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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Victor Cherbuliez (1829–1899)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
IN 1863 the Revue des Deux Mondes offered its readers a novel by a young author very slightly known to Parisian littérateurs. But everybody read him with interest, whether cordially approving or not. The story was not evolutionary, had no definite moral purpose. Perhaps the public were glad to temporarily lay aside their instruments for scientific dissection of literary art; for ‘Le Comte Kostia,’ a lively tale of romantic adventure, was the most popular story that had been published by the Revue des Deux Mondes. Naturally the gratified editors accepted the author as a regular contributor, which he has been ever since. He had been introduced to them by George Sand, who, pleased with an earlier work of his, wrote him appreciatively and did him this kind turn. This earlier work, ‘Un Cheval de Phidias’ (A Horse by Phidias), cordially praised by Sainte-Beuve, was a capable dissertation upon archæology and art, strung on a thread of narrative.  1
  The young author, Victor Cherbuliez,—Genevese, of French descent,—was about thirty-four when ‘Le Comte Kostia’ appeared. A critic in discussing him speaks almost enviously of the liberalizing influences experienced in cosmopolitan little Switzerland. Cherbuliez’s advantages have been great. His father was a professor in the university, and of his parents it has been pleasantly said that from his father he learned all he ought to know, from his mother all he ought to be. He was graduated from the University of Geneva, and later studied history and philosophy at Paris, Bonn, and Berlin. For a time he taught at Geneva; then he married, and with his wife traveled extensively in the East, where he collected abundant material for his trained powers of observation and his love of social and artistic questions. He has been a member of the Academy since 1881, and now lives in Paris,—a perennial novel-writer, distinguished also for the clever sketches on modern French politics which appear regularly in the Revue des Deux Mondes signed “George Valbert.”  2
  But his best and most abundant work has been in fiction, where his talent lies in the union of romantic imagination with a practical view of life. There is sometimes falsetto in the imagination, but it gratifies a liking for falsetto in many readers. Translated, his novels have been read almost as much in English as in French; and among the best liked are ‘L’Idée de Jean Tétérol’ (Jean Tétérol’s Idea); ‘La Revanche de Joseph Noircel’ (Joseph Noircel’s Revenge); ‘Le Docteur Rameau.’  3
  If they refuse Cherbuliez a place among great writers, at least the critics always respect his cleverness, and recognize the range of his information regarding the art, literature, politics, and history of different lands. The prime quality of his work is interest. His remarkable inventiveness shows in one unusual situation after another, without repetition and with always fresh stimulus. His kinship with George Sand’s romantic spirit was felt at once, and his style has always remained essentially unchanged. But that his earlier emotional spontaneity has grown with maturity to a more conventional spirit, may be seen by comparing the two ends of his work. In ‘Le Comte Kostia’ we have the persecution of a beautiful young daughter by a Russian nobleman. He forces her to hide her sex and personate the son he has lost, and subjects her to many terrors until she is rescued by his chivalrous young secretary, who in time discovers her secret and marries her,—but first, numberless adventures and scenes of passion. In ‘Le Roi Epèpi’ (King Epèpi: 1895) there is no profound emotion. It is the cleverly cynical account of the rescue by a worldly old uncle of a romantic and short-sighted nephew. The young man, infatuated by an adventuress, insists upon marrying her. The uncle ingeniously, without compromising himself, leads the lady to believe that he himself is in love with her. Naturally she prefers proprietor to heir, and throws over the latter only to find herself deceived.  4
  Perhaps the best way to indicate Cherbuliez’s place in French literature is by comparison with the English Trollope. Both create interest. Both have a swift firm style, with sometimes almost too facile a rush. But while Trollope draws ordinary men and women who talk in ordinary fashion, Cherbuliez invents brilliant-minded people who shower us with epigram. They shoulder too much of their creator’s erudition, and are too clever to be quite natural.  5
  Cherbuliez died in Paris July 1, 1899. As an essayist and critic he exerted considerable influence on French thought and opened an outlook on the activities of foreign countries that was free from the prejudice and distortion common to French writers.  6
 
 
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