About a book: Le Prince des Cravates by Lucien Daudet

   Here is a very moving example of the mysterious transmission of a great literary power through the "blood line" in which M. Lucien Daudet has given us one after the other Le Chemin mort, La Foumilière, Le Prince des Cravates, which all take their place beside those other masterpieces such as L'Evangéliste or Les Journées de Femme, such as Le Voyage de Shakespeare or Le Partage de l'Enfant. Yet they are entirely different from those, for they are entirely original.
   No less because M. Lucien Daudet did not, it seems, possess the fixity of purpose, the premeditation to carry on, through his writing, those works amongst which he had grown up. To begin with he appeared to have led a double existence, that of a Paul de Manerville or a Beaudenord, of Balzac's young and elegant, and at the same time that of a painter. But the delicate, settled and sensible understanding of the life around which Mme Alphonse Daudet embroidered her delightful fantasies from which she has shown us in one precious page as in a page of Economiques, the thread taken back to Mme Gréty by Mme Valmore and to the latter by Mme Allard did not cease to redress in him what is artificial and disastrous in the "Bohemian world" of studios, whereas the profound human pity that preserves the wonderful charm of a Jack or a young Fromont, continually denounced to him what is harsh, conventional, Pharisian in a life which is purely worldly.
   During this time the practice, given to the rarest talents, of painting in Whistler's studio, trained his eye to discern true colour, subtlety and freshness in the most ordinary spectacles, whereas, it seems, a superabundant taste in the landed gentry upon seeing a little cultivation, brought a new element to this complex soul.
   And then, one fine day, all these elements reveal a secret affinity one for the other, combining together to create a unique composition: the writer is born. At every turn in this new volume you will find the eternal and renewed accent of human compassion with its constituent irony with regard to fashionable philanthropy, above all in the short story called Brisacier, a masterpiece which the author has boldly been able to dedicate to Balzac's daughter-in-law, who will be able to see in it a quality of observation, of emotion that we have rarely had the chance to admire since Le Cousin Pons. A thousand exquisitely accurate notations of subtle nuances, like the Ruban rose of that road from Saint-Pierre-Eglise at Carentan that I like to compare to George de Lauris's Norman roads in his beautiful and profound Ginette Chatenay which has reverberated so strongly in the hearts of the select few and which is already revealed in all the great value of his delicious talent as psychologist and writer (from the same series of "harmonies", as described by Whistler, where the pink of the stained-glass window of the Impressions de Bretagne, the pink of a beach, the pinks of Easter, woods viewed across the "good graces" of a castle window, in La Foumilière, are the contribution of the painter in M. Daudet and which is triumphant in a short story which is titled with a simple question mark, utterly worthy of the wonderful poet to whom it is dedicated. Mme LucieDelarue-Mardrus, like Mnahie [sic], is worthy of her sponsor, the great novelist Léon Daudet, author of that unique book L'Astre noir.
   Nothing is more interesting than the short story entitled: "?", told with the concision of a Merimée who would have been a poet. The enigmatic figure of the priest who has a Whistler in his house, and who is himself a Whistler, the figure of abbé Reure has now become a magnificent addition to the unforgettable ecclesiastical figures in La Foumilière. And always the inheritance of a spell makes itself felt, the flash of some bequeathed talisman, of paternal forces. Whenever we become entagled in explanations, in endless comparisons, M. Lucien Daudet, with his youthful mastery, prunes away the superfluous, is only satisfied with what is unique and necessary in connection with the image, tells us of the Greek gods who only remain now "as a profile in white stone" or of the "sunny mauve brightness of wisteria" (so beautifully characterized in another short story).
   Those two last examples are taken from the first short story, Le Prince des Cravates, even still a "frivolous Prince", as has been said by Jean Cocteau, a twenty year old Banville for whom a higher destiny awaits, the story which gives its title to the whole volume and (since it gives me so much pleasure to see the different personalities which compose the personality of M. Lucien Daudet excel in each one), in which I willingly recognize what I just called in him a Felix Vandenesse or a Paul de Mannerville. Nothing could be less imitative of Balzac, more drawn from contemporary life and the personal talent of the author than this story. But nothing, on the other hand, is so much the equivalent of certain of Balzac's short stories. And if we have recognized in the unhappy Brisacier the authentic cousin of Parents pauvres, it is the apparent frivolity, the profound humanity of a story like Le Contrat de Mariage that makes us think of Le Prince des Cravates.

 

Article appeared in L'Intransigeant, 21 September 1910.


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