Critical Evaluation

Written after Romanticism had flowered and faded in France, Dominique is quite similar to the personal memoirs and novels that appeared in early nineteenth century France. François René de Chateaubriand’s René (1802; English translation, 1813) and Benjamin Constant’s Adolphe (1816) are examples of novels of this period. Eugène Fromentin’s novel is similar to the Abbé Prévost’s Manon Lescaut (1731) as well, because Dominique, like Manon Lescaut, has to do with irresistible and destructive passion.

However, Dominique’s roots in French literary history go deeper than the Romantic and pre-Romantic eras. In some sense, the novel’s hero moves in the tradition of courtly love, worshiping as he does, for at least half the novel, a beautiful woman from afar. Early in his story, Dominique places Madeleine on a pedestal; he admires her, yet he fears approaching her. His status as adoring pseudo-knightly lover is indicated ironically by his name, which derives from the Latin dominus, which suggests that Dominique is a lord of sorts, a man reigning over his own domain. The irony is that Dominique has deep feelings of inferiority and insecurity; he is hardly a lordly or dominating type until he reaches maturity.

The novel opens with a depiction of the mature Dominique, lord of an estate, Les Trembles, married and the father of two children. The novel’s first two chapters state the theme of passion versus self-control, and, consequently, service to others. The Dominique whom readers and the first-person narrator of the first two chapters meet is a man of about forty years, known in the environs as a man dedicated to his family and to doing good for others. The lesson he has learned about self-preservation and the importance of dedicating oneself to others is what Dominique talks about in the rest of the novel.

The young Dominique was raised by his aunt in Normandy; he is a young man who loves his native countryside. Without great enthusiasm, he later goes to Paris to pursue his studies and a career as a writer. His friend and counselor in these early years is Augustin, who bears the name of a...

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