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Hernani   By: (1802-1885)

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EDITED WITH NOTES AND AN ESSAY ON VICTOR HUGO BY GEORGE McLEAN HARPER, PH.D. Professor of Romance Languages in Princeton University


The text of this edition is the same as that of the edition definitive , Paris, 1880. The unusual length of the introduction will be pardoned, it is hoped, in view of the paucity of general reviews of modern French literature that are available for students in schools and some colleges. It contains the matter which I should require a class of my own to get up for examination in connection with reading this play or any other of Hugo's works. The Historical Note is a necessity, and is introduced before the play to save students from confusion and waste of time.

Mr. H.A. Perry and Dr. John E. Matzke, in their editions of "Hernani", have so thoroughly annotated it that it has been impossible to avoid the appearance of following them very closely; and there are indeed several notes for which I am directly indebted to them. Without their indications, I should in other cases have been obliged to spend a great deal more time in looking up references than has been necessary. It would be unfair to Dr. Matzke, in particular, not to pay tribute to the completeness of his notes, which leave his successor little chance for originality.



For American and English readers who are at all well informed about modern European literature the name of Victor Hugo stands out more prominently than any other as representing the intellectual life of France since the fall of Napoleon. Even the defects of his character are by many considered typically French. They see him excessively conceited, absurdly patriotic, a too voluminous producer of very varied works; and it is not unusual to find that such readers believe him to be all the more French for these peculiarities. It would open their eyes if they should read what M. Ferdinand Brunetiere, the most authoritative French critic of our generation, says of Victor Hugo. They would be surprised, if they conversed with intelligent Frenchmen generally, to hear their opinions of him. Indeed if they had a wider acquaintance with French letters and French character they would not need M. Brunetiere or any other guide, because they would feel for themselves that Hugo must seem to the French just as peculiar, just as phenomenal, as he does to foreigners. For it is only to superficial readers that French literature can appear to be in the main frivolous or eccentric. Dignity is not necessarily severe. It cannot be heavy; indeed, grace is of its essence. And dignity is the note of French literature in the seventeenth century, its Augustan age. To say that seriousness is the note of the eighteenth century literature in France may sound less axiomatic, but I think it is even more true. No men are more serious than those who believe it to be their mission to revolutionize and reform society. We may not now take Diderot and Voltaire and Rousseau as seriously as they took themselves; but that is partly because their purposes have been to a large extent achieved, and the result is an old story to us. The note of the nineteenth century in French literature is harder to catch, perhaps cannot be caught; for the voices are many, and we are too near the stage. But if anything is evident it is that this epoch is marked by severe and conscientious industry. Criticism has been developed into an almost perfect instrument for quick, sure testing of literary claims. A perverse book may, through neglect, through its insignificance, or indeed through its very absurdity, find a large number of gentle readers in England or America. In France less favor would be shown it. The artistic sense is more widely diffused there; life centres in Paris, where values can be readily compared; and, above all, the custom of personal journalism prevails in France. A man is not going to waste his time in reading a new book if the critic most competent to judge condemns it over his own signature in the morning paper... Continue reading book >>

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