Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub

novelists, and by some put only second to Shakespeare as an analyst of human character. He knew most intimately every phase of the life which he depicts. We cannot attempt to describe the wonderful round of The Human Comedy-by virtue of which he became almost the creator of an entire society. From 1830 to 1840 were the years of his best work; some of the many fine novels then written being: Eugénie Grandet, The Pursuit of the Absolute, The Magic Skin, Old Goriot. From 1840 to 1850 he was occupied with the question of arrangement. Of these two decades, "in the first he hewed out materials for his house; in the second he put them together." He interwove characters and events throughout a series of novels, with consummate skill. He evolved over two thousand personages in the course of The Human Comedy. Indeed, some one has said very truly that to criticise Balzac is to criticise life itself. No example of his writing can very well be given here, as his manner does not lend itself to short extracts. (6 Hugo was magnanimous to exclaim on hearing that he was dying, 'Europe is on the point of losing a great mind!' Balzac's disciples feel that Europe really lost its greatest writer since Shakespeare."

ALEXANDRE DUMAS-dear to generations of school-boys-possessed a wonderfully vivid narra tive style, so that the interest of his work is sustained throughout in a remarkable manner; one does not tire of its sparkling movement, fascinating

no less to age than to youth. Dumas lacked education in any true sense of the word; but he had the literary gift; and when he was twenty-three produced a play which was very successful-Henry III. and his Court. This was quite in the manner of Hernani as far as its general revolutionary tendency was concerned, but, of course, not at all on the same level of literary merit. Several other plays followed, but presently Dumas struck a new and richer vein. This was the historical romance. Such famous representatives of this class as The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After, The Count of Monte Cristo, are household words in every reading community. His romantic novels brought him in much wealth. He travelled far and wide, incorporating many of his experiences into new books.

His literary methods were peculiar, and in some ways questionable. He received much assistance in his work-partly in the shape of collaboration and partly by means of what was practical plagiarism. He hired assistants to work in the minor details of many of his books--very much like those portrait-painters who employ their pupils to paint in the draperies, backgrounds, and accessories of their work. And frequently he inserted long passages from other books, to illustrate or explain. But, nevertheless, his own touch is unmistakable. All that is best in his work is due to his hand, and his alone. And the best is very good. It is found in the famous series of romances which contains

The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After, and Viscount Bragelonne. They are full of incident, full of color and of sparkling dialogue, and they are probably destined to an enduring fame.

The real name of GEORGE SAND was Amantine Lucille Aurore Dupin. She married young, but soon separated from her husband and went to Paris to earn a living. Literature attracted her very strongly, and after some tentative efforts she published, in 1831, Rose et Blanche and Indiana, two novels of importance. From that time her position was assured in the eye of the public. Her first novels dealt much with the "divine right" of passion. They were, however, fresh, vigorous and of excellent style. "They made the novel a form of literature capable of being the vehicle of thought." About 1840 she entered a new field and produced for some time a different type of work. Towards 1850 her life, which hitherto she had lived too well rather than wisely, fell into quieter paths, in which it remained until the end. She lived chiefly in the country district of Berri, at the village of Nohant. The environment gave rise to several books dealing with country life-such as The Sea of the Devil (1846), La Petite Fadette (1849). A French critic has said that her masculine friendships-which were various and vivid-gave the key to the history of her work: thus She and He, an ungentle book, was due to Alfred de Musset, Lucrezia Floriani to Chopin, while the critic, Henri de Latouché exer

cised a most valuable influence on the formative period of her early life. George Sand was a singularly rapid writer, and her production was correspondingly voluminous. Her work covers a wide range in subject, though all connected by the spirit of revolt against established usage, which found a not inconsiderable place in her life. Her novels have been called "improvisations." They were collected after her death in something over a hundred volumes.

PROSPER MERIMÉE, novelist and short-story writer, was born at Paris in 1803. He was interested in the romantic movement, but after a time became dissatisfied and turned against it the weapon of his ridicule. He had means of his own and entered government service, where his literary achievement was not very large. After 1848 he was made a Senator under Napoleon III. He died in 1870 while France was plunged in the disasters of her war with Germany. Mérimée presents a strong contrast to the writers who have just been mentioned, both in matter and in manner. The bulk of his work was not large, in fact it was comparatively limited. He had a touch of cynicism in his character which led him to avoid the extravagances of romanticism proper. This lessened his production. And in the style of his works there is a marked departure from the typical romantic standard. His earliest work, La Théâtre de Clara Gazul, consisting of plays, nominally by a Spanish actress, appeared in 1825, and was

followed in 1827 by La Guzla, which purported to be translations from Slav prose and verse. But in his later works his characteristics are most pronounced. Some of these-all short, and produced at very unequal intervals-are: Colomba (1840), Mateo Falcone, La Double Méprise, Lokis. These show tendencies that were not at all in accord with the romantic tradition. They show a restraint, a reserve, an impersonality, a simplicity in narrative which was quite unusual in the years immediately following mil-huit-cent-trente. By some Mérimée is considered the best French prose writer of the century.

Next to Mérimée we may place THÉOPHILE GauTIER, "the gentleman with the red waistcoat." As prose in so far as style is concerned the two" exhibit French in a perfection which, since the seventeenth century, it had not possessed." Gautier was born in 1811 in Gascony. He was introduced to Victor Hugo and became an unbounded admirer of the great poet. He was the leader of the petit cénacle, of the romantic school and led the applause at the Théâtre Français on the memorable night of 25th February, 1830. He was conspicuous among the "geniuses who crowded the pit by reason of his flaming red waistcoat and his great mass of hair. In 1830 he published a volume of verse. In 1835 appeared Mademoiselle de Maupin. It is a novel of the most marked romantic type. Our poet Swinburne has called it-somewhat too indulgently-"the golden book of spirit and of sense." It has received a great

[ocr errors]
« PředchozíPokračovat »