Brander Matthews (18521929). The Short-Story. 1907.
Notes to The Substitute
By François Coppée (1842 )
IT is as a poet that this author is best known, yet he has written many prose stories with a poetic insight and sympathy. He deals with humble characters chiefly, with types of the plain people, with those who have not had a fair chance in life, or with those who, having had it, have let it slip through their fingers. His pathos is manly and simple and unstrained. His interest is rather in character than in action; and yet he can tell a story in straightforward fashion. The present example of his narrative art was written in the early eighties, after Daudet and Halévy had revived the short-story in France, and before Maupassant had come forward. The present translation is by the editor.
Compassion is the chief quality of this little masterpiece,compassion and understanding of a primitive type of character. The author shows us the good in a character not altogether bad; and he almost makes us feel that the final sacrifice was justifiable. He succeeds in doing this chiefly because he shows us the other characters only as they appeared to Jean François, thus focusing the interest of the reader on this single character.