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Gerfaut   By: (1804-1850)

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With a Preface by JULES CLARETIE, of the French Academy


PIERRE MARIE CHARLES DE BERNARD DU GRAIL DE LA VILLETTE, better known by the name of Charles de Bernard, was born in Besancon, February 24, 1804. He came from a very ancient family of the Vivarais, was educated at the college of his native city, and studied for the law in Dijon and at Paris. He was awarded a prize by the 'Jeux floraux' for his dithyrambics, 'Une fete de Neron' in 1829. This first success in literature did not prevent him aspiring to the Magistrature, when the Revolution of 1830 broke out and induced him to enter politics. He became one of the founders of the 'Gazette de Franche Comte' and an article in the pages of this journal about 'Peau de chagrin' earned him the thanks and the friendship of Balzac.

The latter induced him to take up his domicile in Paris and initiated him into the art of novel writing. Bernard had published a volume of odes: 'Plus Deuil que Joie' (1838), which was not much noticed, but a series of stories in the same year gained him the reputation of a genial 'conteur'. They were collected under the title 'Le Noeud Gordien', and one of the tales, 'Une Aventure du Magistrat, was adapted by Sardou for his comedy 'Pommes du voisin'. 'Gerfaut', his greatest work, crowned by the Academy, appeared also in 1838, then followed 'Le Paravent', another collection of novels (1839); 'Les Ailes d'Icare (1840); La Peau du Lion and La Chasse aux Amants (1841); L'Ecueil (1842); Un Beau pere (1845); and finally Le Gentilhomme campagnard,' in 1847. Bernard died, only forty eight years old, March 6, 1850.

Charles de Bernard was a realist, a pupil of Balzac. He surpasses his master, nevertheless, in energy and limpidity of composition. His style is elegant and cultured. His genius is most fully represented in a score or so of delightful tales rarely exceeding some sixty or seventy pages in length, but perfect in proportion, full of invention and originality, and saturated with the purest and pleasantest essence of the spirit which for six centuries in tableaux, farces, tales in prose and verse, comedies and correspondence, made French literature the delight and recreation of Europe. 'Gerfaut' is considered De Bernard's greatest work. The plot turns on an attachment between a married woman and the hero of the story. The book has nothing that can justly offend, the incomparable sketches of Marillac and Mademoiselle de Corandeuil are admirable; Gerfaut and Bergenheim possess pronounced originality, and the author is, so to speak, incarnated with the hero of his romance.

The most uncritical reader can not fail to notice the success with which Charles de Bernard introduces people of rank and breeding into his stories. Whether or not he drew from nature, his portraits of this kind are exquisitely natural and easy. It is sufficient to say that he is the literary Sir Joshua Reynolds of the post revolution vicomtes and marquises. We can see that his portraits are faithful; we must feel that they are at the same time charming. Bernard is an amiable and spirited 'conteur' who excels in producing an animated spectacle for a refined and selected public, whether he paints the ridiculousness or the misery of humanity.

The works of Charles de Bernard in wit and urbanity, and in the peculiar charm that wit and urbanity give, are of the best French type. To any elevation save a lofty place in fiction they have no claim; but in that phase of literature their worth is undisputed, and from many testimonies it would seem that those whom they most amuse are those who are best worth amusing.

These novels, well enough as they are known to professed students of French literature, have, by the mere fact of their age, rather slipped out of the list of books known to the general reader. The general reader who reads for amusement can not possibly do better than proceed to transform his ignorance of them into knowledge.

JULES CLARETIE de l'Academie Francaise... Continue reading book >>

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