The Novel in France: Mme de la Fayette, Laclos, Constant, Stendhal, Balzac, Flaubert, Proust

The Novel in France: Mme de la Fayette, Laclos, Constant, Stendhal, Balzac, Flaubert, Proust

The Novel in France: Mme de la Fayette, Laclos, Constant, Stendhal, Balzac, Flaubert, Proust

The Novel in France: Mme de la Fayette, Laclos, Constant, Stendhal, Balzac, Flaubert, Proust

Excerpt

In the year 1913 a French newspaper indulged in an agreeable game which has been played in different forms in most European countries. It invited a number of distinguished writers to name their ten favourite French novels. When M. André Gide received his invitation he was slightly perplexed. He had no doubt about the identity of his favourite novelist, but it was more difficult to choose his favourite novel. The finest French novel was bound to be one of Stendhal's, but which was it to be? 'I hesitated', he said, 'for a long time between Le Rouge et le noir and La Chartreuse de Parme. In my state of doubt I almost wrote down Lucien Leuwen. . . . No: the Chartreuse remains the unique book.'

He gave second place, this time without the slightest hesitation, to the Liaisons dangereuses. Then he paused again. He preferred the Chartreuse and the Liaisons to any other novels written in any other languages, but he did not consider that France was really a country of novelists. The French moralists were unsurpassed, but the French novelists were not in his opinion the equals of the great English and Russian novelists. If he had not been confined by the rules of the game to Frenchmen, he said, the other eight places on his list would all have gone to foreigners.

The remaining eight, presumably in order of merit, were: La Princesse de Clèves, Le Roman bourgeois, Manon Lescaut, Dominique, La Cousine Bette, Madame Bovary, Germinal, and La Vie de Marianne 'which I blush to confess I have not yet read'.

The essay in which M. Gide tells the story of his choice is one of the most polished and entertaining of his occasional writings. He has something fresh and stimulating to say about nearly all the novels that he discusses which makes us feel like sitting down and re-reading each . . .

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