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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Octave Feuillet (1821–1890)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
OCTAVE FEUILLET was the darling of the Second Empire. In the days when realistic fiction was beginning its struggle for a hearing, he treated court circles to romantic tales of the Faubourg Saint-Germain. To himself and to his audience, lovers of social elegance, the sordid commonplace world of tradespeople was uninteresting. He contributed to the aristocratic spirit which maintains that rich and well-born men and women have an exclusive possession of mental and moral refinement. His pleasure-seeking readers were not interested in broad social problems, but the mental struggles of spoiled beauties and the sentimental hair-splitting of chivalric young noblemen supplied just the sugar-plums they craved. Perhaps a touch of effeminacy in his own nature especially fitted Feuillet to understand the women of his world, and to portray the vagaries of idle ardent girls, who have been his most admiring readers.  1
  Moreover, he was an avowed moralist—of a conventional morality, such as is suitable for discussion in the salon. While scrupulously respecting prejudices, he managed, almost unobserved as it were, to offer stimulating expositions of unorthodox subjects. But unquestionably he always aims to inculcate respect for nobility of mind and action. Perhaps the reproach oftenest brought against him touches this evident didacticism. But he points his moral so delicately that the indirect sermonizing is never aggressive. Although severely criticized by Sainte-Beuve, George Sand, Lemaître, Zola, and other critics who sometimes treated him with contemptuous mockery, Feuillet was always a popular novelist. For more than forty years he pursued his own ideals with courage and success, meeting distinguished consideration, being made member of the Legion of Honor; and in 1862 accepted into the French Academy as the successor of Scribe.  2
  Feuillet obtained his early education in his native town, Saint Lô, where his father was secretary of the prefecture. Then he was sent to Paris; where first at the Collège Louis le Grand, and later at the University, he proved himself both studious and talented. Unlike most student habitués of the Quartier Latin, he found no pleasure in Bohemian dissipations. His calm, refined nature shunned low associations and coarse jollity. He was reserved and exclusive like his favorite heroes, and absorbed in imaginative ideals.  3
  At twenty-four he began to write, and in collaboration with Borage and Aubert composed ‘Le Grand Vieillard,’ a novel which appeared as a serial in Le Nationel. A devoted disciple of Dumas fils, and stimulated by the example of Scribe, he next tried the theatre; and with Vavin and Xazier wrote ‘Une Nuit Terrible,’ played at the Gymnase in 1845. All his early plays (and they were many), though sometimes clever, are so crude and experimental that Feuillet did not include them among his complete works. After he became devoted to Alfred de Musset, he wrote the ‘Scènes et Proverbes,’ which, published in the Revue des Deux Mondes, made his first assured success. Of these, ‘La Fée,’ ‘Alix,’ ‘La Clef d’Or,’ and others, are dainty dramatic tales, showing his vigor of characterization and delicacy of style. In 1848 his first long story, ‘Onesta,’ an Italian tale of passion, delighted the readers of the Nouvelle Revue, and was followed by many tales so successfully dramatized that his name became equally familiar to readers and theatre-goers.  4
  His well-known ‘Roman d’un Jeune Homme Pauvre’ (Romance of a Poor Young Man) is a characteristic piece of work. Its Musset-like delight in emotion, its striking situations, stamped it as a product of the aging romantic school. Of course it incurred the disfavor of his more progressive fellow-craftsmen, although, as Lanson says, Feuillet is far more a realist than is commonly supposed. His characters do not experience exaggerated rewards or punishments, and their fate seems the natural outcome of their qualities. In spite of the optimistic spirit which maintained his faith in innate human nobility, Feuillet thoroughly appreciated the tragedy of life. Nearly all his stories are sad, and sometimes dramatically tragic. The poverty-stricken young nobleman of the ‘Romance,’ with his lofty ideals and sensitive self-respect, ruled his life with the pride which actuated Feuillet himself. There were critics to deride as well as critics to honor the antique virtue of the novelist, when upon the downfall of the Empire he resigned his lucrative position as librarian of the Château of Fontainebleau when the catastrophe had made that position a sinecure merely. For this sentimental “Family Musset” was sincere. One of his characters somewhere remarks that ideality glorifies ugly prose duty and acts as a stimulus to endeavor. So Feuillet wishes to picture a world in which men and women find in self-respect and religion compensation for suffering and self-sacrifice.  5
 
 
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