The Art of French Fiction: Prevost, Stendahl, Zola, Maupassant, Gide, Mauriac, Proust

The Art of French Fiction: Prevost, Stendahl, Zola, Maupassant, Gide, Mauriac, Proust

The Art of French Fiction: Prevost, Stendahl, Zola, Maupassant, Gide, Mauriac, Proust

The Art of French Fiction: Prevost, Stendahl, Zola, Maupassant, Gide, Mauriac, Proust

Excerpt

The Foreword is one of the most agreeable parts of an author's task. It is his first meeting with the reader and an opportunity of explaining why he wrote his book and why he hopes that the reader will enjoy it. The present work is a successor to The Novel in France. The period, the terrain and the method are approximately the same. I do not greatly care for movements, schools and influences. I have not tried to write a history of the French novel or of a particular aspect of it. I am concerned with the elucidation of a series of individual experiences. The French novel must be seen as a whole and the individual experiences related to it. Although there are great differences between the seven novelists discussed here, there are also certain obvious similarities. One thing they have in common is the problem of discovering some principle of unity, whether religious, philosophical or simply personal, in a rapidly changing civilization in order to give shape and coherence to their individual vision. This problem is considered in my introductory chapter.

Only two of the novelists examined in The Novel in France have chapters to themselves in this book, but the remainder were constantly in my mind and they all make appearances of varying lengths. I was reproached by a friendly critic of the earlier book for placing Stendhal above Proust. He still seems to me to be the greatest French novelist for the reasons that I gave at the time. But whether or not the order should have been reversed, the presence of both Stendhal and Proust provides me with a standard by which other novelists can be tested. Stendhal comes conveniently in the middle of my period. He is the Janus looking back into the past and forward into the future. He marks the point at which an extraordinary process of evolution began which eventually culminated in Proust.

Nothing is pleasanter than to make amends to an author to whom one has been unjust. Although I still have reservations about Manon Lescaut, it is clear to me that it is a more interesting work than the disparaging reference in The Novel in France suggests. It is also clear that Prévost's reputation as a one-book man does not fairly represent his achievement. Criticism of any writer is necessarily an unfinished portrait, but I hope that my discussion of the forgotten novels will help to alter the portrait of the one-book man.

Something of the same is true of Zola. I think that the claims which . . .

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