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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Ludovic Halévy (1834–1908)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
LUDOVIC HALÉVY, known to American readers chiefly as the author of the graceful little novel ‘The Abbé Constantin,’ entered French letters as a dramatist and writer of librettos. Born in Paris in 1834 of Jewish parentage, he is the son of Léon Halévy, a poet and littérateur of some note in his day; and he is, as well, the nephew of the composer of ‘The Jewess’ and of ‘The Queen of Cyprus.’ He grew up in the atmosphere of the theatre. After leaving college he entered his country’s civil service, and rapidly rose to occupy positions of distinction. At the same time he gave his leisure to writing plays and short stories, looking forward to the day when he would be able to throw off the burdensome yoke of clerical duties and to devote himself entirely to literature. Unsuccessful at first, Halévy finally worked his way into public favor, especially after associating his pen with that of Henri Meilhac. In collaboration with the latter, Halévy wrote many of the librettos of Offenbach’s most brilliant and satiric operettas, including ‘The Perichole,’ ‘The Brigands,’ the ‘Belle Hélène,’ and ‘The Grand Duchess of Gérolstein’—a burlesque opera which had such vogue that it is said to have been the first thing the Emperor Alexander of Russia wished to hear, when he came to Paris to attend the Exposition of 1867. Several serious librettos of high excellence are from the same hands, including that for Bizet’s ‘Carmen.’ In spoken drama, ‘Frou-Frou’ and ‘Tricoche and Cacolet’ are among the most popular plays the two dramatists produced together. In speaking of the collaboration of Halévy with Meilhac in humorous drama, Francisque Sarcey says:—“Gifted with an exquisite appreciation of the real, Halévy has preserved the more fantastic and bizarre characteristics of the imagination of the latter. From this mutual work have sprung plays which in my opinion are not sufficiently estimated by us;—we have seen them hundreds of times, and have referred to them with a grimace of contempt. There is a great deal of imagination, of wit, and of good sense in these amusing parodies of every-day life.”  1
  Yet, great as was the success of his dramatic work, Halévy’s claim to a place in French literature rests on what he produced alone after the collaboration with Meilhac had suffered a rupture, in 1881. At the same time he ceased writing for the stage, and turned to fiction. ‘L’Abbé Constantin,’ the first of his novels, is also the most popular. It opened to him the French Academy. It was for more than one season the French story of the day. It is a charming story, full of fresh air and sun, simply and skillfully told. It presented a view of American character and temperament not usual in French fiction; and irreproachable in its moral tone, it has become a sort of classic for American schools and colleges. ‘La Famille Cardinal’ (The Cardinal Family) and ‘Crichette’ are others of Halévy’s studies in fiction of aspects of Parisian life. ‘Notes and Souvenirs’ embody observations during the Prussian invasion of 1871. They are interesting, as giving faithful pictures of the temper of the people during those days. Among his short stories, ‘Un Mariage d’Amour’ (A Marriage for Love) is one of the most delightful; and a highly characteristic one, ‘The Most Beautiful Woman in Paris,’ is appended to this sketch. Says Mr. Brander Matthews:—
          “In all these books there are the same artistic qualities; the same sharpness of vision, the same gentle irony, the same constructive skill, and the same dramatic touch…. M. Halévy’s irony is delicate and playful. There is no harshness in his manner and no hatred in his mind. We do not find in his pages any of the pessimism which is perhaps the dominant characteristic of the best French fiction of our time…. More than Maupassant, or Flaubert, or Merimée, is M. Halévy a Parisian. Whether or not the characters of his tales are dwellers in the capital, whether or not the scene of his story is laid in the city by the Seine, the point of view is always Parisian…. His style even, his swift and limpid prose,—the prose which somehow corresponds to the best vers de société in its brilliancy and buoyancy,—is the style of one who lives at the center of things. Cardinal Newman once said that while Livy and Tacitus and Terence and Seneca wrote Latin, Cicero wrote Roman. So, while M. Zola on one side and M. Georges Ohnet on the other may write French, M. Halévy writes Parisian.”
  2
  Ludovic Halévy died May 8, 1908, having attained the age of seventy-four years; his passing was a serious loss in the field of letters in France, where he had long been so important a figure.  3
 
 
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