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L'Abbe Constantin   By: (1834-1908)

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With a Preface by E. LEGOUVE, of the French Academy


Ludovic Halevy was born in Paris, January 1, 1834. His father was Leon Halevy, the celebrated author; his grandfather, Fromenthal, the eminent composer. Ludovic was destined for the civil service, and, after finishing his studies, entered successively the Department of State (1852); the Algerian Department (1858), and later on became editorial secretary of the Corps Legislatif (1860). When his patron, the Duc de Morny, died in 1865, Halevy resigned, giving up a lucrative position for the uncertain profession of a playwright: At this period he devoted himself exclusively to the theatre.

He had already written plays as early as 1856, and had also tried his hand at fiction, but did not meet with very great success. Toward 1860, however, he became acquainted with Henri Meilhac, and with him formed a kind of literary union, lasting for almost twenty years, when Halevy rather abruptly abandoned the theatre and became a writer of fiction.

We have seen such kinds of co partnerships, for instance, in Beaumont and Fletcher; more recently in the beautiful French tales of Erckmann Chatrian, and still later in the English novels of Besant and Rice.

Some say it was a fortunate event for Meilhac; others assert that Halevy reaped a great profit by the union. Be this as it may, a great number of plays drama, comedy, farce, opera, operetta and ballet were jointly produced, as is shown by the title pages of two score or more of their pieces. When Ludovic Halevy was a candidate for L'Academie he entered that glorious body in 1884 the question was ventilated by Pailleron: "What was the author's literary relation in his union with Meilhac?" It was answered by M. Sarcey, who criticised the character and quality of the work achieved. Public opinion has a long time since brought in quite another verdict in the case.

Halevy's cooperation endowed the plays of Meilhac with a fuller ethical richness tempered them, so to speak, and made them real, for it can not be denied that Meilhac was inclined to extravagance.

Halevy's novels are remarkable for the elegance of literary style, tenderness of spirit and keenness of observation. He excels in ironical sketches. He has often been compared to Eugene Sue, but his touch is lighter than Sue's, and his humor less unctuous. Most of his little sketches, originally written for La Vie Parisienne, were collected in his 'Monsieur et Madame Cardinal' (1873); and 'Les Petites Cardinal', (1880). They are not intended 'virginibus puerisque', and the author's attitude is that of a half pitying, half contemptuous moralist, yet the virility of his criticism has brought him immortality.

Personal recollections of the great war are to be found in 'L'Invasion' (1872); and 'Notes et Souvenirs', 1871 1872 (1889). Most extraordinary, however, was the success of 'L'Abbe Constantin' (1882), crowned by the Academy, which has gone through no less than one hundred and fifty editions up to 1904, and ranks as one of the greatest successes of contemporaneous literature. It is, indeed, his 'chef d'oeuvre', very delicate, earnest, and at the same time ironical, a most entrancing family story. It was then that the doors of the French Academy opened wide before Halevy. 'L'Abbe Constantin' was adapted for the stage by Cremieux and Decourcelle (Le Gymnase, 1882). Further notable novels are: 'Criquette, Deux Mariages, Un Grand Mariage, Un Mariage d'Amour', all in 1883; 'Princesse, Les Trois Coups de Foudre, Mon Camarade Moussard', all in 1884; and the romances, 'Karikari (1892), and Mariette (1893)'. Since that time, I think, Halevy has not published anything of importance.

E. LEGOUVE de l'Academie Francaise.




With a step still valiant and firm, an old priest walked along the dusty road in the full rays of a brilliant sun... Continue reading book >>

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