Brunetière And The Novel Of Real Life -- By: Henry A. Stimson

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 065:257 (Jan 1908)
Article: Brunetière And The Novel Of Real Life
Author: Henry A. Stimson

Brunetière And The Novel Of Real Life

Reverend Henry A. Stimson

The group of modern French critics and essayists that began with Sainte Beuve and Taine, with Renan and Littre, as co-laborers, and continued with Scherer, Darmesteter, Hennequin, Doumic, and Rod, lost not the least influential of its members in the death of Ferdinand Brunetiere.

It was in 1875 that his critical essay on “Le Roman Naturaliste” appeared. The drama had then given place to the novel as the accepted form of depicting the habits and taste of the times, and realism had already become its note. It claimed to break utterly with the past, and was successful, and defiant of established conditions. Accepting the lead of Balzac, Flaubert and the Goncourts set the pattern which had already led to the puerilities of Malot, the grossness of Zola, and the pretentious prettiness of Daudet. After thirty years, when the French novel has reached the unspeakable coarseness of Huysmans, and the American novel represents a society largely made up of gamblers, drunkards, seducers and seduced, and men mad in the pursuit of money, on the ground that this presents “life as it is,” we are once more turning to the drama. The cycle is so far complete; and there is occasion to review the history of the period, and to measure the influence of a critic who did much to arrest the course of a pernicious movement and to expose its pretensions.1

Brunetière connected realism in literature with positivism in philosophy, and ventured to express the fear that they would work, in both art and philosophy, a common degrading transformation. The futility of positivism, or materialism, in philosophy has been completely demonstrated, and it already belongs to the things of the past. A review of Brunetiere’s criticisms may help to hasten the departure to the same perdition of the novel of “realism.” From his essays, scattered over a considerable period, and still untranslated, it is possible to gather and condense his opinions, and to give them substantially in his own words.

He pointed out what the new theories of Art as promulgated by the painters had already produced in literature. If it were only lack of talent and poverty of resource, the sterility of the times, which it was sought to conceal under an appearance of thought, one might wait with patience for better days. It was far worse than that,—it was low intent and a deliberate and foolish purpose to set aside the eternal principles of all true art. Taking Zola as his illustration, he said it is an art that sacrifices form to material, design to color, sentiment to sensation, the ideal to the real; which does not recoil either...

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