LOVE THE AVENGER.*
"THE world in Europe generally nowadays, but above all in France, is becoming indulgent in the extreme to men who have
run away with other men's wives," says the Baroness Blaze de Bury. If the world is indulgent, so is the Baroness. Her three-volume story, called Love the Avenger, seems written to show what a delightful thing it is for men to run away with other men's
wives, or mistresses, and what an altogether dull and dreary life results when males and females join in bonds of matrimony. Love
the Avenger is an intensely French tale, none but Frenchmen and Frenchwomen figuring in it, and the whole horizon being bounded, physically, intellectually, and morally, by that of la belle France.
The heroine is the daughter of a peasant in the village of St. Mar- tin, not far from the town of Blois, departernent Loir-et-Cher. Left an orphan at the age of seventeen, Madeleine Rayual goes forth to seek a place as servant, and on the threshold of her wanderings falls in with a figure familiar in French novels, a middle-aged voluptuary, compound of Faust and Mephistopheles, called the Marquis de Moranges. Madeleine is "a tall pale girl, with a muddy skin, on which the fair hair made no contrast," in dismal rags from head to foot, when the Marquis first sets eyes upon her ; and as she stands before him, wrapt in a "dirty shawl, torn in some places, patched in others, its unsightly folds fastened clammily upon her cheek and brow," seems altogether an uninviting person. However, his lordship is gifted with deep artistic insight, and immediately discerns that, spite of unfavourable appearances, something may be made of the "sloppy, draggle-tailed girl." The noble marquis knows, as well as any cattle-breeder, the divine results that follow from scientific feeding. "Look at the form of that girl's mouth, and nose, and brow ; look at the line of the eyebrows—it reminds one of the Medusa. You only see the muddy, insignificant colouring ; but feed the girl well, and you'll soon see how she comes out. She's only hungry." So Madeleine Raynal is well fed, and blooms up into a magnificent heroine.
The second act of the story introduces us to various sets of people, males and females, mostly married, who love transversely, that is, everybody is attached to everybody else's wife, and vice versa. It is Goethe's classic " Wahlverwandschaften " modernized in the style of that great Parisian artist, Monsieur Paul de Kock. Among the many groups, bewildering in their number, which fill the stage, three couples stand forward prominently, viz., Count Olivier de Beauvoisin, and his wife, Claire ; Victor de Lancour, and his companion, Berthe, wife of a friend, whom he has run away with ; and the Marquis de Moranges, uncle of Olivier, with his mistress Madeleine, whom he has re-christened Claudine. In the great game of elective affinities carried on between this paired trio, Olivier sets his affections upon Claudine, and Claire hers upon Victor, while the rest love promiscuously. On the face of things, Victor de Lancour, officer in the French Army, living
Lore the Avenger. By the Baroness Blaze do Bury. 3 vole. Bradbury, Evans, and Co. 1869.
with the wife of a comrade, mother of two children, whom he has seduced, would seem the most wicked of the lot; however, as pre- sented to the reader, he is absolutely the most virtuous, immacu- late to a degree, and fully worthy the love of "the refined, the intellectual, the cultivated, the high-souled Claire." Here is the gentleman's portrait:—"M. de Lancour, it must be avowed, was the very sort of person to provoke the admiration and attachment of such a person as Claire. He was the type of such soldiers as Trcchu would desire the French Army to be composed of : modest and daring, gentle and determined, highly intellectual, yet physi- cally reckless, and from the age of nineteen, having wilfully- en- listed at eighteen, he had won glory by exploits of extraordinary merits, whether as to valour or military capacity." That this pattern of man and of soldier, having risen to be a captain, has led astray the wife of his colonel, and made her live with him as mistress, in no way detracts from his innate goodness, and from the admiration with which all French mankind, including woman- kind, looks up to him. The little affair with the colonel's wife rather strengthens than otherwise the love of the " high-sotiled Claire," wife of Count Olivier. "Love alone makes duty light, and, if you banish the love, our imperfectness must find some shape in which to assert itself," says the Baroness Blaze de Bury.
Nothing occurs for some time to make the course of true love run otherwise than smooth, and the first two volumes of Love the Avenger have little else to record than the eminently satisfactory physical condition of the heroes and heroines. They have all got abundance of money, or, as.the phrase goes, are rolling in wealth ; and, what is no less delightful, they have all got exceedingly good appetites too. The first heroine, Mdlle. Claudine, bonne amie of
the Marquis de Moranges, is especially fortunate in the latter respect. "What she did was to feed herself ; she ate flesh and game, and fowls and truffles, which, however, she did not like, and drank Bordeaux, and felt well ; and after the long, healthy slumbers of famishing eighteen, woke to
eat again, and found it pleasant." Neither is the appetite of
any of the other ladies and gentlemen we are introduced to in the least at fault, despite of their working at cross-purposes, and straining hard to set their elective affinities into the right trim.
This, of course, is not achieved till the end of the third volume, which brings the needful catastrophe. To put the affinities straight, it is requisite that one or more of the badly matched people should be put out of the way, and accordingly the Count de Beauvoisin, husband of the high-souled Claire, has to swallow poison. It is not destined originally for him, but for Mdlle.
Claudine, his uncle's mistress, as well as his own ; yet, though missing the intended direction, takes good effect all the same.
After midnight, when Claire is sitting alone in her room, her husband staggers in, "his features drawn and pinched, with dark blue and violet lines visible round the nose
and mouth, and under the eyes," and cries, "I am poisoned I" Olivier sinks down at his wife's side, and "as she watched she felt the weight of the head that rested on her arm increase, and she knew that clay had returned to clay, the spirit having departed. A corpse was there where a living man had been." She is decently sorry, the high-souled Claire, and her Olivier having been well buried, on the certificate that he had died suddenly from disease of the heart, she makes up her mind to marry her beloved cousin, Victor de Lancour. The beloved mistress of cousin Victor, Berthe, has previously left him, to return, after a few years' absence, not much damaged, to her husband, who receives her with open arms, so that there is no further obstacle intervening between the "highly intellectual, modest, and daring" captain, and the "cultivated and high-souled Claire." Their nuptials are preceded by those of the Marquis de Moranges with his mistress, Claudine, the latter union taking place to prevent further unfaithfulness on the part of the fair one, of which her lord suspects her. Thus the curtain falls upon three happy couples—a widow marrying her young cousin, who casts off his paramour, a friend's wile; the friend's wife blissfully re-united to her gallant husband ; and, lastly, the central heroine, noble Traviata, joined in the holy bonds of matrimony with her keeper, gayest of marquises, "the last Mousquetaire, the hardest liver going, the man of whom, -when he was under thirty, old Talleyrand, a week before his death, had said, ' C'est un grand viveur que Monsieur de Moranges !" Standing on the stage, and making the final bow to the audience, the three sweet couples cry with one voice, 'Hail! hail ! the god of gods : Love the Avenger !'
Though not by any means devoid of incidents, Love the Avenger is yet in the main a didactic novel. The great lesson which the Baroness Blaze de Bury sets herself to inculcate is that "in true passion alone lies the strength of right-doing, and whilst the pure
may be passionate, the genuinely passionate must be pure." It is not an absolutely new idea, but the Baroness gives it in to some extent fresh shape by linking " passion " with "science," and more directly, with "electricity." The modern world, opines the Baroness, is going to the dogs, for want of comprehending the meaning of true education ; "and so it will remain, till the system is changed whereby in this our day human souls are so foolishly or culpably tampered with." What is wanted is "science, namely, light." Our "so-called instructors" are purblind, and ignorant to a degree, since they cannot see "the mysterious solidarity of our being, and that oneness-in-variety of our nature that may produce an explosion of genius in the brain from the mere material touch upon some conductor among the nerves. Of that electricity which is around us and within us they know nothing, and when they have succeeded in comparatively swathingta mind in obscurity, they are stupidly content, and don't reflect that the soul's lightning flashes fiercest when all is dark." After dwelling upon "the finely-vibrating nerves," the Baroness, still pitching into our "so-called instructors," goes on to say :—" They will not see that passion is another form of genius, and that in every human being lies dormant some one dominant capacity. If a man be born to write the Symphony in C Minor you gain but little by bringing him up as a fool, or turning him into a dragoon, or an attorney's clerk ; if the symphony be in him he will com- pose it, though with other elements, and it will come forth and terrify you in the shape of some formidable love or of some crime. And so on, from the top to the bottom of the ladder. You gain nothing by darkening or shutting in the human mind, and the electricity is everywhere, which may dart along the hidden wires, and note down in the soul's telegraphy a tale which will frighten the timid, cackling crowd of lookers-on from their pro- priety." Philosophers may ponder upon these words.
Mystic at times, as if sinking under the weight of her scien- tific speculations, the Baroness Blare de Bury is yet clearness itself regarding the subject she mainly dwells on—" passion." Here is an enthusiastic sketch of it in the picture of Monsieur de Beauvoisin and Mdlle. Claudine. "He tendered his arm to her, and silently they went towards the forest paths, till there soon was nothing around them save the dark leafy wealth of the solemn wood, with the silver flood of the moonlight breaking in upon the mossy sward, and the smell of the earth and of the flowers rising up into the night air. For some time neither spoke, but the breathing and the gait of both were un- steady, faltering under the mysterious weight that was oppressing them. "Claudine," said Olivier, in a scarcely audible voice, "were you hurt by what I told you just now ? Why were you so ? " And saying this, he took in his the soft hand that lay Navy on his arm. No answer came in words, but the bounding pulse responded, her head sank upon his shoulder, as an over- laden flower that inclines to earth. Their lips, cold and trembling, met. Love has countless different modes of expression ; passion has but one."
"Love is sweet ! " is the motto prefixed by the Baroness Blaze de Bury to her novel. Putting Byron in place of Tennyson, she might have described Love the Avenger to be "A lovely and a fearful thing."