Serge Panine by Georges Ohnet


The only French novelist whose books have a circulation approaching the works of Daudet and of Zola is Georges Ohnet, a writer whose popularity is as interesting as his stories, because it explains, though it does not excuse, the contempt the Goncourts had for the favor of the great French public, and also because it shows how the highest form of Romanticism still ferments beneath the varnish of Naturalism in what is called genius among the great masses of readers.

Georges Ohnet was born in Paris, April 3, 1848, the son of an architect. He was destined for the Bar, but was early attracted by journalism and literature. Being a lawyer it was not difficult for him to join the editorial staff of Le Pays, and later Le Constitutionnel. This was soon after the Franco-German War. His romances, since collected under the title 'Batailles de la Vie', appeared first in 'Le Figaro, L'Illustration, and Revue des Deux Mondes', and have been exceedingly well received by the public. This relates also to his dramas, some of his works meeting with a popular success rarely extended to any author. For some time Georges Ohnet did not find the same favor with the critics, who often attacked him with a passionate violence and unusual severity. True, a high philosophical flow of thoughts cannot be detected in his writings, but nevertheless it is certain that the characters and the subjects of which he treats are brilliantly sketched and clearly developed. They are likewise of perfect morality and honesty.

There was expected of him, however, an idea which was not quite realized. Appearing upon the literary stage at a period when Naturalism was triumphant, it was for a moment believed that he would restore Idealism in the manner of George Sand.

In any case the hostile critics have lost. For years public opinion has exalted him, and the reaction is the more significant when compared with the tremendous criticism launched against his early romances and novels.

A list of his works follows:

Serge Panine (1881), crowned by the French Academy, has since gone through one hundred and fifty French editions; Le Maitre des Forges (1882), a prodigious success, two hundred and fifty editions being printed (1900); La Comtesse Sarah (1882); Lise Fleuyon (1884); La Grande Maynieye (1886); Les Dames de Croix-Mort (1886); Volonte (1888); Le Docteur Rameau (1889); Deynier Amour (1889); Le Cure de Favieyes (1890); Dette de Haine (1891); Nemsod et Cie. (1892); Le Lendemain des Amours (1893); Le Droit de l'Enfant (1894.); Les Vielles Rancunes (1894); La Dame en Gris (1895); La Fille du Depute (1896); Le Roi de Paris (1898); Au Fond du Gouffre (1899); Gens de la Noce (1900); La Tenibreuse (1900); Le Cyasseur d'Affaires (1901); Le Crepuscule (1901); Le Marche a l'Amour (1902).

Ohnet's novels are collected under the titles, 'Noir et Rose (1887) and L'Ame de Pierre (1890).

The dramatic writings of Georges Ohnet, mostly taken from his novels, have greatly contributed to his reputation. Le Maitre des Forges was played for a full year (Gymnase, 1883); it was followed by Serge Panine (1884); La Comtesse Sarah (1887). La Grande Mayniere (1888), met also with a decided and prolonged success; Dernier Amour (Gymnase, 1890); Colonel Roquebrune (Porte St. Martin, 1897). Before that he had already written the plays Regina Sarpi (1875) and Marthe (1877), which yet hold a prominent place upon the French stage.

I have shown in this rapid sketch that a man of the stamp of Georges Ohnet must have immortal qualities in himself, even though flayed and roasted alive by the critics. He is most assuredly an artist in form, is endowed with a brilliant style, and has been named "L'Historiographe de la bourgeoise contemporaine." Indeed, antagonism to plutocracy and hatred of aristocracy are the fundamental theses in almost every one of his books.

His exposition, I repeat, is startlingly neat, the development of his plots absolutely logical, and the world has acclaimed his ingenuity in dramatic construction. He is truly, and in all senses, of the Ages.

de l'Academie Francaise

Back | Next | Contents