To most American readers of fiction I fancy that M. Ludovic Halevy is known chiefly, if not solely, as the author of that most charming of modern French novels, The Abbe Constantin. Some of these readers may have disliked this or that novel of M. Zola’s because of its bad moral, and this or that novel of M. Ohnet’s because of its bad taste, and all of them were delighted to discover in M. Halevy’s interesting and artistic work a story written by a French gentleman for young ladies. Here and there a scoffer might sneer at the tale of the old French priest and the young women from Canada as innocuous and saccharine; but the story of the good Abbe Constantin and of his nephew, and of the girl the nephew loved in spite of her American millions—this story had the rare good fortune of pleasing at once the broad public of indiscriminate readers of fiction and the narrower circle of real lovers of literature. Artificial the atmosphere of the tale might be, but it was with an artifice at once delicate and delicious; and the tale itself won its way into the hearts of the women of America as it had into the hearts of the women of France.
There is even a legend—although how solid a foundation it may have in fact I do not dare to discuss—there is a legend that the lady-superior of a certain convent near Paris was so fascinated by The Abbe Constantin, and so thoroughly convinced of the piety of its author, that she ordered all his other works, receiving in due season the lively volumes wherein are recorded the sayings and doings of Monsieur and Madame Cardinal, and of the two lovely daughters of Monsieur and Madame Cardinal. To note that these very amusing studies of certain aspects of life in a modern capital originally appeared in that extraordinary journal, La Vie Parisienne—now sadly degenerate—is enough to indicate that they are not precisely what the good lady-superior expected to receive. We may not say that La Famille Cardinal is one of the books every gentleman’s library should be without; but to appreciate its value requires a far different knowledge of the world and of its wickedness than is needed to understand The Abbe Constantin.
Yet the picture of the good priest and the portraits of the little Cardinals are the work of the same hand, plainly enough. In both of these books, as in Criquette (M. Halevy’s only other novel), as in A Marriage for Love, and the twoscore other short stories he has written during the past thirty years, there are the same artistic qualities, the same sharpness of vision, the same gentle irony, the same constructive skill, and the same dramatic touch. It is to be remembered always that the author of L’Abbe Constantin is also the half-author of “Froufrou” and of “Tricoche et Cacolet,” as well as of the librettos of “La Belle Helene” and of “La Grande Duchesse de Gerolstein.”