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Cosmopolis   By: (1852-1935)

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By Paul Bourget

With a Preface by JULES LEMAITRE, of the French academy,


Born in Amiens, September 2, 1852, Paul Bourget was a pupil at the Lycee Louis le Grand, and then followed a course at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes, intending to devote himself to Greek philology. He, however, soon gave up linguistics for poetry, literary criticism, and fiction. When yet a very young man, he became a contributor to various journals and reviews, among others to the 'Revue des deux Mondes, La Renaissance, Le Parlement, La Nouvelle Revue', etc. He has since given himself up almost exclusively to novels and fiction, but it is necessary to mention here that he also wrote poetry. His poetical works comprise: 'Poesies (1872 876), La Vie Inquiete (1875), Edel (1878), and Les Aveux (1882)'.

With riper mind and to far better advantage, he appeared a few years later in literary essays on the writers who had most influenced his own development the philosophers Renan, Taine, and Amiel, the poets Baudelaire and Leconte de Lisle; the dramatist Dumas fils, and the novelists Turgenieff, the Goncourts, and Stendhal. Brunetiere says of Bourget that "no one knows more, has read more, read better, or meditated, more profoundly upon what he has read, or assimilated it more completely." So much "reading" and so much "meditation," even when accompanied by strong assimilative powers, are not, perhaps, the most desirable and necessary tendencies in a writer of verse or of fiction. To the philosophic critic, however, they must evidently be invaluable; and thus it is that in a certain self allotted domain of literary appreciation allied to semi scientific thought, Bourget stands to day without a rival. His 'Essais de Psychologie Contemporaine (1883), Nouveaux Essais (1885), and Etudes et Portraits (1888)' are certainly not the work of a week, but rather the outcome of years of self culture and of protracted determined endeavor upon the sternest lines. In fact, for a long time, Bourget rose at 3 a.m. and elaborated anxiously study after study, and sketch after sketch, well satisfied when he sometimes noticed his articles in the theatrical 'feuilleton' of the 'Globe' and the 'Parlement', until he finally contributed to the great 'Debats' itself. A period of long, hard, and painful probation must always be laid down, so to speak, as the foundation of subsequent literary fame. But France, fortunately for Bourget, is not one of those places where the foundation is likely to be laid in vain, or the period of probation to endure for ever and ever.

In fiction, Bourget carries realistic observation beyond the externals (which fixed the attention of Zola and Maupassant) to states of the mind: he unites the method of Stendhal to that of Balzac. He is always interesting and amusing. He takes himself seriously and persists in regarding the art of writing fiction as a science. He has wit, humor, charm, and lightness of touch, and ardently strives after philosophy and intellectuality qualities that are rarely found in fiction. It may well be said of M. Bourget that he is innocent of the creation of a single stupid character. The men and women we read of in Bourget's novels are so intellectual that their wills never interfere with their hearts.

The list of his novels and romances is a long one, considering the fact that his first novel, 'L'Irreparable,' appeared as late as 1884. It was followed by 'Cruelle Enigme (1885); Un Crime d'Amour (1886); Andre Cornelis and Mensonges (1887); Le Disciple (1889); La Terre promise; Cosmopolis (1892), crowned by the Academy; Drames de Famille (1899); Monique (1902)'; his romances are 'Une Idylle tragique (1896); La Duchesse Bleue (1898); Le Fantome (1901); and L'Etape (1902)'.

'Le Disciple' and 'Cosmopolis' are certainly notable books. The latter marks the cardinal point in Bourget's fiction. Up to that time he had seen environment more than characters; here the dominant interest is psychic, and, from this point on, his characters become more and more like Stendhal's, "different from normal clay... Continue reading book >>

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