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THE NOVELS OF MARIVAUX. 

The originality, wit, and probity of Marivaux, his place 
in the French Academy, and a literary activity stretching 
from almost the beginning of the eighteenth century till his 
death, in 1763, at the age of seventy-five, made him a marked 
figure in his day, and has attracted the attention of such 
talented essayists and biographers that it is quite superflu- 
ous to glean in a field so thoroughly harvested, first by his 
contemporary Alembert, then by Faguet, Brunetiere, Lar- 
roumet, Gossot, and possibly best of all in the recent volume 
by Gaston Deschamps, in the " Great French Writers." 
But the fame of his dramas has tended to divert attention 
from his novels, and it is still worth while to show that, how- 
ever important he may have been in the development of 
French comedy, he was simply epoch-making in the evolu- 
tion of fiction. Brunetiere has somewhere observed that 
the novel did not assert an equal place among the genres of 
literature until the middle of the eighteenth century, and 
that it conquered it at all was, as I hope to show, because 
of the final impetus given by the genius of Marivaux to the 
movement so favorably inaugurated by the author of "Gil 
Bias." 

Born in 1688 and living till 1763, Marivaux was a genera- 
tion later than Le Sage. Thus he had the good and the ill 
chance to live in an age devoted to that ingenious display of 
wit that the French call esfrit, and he so abounded in the 
spirit of his time as to give to the language a word by which 
he has come to be judged more than by his works them- 
selves. Comparatively few read Marivaux, but every French 
scholar knows that marivaudage is French for "man- 
nerism, affected style, sentimentalism, excessive refine- 
ment," or, as the dictionary continues, " writing in the 
style of Marivaux," which is again described by the witty 
and jealous Voltaire as " weighing fly's eggs in balances of 
spider web." How far this may apply to the plays of 



288 The Sewanee Review. 

Marivaux this is not the place to inquire, but it is almost 
ludicrously inept as a description of the manner or the sub- 
stance of his novels. 

Marivaux was a Parisian, a society man, and a academi- 
cian. Like Richardson, who learned so much from him, 
he affected the society of the ladies and of the fashionable 
salons, especially those of the wise and amiable Madame de 
Lambert and of the malicious and clever Madame de Ten- 
cin. Thus, like Richardson in a like environment, he came 
to have such marked feminine traits of mind that it has been 
said by an acute critic that, if we did not know the con- 
trary, we should certainly take him for a woman. This 
"Baroness Marivaux," as Faguet calls him, "has all the 
grace, delicacy, perspicacity, coquetry, and charming small 
talk of the sex." It is this femininity that explains his mo- 
dernity. Like the fashionable novelist of to-day, he is anx- 
ious to be in fashion, and is as careful of his style as the lady 
who casts a last side glance at the mirror before leaving the 
boudoir. Now the custom of his time demands that the fresh 
beauty of nature be set off with court-plaster patches, and 
so it is natural to him to be artificial. The beauty patches 
of his style are its coquettishly turned phrases and its min- 
cing affectations. 

But in judging Marivaux it is necessary to distinguish va- 
rious periods. His first piece of fiction, " Pharsamon, or 
The Follies of Romance," written in 1712, though not print- 
ed till 1735, aims to be to Gomberville and La Calpre- 
nede what "Don Quixote" had been to the heroic ro- 
mance of Spain; but his satire sprang from no conviction, 
for his first printed work, " The Surprising Effects of Sym- 
pathy " (1713-14), out-Gombervilles Gomberville in its riot- 
ous carnival of violence and crime, with no touch of sa- 
tiric intent. Thoroughly romantic, too, was " la Voiture 
Embourbee," his next novel (1714), though here first there 
are traces of that delicacy of mental observation that was to 
characterize his later works in a singular degree. Just at 
this period, however, his development in the psychological 
line was arrested by the influence of Lamotte. Marivaux 



The Novels of Marivanx. 289 

became involved in the controversy of the ancients and mod- 
erns, and sought to aid the cause of the latter with essays in 
the Mercure, which he intended to be imitations of those of 
the Spectator. He perpetrated also a travesty of Homer. 
As a result of this diversion his talent did not become dis- 
tinctly marked till his attention was drawn to the stage, and 
for some years a reverse of fortune made this almost his 
sole resource. It is in the series of comedies, beginning 
about 1720, that what we call marivaudage first begins to 
show itself in him, and it reaches its height as a mannerism 
during this decade. But it was not till 1731 that he began 
to apply the faculties trained by constant work for the The- 
atre Francais, and for the Italian comedians to the fiction 
with which we are concerned here. During the next ten 
years he published eleven parts of his "Vie de Marianne," 
interspersing them with five parts of "LePaysan Parvenu," 
but leaving both novels to be completed, the former by 
Madam Riccoboni, to whom we owe the twelfth part, the 
latter with three parts of doubtful authorship, and still more 
doubtful value. 

As such a method of production made almost inevitable, 
both these novels are ill constructed, made up of detached 
episodes, and filled with unessential incidents. The author 
composed as his fancy happened to strike him, and "let his 
pen trot" with small heed to continuity. But this very lack 
of logical connection has a certain charm. It is no more 
incomplete than life itself seems to most of us, and then it is 
so spontaneous and so feminine in its inconsequence. But 
if we care to penetrate beneath this apparent inconsequence, 
we shall find a great deal of psychologic subtlety and here 
and there some pieces of realistic scene painting of a very 
high order. 

The first and longest of the novels, "la Vie de Marian- 
ne," offers itself as a plain, unvarnished autobiography, but 
it does not seem that there can be much foundation for the 
statement, since the opening is "annexed" almost verbally 
from a novel of Sandras. The story may be very briefly 
summarized. A stagecoach is surprised by robbers, and 
19 



290 The Setvanee Review. 

all the passengers killed except a canon and a two-year old 
child, who is to be the heroine. She is brought up by a 
country curate, and presently there springs up in her an 
internal conflict between gentle blood and lowly nurture 
and a gradual reassertion of her gentility, by which she is 
led through various social spheres, that afford Marivaux op- 
portunity for a series of delicate dissolving views of society 
and a few scenes etched with a firm and biting pen, to end 
with a happy marriage by the grace of Madame Riccoboni. 
It is in these sketches of character and of society that the 
strength of Marivaux lies. Among the most striking of the 
figures is the country curate, the Abbe Constantin of two 
centuries ago, as whose foil we have an acrid monk, Abbe 
St. Vincent, a somewhat garrulous nun, Madame de Tervire, 
who has had experiences that occupy nearly a quarter of the 
story (pp. 392-538), and a delightfully Pecksniffian prioress. 
Then there is Marianne's convent friend, Mile. Varthon, who 
presently deserts her for the primrose path, and the typical 
lady bountiful, Madame de Miran, and her worthy friend, 
Madame Dorsan, against whom is set off the admirable 
linen draper's wife, Madame Dutour, one of the most clear- 
cut bourgeois characters in all the fiction of the century. 
We make the acquaintance also of Valville, a gay young 
man about town, Madame de Miran's son, who in Madame 
Riccoboni's hands turns over a new leaf and becomes wor- 
thy to marry Marianne at the close. Admirably drawn is 
the old wheedling Tartufe, M. Climal, and there is a coach- 
man seen clearly and drawn from the life. The only weak 
character in the story is a young and virtuous officer, Baron 
Sercour, who is just a hero after George Ohnet's own heart, 
a maitre des forges born out of due time. 

But Marivaux's triumph and our constant delight is Mari- 
anne. She is introduced to us at sixteen, a coquette to her 
finger tips, knowing all her charms, and knowing, like a 
skillful angler, just how to make them most fascinating, and 
to dangle the gaudy fly till the very laziest and the very 
shrewdest old fish will bite for sheer nervousness. Marianne 



The Novels of Marivaux. 291 

is a coquette by instinct, but she is not a conscious flirt. Lis- 
ten to this little description of her modest toilet: 

They brought me my gown and some linen. It was a feast day, and I 
"was just getting up as they came. At the sight, Toinon and I could neither 
of us speak, I for emotion and joy, she for the sad comparison that she 
made between how I would look and how she would be. She would have 
surrendered father and mother for the pleasure of being orphan at the 
same rate as I. She stared with stupefied jealousy at my little outfit, and 
her jealousy was so humiliated that my joy was tinged with pity. But 
there was no help for her trouble, and I tried on my dress as modestly as I 
could before a mean little mirror that only showed one-half of my figure, 
but what I saw of it seemed to me quite piquant. So I began to fix my 
hair and to dress mj'self quickly, so as to enjoy my finery. My heart beat 
as I thought how pretty I was going to be. My hand trembled at each pin 
that I placed. I made haste to finish, but yet without hurrying anything. 
I wished to leave nothing imperfect, but I had soon finished, for all the 
perfection that I knew was of a very limited kind. I began with admirable 
qualifications. That was all. 

Truly, since I have been in society, I have managed very differently. 
Men talk about science and philosophy. A fine thing, that, in comparison 
with the science of placing a ribbon aright or of deciding what color to 
wear. If people only knew what goes through a coquettish girl's brain, 
how unfettered and keen is her soul, if you could see the delicacy of her 
judgments on matters of taste, how she tries, and then rejects, and then 
hesitates to choose, and then decides at last out of pure lassitude! For 
often she remains unsatisfied, and her idea always goes beyond its execu- 
tion. If people knew what I am telling of, it would frighten them, it 
would humiliate the strongest minds, and Aristotle would seem a child. 
What I am saying, I know through and through, and I know that in mat- 
ters of dress it is not much to discover what is good; you must discover 
that best that will outdo the better, and to discover that ultimate best you 
must read in the hearts of men and know how to prefer what attracts them 
most to that which only attracts them much. O, that is immeasurable! 
(Page 41.) 

Do not misjudge Marianne. She is a good girl and a 
proud girl. She will know how to hold her little skiff steady 
in the tide. Her pride will give her strength to resist all 
vulgar temptations, and this bewitching little person ended, 
we are sure — though Marivaux never had the heart to finish 
with her — by becoming a bewitching little wife. Shall we 
say of her with a benevolent French critic, that "she is 
something like an American girl in search of a social posi- 
tion and a husband, a girl who will get married just by dint 
of her grace and her spirit?" 



292 The Sewanee Review. 

But this novel has other and most interesting sides. There 
are sketches of high life in Paris, in those salons that Mari- 
vaux knew from daily contact with the aristocratic literary 
circles. And then he shows, as no writer had yet done, the 
clerical life of the capital, the gossip of the fashionable con- 
vents and the conflicts of soul that he feels are hidden be- 
hind their walls, so that his description thrills sometimes with 
an earnestness that just suggests Diderot's "Religieuse." 
Then, too, there is a whole group of episodes that connect 
the " Vie de Marianne" on the one side with the picaresque 
fiction of Le Sage, and on the other with the crass realism 
of some modern naturalists. One is surprised to find at this 
date and from this author strong pictures of low life in Paris, 
an obvious advance for fiction over the foreign low life de- 
scribed in " Gil Bias." One can hardly realize to-day what 
an innovation is implied in such a description as that of the 
dispute between Madame Dutour, a draper's wife with whom 
Marianne has temporary lodgings, and a coachman who had 
driven home Marianne when once she had hurt her foot and 
could not walk as was her wont. Some parts of the passage, 
which is too long to recall at length, may be translated to 
show how here in 1735 we find ourselves quite in the atmos- 
phere of " Pot-bouille " and " l'Assommoir:" 

I had hardly sat down [relates Marianne] when I pulled out my money 
to pay the coachman. But Madame Dutour, like a woman of experience, 
thought she ought to aid me in the matter, and considered me too young 
to yield this little detail to me. "Let me manage," she said; " I'll pay him. 
Where did he take you up?" "By the parish church," I said to her. "Ah, 
that's close by here," she said, counting out some small change. " Here, 
my boy, that's your fare." "My fare, that?" said the coachman, giving back 
the money with a scornful brutality. " O, not much. You don't measure 
this with a yardstick." "What does the man mean by his yardstick?" an- 
swered Madame Dutour quietly. " You ought to be satisfied. I guess 
people know what a cab is. This isn't the first day I've paid for 'em." 
"And though it were to-morrow," said the coachman, "what does that mat- 
ter? Give me my due, and don't make such a fuss. What's the woman 
meddling with, any way? Did I drive you? . . . Confound the woman! 
She haggles as though it were a bunch of herbs." 

At last, after much bandying of words, Madame Dutour 
dropped the role of respectable party that she had been 
playing, and, answering him with a volley of abuse, threat- 



The Novels of Marivaux. 293 

ened him with a yardstick, for which they both had an un- 
seemly struggle, she meantime bidding Marianne and the 
gathering crowd run and call the neighbors of her acquaint- 
ance. But the Parisian crowd, of which Marivaux gives an 
admirable psychological analysis, only " opened its stupidly 
eager eyes and enjoyed what it saw very seriously. It was 
neither roguish nor malicious, less rough than other crowds, 
simply curious, with a stupid, brutish curiosity that wished 
neither good nor evil to any one, and knew no other art than 
to come and feast on what might happen. ... It did 
not love cruelty, it feared it, but it loved the shudder that 
cruelty caused, for that stirred its soul, that knew nothing, 
had seen nothing, and was always a blank." Finally Mari- 
anne, much embarrassed, gave the coachman what he asked. 
Then, snatching and throwing away the yardstick, "he 
jammed down his hat, saying, ' Thank you kindly, my dear,' 
and went off through the crowd that opened as well to let 
him pass as to give passage to Madame Dutour, who wished 
to run after him, but I prevented it. But she said to me 
that by God's light I was only a little fool. 'Look you well, 
Marianne, I'll never pardon you for those twenty sols, alive 
or dead, never, never.' " (Pages 77-83.) 

Beside this naturalistic sketch of a street brawl let us set 
this bit of psychic description. Marivaux is talking of the 
prioress of a convent where Marianne was a boarder. She 
was, he says: 

A little short, round blonde, with a double chin, a complexion fresh and 
calm. You do not see such faces in society. Ordinarily what gives us 
our stoutness is temperament or ease or inaction, or the quantity of food 
that we eat, and that is perfectly natural. But to acquire the kind of stout- 
ness of which I speak, you feel that one must have made a holy task of it. 
It can only be the result of a delicate, loving, devoted complaisance that 
one has in the comfort and ease of the body. It witnesses not only that one 
loves a healthy life, but that one loves an easy, lazy, epicurean life, and 
that while one enjoys the pleasure of being well, one accords one's self as 
many gentle privileges as though one were always convalescent. (Pages 
128, 129.) 

Is not this to make us know that prioress better than if we 
had seen her with our own eyes? Do we not already begin 
at least to discern her inner nature? 



294 The Sewanee Review. 

But there is still another charm in Marivaux. His work 
is full of quotable sentences, of which a few instances may 
suffice for many: 

Society desires neither that we give ourselves to God nor that we aban- 
don Him. 

Nothing flatters our self-love more than to humiliate those who despise 
us. 

Devotees irritate society. The pious edify it. 

In love a quarrel is more effective than a eulogy. 

The passions of hypocrites are by nature cowardly when balked. 

The negligee of woman is the equivalent of nudity. 

Negligee is the masterpiece of the desire to please. It ends the chican- 
eries of self-love. 

One must have virtues to perceive that one lacks them. 

And so one might continue the list for pages. But what 
has been said must suffice for this lively, fascinating, though 
rather long and ill-balanced novel. 

" The Parvenu Countryman," Marivaux's second venture 
in this field, is socially more curious, but ethically much less 
edifying. To those who know Maupassant's " Bel-ami" the 
character of Jacob, the country parvenu, will need no long 
definition, and the two are curiously linked together by Res- 
tif de la Bretonne's " Paysan Perverti " (1775). All three of 
them are men who use the fascination of their sex to attain 
weath or social position. Marivaux takes a robust, hand- 
some country fellow, brings him to Paris, starts him in life as 
a lackey, for the same reason that Le Sage had made one of 
his Gil Bias, lets him serve the secret passions of several 
middle-aged ladies, marry one of them for position, another 
for her money, and end as an ornament to the noble guild 
of tax farmers (fermiers gene'ranx). The resemblance to 
Maupassant's hero is obvious enough, and it goes deeper than 
the surface. Both heroes are selfish and corrupt, but both 
have a certain charm and even certain virtues which may seem 
inconsistent with the part they play, and so tend to make both 
of them inferior in this regard to the infamous Edmond of 
Restif. It may be urged, however, in Marivaux' defense, 
that the successful lackey was no novelty either in fiction or 
in real life, and that the same adventures that were whispered 
about the prototypes of Gil Bias are here made the stepping- 



The Novels of Marivaux. 295 

stones to M. Jacob's fortune. And then the attitude of 
Marivaux throughout is that of observer, not of judge. He pre- 
sents to us the contradictions that he sees in this real though 
fortunately rare type of human nature, and so his Jacob re- 
mains an enigma, somewhat repulsive, certainly not enviable, 
but not wholly despicable. 

Perhaps the greatest interest that "The Parvenu Country- 
man " has to-day, at least for English readers, lies in itsgenre 
pictures of Parisian life. Here is one from the kitchen of 
the first household into which Jacob falls, a household of 
two maiden sisters whose devotion had turned sour, not to 
say rancid: 

Catherine was tall, thin, dressed in white and with a look of sour, angry, 
hot devotion in her face that apparently came from the heat that her brain 
absorbed over the kitchen fire, though indeed the brain of a devotee, and 
especially of a devotee cook, is naturally dry and parched. She had a 
bunch of keys at her belt like a convent portress. 

" Take some fresh eggs to my sister, who is still fasting," said to her Miss 
Habert, the elder sister of the one I had come with, and take this boy into the 
kitchen and give him a good drink. " One drink?" said Catherine in her 
sharp tone, and yet with good humor. " With a build like his he can well 
drink two." "And both to your health, Madame Catherine," I said to her. 
"Good," said she, "as long as I'm well, that won't hurt me. Come along, 
you can help me cook my eggs." " O no, Catherine, it isn't worth while," 
said Miss Habert the younger. " Give me the jam pot. That will suffice." 
"But, my sister, that is not nutritious," said the elder. "Eggs are flatu- 
lent," said the younger, and then it was my sister this and my sister that, 
till Catherine, with a gesture that admitted no appeal, decided as she went 
out, for the eggs, because, as she said, a breakfast was no dessert. 

As for me, I followed her into the kitchen, where she gave me a rest of 
yesterday's stew with some cold chicken, a bottle of wine nearly full, and 
all the bread I wanted. " Eat," said Catherine to me as she set about the 
fresh eggs, " God would have us live." " Here's a chance to do His will," 
said I, " and into the bargain I'm hungry." " So much the better," said she, 
"but tell me are you engaged? Do you stay with us?" " I hope so," I re- 
plied. " I should be very sorry if it were not so, for I imagine it's good to 
live under your charge, Madame Catherine. You seem so obliging, so 
reasonable." "O! O!" said she, "I do the best lean. Heaven help us. 
Each one has his faults, and I'm not idle, and the worst of it is life passes 
and the farther you go the dirtier you get, for the devil is always after u.s. 
The Church says so, but there's some dispute. Any way I am glad our 
ladies are going to take you. You seem to me a good fellow. Alas! why 
you are as like as two peas to the dead Baptiste, whom I expected to marry. 
He was the best fellow, and a handsome boy, like you. But it wasn't that 
that I considered, though of course it is a pleasure. God took him from 



296 The Sewanee Review. 

us. He is Master. There's no way to control Him. But you look just like 
Baptiste. You speak just like him. O! how he loved me! I've changed 
a good deal since. Though I shall change more still. I'm still Cather- 
ine, but it's not the same." "Faith," I said to her, "if Baptiste were not 
dead, he'd love you still, for I, who resemble him, would not be slow to do 
it." " Well, well," she said to me, laughing, " I'm still a pretty object. Eat, 
my son, eat. You'll talk differently when you've looked at me closer. I'm 
no longer good for anything but to work out my salvation, and it's lots of 
work. God grant I finish it!" (Part II., pp. 59-63.) 

Again, in this novel we have most admirable little portraits. 
For instance, this of that very mundane little Parisian girl, 
Agathe. We may see first how she looked and then how 
her looks belied her: 

Agathe was not handsome, but she had great delicacy of feature, quick 
eyes and full of fire, but of a kind of fire that this small person restrained 
and only let break out slyly, and all this together gave her a look that was 
piquant, spirituelle, and yet a little naughty. . . . Agajhe had some in- 
clination for love. You felt that her disposition was amorous rather than 
tender, hypocritical rather than prim. . . . She was the most daring 
liar that I ever knew. I never found her at fault for expedients. You 
might have thought her timid, yet never was mind firmer or more resolute 
and never was head less excitable. None cared less for having committed 
a fault, and at the same time none cared more to hide and to excuse it, 
though no one feared reproach less when she could not escape it, 
and then you spoke to a culprit so calm that her fault seemed no longer 
of consequence even to yourself. (Part II., pp. 44, 45). 

Of course these extracts can give but a very inadequate 
idea of Marivaux' novels, and perhaps hardly an adequate 
idea of that involved subtlety and untiring pursuit of the del- 
icate shadings of psychological distinctions that ever since 
his day has has passed under the name of marivandage . 
This peculiarity of his style seems to have been particularly 
disagreeable to the latter half of the eighteenth century, and 
the weight of its authority kept the just fame of Marivaux in 
abeyance till Sainte-Beuve studied the sources of his strength 
in a more catholic spirit. But the history of fiction would 
show that Marivaux had been copied much more continuous- 
ly and studiously than he was praised. At present full jus- 
tice, perhaps a little more than justice, is done him by the 
critics of France, among whom, as usual, Brunetiere is the 
most cautious and severe. He thus sums up his judgment: 
"As the greater part of the faults of Marivaux proceed only 



The Novels of Marivaux. 297 

from a transposition of the spirit of conversation and of so- 
ciety into the written book and the acted play, few writers 
are more French than he, and so long as there are salons no 
doubt there will be men of wit, of much wit, of far more wit 
than taste, to make his faults pass for so many merits. And 
his fame will reach its zenith just as often as in a growing 
depravity of manners, such as in the present time, it shall be 
the fashion to envelop thoughts in language the more artificial 
in proportion as they are more libertine." 

This is certainly too harsh, and yet how could any writer 
reflect his time and his environment, if that time were the 
regency and that environment the salons of Madame de 
Tencin and Madame de Lambert, without a little taint of 
moral morbidity. As for the style, it is the very flower of 
that frecieux diction that Moliere and Boileau and Le Sage 
had satirized in vain, a style by no means of Marivaux' in- 
vention, for it can be found in Massillon, in Montesquieu, 
and even in La Bruyere and in Fenelon, while it reached at 
times as complete an expression in Fontenelle as ever it did in 
Marivaux. 

From our modern point of view the great fascination of 
Marivaux is that he was thoroughly modern, and to be mod- 
ern in 1730 was to have already the symptoms of that inter- 
twining of sentiment aud lubricity that marks all the fiction 
of his immediate successors. His writing is, as he makes 
his own M. Jacob say of some of his experiences, "a 
school of ease, pleasure, corruption, and consequently [mark 
the word] of sentiment" — that is, of sentiment as Prevost, 
Crebillon^f/s, and even Rousseau were to understand it. 

But aside from the moral bearing of his work, it is clear 
that he brought into fiction the minute, careful study of ordina- 
ry everyday life and of the motives of average men, made 
up of an infinity of little touches with an art that was quite 
novel in his day and surely served as a model to Richardson 
for his "Pamela," as an earlier novel of Marivaux' had per- 
haps already done to De Foe for his "Robinson Crusoe." 
Of course other men had introduced into their fiction linen 
draper's wives and coachmen, but he was the first who had 



298 The Sewanee Review. 

deliberately asked himself what sort of man or woman such 
environments would produce. Writers may have put, as 
Brunetiere says, "lackeys and chambermaids into stories be- 
fore his day and even made them talk in the language of 
their station, but he was first to study the peculiar refraction 
that general sentiments will undergo when they pass through 
the media of special conditions." If he is also the finished 
painter of the social elegance of his time, that is because he 
brings his curious and minute observation to bear on that 
phase of Parisian life also. To have opened this field to 
psychologic romance is the great service of the novelist Mari- 
vaux. Just as we saw him paint with such delicacy the ris- 
ing rage of Madame Dutour so he will catch in "The Par- 
venu Countryman " the nuance that separates the gallant no- 
tary's wife, Madame deFerval, from the gallant banker's wife, 
Madame de Fecour, of unsavory memory, and the distinction 
maintained between the Habert sisters is as delicate yet as 
sharply defined, for Marivaux "excels in discerning differ- 
ence in resemblance and seeks to show us what belongs to 
all humanity as it appears in the individual." 

Now we may search French fiction from "Aucassin and 
Nicolette " to the publication of " Marianne" and we shall 
find no psychology comparable in literary delicacy to this of 
Marivaux. But that very spirit of subtlety grows by what 
it feeds on, and breeds a mannerism in style and even in 
thought; yes, in its final stage it becomes a complete cor- 
ruption of sentiment which degenerates to an artificial sen- 
timentality. As has been delicately said : He interests him- 
self in his characters, but he does not love them. For him 
these are subjects of experiment rather than beings of flesh 
and blood. His heart does not beat or stop, swell or con- 
tract with their emotions, he never enters into their lives as 
Balzac always did, and as Stendhal, Bourget, and Barres, 
whom among moderns he most resembles, never do. But 
there is one exception, one subject that could rouse this 
dainty soul and set it quivering. Like Shylock, Marivaux 
had a daughter, and that daughter had, for some reason that 
we may never know, entered a convent, at some pecuniary 



The Novels of Marivaux. 299 

sacrifice to him whose child was "hardly rich enough to 
take the vow of poverty." So the struggles of the clois- 
tered life seem to have been branded on this feminine 
soul, and they rouse him always to the most intense passion 
of which his pen is capable. A single passage in its strik- 
ing contrast with those that have gone before will illustrate 
the entire change of tone. Madame de Tervire is telling 
Marianne of her experience with another nun, an inmate 
of her convent: 

She drew then from her bosom a letter unaddressed but sealed, and 
gave it to me with a trembling hand. " Since I fill you with pity," said she, 
" rid me of this ; I adjure you deliver me from this wretched letter that tor- 
ments me; deliver me from the peril in which it casts me and let me 
never see it again. I received it two hours ago, and I have not been since 
alive." " But," said I to her, " You have not read it. It has not been opened." 
" No," she replied to me, " I long to tear it every moment, every moment I 
have been tempted to open it, at last I shall open it, I shall not resist. I think I 
was going to open it when fortunately for me you came. Ah! what hap- 
piness! Alas! I am very far from feeling that it is one. I do not know 
even if I think so. This letter that I have just given you, I regret it. I 
am on the verge of asking it of you again. I should like to have it again. 
But don't listen to me, and if you read, as you are free to do, since I 
hide nothing from you, never tell me what it contains. I suspect it only 
too well, and I do not know what I should do if I were better informed." 
(Page 422.) 

As a rule, however, it must be confessed that Marivaux 
deals with those loves of which his M. Jacob says, " They 
have nothing to do with the heart;" which, by the way, he 
conceives to be the majority and the dominant influence in 
nature, being here again a true son of his time. "He paint- 
ed love as he saw it around him," says Brunetiere; to find 
passion he would have needed to abandon somewhat his cote- 
ries, to dare to descend a little lower with Prevost, or to mount 
a little higher with — shall we say? — Rousseau; he should 
have been a little less a man of the world and a little more 
of a poet. As it is, love with him is little more than gallant- 
ry, or, as he would say, the useful embellished by respect- 
ability, animal desires under the veil of elegant politeness. 
As such, as a " breviary of the art of pleasing" and of flir- 
tation, it is near perfection, and perhaps nowhere in litera- 
ture shall we find such delicate instructions in coquetry, 



3<X) The Sewanee Review. 

concerning which the only reserves that need be made are 
first that the whole is a moral corrosive, and secondly that 
any person sufficiently deluree to understand such instruc- 
tions needs none. Surely ladies who are willing to "take 
delight in all ways of pleasing" will hardly need in- 
struction in how " to be many women at once." "When 
I wished," says Marianne, "to have a roguish look, I had a 
manner and a dress ready for the occasion. Next day you 
would find me with languishing graces, then I'd be a mod- 
est beauty, serious, indifferent. So I would hold the most 
flighty man. I duped his very inconsistency, because every 
day I made myself a new charmer for him, and so it seemed 
to him just as though he had exchanged." (Page 42.) 

There have been people who have said that Marivaux was 
more ethically uplifting than Le Sage. To me he seems a 
natural link in the evolution that was leading from a healthy 
though crass naturalism to those miasmic gardens in which 
grow only the brilliantly exquisite jleurs du mal. In one of 
his prefaces Marivaux says that if any one " should tell me 
that my writings had corrected any vices, or even any 
vicious men, I should be truly sensible to the praise." Per- 
haps we might apply to Marivaux Marianne's remark: 
"People often suppose that they have a tender conscience, 
not because of the sacrifices that they make to it, but be- 
cause of the trouble they take with it so as to avoid the 
need of making any." 

Certainly as a novelist Marivaux is uneven, much more 
uneven than Le Sage. At his best he is almost as keen and 
profound in his psychology; at his worst he is prolix almost 
beyond endurance. Of this it would not be difficult to give 
examples, but the reader will doubtless be willing to take it 
on trust. To read his novels in a hurry is fatal. To read 
them without occasionally skipping over a sentence or two 
is almost impossible. But his best and his worst are not 
only different in quality, they differ in kind. Faguet has 
put this very well when he says that from Le Sage to Mari- 
vaux the novel, from having been the work of a moralist, 
becomes the work of a psychologist, with the defects and 



The Novels of Marivaux. 301 

qualities that belong to that class. It is made up of a 
very minute study of a few sentiments, with many reflec- 
tions and considerations. This makes a somewhat scanty 
framework, and to stuff it out the author adds things that 
are not his own but his neighbor's, a little more of that vul- 
gar realism that had begun to show itself in Le Sage, and 
quickly became a fashion in France, where realism has 
usually been only a certain taste for vulgarity, a little sen- 
timentality and gift of tears, and a little rakishness. 

Preeminently a psychologist, he fell on a somewhat evil 
time. He would have felt far more at home with our own 
generation, or with that of La Bruyere. For this reason, 
and also because the novel was not ripe for many of his in- 
novations, he neither himself carried his talent to its full de- 
velopment, nor did others who followed him realize the pos- 
sibilities inherent in his innovations. His best work was done 
for the stage, because the evolution of that genre was ripe 
for the more delicate touches of his genius. With the novel 
it was as yet different. "Every one knew," says Bru- 
netiere, "that something could be done in this line, but no 
one had yet done it. Capable of attempting, Marivaux was 
not yet capable of accomplishing, and he did not accom- 
plish. That is the secret of the unevenness of his work." 
So long as the people generally thought with Voltaire that the 
novel could be defined as "the production of a feeble mind 
writing with facility things unworthy to be read by serious 
men," serious men were not likely to give to this genre the 
higher unity of artistic composition . In this Marivaux is even 
more lacking than Le Sage, and as the latter certainly errs in 
the multitude of adventures, so the former surely errs in the 
mass of his observations. And yet Marivaux was singular- 
ly original, and the germs of his thought may be dis- 
cerned more or less distinctly in many writers of his century 
and of ours, though it may not always be easy to show di- 
rect borrowing. We know from Diderot that in the days 
just preceding "Pamela" and "Tom Jones" Marivaux was 
one of the most popular novelists in England, and the influ- 
ence of "Marianne" on "Pamela," is unmistakable. In 



302 The Sewanee Review. 

France Marivaux was not personally liked by his fellow- 
romancers, Prevost and Crebillon, because of his overween- 
ing conceit, but Diderot always spoke of him with respect, 
and seems to owe much of his finest work in "le Neveu de 
Rameau" to his inspiration, while his best novel, "la Re- 
ligieuse," has as many points of resemblance and as many of 
superiority to the convent passages (Books IX.-XI. ) in 
" Marianne." No one pretends that Diderot imitated Mari- 
vaux. That Titan had no need to imitate anybody. What 
is true, and what ought to be set down to the credit of the 
earlier writer, is, that he saw, a generation before the philo- 
sophic deluge, the artistic value of the literary proletarian, 
the new Panurge, the shameless parasite, and of the credu- 
lously rebellious nun. Then, too, Rousseau borrowed not 
a little both for his "Confessions" and for the deism of his 
" Savo} r ard Vicar" from Marivaux, who had patronized his 
literary beginnings, and of whom he always spoke with af- 
fection. And critics have not failed to call attention to sin- 
gle passages which go to show that many later writers, 
among whom one may name Chamfort, Cherbuliez, Hugo, 
and even Balzac, have not read Marivaux in vain. 

But to initiate is not to accomplish, and the interest that 
Marivaux has for us will always be the interest that we feel 
in literary origins rather than in literary beauty. His praise 
must be that without him many of the most striking works 
of later fiction would not be what they are. To blame him 
for not having anticipated all the results of his methods is as 
unjust, on the one hand, as it is, on the other, to attribute 
to him their merits. The just mean will be to say that there 
is no novel of manners in modern literature in France or in 
England behind which one may not see something of this 
man whom Brunetiere happily describes as "the most se- 
rious of French writers of light literature." 

Benjamin W. Wells.