Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

MONSIEUR BEAUCAIRE, an elegant but sprightly novelette, is quite different from Booth Tarkington’s realistic, morally earnest fiction such as THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (1918) or ALICE ADAMS (1921), just as it is unlike the robustly comic juvenile novels treating the misadventures of Penrod, Sam, or Willie Baxter. Rather, the short novel resembles the mannered romantic comedy of Max Beerbohm or Leonard Merrick. Style rather than content is important. On the one hand, Tarkington imitates the genteel Romanticism of Clyde Fitch’s BEAU BRUMMEL (1890); on the other, he satirizes Romantic conventions popular in fiction and the theater. With self-parodying elegance, he writes that the duke’s mouth “foamed over with chaotic revilement.” The scoundrel Winterset reveals anger when his “white lip showed a row of scarlet dots upon it.” When Beaucaire is forced to remove his disguise, he regrets that he must “assassinate” his poor mustache. Because Tarkington’s language strains after effects of Romantic hyperbole, his descriptions are often comic, even farcical. For example, Beaucaire, challenged to a duel by a “ruffing buck,” laughs in his face and at twilight of the same day “pinks” the man “carefully through the right shoulder.” Beaucaire then hands his “wet” sword over to his lackey and, bending over his fallen adversary, caps his insult to the unfortunate by calling him a “naughty man.” In another...

(The entire section is 467 words.)