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The Parisians   By: (1803-1873)

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By Edward Bulwer Lytton


"The Parisians" and "Kenelm Chillingly" were begun about the same time, and had their common origin in the same central idea. That idea first found fantastic expression in "The Coming Race;" and the three books, taken together, constitute a special group, distinctly apart from all the other works of their author.

The satire of his earlier novels is a protest against false social respectabilities; the humour of his later ones is a protest against the disrespect of social realities. By the first he sought to promote social sincerity and the free play of personal character; by the last, to encourage mutual charity and sympathy amongst all classes, on whose interrelation depends the character of society itself. But in these three books, his latest fictions, the moral purpose is more definite and exclusive. Each of them is an expostulation against what seemed to him the perilous popularity of certain social and political theories, or a warning against the influence of certain intellectual tendencies upon individual character and national life. This purpose, however, though common to the three fictions, is worked out in each of them by a different method. "The Coming Race" is a work of pure fancy, and the satire of it is vague and sportive. The outlines of a definite purpose are more distinctly drawn in "Chillingly," a romance which has the source of its effect in a highly wrought imagination. The humour and pathos of "Chillingly" are of a kind incompatible with the design of "The Parisians," which is a work of dramatized observation. "Chillingly" is a romance; "The Parisians" is a novel. The subject of "Chillingly" is psychological; that of "The Parisians" is social. The author's object in "Chillingly" being to illustrate the effects of "modern ideas" upon an individual character, he has confined his narrative to the biography of that one character; hence the simplicity of plot and small number of dramatis personae, whereby the work gains in height and depth what it loses in breadth of surface. "The Parisians," on the contrary, is designed to illustrate the effect of "modern ideas" upon a whole community. This novel is therefore panoramic in the profusion and variety of figures presented by it to the reader's imagination. No exclusive prominence is vouchsafed to any of these figures. All of them are drawn and coloured with an equal care, but by means of the bold, broad touches necessary for their effective presentation on a canvas so large and so crowded. Such figures are, indeed, but the component features of one great form, and their actions only so many modes of one collective impersonal character, that of the Parisian Society of Imperial and Democratic France; a character everywhere present and busy throughout the story, of which it is the real hero or heroine. This society was doubtless selected for characteristic illustration as being the most advanced in the progress of "modern ideas." Thus, for a complete perception of its writer's fundamental purpose, "The Parisians" should be read in connection with "Chillingly," and these two books in connection with "The Coming Race." It will then be perceived that through the medium of alternate fancy, sentiment, and observation, assisted by humour and passion, these three books (in all other respects so different from each other) complete the presentation of the same purpose under different aspects, and thereby constitute a group of fictions which claims a separate place of its own in any thoughtful classification of their author's works.

One last word to those who will miss from these pages the connecting and completing touches of the master's hand. It may be hoped that such a disadvantage, though irreparable, is somewhat mitigated by the essential character of the work itself. The aesthetic merit of this kind of novel is in the vivacity of a general effect produced by large, swift strokes of character; and in such strokes, if they be by a great artist, force and freedom of style must still be apparent, even when they are left rough and unfinished... Continue reading book >>

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