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Paris: Plon-Nourrit et Cie, 1917. Pp. viii + 304. 1

The New Statesman, 9 (25 Aug 1917) 500-01

M. Bourget’s novel is methodically laid out, into three parts: Les Personnages, La Tragedie, and Le Dénouement. One looks for a close-woven, inevitable tragic drama, and the construction is indeed very careful; yet the Tragediedoes not follow necessarily from the Personnages, nor the Dénouementfrom the Tragedie. The persons are Robert Graffeteau, a mercantile aristocrat, a young and successful banker, now Captain, decorated for gallantry, invalided at Hyères. His divorced wife, Thérèse, a syren, a degenerate, an opium-smoker, thoroughly corrupt and odiously fascinating. Her lover, de Faverolles, a titled embusqué, a weak voluptuary further debauched by his mistress. Lazarine Emery, a virgin of country-family antecedents; and her father, a retired colonel with a taste for country life à l’anglaise. There is also the elder sister of Lazarine, who offers epistolary sympathy and advice; and a blinded officer, a friend of Graffeteau, whose steadfast Catholicism presents a contrast with the scepticism of the hero. The Emerys are ignorant of Graffeteau’s past; he knows that they, as fervent Christians, would regard his legal divorce as invalid; yet he cannot deprive himself of the society of Lazarine. At this point Thérèse appears; hating her husband, but jealous and still desiring him, she goes straight to the house of the Emerys, and lays the facts, decidedly perverted to present Robert in the most unfavourable light, before Lazarine. Having blocked Robert’s progress in this direction, she attempts, in a midnight assignation, to seduce him. Robert comes only in the hope of extracting from her a letter to Lazarine withdrawing the grosser allegations against him; but he finds himself gradually paralysed by the physical fascination of his former wife. She uses very potent perfumes. As he feels himself on the verge of surrender, he spies a revolver on her table. He seizes it; she smiles confidently, and in the last stage of despair he shoots her dead.

The secrecy of the meeting prevents any suspicion from falling upon Robert; and he is now free, in the eyes of the Church as well as in the eyes of the law, to marry whom he pleases. But he is a murderer, a dishonour to the Army. He returns to the trenches and is killed in action. Lazarine, who has divined the truth of the mysterious death of Thérèse, yet does not reprobate her lover; she learns with joy that he has at the end recanted his free-thinking and died in the Faith; and she thinks of him thereafter as her eternal fiancé.

Propaganda need not spoil a novel, and Lazarineis not a spoilt novel. We may be bored by Duchatel, the pious blinded officer, but we can put up with him. And Lazarine’s sister on the subject of marriage is very sound: “de vraies fiançailles . . . ce n’est pas une ivresse de cœur . . . C’est le don mutuel de toute une vie, de toute cette effrayante longueur de la vie” [41]. 2 In the struggle between the desire for happiness and the fact of marriage which is something more than merely a Christian dogma, M. Bourget has really found what is most sincere and moving in his book. The novel is not spoilt by M. Bourget’s views. It is uninteresting simply because it is the natural result of M. Bourget’s literary method.

Probably the best book that M. Bourget ever wrote was his Essais de psychologie contemporaine. 3 These studies of the writers of the ’70’s and ’80’s were precise, without being dogmatic; they were solid without the heaviness of Taine or Brunetière, for they manifested M. Bourget’s talent of analysis in company with the talent of curiosity. 4 He was independent...

Published By:   Faber & Faber logo    Johns Hopkins University Press

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