ladies. "See in this case,"
he writes, " all the misery of invented episodes.
This love of Hortense, with which the author has
doubtless wished to give the impression of something
touching, produces a discomfort, as if it were a
violation of nature. It is therefore the pages written
for the ladies that are repulsive even to a man
accustomed to the saddest dissections of the human
corpse." I am not of M. Zola's opinion delightful
as it would be to be of that opinion when M. Zola's
sense of propriety is ruffled. The incident of Hor-
tense and Valmajour is not (to my sense) a blot upon
Numa Roumestan ; on the contrary, it is perfectly
conceivable, and is treated with admirable delicacy.
"This romantic stuff," says M. Zola, elsewhere, "is
as painful as a pollution. That a young girl should
lose her head over a tenor, that may be explained,
for she loves the operatic personage in the inter-
preter. She has before her a young man sharpened
and refined by life, elegant, having at least certain
appearances of talent and intelligence. But this
tambourinist, with his drum and penny-whistle, this


village dandy, a poor devil who doesn't even know
how to speak ! No, life has not such cruelties as
that, I protest, I who certainly, as a general thing,
am not accustomed to give ground before human
aberrations ! " This objection was worth making ;
but I should look at the matter in another way. It
seems to me much more natural that a girl of the
temper and breeding that M. Daudet has described
should take a momentary fancy to a prepossessing
young rustic, bronzed by the sun of Provence (even
if it be conceded that his soul was vulgar), than that
she should fasten her affections upon a " lyric artist,"
suspected of pomatnm and paint, and illuminated by
the footlights. These are points which it is vain to
discuss, however, both because they are delicate and
because they are details. I have come so far simply
from a desire to justify my high admiration of Numa
Roumestan. But Emile Zola, again, has expressed
this feeling more felicitously than I can hope to do.
"This, moreover, is a very slight blemish in a work
which I regard as one of those, of all Daudet's pro-
ductions, that is most personal to himself. He has
put his whole nature into it, helped by his southern
temperament, having only to make large draughts
upon his innermost recollections and sensations. I
do not think that he has hitherto reached such an
intensity either of irony or of geniality. . . . Happy
the books which arrive in this way, at the hour of
the complete maturity of a talent ! They are simply
the widest unfolding of an artist's nature ; they have


in happy equilibrium the qualities of observation and
the qualities of style. For Alphonse Daudet Numa
Roumestan will mark this interfusion of a tempera-
ment and a subject that are made for each other, the
perfect plenitude of a work which the writer exactly


As I say, however, these are details, and I have
touched them prematurely. Alphonse Daudet is a
charmer, and the effect of his brilliant, friendly,
indefinable genius is to make it difficult, in speaking
of him, to take things in their order or follow a plan.
In writing of him some time ago, in another place, I
so far lost my head as to remark, with levity, that
he was " a great little novelist." The diminutive
epithet then, I must now say, was nothing more than
a term of endearment, the result of an irresistible
impulse to express a sense of personal fondness. This
kind of feeling is difficult to utter in English, and
the utterance of it, so far as this is possible, is not
thought consistent with the dignity of a critic. If
we were talking French, nothing would be simpler
than to say that Alphonse Daudet is adorable, and
have done with it. But this resource is denied me,
and I must arrive at my meaning by a series of
circumlocutions. I am not able even to say that he
is very " personal " ; that epithet, so valuable in the
vocabulary of French literary criticism, has, when
applied to the talent of an artist, a meaning different


from the sense in which we use it. " A novelist so
personal and so penetrating," says Emile Zola, speak-
ing of the author of Numa Roumestan. That phrase,
in English, means nothing in particular; so that I
must add to it that the charm of Daudet's talent
comes from its being charged to an extraordinary
degree with his temperament, his feelings, his in-
stincts, his natural qualities. This, of course, is a
charm, in a style, only when nature has been generous.
To Alphonse Daudet she has been exceptionally so ;
she has placed in his hand an instrument of many
chords. A delicate, nervous organisation, active and
indefatigable in spite of its delicacy, and familiar
with emotion of almost every kind, equally acquainted
with pleasure and with pain ; a light, quick, joyous,
yet reflective, imagination, a faculty of seeing images,
making images, at every turn, of conceiving every-
thing in the visible form, in the plastic spirit; an
extraordinary sensibility to all the impressions of
life and a faculty of language which is in perfect
harmony with his wonderful fineness of perception
these are some of the qualities of which he is the
happy possessor, and which make his equipment for
the work he has undertaken exceedingly rich. There
are others besides ; but enumerations are ponderous,
and we should avoid that danger in speaking of a
genius whose lightness of touch never belies itself.
His elder brother, who has not his talent, has written
a little book about him in which the word moderniU
perpetually occurs. M. Ernest Daudet, in Mon Frhe


et Moi, insists upon his possession of the qualities
expressed by this barbarous substantive, which is so
indispensable to the new school. Alphonse Daudet
is, in truth, very modern ; he has all the newly-
developed, the newly-invented, perceptions. Nothing
speaks so much to his imagination as the latest and
most composite things, the refinements of current
civilisation, the most delicate shades of the actual.
It is scarcely too much to say that (especially in the
Parisian race), modern manners, modern nerves,
modern wealth, and modern improvements, have en-
gendered a new sense, a sense not easily named nor
classified, but recognisable in all the most characteristic
productions of contemporary art. It is partly physical,
partly moral, and the shortest way to describe it is
to say that it is a more analytic consideration of ap-
pearances. It is known by its tendency to resolve its
discoveries into pictorial form. It sees the connection
between feelings and external conditions, and it
expresses such relations as they have not been ex-
pressed hitherto. It deserves to win victories,
because it has opened its eyes well to the fact that
the magic of the arts of representation lies in their
appeal to the associations awakened by things. It
traces these associations into the most unlighted
corners of our being, into the most devious paths of
experience. The appearance of things is constantly
more complicated as the world grows older, and it
needs a more and more patient art, a closer notation,
to divide it into its parts. Of this art Alphonse


Daudet has a wonderfully large allowance, and that
is why I say that he is peculiarly modern. It is very
true that his manner is not the manner of patience
though he must always have had a great deal of
that virtue in the preparation of his work. The new
school of fiction in France is based very much on
the taking of notes ; the library of the great Flaubert,
of the brothers de Goncourt, of Emile Zola, and of
the writer of whom I speak, must have been in a
large measure a library of memorandum-books. This
of course only puts the patience back a stage or two.
In composition Daudet proceeds by quick, instan-
taneous vision, by the happiest divination, by catching
the idea as it suddenly springs up before him with a
whirr of wings. What he mainly sees is the great
surface of life and the parts that lie near the surface.
But life is, immensely, a matter of surface, and if our
emotions in general are interesting, the form of those
emotions has the merit of being the most definite
thing about them. Like most French imaginative
writers (judged, at least, from the English stand-
point), he is much less concerned with the moral, the
metaphysical world, than with the sensible. We
proceed usually from the former to the latter, while
the French reverse the process. Except in politics,
they are uncomfortable in the presence of abstractions,
and lose no time in reducing them to the concrete.
But even the concrete, for them, is a field for poetry,
which brings us to the fact that the delightful thing
in Daudet's talent is the inveterate poetical touch.


This is what mainly distinguishes him from the other
lights of the realistic school modifies so completely
in his case the hardness of consistent realism. There
is something very hard, very dry, in Flaubert, in
Edmond de Goncourt, in the robust Zola ; but there
is something very soft in Alphonse Daudet. " Bene-
volent nature," says Zola, " has placed him at that
exquisite point where poetry ends and reality begins."
That is happily said ; Daudet's great characteristic
is this mixture of the sense of the real with the
sense of the beautiful. His imagination is constantly
at play with his theme ; it has a horror of the literal,
the limited ; it sees an object in all its intermingled
relations on its sentimental, its pathetic, its comical,
its pictorial side. Flaubert, in whom Alphonse
Daudet would probably recognise to a certain degree
a literary paternity, is far from being a simple realist ;
but he was destitute of this sense of the beautiful,
destitute of facility and grace. He had, to take its
place, a sense of the strange, the grotesque, to which
Salammbo, La Tentation de Saint-Antoine, his inde-
scribable posthumous novel of Bouvard et Pdcuchet,
abundantly testify. The talent of the brothers
Goncourt strikes us as a talent that was associated
originally with a sense of beauty ; but we receive an
impression that this feeling has been perverted and
warped. It has ceased to be natural and free ; it
has become morbid and peevish, has turned mainly
to curiosity and mannerism. And these two authors
are capable, during a whole book (as in Germinie


Lacerteux or La Fille Elisa), of escaping from its
influence altogether. No one would probably ever
think of accusing Emile Zola of having a perception
of the beautiful. He has an illimitable, and at times
a very valuable, sense of the ugly, of the unclean ;
but when he addresses himself to the poetic aspect
of things, as in La Faute de I'Abbi Mouret, he is apt
to have terrible misadventures.


IT is for the expressive talents that we feel an
affection, and Daudet is eminently expressive. His
manner is the manner of talk, and if the talk is
sincere, that makes a writer touch us. Daudet
expresses many things ; but he most frequently
expresses himself his own temper in the presence
of life, his own feeling on a thousand occasions.
This personal note is especially to be observed in
his earlier productions in the Letlres de mon Moulin,
the Conies du Lundi, Le Petit Chose; it is also very
present in the series of prefaces which he has under-
taken to supply to the octavo edition of his works.
In these prefaces he gives the history of each suc-
cessive book relates the circumstances under which
it was written. These things are ingenuously told,
but what we are chiefly conscious of in regard to
them, is that Alphonse Daudet must express himself.
His brother informs us that he is writing his memoirs,
and this will have been another opportunity for
expression. Ernest Daudet, as well (as I have men-
tioned), has attempted to express him. Mon Frere et
Moi is one of those productions which it is difficult


for an English reader to judge in fairness : it is so
much more confidential than we, in public, ever
venture to be. The French have, on all occasions,
the courage of their emotion, and M. Ernest Daudet's
leading emotion is a boundless admiration for his
junior. He lays it before us very frankly and grace-
fully not, on the whole, indiscreetly; and I have

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Online LibraryHenry JamesPartial portraits → online text (page 12 of 24)