Alexandre Dumas (père)
Alexandre Dumas (père)
Alexandre Dumas (père)
French novelist, playwright, essayist, short-story writer, nonfiction writer, autobiographer, and author of juvenile fiction.
The following entry presents an overview of Dumas's career through 2006.
Dumas père ("the elder") has remained one of the most enduringly popular novelists of the past two centuries. Among his many novels of adventure and romance, often set in a context of French history and featuring historically real figures, the best known to modern readers are Les trois mousquetaires (1844; The Three Musketeers) and Le comte de Monte-Cristo (1844-1845; The Count of Monte-Cristo), both of which have been adapted to film in numerous productions. Dumas is credited with popularizing the French historical romance in the mid-nineteenth century and has been called the French Walter Scott (whose Waverly novels set in old England served as an important influence). Dumas is often disparagingly compared to his contemporaries Victor Hugo and Honoré de Balzac, who have maintained the highest literary accolades while Dumas has been relegated to the status of popular—but not literary—novelist and dramatist. His prolific output over the course of a long career includes more than three hundred published titles, the majority of which have sunk into obscurity. However, several excerpts, abridgements, and adaptations of Dumas' works are more familiar to modern readers. A long excerpted section of his novel Le vicomte de Bragelonne (1848-1850) has been published separately as The Man in the Iron Mask. His 1844 short story for children "L'Histoire d'un Casse-Noisette," adapted from a story by E. T. A. Hoffman, was the basis for The Nutcracker, the perennial Christmas ballet by Russian composer Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky. In the late twentieth century, a number of adaptations from Dumas' works were published as children's texts, among them Captain Pamphile's Adventures (1971), When Pierrot Was Young (1975), and The Nutcracker (1977). Dumas is referred to as Alexandre Dumas père in order to distinguish him from his son Alexandre Dumas fils ("the younger"), who was also a novelist and playwright.
Dumas was born July 24, 1802, in Villers-Cotterets, a small town in France. His mother, Marie-Louise-Elisabeth Labouret, was the daughter of an innkeeper. His father, Thomas-Alexandre Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie, born in Santo Domingo (now Haiti), was the son of a French marquis and a slave woman of African descent. Thomas-Alexandre had chosen to adopt his mother's surname, Dumas, rather than the more prestigious name of his father, before joining the French Revolution, whence he achieved the rank of general in Napoleon's army. In 1801 he quit the army in protest against Napoleon's absolutist regime and rejoined his wife in Villers-Cotterets. Soon after, Dumas was born. Dumas' father died when he was only three, leaving the family in a state of financial hardship. At an early age, Dumas began to work as an errand boy and clerk to help support his mother and sister. Hoping to make a name for himself as a playwright, he left his home town for Paris at the age of twenty-one. His admirable penmanship secured him a job as a copier of official letters for the Duke d'Orléans (who later became King Louis-Philippe of France). At the age of twenty-seven, Dumas' career as a playwright took off with the enormously successful production of Henri III et sa cour (1829) at the Comedie-Française theatre in Paris. Thenceforth, Dumas enjoyed immense success as a popular playwright of his day, though critics generally disparaged his work as lacking in literary merit. In 1842 he began collaborating on novels and plays with Auguste Maquet, a younger man and professor of history. Dumas generally relied on Maquet to generate first drafts, providing a rough sketch of story and characters, which Dumas then extensively elaborated and embellished upon to flesh out the story. Dumas also relied on the scholarly Maquet to conduct the historical research necessary for his novels, many of which are set among significant events of French history and feature historically real characters. Though Maquet was co-author of many of Dumas' most successful works, his name was never credited on any of their publications. With the publication of The Three Musketeers, co-authored with Maquet, in 1844, Dumas made the transition from popular playwright to popular novelist. Dumas' novels were first published serially in periodicals—a form known as the roman-feuilleton—over the course of a year or two, then released in book form. Over the years, Dumas came to collaborate with a number of other writers, most of whom worked under him and were not named as co-authors of his works. However, his working relationship with Maquet was the most extensive and long-lasting. Their friendship and collaborative work eventually broke down when, in 1857, Maquet took Dumas to court over questions of authorship and royalty payment for their many novels and plays. A scathing pamphlet entitled "The Novel Factory: Alexandre Dumas & Company," penned by Eugene de Mirecourt, circulated widely in 1845, accusing Dumas of falsely claiming authorship for works that were essentially produced factory-like by his stable of employed writers. Critics today have continued to debate questions of the nature and extent of Dumas' collaborative process. Over the course of his life, Dumas' personal life became notorious for his numerous affairs with a variety of women and his extensive financial debts, resulting in bankruptcy, which he incurred his despite outstanding success as an author. He fathered three children out of wedlock by three different women, though he eventually acknowledged his paternity of each child. His son Alexandre Dumas fils, born in 1824, went on to become an author in his own right, penning the novel and play adaptation La Dame aux camélias (1848, Camille). Dumas père died at the home of his son in Dieppe, on December 5, 1870, at the age of sixty-eight.
Possibly Dumas' best-known and most read work—particularly among young adult audiences—The Three Musketeers is set in seventeenth-century France, where the historically real figures of King Louis XIII and Queen Anne, as well as the powerful Cardinal Richelieu, are the sources of intrigue in which the novel's heroes become enmeshed. The story begins in the year 1625, when D'Artagnan, the novel's young hero, goes to Paris in hopes of joining the King's Musketeers, an elite Royal Guard renowned for their honor and skill. D'Artagnan soon proves his bravery and prowess as a swordsman to the three musketeers of the novel's title. The foursome subsequently form a deep bond of friendship, which they vow to uphold with their motto "All for one and one for all!" Each musketeer has specific character traits that remain consistent throughout the story. Porthos is a brutish man whose strengths are physical rather than mental, yet he maintains an endearing childlike innocence that counterbalances his tendency to vanity. Athos, a man of few words and a great love of wine, maintains a quiet nobility and moral courage. Aramis embodies the contradictory impulses of the priest and the soldier, and remains a mystery even to his closest friends. D'Artagnan, the youngest of the four, providing the force of thought and reason, is a clever strategist in determining how best to meet the challenges they face during the course of their adventures. The central storyline of The Three Musketeers, which runs over five-hundred pages, concerns a conspiracy instigated by Richelieu to compromise the Queen by exposing her infidelity to the King. The Queen has secretly given to her lover, the Duke of Buckingham, a diamond necklace given her by the King. The nefarious Milady de Winter arranges to have two studs stolen from the necklace, while Richelieu convinces the King to insist his wife wear the necklace to a public event. Because D'Artagnan's lover, Constance Bonacieux, is the Queen's lady-in-waiting, he and his fellow musketeers are given the task of traveling to England to reclaim the gems for the Queen, and thus save her reputation. Their episodically-narrated adventures in carrying out this task prove to be steps in the education and maturing of D'Artagnan, who, by the end of the story, is wiser for having had these experiences. Vingt ans après (1845; Twenty Years After, or, The Further Feats and Fortunes of a Gascon Adventurer), finds the four musketeers middle-aged and dispersed throughout France. D'Artagnan, now serving Cardinal Mazarin, is asked to reunite his friends as personal bodyguards to the unpopular Cardinal. His efforts to do so are frustrated by the fact that Athos and Aramis now belong to an organization devoted to the overthrow of the Cardinal. The four friends nonetheless vow never to fight against one another, despite their differing political allegiances, "to be united in spite of all and forever." Le vicomte de Bragelonne, the third book of the musketeers cycle, is now known primarily for the excerpted ending section that has been published seperately under the title The Man in the Iron Mask. In The Man in the Iron Mask, the musketeers scheme to replace the corrupt King Louis IV with his twin brother Philippe, whose existence has remained a closely guarded secret, and who has been imprisoned since the age of nineteen, his face locked in an iron mask in order to conceal his identity. Though the switching of Philippe for Louis is briefly successful, in the end, the scheme fails and Philippe is returned to prison to spend the rest of his days sealed within the iron mask.
Aside from the original Three Musketeers, Dumas' next most popular work is The Count of Monte-Cristo, which is widely regarded as the author's masterpiece. A novel of over one thousand pages, it is a story of brutal injustice and ruthless vengeance. Set in nineteenth-century France and loosely based on a true story drawn from Parisian police records, The Count of Monte-Cristo concerns the sufferings and triumphs of Edmond Dantès, a nineteen-year-old sailor engaged to the beautiful Mercédès and soon to be made a ship's captain. On the night of his engagement party in February 1815, Dantès is inexplicably arrested, accused of political conspiracy, and sentenced to imprisonment in the island prison of the Chateau d'If. Spending fourteen years in prison without a trial or contact with the outside world, Dantès befriends the Abbé Faria, a fellow prisoner and learned old priest who provides him with a scholarly education and helps him to figure out who is responsible for his undeserved punishment. When the old man dies, Dantès effects a clever escape from the island and finds his way to the islet of Monte Cristo, where he recovers a buried treasure bequeathed to him by Faria. Returning to French society as the mysterious and outstandingly wealthy Count of Monte-Cristo, Dantès devotes his life to enacting revenge against the men who betrayed him. In the process, he takes on a variety of disguises to carry out his intentions. While Dantès had believed himself to be carrying out the will of God in seeking revenge, he realizes in the end that he has unfairly punished the innocent children of his enemies. While Dumas was an extremely prolific author during his lifetime—a fact bolstered by his frequent reliance on collaborators and researchers—the Musketeer trilogy and The Count of Monte-Cristo represent the majority of his canon that still widely read today. These works have been co-opted by many young readers drawn to the text's emphasis on adventure and heroism, and have become so well-known that elements for the Musketeer and Monte-Cristo stories make regular appearances in contemporary pop culture. The popularity of the books with juvenile audiences has also been fostered by several "Classics Illustrated" adaptations of the texts, which present condensed versions of the narrative, recounted in comic book format with full illustrations. A few of Dumas' other young adult and juvenile works have also witnessed modern revisitings, including Captain Pamphile's Adventures and The Nutcracker, an adaptation by Dumas of the original fairy tale by E. T. A. Hoffmann.
Critics have generally agreed that Dumas' enduring literary popularity is, in large part, due to his skill at creating action-packed stories of drama and suspense, while evoking an irresistible sense of adventure and romance. Though his characters typically lack the psychological depth that distinguishes much literary fiction, they have been recognized as well-drawn and appealing, embodying easily recognizable personality types and such archetypal traits as courage, valor, and nobility. His prose style, however, has been regularly criticized as plodding, overly melodramatic, and inelegant. Dumas' representation of French history in his novels has also been widely debated. While many scholars have faulted his texts for historical inaccuracy and for reducing social and political forces to personal intrigues between powerful individuals, Dumas' supporters have lauded the author for skillfully integrating fictional narratives with historically real events and characters. Other reviewers have acknowledged that, while his representations of French history are not factually reliable, Dumas succeeded in celebrating the French national character through the glorification and romanticization of seventeenth-century France. Arthur F. Davidson has observed that The Three Musketeers owed its popularity to "the loyal comradeship of these seventeenth-century gallants, their reckless fighting, their impetuous lovemaking, which typified to the French public certain characteristics identified with France in her greatest days…. Dumas' intent is ever to glorify France and to bring out all that is most attractive in the French character." According to Davidson, Dumas succeeded in "catching to spirit of a particular epoch." Allen G. Wood, discussing The Three Musketeers, has remarked, "Dumas was less concerned with a given year than with an entire era, and brought it alive with adventurous deeds rather than documented accuracy." Wood has further applauded Dumas for utilizing historical settings as a means of tapping into a collective unconscious, asserting that The Three Musketeers "rewrites the past so that it can enter into the realm of the symbolic, the imaginary for the general masses." Critics have also attributed Dumas' lasting appeal to his exploration of enduring themes and universal archetypes. F. W. J. Hemmings has asserted that The Count of Monte-Cristo "is no doubt the greatest ‘revenger's tragedy’ in the whole history of the novel."
Selected Works for Children and Young Adults
*Les trois mousquetaires. 8 vols. [with Auguste Maquet] (novel) 1844; translated into English anonymously as The Three Musketeers, 1846
†Le comte de Monte-Cristo. 18 vols. [with Auguste Maquet] (novel) 1844-1845; translated into English anonymously as The Count of Monte-Cristo, 1846
L'Histoire d'un Casse-Noisette [adaptor; from a story by E. T. A. Hoffman] (juvenile fiction) 1845
Vingt ans après. 10 vols. [with Auguste Maquet; translated by William Barron as Twenty Years After, or, The Further Feats and Fortunes of a Gascon Adventurer 1846] (novel) 1845
‡Le vicomte de Bragelonne, ou Dix ans plus tard. 26 vols. [with Auguste Maquet] (novel) 1848-1850; translated into English anonymously as The Vicomte of Bragelonne; or, Ten Years Later, 1857
Captain Pamphile's Adventures [based on the 1839 short story "Le Capitaine Pamphile"; translated and adapted by Douglas Munro] (juvenile fiction) 1971
When Pierrot Was Young [based on the 1854 short story "La Jeunesse de Pierrot; Le roi de Bohême"; translated and adapted by Douglas Munro; illustrations by Peter Farmer] (juvenile fiction) 1975
The Nutcracker [based on the 1844 short story "Histoire d'un casse-noisette"; translated and adapted by Douglas Munro; illustrations by Phillida Gili] (juvenile fiction) 1977
Selected Other Works
Henri III et sa cour [translated by Lord Francis Leveson Gower as Catherine of Cleves, 1831] (play) 1829
La tour de Nesle [with Grédéric Gaillardet; translated by George Almar as The Tower of Nesle; or, The Chamber of Death, 1932] (play) 1832
Le chevalier d'Harmental. 4 vols. [with Auguste Maquet] (novel) 1842; translated by P. F. Christin and Eugene Lies as The Chevalier d'Harmental; or, Love and Conspiracy, 1846
Les demoiselles de Saint-Cyr (play) 1843; translated as The Ladies of Saint-Cyr; or, The Runaway Husbands, 1870
Georges. 3 vols. (novel) 1843; translated by G. J. Knox as George; or The Planter of the Isle of France, 1846
Le chevalier de Maison-Rouge. 6 vols. [with Auguste Maquet] (novel) 1845; translated as Marie Antoinette; or, The Chevalier of the Red House, 1846
Les Frères corses. 2 vols. [The Corsican Brothers] (novella) 1845
Le reine Margot. 6 vols. [with Auguste Maquet; translated as Marguerite de Valois] (novel) 1845
La dame de Monsoreau. 8 vols. (novel) 1846; translated as Diana of Meridor; or, The Lady of Monsoreau, 1846; also translated as Chicot, the Jester, 1857
Les quarante-cinq. 10 vols. [with Auguste Maquet; translated as The Forty-Five Guardsmen] (novel) 1847-1848
Le collier de la reine. 11 vols. [with Auguste Maquet; translated as The Queen's Necklace, or, The Secret History of the Court of Louis XVI] (novel) 1849-1850
Ouvres complètes d'Alexandre Dumas. 17 vols. (novels, plays, fiction, and nonfiction) 1850-1857
Ange Pitou. 8 vols. [with Auguste Maquet] (novel) 1851; translated by Thomas Williams as Six Years Later; or, The Taking of the Bastille, 1851
Mes mémoires [translated and abridged by A. Craig Bell as My Memoirs, 1961] (autobiography) 1852-1855
Les Mohicans de Paris. 19 vols. (novel) 1854-1855; translated anonymously as The Mohicans of Paris, 1859
Ouvres complètes d'Alexandre Dumas. 225 vols. (novels, plays, fiction, and nonfiction) 1860-1865
Ouvres complètes. 38 vols. [edited by Gilbert Sigaux] (novels, plays, fiction, and nonfiction) 1962-1967
*Other notable editions of The Three Musketeers include the version translated by William Barrow in 1846; translated by Park Benjamin; translated by Jacques Le Clercq in 1951 (reissued, 2001); translated by Isabel Ely Lord in 1952; translated by Lord Sudley in 1952; illustrated by Edy Legrand in 1953; illustrated by C. Walter Hodges in 1957; abridged and adapted by Jane Carruth; illustrated by John Worsley in 1982; translated by Lowell Blair in 1984; abridged and adapted by Vincent Buranelli; illustrated by Hieronimus Fromm in 1985; and translated by Marcus Clapham and Clive Reynard in 1992, among many others.
†Other notable editions of The Count of Monte-Cristo include the version translated and adapted by Lowell Blair in 1981; illustrated by Mead Schaeffer in 1985; edited by David Coward in 1990; and abridged and adapted by Mitsu Yamamoto; illustrated by Marcos Studio in 1990, among many others. It was also adapted as a drama in 1848.
‡Other notable excerpted editions of this text have been published under the title The Man in the Iron Mask, including the version illustrated by Edy Legrand in 1964; edited by David Coward in 1991; and abridged and adapted by Paul Mantell in 1998, among many others.
Arthur F. Davidson (essay date 1902)
SOURCE: Davidson, Arthur F. "The Great Novels (1843-1853)." In Alexandre Dumas (père): His Life and Works, pp. 216-56. Philadelphia, Penn.: J. B. Lippincott, 1902.
[In the following essay, Davidson provides a critical overview of some of Dumas's best known historical romance novels—including Les Trois Mousquetaires—and discusses Dumas's methods of collaborative writing.]
Dumas in the inventiveness of his plays, Dumas in his eager appetite for history, Dumas in his pleasant stories of travel—these we have seen. Combine the three, not forgetting the wondrous imagination which underlies them all—the dramatist, the historian, the conteur—and we have the qualities of Dumas as the writer of historical romance. For some while past he has cherished the idea of popularizing French history: he has dipped into it on different occasions, and each dip has convinced him that the subject was worth pursuing further. Did any one say that French history was dull? Perish the thought! The historians may have been dull, but that was their own stupid fault. Scotch history would doubtless have been liable to the same reproach had there been no Sir Walter Scott, and who would say that the annals of France were less eventful than those of Scotland? Nay, the opposite was being proved at this very time by Michelet, by Hugo, by De Vigny, by Mérimée. Pass over the first as an "historian" proper—romantic and picturesque, but still a professional historian: did not Notre Dame, Cinq Mars, and Charles IX attest the influence and value of the Waverley novels? Yet none of these three had really touched the popular level. Hugo had divagated into poetry and archaeology, the spirit of De Vigny's work was essentially aristocratic, Mérimée had produced a gem of exquisite art—a joy for ever to connoisseurs, too delicate for the general. For true popularity something on a larger scale was wanted, laid on with a thicker brush and in colours more vivid. For that business Dumas was the man, and the only man. His was the genius which could produce "the dramatic romance"—that form of novel which Victor Hugo dreamed of as forming "one long drama, divided into scenes, in which the descriptive parts serve as do the costumes and scenery of a theatrical piece." And just as in the theatre there is a décorateur whose function it is to see to the costumes and scenery, so in the dramatic romance—and more so as the affair is of greater length—it will be desirable to have a man for this purpose. By good fortune Dumas had lighted on the man—a student of history, an unwearied rummager of documents, whose name was Auguste Maquet. Originally a lecturer at the Collège Charlemagne, and for the last five or six years a writer—under the pseudonym of "Macqueat"—of stories and verses, Maquet's first association with his great partner arose from some help which Dumas had given to his drama Bathilde (1839), and it was this acquaintance which brought about the first of the great novels. For Maquet had written a short one-volume story called Jean Buvat dealing with the Cellamare conspiracy against the Regent Duc d'Orléans. Having tried in vain to place this story he brought it to Dumas, who took the little thing, expanded it into a long romance, named it Le Chevalier d'Harmental, and readily secured for it the feuilleton space of Le Siècle—at the same time paying Maquet twelve hundred francs for his share instead of the modest one hundred he had originally tried in vain to get. So began this most notable of literary partnerships. To catalogue the works which it produced in their order of publication would be merely to show that the popularization of French history did not proceed on a regular and progressive plan, but was effected bit by bit, the first often coming last and the last first, until at the end a sequence—not indeed of years but of epochs—found itself established, stretching from the reign of Charles IX to the French Revolution. Thus, after Le Chevalier d'Harmental (1843) Dumas went back to Louis XIII and wrote Les Trois Mousquetaires (1844) and its first sequel, Vingt ans après (1845). Then returning to the Regency period we have Une Fille de Régent (1845) to supplement Le Chevalier d'Harmental, after which we hark back to the reign of Charles IX in La Reine Margot and its continuation, La Dame de Monsoreau. Between this and its sequel, Les Quarante-Cinq (1848) come in two of the Revolution novels, Le Chevalier de Maison Rouge and Joseph Balsamo (1846), and so on. To us, however, it matters little in what order the slides of the magic lantern were originally made: we prefer to see them as a whole and as a series. To do this we may begin even a little earlier than the Saint Bartholomew.1 For that exciting and terrible time Les Deux Diane and Le Page du Duc de Savoie 2 serve as a gentle preparation. The date is 1550, and the reign is that of Henri II, over whom the fair Diana of Poitiers still holds sway. Through all the fighting of that time—the loss of St. Quentin and the gain of Calais—we follow in one story the love of the young Comte de Montgomery (afterwards the famous defender of Domfront) for Diane de Castro, daughter of the King and Diane de Poitiers; in the other the devotion of Emanuel Philibert to his mistress Léona, who passes to all the world as his page Léone. Thus we come to the Treaty of Cateau Cambrésis, the death of King Henry mortally wounded in tournament by Montgomery, and the accession of François II. For the first time now Queen Catherine comes to the front. Hitherto, as the sovereign's wife she has for long years effaced herself before imperious Diana and gruff Montmorency the Constable; now as the sovereign's mother she begins a long delayed vengeance for neglect. This first son, indeed, she loved but little: he is too much the slave of his girl wife, beautiful Marie Stuart, and Marie is wholly influenced by the Guises, with whom Catherine has not yet made common cause. And so when the sickly François lies dying, it is Catherine who—coveting the crown for a second son more pliable, and perhaps for a third more loved than either—will forbid the skill of Ambrose Paré to intervene lest haply the King's life might be prolonged: rather let nature take its course, and let his reign be short. To him succeeds Charles, ninth of that name; the Queen-mother's grasp grows stronger and the scope of her dark deeds wider. As a Catholic she hates the heretics, as a mother she fears most of all men their leader Henri de Navarre, whom she foresees as a rival to her beloved Henri d'Anjou. To compass the death of this Béarnais is her whole desire. The story of La Reine Margot is the story of the duel between these two. On the one side all the devices of murder—the secret assassin, the drugs of Réné the Florentine, the lip-slave for Madame de Sauve, whose lips Henri often touches, the poisoned page of the book which, missing its intended victim, kills the King's favourite hound and more slowly the King himself. On the other side Henri of Navarre avoids the various snares, partly by his own shrewd opportunism—for when it is a question of "Mort, Messe, ou Bastille" he does not hesitate to profess himself a Catholic, just as on a famous future occasion he will declare that "Paris vaut bien une messe"; partly by the help of his wife, Queen "Margot," who is a good friend to her husband—though they each have their own love affairs and have passed their honeymoon as far away from each other as possible; and partly also by the good offices of his brother-in-law, King Charles, who—though for the most part a puppet in the hands of Catherine—asserts sometimes his right to be generous, and, while shooting through his window at the wretched Huguenots, keeps his kinsman beside him out of harm's way. Others were not so fortunate. The romantic La Mole—lover of Queen Margaret—and the jovial Coconnas had fraternized at their first meeting when they entered Paris on the eve of St. Bartholomew; then they fought each other desperately, as in duty bound, since the one was a Huguenot and the other a Catholic; finally they became bosom friends again, and both perished together—victims of that same dire Catherine.
"Le roi est mort! Vive le roi!" The throne of Charles IX is now occupied by his brother Henri III, summoned from Poland by courier after courier. The Queen-mother has failed to kill Henri of Navarre, but she has managed to postpone his reign and make him fly for his life. The new King, who oscillates between debauchery and superstition with occasional fits of Satanic kingliness, has enemies enough—his treacherous brother d'Anjou, the ambitious Henri de Guise, and the crafty Cardinal. His "minions" can amuse him and are good enough to fight with d'Anjou's "Gentlemen"; but how would he fare without Chicot the Jester, wisest of fools, who baffles the conspirators at every turn—personating the King, hiding in the confessional-box, making brother Gorenflot drunk, preaching sermons, signing abdications, and what not? Wamba was nothing to him. As for the Dame de Monsoreau it is enough for us that she was loved by that brave Bussy d'Amboise, whose regrettable murder—brought about by the jealousy of his master d'Anjou—alone prevented him from adding d'Épernon to the many victims of his valour. D'Épernon, however, lives to form the Gascon bodyguard of Henri III, known as "Les Quarante-Cinq": and former personages reappear in new shapes. Now it is the Duchesse de Montpensier, sister of Guise, masquerading as a page-boy to help her brother: now it is Chicot, who for having trounced Mayenne has had to go into hiding for some years till we refind him in Robert Briquet—faithful as ever to his King, and a good friend also to Henri of Navarre, whom he accompanies to the siege of Cahors. A wonderful picture this siege gives of the future Henri IV, physically a coward and trembling with fear, yet by sheer force of will leading the attack as bravest of the brave. There are other battles and sieges too, notably that of Antwerp, which Anjou conducted while the fleet under Joyeuse gave help. Little glory did French arms gain there, nor was Anjou more successful in love than in war. For returning to France he fell in with Diane de Monsoreau, who had loved Bussy and had never forgiven the Duke for his death. Seeking now to entrap her he prepared retribution for himself. It was the old story—the laboratory, a little "aqua tofana," a mysterious illness, and farewell Duke of Anjou! With this Les Quarante-Cinq ends, and the Valois period of French history is done with. Before the curtain rises again forty years elapsed,3 which cover the reign of Henri IV and the early part of Louis XIII. Obviously such an interval invites reflection and discussion on what has passed. The majority of readers are quite content: some few will be troubled by the pangs of the historical conscience; one will even go so far as to write a book to prove the "Historical Inaccuracies in La Dame de Monsoreau. " This poor man is much to be pitied, for he has begun a work which will never end. Let us rather grant at once to the author of dramatic historical romance the privilege of regulating facts and marshalling them for effect. Otherwise how can he realize that famous ideal which Dumas set before himself of "elevating history to the dignity of romance"? "Inaccuracies," then, or "elevations"—many such may be discovered: as a type one will suffice. History informs us that, between the death of Charles IX and the arrival of his brother Henri from Poland, some three or four months passed. But La Reine Margot teaches us better by showing how Catherine just secures the succession for her favourite son by bringing him back at the dramatic moment before Charles has yet quite ceased to breathe—an arrangement which every one will admit to be more effective. Ex uno disce omnes: yet these, and some "extra-historical" incidents, are but the acknowledged licences of fiction, with which none but a pedant will quarrel. The more important question is, What impression of the main characters and events of French history will these romances leave on a reader who knows French history only through them? Will such an one on the whole see right? Doubtless, yes. About the course of religious strife, of domestic intrigue, of foreign policy, he will gather little which serious history would have him unlearn. And as to the persons of the drama, admit that their characters are modelled on the traditional and popular view; it is always possible that this view, formed at or near the time itself, may be the truest. Dumas, of course, adopted it naturally and unconsciously as being the most suitable for his purpose: even had he been aware of another it is inconceivable that he would have hesitated between—let us say—a white-washed Catherine de Medicis, a passive instrument of Spanish policy, and the masterful woman of scheme and intrigue, spell and poison: the one was so colourless, the other so lurid. To name the Queen-mother is to name the strongest instance of a possible perversion of truth. Others are less questionable. Charles IX, Henri III, Henri IV—what historian can amend the characters of these kings as they are presented by the novelist, or what historian can draw their characters with more distinctness? And if any one wants to see how Dumas had advanced in historical knowledge since the days when he wrote Henri III et sa Cour, let him compare the Duc de Guise of that drama with the Duc de Guise of the Valois novels. Human nature, as Plato long ago observed, has been coined in very small pieces; and the sorting of these, to form a just estimate of character, involves so much balancing and counterbalancing that it ends in being perplexing without being any the more infallible. For Dumas it has to be said that whenever he touches history—in novels, plays, or studies—he has the true historical instinct; without either faculty or inclination for the drudgery of analysis he somehow arrives at a synthesis quite as convincing as any that can be reached by the most minute methods.
When the curtain rises again it is on a scene very different from that of the decadent Valois house. The gloom of secret stratagems and snares has been dispersed: a brighter and more buoyant air is felt at once, when on a morning of 1625—Louis XIII being King and Cardinal Richelieu his minister—a certain young Gascon appears in the township of Meung on a wonderful orange-coloured pony, which excited the jeers of Rochefort and gave the newcomer a first opportunity of showing his metal. To his sword also D'Artagnan owed his introduction to Athos, Porthos and Aramis, the three musketeers, who henceforth are four. "Queen's musketeers" really rather than "King's," since it is on them that Anne of Austria depends to protect her love for Buckingham from the hostile schemes of Richelieu, especially in that affair of the diamond studs, which—as Madame Bonacieux revealed—the Queen of France had given to her English lover. Hence the desperate journey to England undertaken by the four heroes with their four lackeys, when by one misadventure or another the rest drop out, and on D'Artagnan and his man Planchet rests the whole burden of saving the Queen's honour. How that was accomplished is a matter of history—or at any rate of romance. We know that D'Artagnan won his race against time and that the Queen was able to wear her diamonds when the King led her forth to open the ball at the Hôtel de Ville. We know also how Richelieu had vainly employed on this business the beautiful criminal "Milady," as he employed her again more successfully to bring about that "miracle for the salvation of France" which was wrought at Portsmouth by the dagger of Felton. For these reasons and for others of a more private nature the brotherhood had vowed a righteous vengeance against Milady, performed with due ceremony by the executioner of Bethune.
Not however to this sombre ending nor to the general unpleasantness of "Miladyism" does the story of the Musketeers owe its popularity. Rather it was the loyal comradeship of these seventeenth-century gallants, their reckless fighting, their impetuous love-making, which typified to the French public certain characteristics identified with France in her greatest days. Athos for dignity, Porthos for strength, Aramis for subtlety, D'Artagnan for wit and resourcefulness, all for a courage to which other virtue is quite secondary—such qualities fascinate readers of all nationalities, whether in the way of similarity or of contrast. It is not a question here of historical persons—they are less problematical, and the chief of them, Richelieu, is excellently drawn in his day of power—but rather of catching the spirit of a particular epoch; and this by common consent Dumas has done most admirably. Nor does any book illustrate better his power of assimilating material and improving upon it than the story of the Musketeers. The substance of the whole is to be found in the Mémoires d'Artagnan by Courtils de Sandras. There we have D'Artagnan and his three friends, as also Milady (lady-in-waiting to Queen Henrietta), de Vardes, Rochefort (called Rosnay), Madame Bonacieux and her spouse, the rivalry of the King's Musketeers with those of the Cardinal, and much else. The life of D'Artagnan himself represents three phases of character. At first he is the quarrel-seeking adventurer, swaggering in wineshops, gambling in the ante-chambers of the King, leading wives astray and beating husbands. Then under Mazarin during the Fronde period he becomes more attached to intrigue both in love and in politics, and he is entrusted with confidential missions to England, where he spends much time. Later on, when Louis XIV has assumed power and the splendours of the Court have begun, D'Artagnan, now Capitaine-lieutenant of the Musketeers, appears as a punctilious and particular gentilhomme, most anxious to forget the wildness of his early fights and amours, He died in 1673, killed during the siege of Maestricht. Thus one may read in Courtils de Sandras,4 from whose voluminous memoirs—without excluding other authorities of the same sort5—ransacked by himself or Maquet, Dumas borrowed freely, and at the same time discreetly. Over all he sprinkled the salt of his own wit: much he imagined and invented—such as the entertaining characters of Grimaud, Mousqueton, Bazin, and Planchet, or the details of the journey to Calais: some things he altered—ante-dating, e.g., by several years the birth of D'Artagnan, which seems really to belong to 1623, so that the young man could hardly have come from Béarn in 1625 except in the arms of his nurse: other things he suppressed if they were either discreditable to his heroes, gross in themselves, or likely to offend modern readers.6 Dumas' intent is ever to glorify France and to bring out all that is most attractive in the French character. And here it may be noted, in passing, that of the two really detestable women in all his novels neither is French—Catherine de Medicis an Italian, Milady an English woman.
The historical landmark which ends Les Trois Mousquetaires is the murder of Buckingham (1629). When the story is resumed, after an interval of eighteen years, Louis XIII and his great Minister are dead; and France, groaning under the taxation of crafty and avaricious Mazarin, is divided into two parties, the Cardinalists and the Frondists. Among others whom Mazarin imprisoned was the Duc de Beaufort, grandson of Henri IV and Gabrielle d'Estrées: the escape of this nobleman—by the help of a certain colossal pie, which concealed beneath its crust daggers and rope ladder—is the subject of several diverting pages. This, however, is incidental: the proper continuance of the first story belongs not to anti-Mazarin movements—D'Artagnan indeed is nominally in the Cardinal's service—but to the fortunes of the Musketeers in England, where by chance they found themselves, at first on different sides—since Athos and Aramis fought for King Charles, while the other two were agents from Mazarin to Cromwell; but soon all made common cause as loyal gentlemen to save the King. A noble though vain struggle, involving many desperate dealings with Milady's son, Mordaunt, who sought to avenge his mother's death, and after coming often near success perished at last in the waters, hurled down by the hand of Athos. Thus history, public and private, pursues its course, though—as is sometimes the way of sequels—Vingt ans après has not the charm of twenty years before.
It was often wondered what that last word of King Charles on the scaffold meant, "Remember," until Dumas found its meaning in an injunction to Athos that he should discover and use, when the proper time came, a treasure hidden in the vaults of Newcastle keep. Athos—or the Comte de La Fère, to be correct—did not forget; and having gone in 1660 to Newcastle he was negotiating with General Monk when D'Artagnan and his followers, disguised as fishermen, kidnapped the General, and having conveyed him in their smack over to Holland presented him to the exiled Charles II, by whose graciousness he was deeply impressed. All which things explain, in a way ignored by the generality of historians, the reason why Monk took so important a share in the Restoration.
So in 1660 begins the story of Le Vicomte de Bragelonne, Raoul, the son of Athos, a youth full of valour and promise, but short-lived and ill-fated. For, loving Louise de la Vallière, he came into rivalry with his royal master, whom Louise loved more; and so, broken-hearted, he left the King's service and went into a far country, where, fighting bravely, he perished; which calamity being announced, Athos, long distressed by his son's sorrow and by their separation, himself faded out of life. Thus the eldest of the Musketeers departed. And what of the others? Aramis, now General of the Jesuits, had renounced the sword for the cassock, after which, we remember, he had always hankered. In this capacity he must needs concern himself with a plot in favour of that luckless twin brother of Louis XIV who was languishing in the Bastille: the plot failed—though for one short day the King and the prisoner of the Bastille changed places—and the dangerous twin was secretly conveyed away to the Île Sainte Marguerite, to be known henceforth only as "the man in the iron mask." For these reasons, Aramis, as sharing in the treason of Fouquet, was to be seized: and with Aramis was involved Porthos, the innocent tool of his clever friend—Porthos, who helped to fortify Belleisle, picking up big boulders and flinging them about like pebbles—Porthos, who with less of boisterous swagger now than in early days, remained still the bon enfant, the good-natured giant, slow of wit, large of heart, cheerfully working for others without troubling to understand what it was all about. Never did more repugnant duty fall to D'Artagnan than when, as Captain of the King's Musketeers, he was sent to arrest his friends at Belleisle. By every means he sought to warn and save them, but a higher power and the secret orders of Colbert baffled his loyalty. Fate, it seems, had decreed that Porthos should die. See, then, this Titan driven to bay in his cavern, while he beats off his foes time after time and hurls at them that huge barrel of gunpowder, which exploding devastates all around. Amid the wreckage Porthos stands, holding off by strength of arm the granite masses which press upon him, until failing at last beneath the incumbent weight—"too heavy—too heavy!"—he falls buried in the ruin his own hands have wrought. How D'Artagnan afterwards died gloriously in battle has been already said: for Aramis—or Monsieur d'Herblay, about whom we care little—he recovered favour and found in diplomacy a suitable sphere for his special gifts. But the book is the book of Porthos—Porthos into whom Dumas put most of himself and of his father, and whose death he declared had stricken him with a heavy sorrow. The modern reader may draw back aghast at the six volumes of Le Vicomte de Bragelonne, but he will have missed the best part of the Musketeer cycle should he fail to read those pages which describe the end of Porthos—true epic pages such as Homer's self had not disowned.
The later part of the reign of Louis XIV is not dealt with by any novel of Dumas.7 Again there is an interval of forty years before we come to the date of the two Regency romances, Le Chevalier d'Harmental and Une Fille du Régent. These are very similar in setting and in incident. Both revolve round plots formed against the Regent Duc d'Orléans; in both we see much of the "ape-like face" of Dubois, who scratches his nose while pondering, prowls about Paris in all disguises, and tracks down every sort of conspirator: in both the Regent figures, as a man of pleasure indeed, whose petits soupers and other nocturnal amusements receive full attention, but as essentially merciful and generous, pardoning where Dubois was anxious to punish. The historical pivot of Le Chevalier d'Harmental is the Cellamare conspiracy of 1718 got up by the Spanish Ambassador and the Duchesse de Maine for the purpose of kidnapping the Regent in the interests of Philip of Spain; and the Chevalier, who has a private grudge against Orléans, is used by these people as their instrument. Similarly in the second story—which was suggested by an incident in the first—Hélène de Chaverny, a daughter of the Regent, is loved by a young Breton nobleman who has pledged himself to take her father's life—the relationship of course being unknown. The Regent, disguised as a Spanish duke, talks with the young man, for whom he has taken a great liking, and tries to dissuade him from so dangerous a design: meanwhile Dubois, with a bag of gold pieces on the table, interrogates the valet, and by the process of adding or taking away ten louis for each answer—according as it is valuable or not—soon succeeds in extracting all the information he requires. In both stories the reader is introduced to the interior of the Bastille, where M. de Launay presides and where various distinguished inmates are living as the guests of the State, for the most part pleasurably enough and with every kind of ingenious contrivance for communicating with one another. On the whole we are moving now in a more subtle and deceptive world: things are less often what they seem: love, less eager to satisfy itself at the moment, has become more elegant and artificial; hatred, more long-headed, marks down an enemy for distant vengeance rather than for immediate chastisement. It is a changed atmosphere since the days of the Musketeers, and no one runs any risk of confusing the seventeenth century with the eighteenth.
With the Regent's death in 1723 the reign of Louis XV, properly speaking, began: its history may be filled in from all the recognized authorities.8 For the purpose of romance the chief interest belongs to its closing years, which form a sort of explanatory prologue to the Great Revolution. In 1770, then, the Mémoires d'un Médecin series opens with the five volumes called Joseph Balsamo, chiefly concerned with the doings of that remarkable impostor—the "arch-quack" of Carlyle's pages. The phenomena of occultism had always fascinated Dumas: he dabbled, at different times, in palmistry, phrenology, clairvoyance, spiritualism; especially he was attracted by that form of mesmeric development which is nowadays called hypnotism. To test the reality of this power he made several experiments9 at the time when he was writing Joseph Balsamo, and with considerable success, though he admits that the subjects he operated on were always persons peculiarly liable to such influence—young girls or impressionable women. The conclusion he arrived at was this: "I believe that by the help of magnetism a bad man might do much harm, I doubt that a good man could do much good…. I consider that magnetism is an amusement but not yet a science." In the story of Joseph Balsamo the possibilities of magnetism are stretched to the uttermost demands of fiction. The "arch-quack" is seen with all his quackeries; only, he is a quack who believes in himself and in his mission to regenerate humanity by breaking up the existing order of things. As the head of a widespread society of Nihilists, whose motto is L.P.D. (lilia pedibus destrue), he directs the undermining of society's foundations: he pulls the strings with which the puppets are made to dance. As a showman he introduces to us, in one way or another, some famous people—Jean Jacques for example, and the querulous Thérèse (Rousseau by the way will have nothing to do with Balsamo, preferring to trust to the gentler process of time); a certain young surgeon called Marat, who is all for prompt and violent methods; the young Austrian princess just come to France to be the bride of the shy studious dauphin, who is more interested in the mechanism of clocks than in any affairs of Court; Madame Dubarry, with her pet negro Zamore and all her intrigues to keep her position; that eminent churchman, Cardinal de Rohan, whose eyes are dazzled by the sight of Balsamo making gold. Here too a beginning is made with the romantic story of Andrée de Taverney and her brother Philippe, when the one becomes a lady-in-waiting to the new Dauphiness and the other at first sight of Marie Antoinette conceives for her that devoted love which will last until she falls beneath the axe of the guillotine. But Dumas knows that there are flaws in magnetism; and so Balsamo, whose power depends mainly on the information supplied by the clairvoyance of his wife Lorenza Feliciani, comes near to an early and ignominious ending. For that lady when she has escaped from his influence goes off and betrays the secrets of the association to the Government, with the result that several of the conspirators are arrested and Balsamo himself only escapes by the help of Dubarry. Gloom, mystery, and a sense of impending cataclysm are the intended impressions of the book, which ends with the death of Louis XV in 1774.
Ten years later Balsamo, reappearing as the Comte de Cagliostro, resumed more openly his campaign against Royalty. He it was who engineered all that affair of the diamond necklace, using as his principal instruments Jeanne de la Motte, Cardinal de Rohan, and a certain Nicole Légay, whose marvellous resemblance to Marie Antoinette gave opportunity for employing her in affairs which would damage the reputation of the Queen. Many men there were who loved Marie Antoinette; none more than Philippe de Taverney, for whom she did not care at all, and the Comte de Charny, whom in her cold, proud way she loved. It was about her that these two friends quarrelled and fought, and it was to save her from the King's displeasure that Charny was made to marry Andrée de Taverney. But the scandal of the necklace—which after all the poor Queen had enjoyed for so short a while—was sedulously spread abroad by the Comte de Provence and other enemies, nor was it abated by the arrest of Rohan and Cagliostro, and the public whipping of La Motte.
Then we plunge straight into the Revolution. The Ange Pitou —who gives his name to the story and whose early life is partly a reproduction of Dumas' own boyish days—is not in himself a person of any consequence; but having come from Villers-Cotterets to Paris he found himself, July 14, 1789, engaged in the storming of the Bastille. Thence, among other rescued prisoners, came the médecin whose memoirs we are supposed to be reading, and whose ward Ange Pitou was. This Dr. Gilbert, a disciple of Balsamo and imprisoned for publishing revolutionary ideas, having now got himself appointed one of the Court physicians, did his best—as a moderate reformer—to advise the King and Queen for their welfare. But events moved too fast for advice—those well known events which no fiction can enhance—the rending in pieces of Foulon and Berthier, suspected of "cornering" bread; the arrival of the Flanders regiment at Versailles and the fatal banquet at which the tricolour was trodden under foot; the march of the hungry women from Paris, and the hurried journey of La Fayette to protect the palace from plunder and the sovereign from outrage.
More minutely La Comtesse de Charny describes all the efforts made to save Royalty by the sound sense of Gilbert, the self-sacrifice of Favras, the genius of Mirabeau. Everything is frustrated by the vacillation of the King and the obstinacy of the Queen, who is always l'Autrichienne, always distrusts the French, and looks to the foreigner for help. If omens could save the hapless woman she had been saved—the candles which go out one by one as she sits at the red-baize-covered table, the shuddering memory of a distant but unforgotten vision which passes over her as she sees the King absorbed in drawing improved designs for Dr. Guillotin's newly invented machine. And meanwhile her enemies gain strength. Barnave impeaches Mirabeau; Robespierre's sad sallow face begins to dominate the Jacobin Club; D'Aiguillon and Marat hover about—Marat with his "yellow lips, flat nose, viper-like eyes, veins of mingled blood and poison." Whatever plans the Royal party form or unform, Balsamo-Cagliostro-Zanoni knows them all, his spies being present everywhere; and when the story ends, the King and Queen, arrested at Varennes and brought back on that "journey of sorrow" to Paris, have lost their last hope of freedom.
To end the Revolution series comes Le Chevalier de Maison Rouge, which opens finely thus: "C'était pendant la soirée du 10 Mars, 1793. Dix heures venaient de tinter à Notre Dame, et chaque heure, se detachant l'une après l'autre, comme un oiseau nocturne élancé d'un nid de bronze, s'était envolée triste, monotone et vibrante." The time is just before the fall of the Gironde. The King has perished; the Queen a prisoner, first in the Temple and then in the Conciergerie, awaits the same doom. To save her while there is yet time many schemes are on foot, at bottom of them all being the Chevalier de Maison Rouge, whom, as Philippe de Taverney, brother of Andrée de Charny, we have met before. To communicate with Marie Antoinette by means of a note wrapped in a carnation and to effect her escape by the opening of an underground passage, was the plan on which the Chevalier and his partner, citizen Dixmer, staked their last hope; that failing, Maison Rouge flung himself beneath the scaffold and by a self-inflicted death avoided surviving the Queen to whom he had given his life. But the name of the book does not imply its whole, or even its chief, interest. Besides the Chevalier and Dixmer, there is Dixmer's wife, Géneviève; and Maurice her republican lover; and above all Lorin, the friend of Maurice—and the best type of a Revolution patriot—gay, witty, generous, and faithful, who voluntarily joins his friends in the Salle des Morts that he may share their fate, and dies making an epigram and paying a compliment to Sanson.10 The Chevalier himself—with his disguises, his escapes, and his plots—might well seem the creation of lawless fancy did not we know that his original was a real person. He was not of course the Count Fersen we hear of in history, nor was he such an ideal of chivalry as Dumas makes him to be; but he was a certain audacious and rather disreputable adventurer called Rougeville who—as his recently published history shows11—lived between 1761 and 1814, when he was shot by order of Napoleon as a spy and a traitor. On whatever documents the novel was based, the treatment of this character is not only an illustration of the old proverb about truth being stranger than fiction—for the adventures of the real Chevalier were quite as improbable as those of the imaginary—but also an example, not less remarkable than that afforded by the Mémoires de D'Artagnan, of the wonderful way in which Dumas could improve upon any material that fell into his hands.
About the writing of this book an anecdote is recorded by Blaze de Bury. Dumas often declared that, when once he had mapped out in his mind the scheme of a novel or a play the work was practically accomplished, since the mere writing of it presented no difficulty, and could be performed as fast as the pen could travel. Some one begged leave to dispute this assertion, and the result was a wager. Dumas had at that time in his head the plan of the Chevalier de Maison Rouge, of which he had not yet written a word, and he now made a bet of one hundred louis with his sceptical friend that he would write the first volume of the novel in seventy-two hours (including the time for meals and sleep). The volume was to be formed by seventy-five large foolscap pages, each page containing forty-five lines and each line fifty letters. In sixty-six hours Dumas had done the work—3,375 lines—in his fair flowing hand, disfigured by no erasions—and the bet was won with six hours to spare.
Yet no one surely would say that the Chevalier de Maison Rouge bears any marks of haste or inconsiderateness. On the contrary, it is, beyond doubt, the best of the Revolution novels, and not far from the best of all the novels. On closing it some retrospect and comparison is inevitable.12 As a series these later romances fit not so well together as the earlier, nor individually do they hold so high a place in popular esteem. There are weak points. The juggleries of Joseph Balsamo, however thrilling in themselves, are a feeble peg on which to hang the French Revolution, seeming indeed but a trivial burlesque of dire realities; and this fact becomes clearer as the series advances. The peg gives way, and fiction has to glide—as in Ange Pitou and La Comtesse de Charny —more and more into a chronicle of facts. But the theory that Dumas had some special sense of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries which he lacked when dealing with comparatively recent history is purely fanciful, and is falsified directly we get to the Chevalier de Maison Rouge, from which the Balsamo incubus has disappeared. Here the romance of history and its dignity are equally consulted. The Marie Antoinette of the preceding books—faithfully described by a pen which erred neither in being too sentimental nor too ungenerous—was not a lovable person: the Marie Antoinette of this last story, now in the extremity of fate, is treated with all the sympathy and respect which her womanhood, her rank, and her misfortune demand. The Republican Dumas will have nothing to do with "Madame Veto" or "Veuve Capet" or any other scurrility of the sansculottes: the woman we see in the prison and on the scaffold is still Marie Antoinette, Queen of France and daughter of kings.
To extol the Chevalier de Maison Rouge is not to belittle the romances of the Valois or Bourbon period—least of all that brilliant épopée of D'Artagnan and his friends. But the Musketeer books—while admirably adapted for continuity and for that "linked sweetness long drawn out" which the feuilleton requires—have also, it must be admitted, the defects of continuity. For one thing, inequalities are more marked: over so long a course good Homer has more chances of nodding—and nodding is infectious. For another, there is an absence of that finality which the mind of man craves for, even in fiction: there is indeed, except for the fate of all mortal things, no natural or necessary reason why these stories should ever end. To postulate a continuation is, artistically, a sign of weakness. Les Trois Mousquetaires does not perhaps demand a sequel, but it certainly invites one. It had better therefore be disengaged at once and set on its own pedestal, there to remain as a masterpiece, plausible in history, in imagination immense. For the rest, if it is permitted to assume that excellence, whether in a novel or a play (and remember that in Dumas the two are very close together) consists in a reasonable size, in compactness, in self-sufficiency, together with concentred interest, crisp and unflagging action, unity of movement towards an end—if this be admitted, then, flanking that first pedestal, two others must be set up—certainly no smaller in stature; and on the one must be placed La Reine Margot, on the other Le Chevalier de Maison Rouge. Whosoever bows before these will have done homage to the three greatest among the historical novels of Dumas.
Having now covered in some fashion or other so wide a stretch of ground—having traversed without halt fifteen thousand pages of fiction and a period of time close on two hundred and fifty years—one would gladly rest and be thankful. Dumas does not allow it. "When I write ‘finis’ to one book," says he cheerfully, "it just means that I am beginning another." There are novels and novels. In giving precedence to those which we call "great" the epithet has been presumed as proper to the ones mentioned, whether considered in their conception or their extent or their fame: it is not meant to signify an arbitrary barrier or to exclude the preferences of individual taste. Other romances, to say nothing of dramas and historical works, were appearing during the same years and in the same way—first as newspaper serials, then in book form. Without degenerating at this place into a catalogue we may give a passing word to one or two of these. In 1844 came Ascanio (a story chiefly concerned with Benvenuto Cellini), Fernande, and Amaury (modern and non-historical). The publication of the latter in La Presse was interrupted for a reason of interest as illustrating an unusual and pathetic connexion between fiction and real life. The heroine of the story was a girl dying of consumption, and Mademoiselle de Noailles, who happened also to be suffering from this fatal malady, was so vitally interested in following the fate of the imaginary patient as to aggravate her own dangerous condition. Therefore Amaury, on the request of M. de Noailles, was broken off, and was not resumed until after his daughter's death. It may be added—as showing how realistically Dumas utilized all his experience—that the physical symptoms traced minutely in the story were the result of observations made by him many years before during an illness of Felix Déviolaine, his cousin.
Les Frères Corses (1845) is a story well known, at any rate from its dramatized form, in this country. So also perhaps is Le Bâtard de Mauléon (1846),13 the scene of which is chiefly Spain and the time the fourteenth century. Mauléon is supposed to meet old Froissart and to tell him his tale, "which," adds the author, "I have drawn from a manuscrit inédit"—one, no doubt, of those many unpublished MSS. which Dumas kept in his head and paraded for his own amusement and the tantalization of the ultrainquisitive. It is a regular Froissart chronicle of the days of chivalry, having for its principal characters the Black Prince, Bertrand du Guesclin, Pedro of Navarre, and other warriors. There is also—but this has nothing to do with Froissart—a certain dog called "Allan," belonging to Don Frederick, the brother of Pedro the Cruel, "a slim wiry dog of the sierra, with a head pointed like that of a bear, piercing lynx-like eyes, legs fine and nervous as those of a deer." Now this beast was a portrait of Dumas' own dog "Mouton"—outwardly be it understood; for in moral qualities "Allan" was superior to his prototype, as was proved before long. About the antecedents of Mouton there had always been some mystery, and the friend from whom the dog came, parrying all questions, had contented himself with this advice: "Try first to attach him to you, and you will then see what he can do." The story of that attachment belongs to the book of Mes Bêtes, wherein we read that Mouton was a surly, unsociable brute, unresponsive to any atten- tions of his master, and such a terror to the neighbourhood that a request was made by the Mayor of Saint-Germain that he should not be taken abroad except on a chain. One day Dumas was writing that chapter of Le Bâtard de Mauléon which describes how the dog Allan, to protect Don Frederick, flew at the throat of a hostile Moor: in the distance Mouton was uprooting dahlias and paid no attention when commanded to desist. "Very well, you rascal," said Dumas, "just wait till I have finished this sentence!" The sentence having been written, Mouton received a vigorous kick, whereupon his true character appeared, and his "attachment" became a painful reality; for he turned and sprang on his master, who had just time to hold up both arms in self-defence, with the result that the dog's teeth closed on the right hand and munched it, until with the left he was gradually choked off. Then the misnamed Mouton was conducted back to his original owner, and Dumas, after a week's doctoring of his hand, resumed with difficulty Le Bâtard de Mauléon.
It would be inexcusable in the eyes of many to pass over without honourable mention that pretty romance which tells how the godson of Cornelius de Witt reared, amid much tribulation, the precious bulb which gained the prize at Haarlem. La Tulipe Noire (1850), if not a great novel, is a charming story; and memory retains easily its few, though vivid figures—William the Silent, Boxtel, Gryphus, his daughter, and the gentle Van Baerle, whose love is divided between Rosa and his tulips, until the two are reconciled in the "Tulipa Nigra Rosa Barlaeensis."
And there is yet one book—little known, little read—which enlightens, more than any other, that strange craving for the immeasurable and the impossible by which Dumas was always haunted. "What next?" was his eternal thought, as though he had hitherto touched only the fringe.
"Do the history of the world," said his son, not without irony.
"I have thought of that," was the reply quite serious; "but the objection is that you must either adhere to Biblical tradition, which only goes back some six or seven thousand years—and that would be too short; or else you must follow science—and that would be too long."
Eventually, however, he discovered a frame capable of holding some such gigantic picture as he desired to make. That frame was the old theme of the Wandering Jew, whose name—as it is given in French tradition—served as the title of the story. Isaac Laquedem (1853) is nothing but a fragment—a mere paltry two volumes out of a projected dozen, for it was stopped by the Censorship, and Dumas never resumed it again. But even as a fragment it is astounding. We see, first, the wanderer arriving in Rome in 1419 and joining himself to those pilgrims whose feet the Pope, by old custom, was wont to wash on Holy Thursday in each year. When it comes to his turn—he is the thirteenth—the Unknown falls at the Pontiff's knees, shows the brand upon his forehead, reveals himself as the accursed one who—for having refused the Christ bending under the Cross a moment's rest—had been condemned henceforth to wander through all countries and all ages, and finally begs the Holy Father to intercede for his pardon. This starting point having been established, the story plunges back into the remote past, traversing ancient Egypt, India, Persia, Greece, and Rome, comprising also Moses and the Prophets and the Old Testament history of the Jews, until it arrives at the New Testament and paraphrases the Gospel narrative with the miracles and sufferings of Christ—all in the most approved feuilleton style. It was as well, perhaps, that the Government should intervene to prevent the sacred drama of the Passion from being presented to the Parisian public in the same style as the story of the Musketeers, since the thing was bound to move scoffing in some and pain in others. But there is no doubting the good faith of Dumas himself: irreverence and inexpediency were as far from his view as the opposite qualities they connote. In all sincerity he had set himself to explain and adorn the mysteries of religion for the benefit of the man in the street; and this ingenuousness of treatment is only less astonishing than the magnitude of conception. What the future course of Isaac Laquedem would have been is but guess work. It is said—and is likely enough—that the author meant to have represented the Pope as securing for the criminal a conditional pardon—the condition being that he should still wander, but henceforth as the apostle of good, not of evil. In that case we can see how, after the interview with Paul II, the story would have started off again with the wide vista of the modern world before it, affording opportunities without end for the activity of the regenerate Jew. As it stands Isaac Laquedem is an inchoate epic of the human race, which can only be criticized by large marks of exclamation.
Marks of exclamation indeed punctuated Dumas all through his life. Sometimes they assumed a practical and hostile form. It was while these novels, greater and smaller, were appearing that an agitation was set on foot for the total abolition of Dumas. Ten years before he had been taken to task for appropriating in his plays the ideas and situations of other authors—mostly departed—whose reproachful spirits had been championed by Cassagnac. On this occasion the "ghosts" were not of the dead but of the living. Whence, it was asked, came this marvellous fertility of production—this output (some one had counted) of sixty volumes in one year? One gentleman in particular considered the thing a scandal, and being a dealer in scandals naturally took it up. This was "Eugène de Mirecourt," whose native name was Jacquot, less euphonius but quite adequate to its owner. With noble indignation he stigmatized as mercantilisme littéraire this wholesale production of books under the name of an eminent man who employed paid assistants to do the greater part of the work for him. Jacquot, it may be said, was not the first to start this quarry, for it had been done two years before (1842), rather cleverly, by one Louis de Loménie:14 but Jacquot raised it to the dignity of a high literary question by bringing it before the Société des Gens de Lettres, and denouncing it as an imposture on the public, an injury to the assistants, who were merely paid like shop-hands but remained without name or fame, and finally as an outrage on the honour of literature. This was all very fine. But, as to the first point, the public did not care; as to the second, the assistants—or "secretaries," as they preferred to call themselves—worked under no compulsion and were at liberty to go away and make an independent name for themselves whenever and wherever they liked; while as to the dignity of literature, collaboration without naming was—whether good or bad—too common a practice in France for the Société to do anything but pass a vague resolution in favour of regulating it more definitely. Then Jacquot, discarding the cloak of literary and ethical purism, resorted to the more congenial sphere of personalities; and having invented an excellent catchpenny title he launched (1845) the pamphlet Fabrique de Romans: Maison Alexandre Dumas et Cie., spicy enough to meet with a ready sale and libellous enough to incur a fortnight's imprisonment for its author. To refer to this brochure is the mere duty of the chronicler: it has in itself no importance, and neither then nor since has influenced any reputable critic.15 For the measure of Jacquot's revelations was soon taken when he proceeded to biographize the celebrities of the day (Les Contemporains) at sixpence per head including the portrait, and fell foul of so many that he was constantly being fined or imprisoned, until from an amusement he came to be regarded as a nuisance and at last sought refuge from his various troubles within the walls of a monastery, where he died.16 Peace however to his ashes! So far as Dumas is concerned, he occasionally happened to say what was true in regard to collaborations: his personal anecdotes—inspired it was believed, by resentment at failure to become one of the great man's "secretaries"—may be allowed to have a certain negative value, since, in the absence of other evidence, they afford a fair presumption to the contrary. All this is not to say that Dumas' collaborative methods require no comment, but only to bar at the outset that form of comment which assumes him to have been an impostor, incapable of writing anything good himself, and indebted for all his successes to the brains of others. Apart from this absurd contention, which none of the men who worked with him ever put forward even in times of discontent and open quarrel, there are certain points proper for consideration. To avoid confusion, it is necessary in the first place to exclude altogether those jobbing "operations" to which Dumas—especially in his later years—lent himself, and which belong to the category of "trafficking" not of collaboration. It was his nature to magnify and expand whatever he touched, and he probably persuaded himself that there might be an "extra-collaborative" just as there was an "extra-historic." Convinced that he was a focus from which all the rays of literature emanated, and that his sign-manual did in some magic way conduct his brain, he set his name to some books in which his own share was little or nothing, just as he wrote miscellaneous prefaces or lifted whole passages from other authors with a few introductory words of his own. He forgot—as he was reminded on a celebrated occasion17—that "there are degrees": the appreciation of degrees was his weakest point. These things—done sometimes to oblige a friend sometimes from the pressing need of money—must be regarded as disfiguring excrescences on the normal and legitimate form of collaboration. Ultimately, if the whole truth were known, they would resolve themselves into a sort of debtor and creditor account where the balance would be in Dumas' favour; he gave as freely and inconsiderately as he took, and while some of the publications bearing his name had little to do with him, it is equally certain that a great number appearing under other names were essentially his work.18
So much for the "extra-collaborative" department. Return now to legitimate collaboration: with it alone we are concerned in all the principal works of Dumas—those on which his reputation depends, and which come within the view of the ordinary reader. Such an one, if asked, "What do you think of the collaborators of Dumas?" would probably reply "I don't think about them at all:" And the answer would be conclusive. Still, there is no need to shirk the question. Maison Dumas et Cie.—why not? The fact, if not this way of putting it, was common enough in Paris at that time. It was brought about by the insistence of editors, publishers, and theatrical managers upon having some well known name with which to attract the public: and—all sophistry apart—the only difference between a commercial and a literary undertaking was that in the former the firm might bear the name of one who took no active part in it, whereas in the latter honesty demanded that the name on the cover of the book should indicate a real and a chief share in the work. To this condition the collaboration of Dumas conforms—that wonderful infusion of himself into others which, so far from belittling the man, has only in the course of time intensified the greatness of his individuality and power. Single-handed he might be as in Henri III or Antony, or many-handed as in the host of other works: it is only the conditions of authorship that are changed, not the person of the author. Faith divines this conclusion: curiosity would like to know how the thing was done. The various forms of collaboration may be reduced to two main classes, according to the nature of the principal partner's share. The first class includes those cases in which the subject of a play or a novel was brought to Dumas in an impossible or an imperfect state. Typical examples of this sort have been referred to in La Tour de Nesle. Mademoiselle de Belleisle 19 and Le Chevalier d'Harmental, in all which Dumas completed what was inchoate, strengthened what was puny, vitalized what was moribund. Sometimes he did more: he even resuscitated what was dead, as by recasting a play which had been hissed off the stage into that remarkable drama of his Le Comte Hermann. In all such cases where the book or the play would not otherwise have flourished, or perhaps even lived, who doubts that the giver of life is the real author? Sometimes, again, the suggestion from outside came in the course of conversation. In this way the novelist once had as a collaborator the learned Schlegel, who, meeting Dumas in 1838, told him from personal knowledge of certain events in the War of Liberation, which Dumas asked leave to make into a book and made into Le Capitaine Richard.
To the second category of collaboration belong those works in which Dumas was responsible for the subject, and in this class come all the books written in partnership with Maquet, except Le Chevalier d'Harmental and Sylvandire, the subjects of which Maquet suggested. In such cases, after discussing the plan with his partner, Dumas' habit was to draw up in outline a scheme of the whole, with the divisions and titles of chapters: then, when the assistant had filled in the outline, the MS. was handed to Dumas, who re-wrote it with such additions and alterations as he thought fit. The same course was followed in other books besides those written with Maquet. Edmond About has described20 how he saw in 1858 at Marseilles the rough draft of Les Compagnons de Jéhu in which the master's original model had been developed by an assistant and which Dumas now took and wrote his romance from, elaborating it and sémant l'esprit à pleines mains."
This re-writing process resulted in such a prodigious amount of "Dumas" copy as to give rise to the legend that his "secretaries" had learned to imitate his handwriting so closely as to baffle detection—a superfluous theory and in some instances demonstrably false.21 The re-writing signified in reality Dumas' appetite for appropriation, and it was a special feature of those works in which his share was greatest. This method, of course, was subject to exceptions, for occasionally time failed. and then the MS. would be delivered to the printer just as it was written by the collaborator. The last chapters, for example, of Le Vicomte de Bragelonne were printed from Maquet's copy because the newspaper in which the story was being published could not wait for the revised version. And similar things became more frequent in later years.
To the many writers who in their different degrees shared or lightened the labours of Dumas we would gladly devote some pages did space permit, but it must suffice to have mentioned their names—in the Bibliography—in connexion with the books or plays to which they belong. Probably, next to Maquet, the most substantial helpers were Paul Bocage and Paul Lacroix.22 The latter—otherwise known as the "Bibliophile Jacob"—was a cordial friend and admirer, who speaking of his former relations with Dumas said: "I used to dress his characters for him and locate them in the necessary surroundings, whether in Old Paris or in different parts of France at different periods. When he was, as often, in difficulties on some matter of archaeology, he used to send round one of his secretaries to me to demand, say, an accurate account of the appearance of the Louvre in the year 1600…. I used to revise his proofs, make corrections in historical points and sometimes write whole chapters." These words show pretty well the nature of the services rendered by Dumas' assistants—services which neither did they exaggerate nor did he either deny or depreciate. But Maquet stands on a different footing from the rest: they were casual and intermittent, he alone for ten years worked closely and continuously with Dumas, and he alone was in the full sense a collaborateur. When Dumas was in Paris, there also was Maquet: when Dumas travelled Maquet accompanied him; when Dumas established himself at Saint-Germain, Maquet took up his quarters close by at Bougival, and between the two a ceaseless stream of messengers came and went bearing copy. In the course of time this fidus Achates developed powers of invention and description which made him far more than the mere searcher-out of facts he was at the outset—made him, in fact, an independent author who could, if need were, carry on the business of historical romance for himself. Yet never till the breach between them came did he claim a position of equality, and the claim which he then put forward was based primarily on financial rather than on literary grounds. Bankruptcy is a terrible solvent of friendship; and when Maquet, to whom considerable arrears of salary were due, found himself in the position of an ordinary creditor and entitled only to twenty-five per cent. which the other creditors of Dumas had agreed to accept, it occurred to him that he might assert his right to be "joint-author" instead of mere collaborator, a right which would involve the appearance of his name together with that of Dumas on the novels they had written together, and an equal share in any profits arising from these books. Twice the case came before the Courts, twice the opposing advocates thrashed it all out.23 In both cases Maquet's claim was disallowed, though his share in the production of eighteen works was recognized, and with this barren honour he had to be content. The legal proceedings add nothing to what has already been said on the nature of the collaboration, but they leave us convinced of two things—first, that—as a matter of equity, Maquet ought to have been described as co-auteur, and secondly that—as a matter of literature—he was not the essential partner. Dumas without Maquet would have been Dumas: what would Maquet have been without Dumas? To illustrate this point more vividly, here is a little anecdote which, though it did not come out at the trial, is based on good authority. It concerns the story of Ange-Pitou —the last of their joint books. On this subject Maquet had been making researches at the library, and he came to Dumas with a mass of information about the hero, who was to be traced back to Louis Pithou, one of the authors of La Satire Menippée. "All right," said Dumas, "find out about him and let me have have the facts." Thereupon he made an agreement with Le Constitutionnel for the story, receiving—as was his wont—an instalment of the money in advance. As ill-luck would have it, a disagreement with Maquet—the beginning of their quarrel—supervened. Dumas, bound by contract to supply Le Constitutionnel, had no time to look up the antecedents of Ange Pitou, and for that matter he did not know where to look. And so like a brave man he cut the difficulty by constructing a Pitou whose early years were passed in Villers-Cotterets and whose early experiences were those of Alexandre Dumas! So little in reality did he, except as a luxury, depend on the help of others. Not that Maquet must be for a moment disparaged: his own historical novels, written after the separation—La Belle Gabrielle, La Maison du Baigneur, Le Comte de Lavernie—are quite good, especially the first. If their authorship were unknown they might well pass for joint work; only in that case they would have to be classed as what Dumas used pleasantly to call "one of my inferior books." It would have been strange indeed if Maquet, after ten years' association with his master, had not learned all there was to learn about the writing of novels.
But, leaving aside these vain questions and all the "indiscretions of the tribunals," we do better to remember the generally excellent relations—cordiality on the one side, admiration on the other—which prevailed between Dumas and his assistants, as well as the perfect good humour with which he met the rather savage attempts made to deprive him of even any share in the authorship of his books. Every one has heard how, after he had delighted a gathering of friends for some while with his talk and wit, he ended by saying, "I must be off now, for if I stay here talking any longer it will be reported to-morrow that I had collaborators to help me."
At a club one day an admirer, after complimenting him warmly on his books, ventured to say that he had found a geographical error in one of them.
"Indeed! which was that?"
"Le Chevalier d'Harmental. "
"The devil!" said Dumas, "I have not read it. Let me see, who was it wrote that for me? why, that rascal Auguste. I'll comb his hair for him! (je lui laverai la tête).
Assuming the story as reported to be authentic, it only shows the unreasoning prejudice to which Dumas was exposed that this little joke at his partner's expense should have been construed into a scandalous admission.
When the meticulous Quérard asserted that one part of Monte Cristo was written by Fiorentino and the other by Maquet, Dumas, after establishing the facts of the case, added with gentle irony: "After all, it was so simple to believe that I had written it."
While hunting up, at Bourg-en-Bresse, some particulars about the fate of the highway robbers described in Les Compagnons de Jéhu, he called on a magistrate of the place—a local antiquarian of some repute and self-esteem. This gentleman, who had heard all about the Maison Dumas, saw the opportunity for a score. "And so, M. Dumas," said he, "you are going to write a novel this time yourself."
"Oh, yes," was the ready reply, "I got my valet do the last one, but as it was very successful the scoundrel demanded such an exorbitant rise of wages that to my great regret I have had to part with him."24
On all this subject the last word and the true word has perhaps been spoken by Blaze de Bury, who knew more about it than most people: "Dumas in a way collaborated with every one…. From an anecdote he made a story, from a story he made a romance, from a romance he made a drama; and he never let an idea go until he had extracted from everything that it could yield him. Admit—as the critics will have it—his collaboration, plagiarism, imitation: he possessed himself what no one could give him; and this we know because we have seen what his assistants did when they were working on their own account and separately from him."
Ultimately there is one question to put—Did Dumas need collaborators? The answer is No and Yes. As a matter of talent he did not, as a matter of temperament he did. Just as his imagination was quickened by the sight of places, so the exercise of his mind was made more agreeable by the friction of other minds. His expansive, sympathetic nature sought always communication with his fellows; alone on a desert island he would, we fancy, have pined away, bored even by himself. Indeed he rather resented any reserve in those with whom he came in contact. "Why don't you become my collaborator instead of Maquet?" he said to his son: "it would bring you in a couple of thousand or so per year, and all you would have to do is to raise objections, criticize my proposals, and give me embryo subjects which I would work out without your help."25 No wonder, then, that Dumas not only wrote immensely himself but was the cause of writing in those around him. Thanks partly to the investigations of others, and chiefly to his own confessions, we are able to give chapter and verse in many facts which concern the production of his books. We know how he got this idea or that, we know how he was helped by one or by another, we know a number of like details. But why or how from such materials and with such help so grand an edifice was raised—that remains a mystery. "The wind bloweth where it listeth." It is the same with whatever is great and effective in Nature or in Art: explanations of the process never explain the result.
1. The beginning must be fixed more or less arbitrarily in order to gain the best point for sequence of view. Otherwise it would be possible to start further back. Le Bûtard de Manléon concerns the reigns of John II and Charles V; the reign of Charles VI is treated in Isabelle de Bavière; that of Francis I in the semi-historic Ascanio.
2. In regard to these two companion books it should be stated that Maquet had no part in either; the first of them was, according to Parran, mainly the work of Paul Meurice.
3. So far as Dumas is concerned, Maquet's two novels, La Belle Gabrielle and La Maison du Baigneur to some extent fill this gap. Dumas himself treated the period later on in his studies of Henri IV and Louis XIII.
4. Or in the more handy and corrected abridgment, D'Artagnan, by Eugéne d'Auriac. Paris, 1846.
5. Such as the Memoirs of La Porte, of Tallemant des Réaux, and of Madame de la Fayette. A useful collection of all such documents, by Petitot, had recently been published (1829).
6. One of D'Artagnan's dealings with Milady might better perhaps have been omitted for this reason. Was it, one wonders, from squeamishness or from a patriotic dislike to see his hero worsted by the Englishwoman, that Dumas did not quote a certain letter attributed to Milady by Madame de la Fayette which was reported to run as follows: "(Elle lui répondit) que son nez l'incommoderait trop dans son lit, pour qu'il lui fût possible d'y demeurer ensemble"?
7. Maquet however wrote Le Comte de Lavernie as a connecting link between Le Vicomte de Bragelonne and Le Chevalier d'Harmental.
8. Dumas himself has treated it in other works not professedly "romances," e.g. Louis XV et sa Cour, and the Mémoires d'une Aveugle (Ma- dame du Deffand), with its sequel, Les Confessions de la Marquise; also in his novel Olympe de Clèves, which might be called (like Ascanio) semi-historical, since—though the story of the actress-heroine is fictitious—a great many historical figures come in—Louis XV, Cardinal Fleury, Marshal Richelieu, etc.
9. Here is a characteristic one: "I was travelling in Burgundy in 1848 with my daughter. In the same carriage with us there happened to be a very charming lady of thirty or so. It was eleven o'clock at night, and in the course of conversation this lady mentioned that she had never in her life been able to sleep while travelling in a coach. I made no remark, but exercised my will upon her, and ten minutes later not only was she asleep but her head was resting on my shoulder. I then woke her up: she was equally astonished at having fallen asleep and at the position she had chosen in doing so."
There is no end to the bonnes fortunes—real or imaginary—of Dumas. À propos of his hypnotic powers he once told a story (according to an article of reminiscences in La Nouvelle Revue of August, 1899) about a certain Lady H., over whom his magnetic influence was so extraordinary that, on merely thinking how much he would like to see her, he presently observed her entering his room attracted by the suggestion. The rest of the story reads better in French. "Elle semblait endormie. En galant homme je la reconduisis chez elle, trois nuits de suite, en lui faisant remarquer que tout a une fin. Et, ma foi! quand elle vint pour la quatrième, je ne la reconduisis plus!"
10. In the novel Lorin dies with Maurice and Géneviève; in the play, by way of a happier ending, he secures their escape and remains to forfeit his own life.
11.Le vrai Chevalier de Maison Rouge, A. D. J. Gonzze de Rougeville, d'après des documents inédits, par G. Lenôtre (Paris, 1894).
12. We do not take account here of three later-written novels dealing with French history subsequent to the Revolution: Les Compagnons de Jéhu, and its sister book, Les Blancs et les Bleus (covering 1793-1800), and Les Louves de Machecoul (temp. 1832). Though these books are of considerable size, they can hardly otherwise be classed as "great novels."
13.Le Bâtard de Mauléon was refused by the manager of La Presse and appeared in Le Commerce.
14.Galerie des Contemporains Illustrés (vol. v.).
15. With the exception of Quérard, who was sometimes misled, and whose rash conjectures—for they are nothing more—on Dumas are the chief blot on his otherwise excellent bibliographical labours.
16. Whoever wants to see the quality of "Eugéne de Mirecourt" as a biographer should consult the brochure called Confession d'un Biographe, by Mazerolle, who describes the way in which these so-called biographies were compiled. The man who objected to Dumas' "manufactory" kept up an extensive one himself, and employed a number of assistants who were sent about Paris to pick up gossip and scandal concerning the subject of the biography whether in private houses or on the boulevard and in the café. Rien n'était sacré pour un—Jacquot.
17. In the Beauvallon trial at Rouen in 1846, when Dumas appeared as a witness, and being asked by the President what his profession was, said, "Dramatic author I should describe myself were I not in the country of Corneille." To which the judge's well known reply was, "Il y a des degrés."
18. A good example of this is given by Alfred Asseline (in the Indépendance Belge of November 20, 1870), where he tells how when writing his novel L'Enlèvement d'Hélène he found himself in a difficulty and went to Dumas for help. The "master" sat down and wrote the whole chapter for him—it was a description of a duel—to such good effect that when the story appeared every one praised the excellence of this chapter. "Needless to say," adds Asseline, "that Dumas never gave a hint to any one of what he had done, and generously left me to enjoy all the credit."
19. When Dumas had received from Brunswick the nucleus of Mademoiselle de Belleisle he let it lie for two or three years. Brunswick, despairing that anything would ever come of it, said to a friend: ‘I wonder if I shall ever see that 300 francs Dumas promised me for my MS. I wish you would go and ask for the money.’ The friend went, taking with him an order from Brunswick entitling him to receive 300 francs. Thus reminded, Dumas unearthed the MS., and taking the order, he added a cipher to the sum named, signed it and sent it back to Brunswick, authorizing him to receive from the Théâtre Français the first 3,000 francs of author's fees as soon as Mademoiselle de Belleisle should be produced.
20. Speech at the inauguration of the Dumas Monument (November 4, 1883).
21. The only instance of a genuinely puzzling resemblance is the case of Viellot, a secretary who joined Dumas about 1850 and gradually fell into an almost exact imitation of the master's handwriting.
22. The following are the works in which, according to M. Octave Uzanne, Paul Lacroix had most share: Les Mariages du Père Olifus, La Femme au Collier de Velours, Olympe de Clèves, La Tulipe Noire, Isaac Laquedem.
23. The Gazette des Tribunaux of January 20, 1858, and following days contains a long account of the proceedings. It appears that Maquet had, in 1848, made an agreement with Dumas by which he renounced all rights in their joint works in consideration of a payment of 145,000 francs. As only a small portion of this had hitherto been paid, the contention of Maquet's counsel was that the agreement was thereby invalidated; but the Court held otherwise.
24. This sort of anecdote is common enough. Oxford men may recall a story current some twenty-five years ago concerning the famous joint work of Liddell and Scott. The latter, it is known, died long before his partner; henceforth, whenever a mistake—more or less serious—was pointed out in the Dictionary, Liddell (it was said) would exclaim apologetically, "Ah! poor Scott!"
25. Dumas, however, in his Souvenirs Dramatiques (vol. ii.) allows some of the drawbacks of this system: "Of two collaborators one is generally a dupe, and that one is the man of talent. For your collaborator is like a passenger who has embarked on the same ship with you and who gradually reveals to you that he does not know how to swim; you have to keep him afloat when shipwreck comes—thereby running the risk of drowning yourself—and when you reach land he goes about everywhere declaring that without him you would have perished! … Often in a moment of weakness—either from good nature or because your self-love has been flattered—you consent to look at the MS. which some young author presses upon you; when once you have said ‘yes’ to him, you will have no more peace."
Gamaliel Bradford (essay date 1926)
SOURCE: Bradford, Gamaliel. "Alexandre Dumas." In A Naturalist of Souls: Studies in Psychography, pp. 179-205. New York, N.Y.: Houghton Mifflin, 1926.
[In the following essay, Bradford offers an appreciation of Dumas's personal character as well as the character of his writings.]
Mr. Davidson, whose excellent volume on Dumas must be the foundation of any careful study of the subject, dismisses his author with the remark: ‘Except for increasing the already ample means of relaxation, he did nothing to benefit humanity at large.’ Is not this a rather grudging epitaph for the creator of Monte Cristo ? Are the means of relaxation so ample that we can afford to treat La Tour de Nesle and La Reine Margot as alms for oblivion? Would Stevenson have read Le Vicomte de Bragelonne six times, would you or I have read Les Trois Mousquetaires more times than we can count, if other relaxation of an equally delightful order were indeed so easily obtainable? In spite of the flood of historical novels and all other kinds of novels that overwhelmed the nineteenth century, story-tellers like Dumas are not born every day, nor yet every other day.
For he was a story-teller by nature, one who could make a story of anything, one who did make a story of everything, for the joy of his own childlike imagination. ‘I am not like other people. Everything interests me.’ The round oath of a man, the smile of a woman, a dog asleep in the sun, a bird singing in a bush, even a feather floating in the breeze, was enough. Fancy seized it and wove an airy, sunbright web about it, glittering with wit, touched with just a hint of pathos; and as we read, we forget the slightness of the substance in the grace and delicacy of the texture.
It is an odd thing, this national French gift of storytelling, of seeking by instinct the group-effect, as it were, of a set of characters, their composite relations to one another and the development of these relations in dramatic climax. English writers, from Chaucer down, dwell by preference on the individual character, force it only with labor and difficulty into the general framework, from which it constantly escapes in delightful but wholly undramatic human eccentricity. To the French habit of mind, such individuality is excrescent and distasteful. Let the characters develop as fully and freely as the action requires, no more. They are there for the action, not the action for them. Hence, as the English defect is dull diffusion and a chaos of disorder, so the French is loss of human truth in a mad eagerness for forcible situations, that is to say, melodrama.
Even in Hugo, in Balzac, in Flaubert, in Zola, one has an uneasy feeling that melodrama is not too far away. In Dumas it is frankly present always. The situation—something that shall tear the nerves, make the heart leap and the breath stop—for Dumas there lies the true art of dramatist and novelist. And what situations! No one ever had more than he the two great dramatic gifts, which perhaps are only one, the gift of preparation and the gift of climax. ‘Of all dénouements, past, present, and I will say even to come,’ writes Sarcey, ‘that of Antony is the most brilliant, the most startling, the most logical, the most rapid; a stroke of genius.’ Henri III, Richard Darlington, La Tour de Nesle are full of effects scarcely inferior. If one thinks first of the plays, it is only because in them the action is more concentrated than in the novels. But in novel after novel also, there is the same sure instinct of arrangement, the same masterly hand, masterly for obtaining the sort of effect which the author has chiefly in view.
And perhaps the melodrama is not quite all. The creatures are not always mere puppets, wire-pulled, stirring the pulse when they clash together, then forgotten. We hate them sometimes, sometimes love them, sometimes even remember them. Marguerite and Buridan are not wholly unreal in their wild passion. The scene of reconciliation between the Musketeers in the Place Royale has something deeper than mere effect. And these are only two among many. Under all his gift of technique, his love of startling and amazing, the man was not without an eye, a grip on life, above all, a heart that beat widely, with many sorrows and many joys.
Then the style is the style of melodrama, but it is also far more. No one knew better how and when to let loose sharp, stinging, burning shafts of phrase like the final speech of Antony, ‘Elle m'a résisté; je l'ai assassinée,’—shafts which flew over the footlights straight to the heart of every auditor. But these effects would be nothing without the varied movement of narration, the ease, the lightness, the grace—above all, the perpetual wit, the play of delicate irony, which saves sentiment from being sentimental and erudition from being dull.
Dumas's style has been much abused, and in some ways deserves it. Mr. Saintsbury considers that the plays have ‘but little value as literature properly so-called,’ and that ‘the style of the novels is not more remarkable as such than that of the dramas.’ But how far more discerning and sympathetic is Stevenson's characterization of it: ‘Light as a whipped trifle, strong as silk; wordy like a village tale; pat like a general's despatch; with every fault, yet never tedious; with no merit, yet inimitably right.’ As for dialogue—that subtlest test of the novelist's genius—which neither Balzac, nor Flaubert, nor Zola could manage with flexibility or ease, Dumas may have used it to excess, but who has ever carried it to greater perfection? In M. Lemaître's excellent, if somewhat cynical, phrase, Dumas's dialogue has ‘the wonderful quality of stringing out the narrative to the crack of doom and at the same time making it appear to move with headlong rapidity.’ But let it string out, so it moves. And surely Dumas's conversations do move, as no others ever have.
In the hurry of modern reading, few people have time to get at Dumas in any but his best-known works. Yet to form a complete idea of his powers, one must take a much wider survey. All periods, all nations, all regions of the earth, came at one time or another under his pen. Of course this means an inevitable superficiality and inaccuracy. But one overlooks these defects, is hardly aware of them, in the ease, the spirit, the unfailing humanness of the narrative. Take a minor story like L'Isle de Feu, dealing with the Dutch in Java and with the habits and superstitions of the natives, snake-charming, spirit-haunting, etc. Everywhere there is movement, life, character, the wit of the Impressions de Voyage, the passion of La Reine Margot. And if Dumas does not quite anticipate the seductive melancholy of Loti's tropics, he gives hints of it which are really wonderful for a man who had never been south of latitude thirty.
Perhaps, outside of the historical novels, we may select four very different books as most typical of Dumas's great variety of production. First, in Conscience l'Innocent, we have a simple idyllic subject, recalling George Sand's country stories: peasant life, rural scenes, sweet pictures of Dumas's own village home at Villers-Cotterets, which he introduced into so many of his writings. Second, in the immense canvas of Salvator, too little appreciated, we have a picture of contemporary conditions, the Paris of Sue and Hugo, treated with a vividness far beyond Sue and a dramatic power which Hugo never could command. Third, comes the incomplete Isaac Laquedem, the vast Odyssey of the Wandering Jew, in which the author planned to develop epically the whole history of the world, though the censorship allowed him to get no further than the small Biblical portion of it. Few of Dumas's books illustrate better the really soaring sweep of his imagination, and not many have a larger share of his esprit. Lastly, there is Monte Cristo, which, on the whole, remains, doubtless, the best example of what Dumas could do without history to support him. ‘Pure melodrama,’ some will say; in a sense, truly. Yet, as compared with the melodrama of, for instance, Armadale and The Woman in White, there is a certain largeness, a somber grandeur, about the vengeance of Dantès which goes almost far enough to lift the book out of the realm of melodrama, and into that of tragedy. And then there is the wit!
But it is on historical romance, whether in drama or fiction, that Dumas's popularity must chiefly rest. He himself felt it would be so, hoped it would be so; and his numerous references to the matter, if amusing, are also extremely interesting. He speaks of his series of historical novels as ‘immense pictures we have undertaken to unroll before the eyes of our readers, in which, if our genius equalled our good will, we would introduce all classes of men from the beggar to the king, from Caliban to Ariel.’ And again: ‘Balzac has written a great work entitled "The Human Comedy." Our work, begun at the same time, may be entitled "The Drama of France."’ He hopes that his labors will be profitable as well as amusing: ‘We intentionally say "instruct" first, for amusement with us is only a mask for instruction…. Concerning the last five centuries and a half we have taught France more history than any historian.’ And when some one gently insinuates that from a purely historical point of view his work cannot stand with the highest, he replies with his usual charming humor, ‘It is the unreadable histories that make a stir; they are like dinners you can't digest; digestible dinners give you no cause to think about them on the next day.’
After all, humor apart, we must recognize the justice of Dumas's claim; and the enduring life and perpetual revival of the historical novel go far to support it. Mankind in general do love to hear about Henry IV, Richelieu, and the Stuarts, about Washington and Lincoln and Napoleon, and in hearing they do learn, even against their will. Pedants shake their heads. This birth-date is incorrect. That victory was not a victory at all. When Dr. Dryasdust has given the slow labor of a lifetime to disentangling fact from fiction, how wicked to mislead the ignorant by wantonly developing fiction out of fact! As if Dr. Dryasdust really knew fact from fiction! As if the higher spiritual facts were not altogether beyond his ken and his researches! As if any two pedants agreed! Take the central fact of history, the point from which everything of importance and interest emanates—human character, the human soul. What pedant can reach it, can analyse it with his finest microscope? Napoleon was born on such a day, died on such a day, this he did, that he did. But was he in any sense patriotic, an idealist, a lover of France? Was he a suspicious, jealous, lascivious tyrant? Was he sometimes one, sometimes the other? State documents and gossiping memoirs give no final answer to these questions, only hints and cloudy indications bearing upon them, from which the genius of the historian must sketch a figure for itself. Therefore, as many historians, so many Napoleons, and in the end my Napoleon, your Napoleon. If so, why not Alexandre Dumas's Napoleon, said Dumas, having perhaps as much faculty of imaginative divination as you or I, or even as several historians whom we will not mention.
In fact, Dumas has undoubtedly taught the history of France to thousands who would otherwise have had little concern with it. And his characters live. Catherine de' Medici and her sons, Louis XIV, Mazarin, the Duc de Richelieu, Marie Antoinette—we know them as we know people whom we meet every day: in one sense, perhaps not at all; but in another sense, intimately. Great actions call for a large background, which should be handled with the wide sweep of the scene-painter, not with the curious minuteness of the artist in miniatures. The very abundance of these characters, the vastness of the canvas, help the reality, and in this matter of amplitude Dumas and Scott show their genius, and triumph over the petty concentration of later imitators. Nor are the characters wholly or mainly of Dumas's own invention less vivid than those historical; for Dumas learned from Scott the cardinal secret of historical romance, which Shakespeare did not grasp, that the action of the story should turn, not on real personages, but on fictitious heroes and heroines, whose fortunes can be moulded freely for a dramatic purpose. Dumas himself says somewhere that people complain of the length of his novels, yet that the longest have been the most popular and the most successful. It is so. We can wander for days in the vast galleries of the Reine Margot series, charmed with the gallantry of La Mole, the vivacity of Coconnas, the bravado of Bussy, above all, the inimitable wit and shrewdness of Chicot, who surely comes next to d'Artagnan among all Dumas's literary children. And d'Artagnan—what a broad country he inhabits! How lovely to lose one's self there in long winter evenings, meeting at every turn a saucy face or a gay gesture or a keen flash of sword that makes one forget the passage of time. ‘I never had a care that a half-hour's reading would not dissipate,’ said Montesquieu. Fortunate man! How few of us resemble him! But if a half-hour's reading of anything would work such a miracle, surely a novel of Dumas would do it.
As for the man himself, he happily created such characters as d'Artagnan and Chicot because he resembled them, and was in his own person as picturesque a figure as any that talks passion in his plays, or wit in the endless pages of his novels. I do not know that he had ever read Milton's oracular saying that he who would be a great poet should make his life a true poem; but, in any case, he pointed it aptly by showing that the best way to write romantic novels is to make a romantic novel of your own career. Born in 1802, in the most stirring period of French history, one quarter African by blood, he worked his way upward from bitter poverty and insignificance to sudden glory and considerable wealth. Ambitious for political as well as literary success he took a more or less active part in the various commotions of the second quarter of the century, so that he was able to say of himself with some truth and immense satisfaction, ‘I have touched the left hand of princes, the right hand of artists and literary celebrities, and have come in contact with all phases of life.’
A great traveler, a great hunter, he had innumerable adventures by flood and field. Quick in emotion and quicker in speech, he made friends everywhere and some enemies. Peculiarly sensitive to the charms and caresses of women, he had no end of love-affairs, all more or less discreditable. Thoughtless, careless, full of wit, full of laughter, he traveled the primrose way, plucking kisses like spring blossoms, wrapping his cloak more tightly round him when he ran into winter storms of envy, jealousy, and mocking. What wealth he had he squandered, what glory, he frittered away. And as he was born in a whirlwind of French triumph, so he died, in 1870, in a wilder whirlwind of French ruin and despair.
The man's life was, indeed, a novel; and in writing his Memoirs he dressed it out as such, heightening, coloring, enriching the golden web of memory, as only he knew how to do; so that I am almost ready to call these same memoirs the best of his works, even with Les Trois Mousquetaires and La Tour de Nesle in fresh remembrance. Such variety and vivacity of anecdote, such vivid, shifting portraiture of characters, such quick reality of incident, such wit always. But the best of it, unquestionably, is not Talma, nor Dorval, nor Hugo, nor the Duke of Orleans, but just Alexandre Dumas. It is said that once, when a friend asked him how he had enjoyed a party, Dumas replied, ‘I should have been horribly bored, if it hadn't been for myself.’ Readers of the Memoirs will easily understand how other society might have seemed dull in comparison.
From all the tangled mass of anecdote and laughter let us try to gather one or two definite lines of portraiture for the better understanding of this singular personage, ‘one of the forces of nature,’ as Michelet called him in a phrase which Dumas loved to repeat.
And to begin with the beginning. Did the creator of Buridan and Chicot have a religion, did he trouble himself with abstract ideas? You smile; and certainly he did not trouble his readers very much with these things. Yet in his own opinion he was a thinker, and a rather deep one. Read, in the preface to Caligula, how the public received with awe ‘this rushing torrent of thought, which appeared to it perhaps new and daring, but solemn and chaste; and then withdrew, with bowed head, like a man who has at last found the solution of a problem which has vexed him during many sleepless nights.’
In his turbulent youth the author of Antony was a disbeliever, as became a brother of Byron and Musset; ‘there are moments when I would give thee up my soul, if I believed I had one.’ But in later years he settled down to the soberer view which appears in the dedication of ‘La Conscience’ to Hugo: ‘in testimony of a friendship which has survived exile and will, I hope, survive death. I believe in the immortality of the soul.’ And again and again he testified to the power of his early religious training, which ‘left upon all my beliefs, upon all my opinions, so profound an impression that even today I cannot enter a church without taking the holy water, cannot pass a crucifix without making the sign of the cross.’ Nor do these emotions spring from mere religiosity, but from an astonishingly, not to say crudely, definite form of belief: ‘I know not what my merit has been, whether in this world or in the other worlds I may have inhabited before; but God has shown me especial favors and in all the critical situations in which I have found myself, he has come visibly to my assistance. Therefore, O God, I confess thy name openly and humbly before all skeptics and before all believers.’ What revivalist of to-day could speak with more fervor? If only one did not suspect a bit of the irony that shows more clearly in the conversation with his old teacher, whose prayers Dumas had requested. ‘My prayers?’ said the abbé. ‘You don't believe in them.’—‘No, I don't always believe in them. That is very true; but don't worry: when I need them I will believe in them.’ On the strength of that remark we might almost call Dumas the inventor of Pragmatism before Professor James.
And the irony is rooted in a truth of character. Dumas was a man of this world. He might dream of the other at odd moments, in vague curiosity; but by temperament he was a frank pagan, an eater, a laugher, a lover, a fighter, gorgeously in words, not wholly ineffectively in deeds, even after we have made the necessary discount from his own version of his exploits. He had inherited something of his father's magnificent physique and something of his father's courage. When he tells us that ‘since I arrived at manhood, whenever danger has presented itself, by night or by day, I have always walked straight up to danger,’ we believe him—with the discount aforesaid; and we believe him all the more, because like every brave man, he does not hesitate to confess fear. ‘It was the first time I had heard the noise of grapeshot, and I say frankly that I will not believe any one who tells me that he heard that noise for the first time without perturbation.’
In truth, the religion, the courage, the fear—all, and everything else in the man, were a matter of impulse, of immediate emotion. He was quite aware of this himself. When he proposed his Vendée mission to Lafayette, the latter said to him, ‘Have you reflected on what this means?’—‘As much as I am capable of reflecting about anything: I am a man of instinct, not of reflection.’ The extraordinary vanity of which he was justly accused, of which he accuses himself—‘everybody knows the vain side of my character’—was only one phase of this natural impulsiveness. He spoke out what others think—and keep to themselves. Mr. Davidson has admirably noted that in Dumas's case vanity was perfectly compatible with humility. He had no absurdly exaggerated idea of his own powers. But he liked to talk about himself, to be conspicuous, to be the central figure on every stage. The African blood, of which he was not ashamed—‘I am a mulatto,’ he says repeatedly—told in him; the negro childlikeness. He was a child always, above all childlike in this matter of vanity. Readers of Tom Sawyer will remember that that delightful youth, on hearing the beatific vision of Isaiah, which pictures such a varied menagerie dwelling in harmony, with a little child to lead them, had one absorbing wish: that he might be that child. Dumas was precisely like Tom Sawyer; witness this delightful prayer of his youth: ‘Make me great and glorious, O Lord, that I may come nearer unto thee. And the more glorious thou makest me, the more humbly will I confess thy name, thy majesty, thy splendor.’
The same childlike temper, the fresh, animal instincts of a great boy, explain, if they do not excuse, the disorders of Dumas's life.
In this connection it is hardly necessary to do more than to point out his hopeless aberration from all Anglo-Saxon standards of propriety and decency. It would be easy to lash such aberration, but it is perhaps better to consider it in connection with the man's character as a whole, and to remember that his life was as far as possible from being a generally idle or dissipated one. He never smoked, cherishing, in fact, a grudge against tobacco, which he regarded as an enemy to true sociability. He was moderate in eating and drinking. Above all, he was an enormous worker. No man essentially vicious, no man who had not a large fund of temperance and self-control, could have produced a tithe of Dumas's legacy to posterity. But what is most interesting of all in this matter of morals is Dumas's entire satisfaction with himself. I doubt if any other human being would deliberately have ventured on a statement so remarkable as the following: ‘When the hand of the Lord closes the two horizons of my life, letting fall the veil of his love between the nothingness that precedes and the nothingness that follows the life of man, he may examine the intermediate space with his most rigorous scrutiny, he will not find there one single evil thought or one action for which I feel that I should reproach myself.’ Comment on this would only dim its splendor. Yet people say that the Memoirs of Dumas lack interest as human documents! He was an atrocious hypocrite, then, you think? Not the least in the world. Simply a child, always a child.
A child in money matters also. No one could accuse him of deliberate financial dishonesty; but to beg and borrow and never to pay was the normal condition of things. To promise right and left when cash was needed, then to find one's self entirely unable to fulfil one's promises—still childlike. Only, persons of that childlike temper, who have not genius, are apt to end badly. And then, after all, to write in cold blood that one has never had a single action to reproach one's self with! I trust the reader appreciates that passage as I do.
And if the child lacked a sense of money property, how should he be likely to have a sense of property in literature? Shakespeare, Schiller, dozens of others, had had ideas which were useful. Why not use them? A few persons had previously written on the history of France. Distinguished historical characters had left memoirs describing their own achievements. It would have been almost disrespectful to neglect the valuable material thus afforded. Let us quote the histories and borrow from the memoirs. As for mentioning any little indebtedness, life is not long enough for that. We make bold to think that what we invent is quite as good as what we take from others. So it is—far better. A careful comparison of Les Trois Mousquetaires with the original d'Artagnan Memoirs increases rather than diminishes one's admiration for the author of the novel.
But it will be said, even after borrowing his material, Dumas could not write this same novel without the assistance of a certain Maquet. Again the same childlike looseness in the sense of property. Could a genius be expected to write three hundred1 volumes without helpers for the rough work? He must have hodmen to fetch bricks and mortar. And perhaps the builder, hurried and overdriven, may set the hodmen to lay a bit of wall here and there, may come to leave altogether too much to hodmen so that the work suffers for it. What matter? Had ever any Maquet or Gaillardet or Meurice, writing by himself, the Dumas touch? As Mr. Lang justly points out, no collaborator has been suggested for the Memoirs and I have already said that the Memoirs belong, in many respects, to Dumas's best, most characteristic work.
Then, a child is as ready to give as to take. So was Dumas. In money matters it goes without saying. He was always ready to give, to give to everybody everything he had, and even everything he had not and some one else had. ‘Nature had already put in my heart,’ he says of his childhood, ‘that fountain of general kindliness through which flows away and will flow away, everything I had, everything I have, and everything I ever shall have.’ But it was not only money, it was time and thought, labor and many steps. This same fountain of general kindliness was always at the service even of strangers. For instance, Dumas himself tells us that, happening once to be in a seaport town, he found a young couple just sailing for the islands and very desolate. He set himself to cheer them up, and his efforts were so well received that he could not find it in his heart to leave them, though pressing business called him away. He went on board ship with them, and only returned on the pilot boat, in the midst of a gale and at the peril of his life, so says the story. Even in the matter of literary collaboration, Mr. Davidson justly points out that Dumas gave as well as took, and that the list of his debtors is longer than that of his creditors.
And in the highest generosity, that of sympathy and appreciation for fellow workers, the absence of envy and meanness in rivalry, Dumas is nobly abundant. He tells us so himself, not having the habit of concealing his virtues: ‘Having arrived at the summit which every man finds in the middle of life's journey, I ask nothing, I desire nothing, I envy nothing, I have many friendships and not one single hatred.’ More reliable evidence lies in the general tone of enthusiasm and admiration with which he speaks of all his contemporaries. Musset avoided him, Balzac insulted him; yet he refers to both with hearty praise very different from the damning commendations of the envious Sainte-Beuve. Lamartine and Hugo he eulogizes with lavish freedom, not only in the often-quoted remark, ‘Hugo is a thinker, Lamartine a dreamer, and I am a popularizer’—a remark more generous than discriminating—but in innumerable passages which leave no possible doubt of his humility and sincerity. ‘Style was what I lacked above everything else. If you had asked me for ten years of my life, promising in exchange that one day I should attain the expression of Hugo's ‘Marion Delorme,’ I should not have hesitated, I should have given them instantly.’
These things make Dumas attractive, lovable even, as few French writers are lovable. With all his faults he has something of the personal charm of Scott. Only something, however; for Scott, no whit less generous, less kindly, had the sanity, the stability, the moral character, why avoid the word? which Dumas had not. And in comparing their works—a comparison which suggests itself almost inevitably; ‘Scott, the grandfather of us all,’ said Dumas himself—this difference of morals strikes us even more than the important differences of style and handling of character. It is the immortal merit of Scott that he wrote novels of love and adventure as manly, as virile, as heart can wish, yet absolutely pure.
Now, Dumas has the grave disadvantage of not knowing what morals—sexual morals—are. Listen to him: ‘Of the six hundred volumes (1848) that I have writ- ten, there are not four which the hand of the most scrupulous mother need conceal from her daughter.’ The reader who knows Dumas only in Les Trois Mousquetaires will wonder by what fortunate chance he has happened on two volumes out of those ‘not four.’ But he may reassure himself. There are others of the six hundred which, to use the modern French perversion, more effective untranslated, the daughter will not recommend to her mother. The truth is, Dumas's innocence is worse than, say, Maupassant's sophistication. To the author of La Reine Margot love, so called, is all, the excuse, the justification, for everything. Marriage—ça n'existe pas; Dumas knew all about it. He was married himself for a few months—at the king's urgent suggestion. Then he recommended the lady to the ambassador at Florence with a most polite note, and she disappeared from his too flowery career. Therefore, Dumas begins his love-stories where Scott's end, and the delicate refinement, the pure womanly freedom of Jeannie Deans and Diana Vernon, is missing in the Frenchman's young ladies, who all either wish to be in a nunnery or ought to be.
The comparison with Scott suggests another with a greater than Scott; and like Scott, Dumas did not object to being compared with Shakespeare, who, by the way, has never been more nobly praised in a brief sentence than in Dumas's saying that ‘he was the greatest of all creators after God.’ There are striking resemblances between the two writers. Shakespeare began in poverty, lived among theatrical people, made a fortune by the theater. Only, being a thrifty English bourgeois, he put the fortune into his own pocket instead of into others'. Shakespeare made a continuous show of English history and bade the world attend it. Shakespeare begged, borrowed, and stole from dead and living, so that his contemporaries spoke of his
‘Tiger's heart wrapped in a player's hide.’
Doubtless Maquet and Gaillardet would have been willing to apply the phrase to their celebrated collaborator. Thus far the comparison works well enough. But Shakespeare had a style which was beyond even that of ‘Marion Delorme.’ And then, Shakespeare felt and thought as a man, not as a child; his brain and his heart carried the weight of the world.
What will be the future of Dumas? Will his work pass, as other novels of romantic adventure have passed? Three hundred years ago idle women—and men—read ‘Amadis de Gaul’ and the like, with passion. Says the waiting-woman in Massinger's Guardian:
‘In all the books of Amadis de Gaul
The Palmerins and that true Spanish story,
The Mirror of Knighthood, which I have read often,
Read feelingly, nay, more, I do believe in't,
My lady has no parallel.’
Where are Amadis and the Palmerins now? Two hundred years ago the same persons read with the same passion the novels of Scudéry and La Calprenède. ‘At noon home,’ says Mr. Pepys, ‘where I find my wife troubled still at my checking her last night in the coach in her long stories out of Grand Cyrus, which she would tell, though nothing to the purpose, nor in any good manner.’ And hear Madame de Sévigné on Cléopatre: ‘The style of La Calprenède is abominable in a thousand places: long sentences in the full-blown, romantic fashion, ill-chosen words—I am perfectly aware of it. Yet it holds me like glue. The beauty of the sentiments, the violent passions, the great scale on which everything takes place and the miraculous success of the hero's redoubtable sword—it carries me away, as if I were a young girl.’ Le succès miraculeux de leur redoutable épée; if one tried a thousand times, could one express more precisely and concisely one's feelings about Les Trois Mousquetaires ? Yet Grand Cyrus is dead, and Cléopatre utterly forgotten. No bright-eyed girl asks for them in any circulating library any more.
Shall d'Artagnan, ‘dear d'Artagnan,’ as Stevenson justly calls him—‘I do not say that there is no character so well drawn in Shakespeare; I do say that there is none I love so wholly’—d'Artagnan, whose redoutable épée makes such delightful havoc among the nameless canaille, whose more redoubtable wit sets kings and queens and dukes and cardinals at odds and brings them to peace again—shall d'Artagnan, too, die and be forgotten? The thought is enough to make one close Le Vicomte de Bragelonne in the middle and fall a-dreaming on the flight of time and the changes of the world. And one says to one's self that one would like to live two or three centuries for many reasons, but not least, to read stories so absorbing that they will make one indifferent to the adventures of d'Artagnan.
1. Perhaps it would be well to explain the different numerical estimates of Dumas's works. As now published in the Lévy collection they fill about three hundred volumes, but in their original form they ran to twelve hundred, more or less.
Richard S. Stowe (essay date 1976)
SOURCE: Stowe, Richard S. "Other Fiction." In Alexandre Dumas (père), pp. 127-34. Boston, Mass.: Twayne, 1976.
[In the following essay, Stowe presents an overview of some of Dumas's lesser-known works of fiction, including Georges, Les Frères corses, and the Villers-Cotterêts novels.]
The first impression received from a survey of Dumas's other nonhistorical fiction is of its variety. The high-spirited Le Capitaine Pamphile (1839) combines pirates, Huron Indians, and exotic animals with happy results. A year before that book Dumas had published his first contemporary novel, La Salle d'armes —actually a pair of short novels of which the more memorable is the first, Pauline. A moving tale filled with Romantic antitheses, it is the story of a young woman in love with a man who turns out to be a thief and murderer. Amaury (1844) is another love story, while L'Histoire d'un Casse-Noisette (1845) is an adaptation from E. T. A. Hoffmann, the source of Tschaikovsky's ballet The Nutcracker. Hoffman is the hero of La Femme au Collier de velours (The Woman with the Velvet Necklace ), perhaps Dumas's most successful venture into the literature of the occult. This is an eerie mingling of dream and reality, a story of Hoffmann's love for a dancer that is completely in the vein of such tales by the German master as Don Juan or the three used by Offenbach in his opera. Dumas says that the story was first told to him by Nodier; the papers of Paul Lacroix left to the Arsenal Library show that he too at least had a hand in drawing up Dumas's scenario for it;1 but the writing is emphatically Dumas near his best. Originally published alone (1851), it is now usually included with the macabre tales of vampires and severed heads that Dumas issued in 1849-50 under the collective title Les Mille et un Fantômes (The Thousand and One Phantoms ), stories in which the occult merges with the terror and horror of the Gothic novel. A different kind of tale of Germanic origin is Othon l'Archer, a version of the legend opera-lovers will recognize as the source of Wagner's Lohengrin.Isaac Laquedem (1853) is the first and only volume of a projected "epic" novel in twenty-five volumes based on the legend of the Wandering Jew. This book recounts the story of Jesus; censorship forced abandonment of the rest of the series. Le Père la Ruine (1860), a somber story of Marne fishermen told with moving simplicity and sobriety, may well be Dumas's most sustained tragic work.
The list could go on but the point, we trust, is made. Among the many and varied works that compose Dumas's nonhistorical fiction five merit a slightly longer look. All of them may be loosely categorized as romans de moeurs, but each is something more as well.2 The subject of Georges is racial conflict; Les Frères corses is an absorbing psychological study with supernatural overtones; Conscience l'Innocent, Catherine Blum, and Le Meneur de loups —along with parts of Ange Pitou —constitute Dumas's fictional tribute to the town and region of his birth.
Georges appeared in 1843, just the year before Les Trois Mousquetaires, and perhaps partly for that reason has tended to remain less known and less read than it deserves to be. Not ranking among Dumas's masterpieces, it is nonetheless a solid, well-written book. Of particular interest today because of its subject matter, it offers typical Dumasian appeal also in its exotic setting and adventurous story.
Georges Munier, the hero, is one of two sons of Pierre Munier, a wealthy mulatto planter of the Isle of France—an island east of Madagascar known today as Mauritius. Despite his wealth and personal qualities, Pierre Munier had decided he could best live vis-à-vis the white ruling class of the island by complete subservience: "his entire life was spent apologizing for his birth." His sons were sent to Europe to school in 1810, not to return for fourteen years. Though only twelve when he left, the sensitive Georges had already borne all the affronts he could from the whites—in particular young Henri de Malmédie—and determined that, unlike his father, he would devote his life to a "war to the death against prejudice." To that end he spent his years in Paris and London developing his mental, moral, and physical capacities to the maximum, especially his force of will and self-control. Following his formal education, Georges travelled extensively in Greece and the Near East and won the crosses of the Légion d'Honneur and of Charles III of Spain for his bravery in the battle of Trocadero. His brother had a different kind of life, going to sea and eventually becoming a slave trader: "Indeed, by a strange coincidence, chance brought together in one family the man who had spent his life bowed down under the prejudice of color, the man who made his fortune by exploiting it, and the man who was ready to risk his life to fight it."
After his return Georges falls in love with Sara de Malmédie, cousin and fiancée of his enemy Henri, and she is drawn to him. When Georges, who has thus far remained incognito, reveals his identity at the English governor's ball, Sara alone among the creoles there remains sympathetic. Georges determines to win her; he goes through the formality of asking for her hand, but is neither surprised nor dissuaded by her uncle's refusal. Georges is asked by Laïza, a slave he has freed, to serve as leader of an uprising of the slaves. When he learns that Henri de Malmédie, whom he has deliberately insulted, refuses to fight a duel with him, a mulatto, Georges agrees to Laïza's request but is tricked and imprisoned by the governor.
The uprising fails for lack of a leader and because the English forestall it by lighting the city and leaving barrels of liquor about to tempt the invading blacks. Georges escapes from prison and joins the few hundred blacks who are fighting the English, but the cause is lost. Recaptured and condemned to death by the English, in another coup de théâtre Georges escapes again, with Sara, to his brother's boat. A sea chase ensues and battle is engaged, but the English are defeated and the governor goes down with his ship.
It is difficult to read this novel without feeling that in it Dumas, like his hero, is fighting a prejudice. Because the prejudice is one that Dumas himself occasionally encountered, more than one commentator has identified Dumas with Georges. J.-H. Bornecque, for example,3 sees Georges as an anticipation of Edmond Dantès both as superman and as the author's vicarious instrument of vengeance against a mediocre or rejecting society. One would be reluctant to go farther than this, if even this far, since Dumas's life is manifestly so different from that of his character. Unquestionably he experienced slights and insults—some of the worst being found in Mirecourt's pamphlet—but there is little evidence to suggest that he was deeply wounded by them, even less to suggest that he brooded over them. Certainly he never experienced the kind of ostracism and rejection of which Georges was a victim. In a cogent essay, "Dumas et les Noirs," ("Dumas and the Blacks"), Léon-François Hoffmann4 reminds readers that, unlike Georges, Dumas was readily accepted in all circles in which he moved—indeed adulated in many—and that in the memoirs and in his letters he gives no hint of defensiveness or sensitivity about his lineage. Correspondingly, Hoffmann adds, he does not seem to find it a matter for special pride either; he does not even state in his memoirs that the grandmother whose name he bore was black. Though Dumas in all probability expressed his honest convictions about racial prejudice in Georges, it seems at the very least unlikely that the book was a deeply felt crusade or personal vindication.
Hoffmann points out another aspect of the book that emerges with careful reading: it is not a "black" novel in the usual sense of the word. The hero is a mulatto, and the prejudice he fights is quite clearly that directed against his mixed blood. Georges and his father both own black slaves5 and Jacques, the slave trader, is depicted as breaking the law but by no means as a reprehensible person. Indeed, slavery as an institution does not seem to be seriously questioned, and Dumas seems more attracted by the paradoxical contrast of views within the Munier family than moved to support or denounce any of them. Further, except for Laïza and his brother the blacks in the book are shown as inferior beings. It is not by accident that Pierre Munier's intelligence and other fine qualities shine forth when he is in the company of blacks—as opposed to the whites who force him automatically into his self-deprecatory role—or that the slaves planning a revolt should look to Georges for the leadership they apparently could not find in their own numbers. If Dumas's life offers little support for theories that his novel is a calculated attack on anti-black prejudice in the nineteenth century, the novel suggests that he tended to share rather than to challenge his century's views.
In the light of the foregoing one may argue that for Dumas slavery or the status of the black man (or even the mulatto) as such was not at issue in this book. George's mixed blood, rather, appears exactly comparable to Antony's illegitimacy or Kean's profession: it is the pretext for a prejudice that keeps a superior man from participating in society. Georges joins the company of outcast Romantic heroes, exceptional individuals barred from their due by the laws, conventions, or prejudices of men less gifted than they. Dumas does not deny the reality of the injustice; he deplores it. But as was true in Antony, his approach is from the standpoint of the specific individual in the concrete situation rather than on the level of principle.
II. Les Frères Corses
The Corsican Brothers is a brief work, scarcely more than a long short story. It is cast in the form of the anecdotes in the Impressions de voyage and is narrated throughout in the first person by Dumas, who consequently plays a small role. The other characters were also real people, whom Dumas met on a visit to Corsica6 and in Paris on his return.
The story is a simple one that falls naturally into two parts. In Corsica Dumas is lodged in the home of the de Franchi family, in the room of Louis de Franchi, one of his hostess's twin sons. The other son, Lucien, shows him around the house and village (Sullacaro), and tells how his parents had ended a vendetta of many years by simultaneously killing—in different places—the last two members of the enemy family. In the course of conversation Lucien describes the almost telepathic communication that exists between him and Louis, though Louis has chosen to settle in Paris and "be French" while Lucien has vowed to remain always Corsican. Reference is also made to Louis's lack of skill with a pistol in contrast to Lucien's expertise. During his visit Dumas witnesses the peaceful settlement of a vendetta between two families in which Lucien, almost annoyed with himself for doing it, serves as arbiter. When Dumas returns to Paris he takes with him a letter of introduction to Louis de Franchi.
Back in Paris Dumas establishes contact with Louis, for whom he soon finds himself serving as second in a duel with a young man named Château-Renaud.7 Before the duel Louis writes a letter to his mother telling her he is dying of a brain fever, and informs Dumas that the ghost of his father had visited him during the night and told him he would die at 9:10 A.M. Mortally wounded in the duel, it is precisely at that time that Louis dies.
About five days later Lucien arrives in Paris, having seen his brother in a vision or dream the night before his death. He also says he knows the rest of what happened and has come, with his mother's blessing, to avenge Louis's death. Château-Renaud accepts Lucien's terms for a duel at the same place and with the same weapons. Lucien remains utterly calm, kills Château-Renaud as he predicted he would, then throws himself into Dumas's arms, weeping for the first time in his life.
The first thing that strikes the reader of this tale is the simplicity and economy of its telling, qualities not often held to be Dumas's forte. It lacks the controlled spareness of Mérimée's Corsican stories, but Dumas has found and maintained exactly the right tone for himself. Descriptions are vivid, characters and atmosphere are sketched with precision and force; there is scarcely a superfluous detail or word, and the action moves smoothly and relentlessly to its climax. Nothing is overstated, nothing distracts from unity or mood.
It is this straightforwardness and restraint that help Dumas to make the supernatural elements so convincing. They are, quite simply, there; and the reader accepts them with no need for explanation or justification. Unlike the spectacular display of Joseph Balsamo's powers, these visions—or ghostly visits, who is to say?—somehow do not strain the credulity or clash with the sober realism of their context. Similarly, the very simplicity of the characters lends them a moving nobility that enlarges their humanity as it deepens the meaning of the tale.
III. The Villers-Cotterêts Novels
"And, in point of fact, was it not in Villers-Cotterêts that I really and truly lived, since it was there that I waited for life?" So wrote Dumas in Chapter I of Catherine Blum. The affection he always felt for his native town, so apparent in even the most incidental allusions, overflowed in the 1850's in the series of novels Dumas based on recollections of his childhood and youth. The writing and publication of his memoirs occupied the first half of that decade and doubtless stimulated his memory, for the links between these novels and Mes Mémoires are many and close. By coincidence it was during the same period that Dumas wrote Ange Pitou and in that fact surely lies the explanation of its barely disguised transposition from his own life.
The earliest of the group, Conscience l'Innocent, is also the longest. Jean Manscourt received his nickname—the title of the book—because of his simplicity and absolute candor. After a quiet childhood in the village of Haramont, remote from the great events of the Napoleonic era, in 1813 Conscience—just eighteen—is called up for military service. His grandfather, who is dependent on him, tries unsuccessfully to buy a replacement. Knowing that a friend was discharged because of the loss of two fingers, Conscience chops off his right index finger. Accused of trying to avoid service, Conscience unhesitatingly admits his intent but persuades the authorities that he did not do it for himself. He escapes punishment and is taken on as a soldat de train. Eventually drawn into combat anyhow, he is blinded. His childhood sweetheart Mariette secures his release from the hospital in Laon and brings him home. Slowly his sight is regained. In 1815 when Napoleon passes through Villers-Cotterêts en route to Waterloo, Mariette and Conscience are in the throng waiting to greet him. The emperor speaks to them, gives Conscience a croix de guerre and Mariette an apronful of gold.
For about the first three-quarters of its length Conscience l'Innocent maintains a disarming simplicity and charm. Though idealized and sentimental, its de- piction of peasant characters and life is sufficiently realistic and unaffected not to cloy. Conscience especially is well drawn, believable, and appealing despite his alarming perfection of character and fondness for talking to animals and flowers. Unfortunately, midway through the second volume the slight tale becomes unduly drawn out and repetitious and the ending is too contrived to satisfy.
Catherine Blum more successfully balances substance and length, at least partly, perhaps, because Dumas has concentrated all the action in a single day. A final chapter serves as epilogue to inform the reader of the longer-range consequences of the day's events.
Catherine returns to the home of her uncle Guillaume Watrin in Villers-Cotterêts after eighteen months in Paris learning millinery. During her absence she and her cousin Bernard Watrin realize that they love each other, but obstacles arise in their path. Bernard's mother opposes their marriage because Catherine is Protestant (her father was German); Louis Chollet, a Parisian, also seeks Catherine's hand; and a malevolent villager, Mathieu Gogolue, is trying to avenge an insult from Bernard. His plan for vengeance takes the form of a trick to deceive Bernard into thinking that Catherine is having clandestine meetings with Chollet. Mathieu's deception is eventually exposed, Mme Watrin is reconciled to the marriage, and all ends happily.
Like Conscience l'Innocent, Catherine Blum is a story whose chief merit is charm. It is again sentimental but its humor and brevity keep it from being maudlin or overly sweet. Perhaps its most surprising element is the cruelty shown by most of the characters toward the crippled Mathieu. Dumas apparently thought that Mathieu's viciousness was sufficient justification for the others' treatment of him and makes no attempt to excuse or conceal it. A modern reader might well find a major cause of Mathieu's meanness and vindictiveness in the attitudes of the others, and in Dumas's seeming lack of sympathy another example of the kind of acceptance of prevailing views that we observed in Georges.
Le Meneur de loups (The Wolf-Leader ) joins Dumas's affection for his petite patrie to his predilection for tales of the supernatural. The story of a werewolf, it is a legend of the forest of Villers-Cotterêts told to him by old Mocquet, his father's garde. It has all the flavor of ghost stories told around a campfire, complete with the eerie reality of strange events in a familiar setting. Dumas precedes it with a lively account of a real wolf-hunt that prepares the way beautifully by familiarizing the reader with the setting and subtly suggesting the mysteries to be revealed. The story itself is a mingling of local legend and the universal tale of a pact with the devil: the covetous and ambitious young sabotmaker Thibault trades his soul for the fulfillment of his wishes, but reaps only unhappiness as each desire leads to another until the tragic dénouement.
These three novels cannot be ranked among Dumas's important works, but they deserve to be less neglected than they have been—especially Catherine Blum and Le Meneur de loups. Besides their intrinsic attractiveness they reveal a side of Dumas which he himself always took seriously, and they demonstrate his ability to work on an intimate scale at subdued volume. All three are filled with beautiful evocations of nature—especially the forest—and suffused with love for his native corner of France. To read them is to discover a different Dumas and to understand the familiar one in different ways, as he turns from the dazzling colors of history and adventure to the tranquil contemplation of a quieter world that is no less rich for him.
Why should I not love to speak of that immense bower of verdure, where every single object is fraught with memories of the past? I knew everyone and everything there; not only the people of the town, not only the stones of the houses, but even more the trees of the forest…. I will teach you the language of all those old friends of my youth, whether they be living or dead, and you will then understand with what gentle voices they breathe into my ear.8
1. Clouard, p. 244.
2. A further point in common is that all are among the works Dumas wrote without collaborators. The only one whose authorship is disputed at all is Georges. Mirecourt asserted that it had been written by Félicien Mallefille, but Dumas insisted that it was his own and there is little reason to doubt his word.
3. Bornecque, preface to Monte-Cristo (Garnier), pp. lxii ff.
4. Léon-François Hoffmann, introduction to his edition of Georges (Paris: Gallimard, Collection Folio, 1974).
5. Dumas's father too had a black servant, though obviously not a slave; cf. Mes Mémoires, Chap- ter XVI, and Chapter 2 of Le Meneur de loups. A black servant accompanied Dumas on his trip to Spain (Cf. De Paris à Cadix, Chapter 2 and passim).
6. Clouard (p. 242) places Dumas's trip to Corsica in 1842, during his travels with Prince Napoleon. In the story Dumas specifies the date as early March, 1841.
7. Dumas gives the same name to one of the young dandies in the circle of Albert de Morcerf in Le Comte de Monte-Cristo.
8. "Prologue" (Chapter I) to Catherine Blum.
The standard edition of Dumas is the Oeuvres complètes in 301 volumes published by Michel Lévy, later Calmann-Lévy, beginning in 1851. Unfortunately this edition is considerably less than definitive or really complete; it is unannotated and many volumes are exceedingly difficult to find. Most of Dumas has been reprinted, however, and at least the best-known works are readily obtainable in French or English. We have made no attempt to cull the mass of popular editions and translations, but list below the most authoritative and useful edited versions that have appeared in recent years.
Oeuvres d'Alexandre Dumas père. Ed. Gilbert Sigaux. 38 vols. Lausanne: Editions Rencontre, 1962-67. This series contains the following fifteen novels, all accompanied by excellent introductions:
Les Trois Mousquetaires.
Vingt Ans après.
Le Vicomte de Bragelonne.
Le Comte de Monte-Cristo.
Le Collier de la Reine.
La Comtesse de Charny.
Les Deux Diane.
La Reine Margot.
La Dame de Monsoreau.
Le Chevalier de Maison-Rouge.
Les Blancs et les Bleus.
Les Compagnons de Jéhu.
Mes Mémoires. Ed. Pierre Josserand. 5 vols. Paris: Gallimard, collection "Mémoires du passé pour servir au temps présent," 1954-68.
Théâtre complet. Ed. Fernande Bassan. Many volumes projected. Paris: Lettres Modernes-Minard, Collection "Bibliothèque introuvable," 1974-.
Antony. Ed. Joseph Varro. Paris: Larousse, "Nouveaux Classiques Larousse," 1970.
Le Comte de Monte-Cristo. Ed. J.-H. Bornecque. 2 vols. Paris: Garnier, 1962.
Georges. Ed. Léon-François Hoffmann. Paris: Gallimard, Collection "Folio," 1974.
Kean. Adaptation by Jean-Paul Sartre (Dumas's text appended). Paris: Gallimard, 1954.
Les Trois Mousquetaires. Ed. Charles Samaran. Paris: Garnier, 1956. Rpt. 1966.
Vingt Ans après. Ed. Charles Samaran. Paris: Garnier, 1962.
Les Trois Mousquetaires. Vingt Ans après. Ed. Gilbert Sigaux. Paris: Gallimard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 1962. Rpt. 1966.
Voyage en Russie. Ed. Jacques Suffel, preface by André Maurois. Paris: Hermann, 1960.
A Note about Translations
Substantially all of Dumas's fiction has been translated into English, some of it many times over during the past hundred years, and all but the most obscure novels can be located with relative ease. Translations of the plays, on the other hand, where they exist at all, are extremely difficult to find. An excellent abridged translation of Dumas's memoirs has been published under the title The Road to Monte-Cristo by Jules Eckert Goodman (New York: Scribner, 1956). A. C. Bell has also translated portions of the memoirs as well as a variety of other nonfictional works by Dumas. Abridged translations from the travel writings done by Alma Elizabeth Murch can likewise be recommended. On Board the Emma (London: Ernest Benn, 1929), R. S. Garnett's translation of Les Garibaldiens, is more complete than standard French versions as it incorporates material Dumas intended to include in reprintings but did not. Garnett has also translated Garibaldi's memoirs as edited and revised by Dumas (New York: D. Appleton, 1931).
Books and articles about Dumas are even more numerous than his own writings. Again we list only the most important or interesting among fairly recent works, plus a few still valuable earlier studies. Other books and articles consulted in the preparation of this volume are indicated in the footnotes.
Bassan, Fernande, and Sylvie Chevalley. Alexandre Dumas père et la Comédie-Française. Bibliothèque de Littérature et d'Histoire, no. 15. Paris: Lettres Modernes-Minard, 1972. Detailed and informative study of all matters relative to the production of Dumas's plays by this company.
Bell, A. Craig. Alexandre Dumas: A Biography and Study. London: Cassell, 1950. Not completely satisfactory as either biography or study, it nevertheless contains valuable bibliographies and much useful information, especially about Dumas's journalistic activities.
Blaze de Bury, [Ange] Henri. Mes Études et mes souvenirs: Alexandre Dumas, sa vie, son temps, son oeuvre. Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1885. Sympathetic recollections of Dumas and interesting comments on his writings, especially the plays. One of the best nineteenth-century studies.
Bouvier-Ajam, Maurice. Alexandre Dumas ou Cent Ans après. Paris: Les Éditeurs Français Réunis, 1972. Lively, provocative study, especially interesting on Dumas's political ideas and methods of work, though some conclusions are debatable.
Clouard, Henri. Alexandre Dumas. Paris: Albin Michel, 1954. Unquestionably the best general study of the life and works of Dumas père, unfortunately without bibliography or index and never translated into English.
Europe, no. 48. Février-Mars 1970. A special issue of the magazine devoted to articles about Dumas on the occasion of the centenary of his death. All are interesting though of variable merit.
Gorman, Herbert. The Incredible Marquis: Alexandre Dumas. New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1929. A quite reliable and very entertaining popular biography.
Maurois, André. Alexandre Dumas: A Great Life in Brief. Trans. Jack Palmer White. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1966. Good, readable introduction to Dumas's life, quite obviously adapted from parts of the next entry.
———. Les Trois Dumas. Paris: Hachette, 1957. Rpt. Le Livre de Poche, 1957. The Titans, a Three-Generation Biography of the Dumas. Trans. Gerard Hopkins. New York: Harper and Row, 1957. The authoritative biography of Dumas père, his father, and his son. Excellent bibliography and index in Hachette and Harper editions, omitted in Livre de Poche.
Mirecourt, Eugène de. Fabrique de Romans, Maison Alexandre Dumas et compagnie. Paris: Tous les Marchands de Nouveautés, 1845. The famous attack on Dumas.
Parigot, Hippolyte. Alexandre Dumas père. Paris: Hachette, "Les Grands Écrivains français," 1902. Still one of the very best studies of Dumas's work: balanced, perceptive, and fair.
———. Le Drame d'Alexandre Dumas: Étude dramatique, sociale et littéraire. Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1899. Parigot's thèse, the classic and irreplaceable study of Dumas's plays.
Reed, Frank Wilde. A Bibliography of Alexandre Dumas père. London: J. A. Neuhuys, 1933. An indispensable key for entry into the bibliographical maze of Dumas's published works and a few unpublished ones. Ten typewritten supplements are owned by the British Museum.
Simon, Gustave. Histoire d'une collaboration: Alexandre Dumas et Auguste Maquet. Paris: Crès, 1919. One of the first attempts to study the question of Dumas's collaborations from documents, Simon's pro-Maquet conclusions have been effectively qualified by later scholars.
Allen G. Wood (essay date 1997)
SOURCE: Wood, Allen G. "Of Kings, Queens, and Musketeers." Papers on French Seventeenth-Century Literature 24, no. 46 (1997): 163-71.
[In the following essay, Wood examines the enduring popularity of the Three Musketeers trilogy, commenting that, "[t]he exploits of d'Artagnan and his three musketeer friends are perhaps better known and more read than works actually written during the reign of Louis XIII."]
The first half of the French seventeenth century remains vividly animated in the collective, popular imagination as the period of the Three Musketeers, even more than one hundred and fifty years after the publication of Alexandre Dumas' historical novel. The exploits of d'Artagnan and his three musketeer friends are perhaps better known and more read than works actually written during the reign of Louis XIII, for readers in France and indeed throughout the world. And the commercial success which Dumas enjoyed, as installment followed installment during the spring and summer of 1844 in Le Siècle, called for the sequels of Vingt Ans Après and the Vicomte de Bragelonne, which advanced the musketeers to the time of the Fronde, then to Louis XIV. Even to- day, the popularity of the musketeers is still apparent in the various film versions of this modern classic story. It is important to examine the dynamics of history and fiction contained within the novel in order to ascertain the mechanisms of historical transmission in novel form, and determine which elements of the seventeenth century are conveyed by the popular icon.
The intertextual links between Dumas' novel and the Mémoires de M. d'Artagnan by Gatien de Courtilz are described in many critical and editorial commentaries, in addition to speculations about the involvement of Auguste Maquet, one of Dumas' many hired writers, in the final draft of the Trois Mousquetaires. But rather than focus on questions of hypotextual, source material on one hand, or authorial collaboration on the other, which would only repeat well known information, this study will consider Dumas' text by itself and examine the ways in which it represents the historical period, the era which sets the scene for the narrative action. Dumas did not think of himself as a historian, but he did regard history as "un clou auquel j'accroche mes romans" (Maurois, 170). But where exactly is this historical nail in the Trois Mousquetaires, and how does the fiction hang from it?
The historical novel as genre was initiated by Scott, and popularized in 19th-century France by Balzac, Hugo, Vigny and Dumas, who appropriated French history for their fictional rewriting of history from the Middle Ages (Notre Dame de Paris) to the French Revolution (Les Chouans). Georg Lukacs reminds us that:
What matters in the historical novel is not the retelling of great historical events, but the poetic awakening of the people who figure in those events. What matters is that we should reexperience the social and human motives which led men to think, feel, and act just as they did in historical reality.
It is not a matter of canonizing history, but of popularizing it. While on the one hand the nineteenth century was institutionalizing the past, as presented in Ralph Albanese's study of Molière in the Republican school system, on the other hand fictive creations such as those of Dumas had great mass appeal because they did not claim to be scholarly or pedantic. It is important to be aware of all the various symbolic presentations of past mentalities, in addition to the more traditional documentary aspects of history.
The ahistoricity of this genre, and Dumas' work in particular, has long been noted, and it is clear that "… personne ne lit la trilogie de Dumas pour apprendre quelque chose sur le XVIIe siècle." (Bem, p. 13) Jeanne Bem's article continues with a lengthy key which reveals that the major historical events related in the three novels had analogues in the nineteenth century, the true historical referent for the works. It must be noted, however, that such a reading of Dumas' text puts too great a privileged position on the major events of history. Moreover, and to the point at hand, only two of the twelve items in the key refer to the Trois Mousquetaires.
The novel's beginning is highly significant in indicating a precise historical period. Dumas, not particularly fond of subtlety, begins his novel with a matter of fact statement concerning date and place: "Le premier lundi du mois d'avril 1625, le bourg de Meung, où naquit l'auteur du Roman de la Rose…." There are no transitions, but an abrupt and swift movement backward in time to a specific moment in the past, although, in fact, the exact date of the first Monday in April in 1625 is not provided. Dumas did not use this technique in Vingt Ans Après but returned to it in the Vicomte de Bragelonne : "Vers le milieu du mois de mai de l'année 1660, à neuf heures du matin, lorsque le soleil…." After this initial date, however, the year is not mentioned again throughout the novel, until the final page, the "Epilogue," which closes the events of the work in a historical chronology containing three references to dates or years. In other words, within this framework which directly states a date in time, the historical period is evoked in a non-calendar fashion.
After stating that initial events in the novel occur in 1625, Dumas then has the task of recreating a world different from that of 1844, where the differences convey a plausible historicity indicating early seventeenth-century France. His second paragraph begins:
En ce temps-là les paniques étaient fréquentes, et peu de jours se passaient sans qu'une ville ou l'autre enregistrât sur ses archives quelque événement de ce genre. Il y avait les seigneurs qui guerroyaient entre eux; il y avait le roi qui faisait la guerre au cardinal; il y avait l'Espagnol qui faisait la guerre au roi. Puis, outre ces guerres sourdes ou publiques, secrètes ou patentes, il y avait encore les voleurs, les mendiants, les huguenots, les loups et les laquais, qui faisaient la guerre à tout le monde. Les bourgeois s'armaient toujours contre les voleurs, contre les loups, contre les laquais … mais jamais contre le cardinal et l'Espagnol.
These multiple "paniques" make this a formidable, hostile environment, one which threatens the average citizen from multiple sources, in an inextricable web of opposing forces which ensnares all too easily. The wolves and Huguenots allude to a pre-1700 society, and references to king and cardinal specify even more accurately the period of Louis XIII. As for the dangers of thieves, lackeys, and warring lords, they provide a universal enough threat to indicate almost any time of the Ancien Regime. All the details in this list of "panics" give general support to the historical dating of the events as occurring in 1625, without being particularly precise.
Reference to a Spanish war with the king of France raises the first instance in the novel of historical anachronism. War with Spain did not break out until ten years later, in 1635. Although the historical novel as a genre presents a mixture of fact and fiction, of history and narrative, the phenomenon of anachronism presents an inappropriate fiction in an item which requires greater historical accuracy. Various critics have pointed out numerous anachronisms in the Trois Mousquetaires, which are important only to the extent that they reveal certain blindspots or inattentions. It is true that Dumas was no historian, nor was he writing for historians. Yet his novels are historical in that they capture the general essence of a period, and are highly plausible with regard to historical data, dealing with the realm of the vraisemblable, if not with the vrai. The question of perspective arises: "L'écriture historique sur le XVIIème siecle doit-elle passer par une vision moderne, Historique, scientifique et ‘exacte’ de ce qu'était la réalité du XVIIème, ou par la vision que les gens du XVIIème avaient de leur temps…?" (Ronzeaud, p. 122) Anachronisms do occur as traces of a difference, as signs of fictionality. Yet they must be apparent to figure in the reading, whereas, indeed, those in the Trois Mousquetaires, like hairline cracks between the imaginary and the real, are likely not even to be perceived.
The fact that Mme de Combalet and the Duchesse d'Aiguillon are presented as two minor characters, when in fact they are two names for the same person in history, apparently escaped the author's attention. In addition, the Porte de la Conférence in Paris is mentioned at a time before the conference which gave it its name, and the rue Servandoni discussed at a time before the architect was even born. Marion de Lorme is alluded to as a mistress of Cardinal Richelieu when she was only fifteen—but, given her reputation, this detail may imply an improbability, rather than an anachronism. The musketeers bathed in the sea when such an act was rare except in cases of illness, lord Winter threatens to have Milady transported to Botany Bay, discovered by Captain Cook one hundred fifty years later, and houses in Dumas' seventeenth-century Paris bore street numbers earlier than conventional history allows. Finally, many critics chide the reference to Papal infallibility in M. de Tréville's sarcastic comments to the king concerning Richelieu:
—Son Eminence n'est pas Sa Sainteté, Sire.
—Qu'entendez-vous par là, Monsieur?
—Qu'il n'y a que le pape qui soit infaillible, et que cette infaillibilité ne s'étend pas aux cardinaux.
The reality of Papal infallibility was quite obviously an anachronism in the time of Louis XIII, but also in that of the Trois Mousquetaires in 1844. It was not until Pope Pious IX's proclamation in 1870 that this concept became church doctrine. Until that time it was simply an idea, like so many others, that could have been uttered at any time, without taint of anachronism.
Such lapses are minor, however, especially when the multiple authorship of Dumas' works (Maquet-Dumas) is considered, as well as the rapidity of its creation in installments for Le Siècle, and the great quantity of detail provided in the 700-800 page novel. Even when perceived by critical attention, the anachronisms carry little consequence, since Dumas only missed by a decade or two (some two hundred years later) his chronological target. Dumas corrected several mistakes present in the first drafts, corrections based on his own readings of the seventeenth century (Tallemant des Réaux, Mme de Lafayette, etc.). But he was no pedant, preferring a few errors which reveal his own historical fallibility, while not diminishing from his talents as a writer of narrative. Although Charles Samaran calls into question Dumas' historical accuracy, he also evokes a different kind of history at which Dumas excelled:
Qui a, mieux que Dumas, fait sentir une époque, respirer l'air du temps, et pour cela, entrer dans le secret personnel, psychologique, moral, pittoresque, des gens et des choses, [ou] … mieux rendu le passé présent?
(Introduction, Trois Mousquetaires, xxxiii)
Dumas was less concerned with a given year than an entire era, and brought it alive with adventurous deeds rather than documented accuracy.
With regard to the paragraph on the various paniques of the seventeenth century, although war and strife predominate at this initial stage of the novel, as the moral climate is established, it does not persist throughout the work. This is an early justification of force and a call for virile action in a world of sword-play and intrigue. The seventeenth century as presented in the Trois Mousquetaires is generally depicted with a certain nostalgia, as a pleasant enough world, especially for the brave of heart. In short, it is an idealized age of Louis XIII:
Dumas' picture of the seventeenth century omits everything that would have made it a most uncomfortable age for any of his nineteenth-century readers were they to have been magically transported back into it. The epidemics, the famines, the injustices, the barbarous superstitions of the period have no place in his account. Even war is reduced to a gay picnic beneath the fortifications of La Rochelle.
(Hemmings, p. 123)
The historical period is maintained much less by facts of History, that is, major personalities and events, than it is by the everyday details of custom and fashion. References every few pages to an item of clothing, a unit of currency, or a mode of transportation suffice, with the numerous allusions to king and cardinal, to keep the action well anchored in its historical moment, indicated as "ce temps là." But the pourpoints and pistoles would be mere stage props if there was not also the recreation of a past mentality, of the image of a real lived experience conveyed by the descriptions and the characters. The one historical item which predominates the others, and reveals a lifestyle different from that of the nineteenth century, is the sword.
The musketeers are swordsmen, sworn to defend the king, his honor, and their own corps by the use of arms. The seventeenth century appears at first in the novel as a time of great panic, were it not for men like d'Artagnan and the musketeers who are skilled at swordfighting. As heroes of the tale, they emerge from their violent encounters sometimes wounded, but ultimately victorious. In the Trois Mousquetaires, the seventeenth century is presented as a period of libidinal freedom, with different forces of law and order (especially of king and cardinal) fighting each other for control. The musketeers establish relationships with other men, friendship or enmity, by the sword, and their relations with women are carnal and tinged with scandal. D'Artagnan loves Mme Bonacieux, a married woman. The musketeers often succeed one another in the beds of their mistresses, who act as intermediaries:
Ces femmes dont les mousquetaires partagent le service ou la couche forment un pont entre eux: leur amitié, ou leur amour si l'on veut, s'exprime en entreprises communes et en corps partagés. La maîtresse commune sert de relais à de troublants messages, de dépositaire de charmants présents, de support à de singulières opérations.
(Tranouez, p. 322)
The musketeers are free to fight and love, serving one father figure as they resist the unjust constraints, the Law of the Father abrogated by Cardinal Richelieu.
Such a portrayal of the seventeenth century is both historically plausible at the same time that it makes of the former French period an exotic, idealized time. It is depicted as a chaotic yet freer era, a time which calls for dramatic, violent action from those "ordinary" citizens who serve their king. Those in the middle of society (lesser nobles, bourgeois), like the four heroes, could make a difference, and participate in shaping the course of history, both the major events (La Rochelle), as well as some of the smaller details (l'affaire des ferrets).
The chaos of life in the 1620's is also contained in a series of unstable structures in the narrative, which call for vigilance on the part of characters or readers. In particular, a series of triads either expand or collapse, creating confusion in the structure, and occasionally danger on the level of plot action. The very title of the novel indicates three musketeers, yet the novel describes the adventures of four friends. The fact that d'Artagnan is not officially a musketeer seems a mere technicality. But the common theme of "one for all and all for one" makes it unclear whether there are four heroes, or one.
Even minor details present an unstable triad. In the first chapter, when d'Artagnan leaves home, he is shown as having three presents from his parents: a letter to M. de Tréville, some money, and a horse. Yet, in addition, he has also learned the secret for making a restorative balm to heal wounds, which he uses both in this first chapter and later in the novel (it is the one "present" which lasts longest). But the most unstable and therefore dangerous triad in the entire novel involves the king, queen, and cardinal. The ambiguity in the relationship between king and cardinal makes the "panic" of warring seigneurs preferable in its simplicity, for the ambiguity can ensnare those caught in the middle, like the musketeers. The cardinal dissembles in his statements of service to the king, while the monarch, who realizes the duplicity of Richelieu, relies upon him nonetheless. The queen, caught up in all their conspiracies and intrigues, is victimized by both. While most critics view the basic dichotomy of power between king and cardinal, some, like Patrick Brady, see in the novel a general fight between good and evil as incarnated in the figures of an innocent Anne of Austria and the ruthless Richelieu.
The historical aspects of the historical novel are primarily the marginalized events of the institutionalized historical discourse, in an inversion of events and character. The perspective in the historical novel is that of a relatively minor, even imaginary, historical figure whose experience involves the average, everyday reality which surrounds a great historical moment or event. In the Trois Mousquetaires, for example, d'Artagnan does come into contact with all three principal historical figures, Louis XIII, Anne of Austria, and Cardinal Richelieu, who play influential characters limited to minor roles in the novel. The three interviews are spaced throughout the novel, providing, if not much narrative suspense, a sense of historical awe, as the "average" d'Artagnan, is sought out (and with him, the readers) by each of the three great personnages.
Because of his skilled swordsmanship, d'Artagnan comes to the attention of the king extraordinarily soon after the young man arrives in Paris. It is plausible that d'Artagnan should meet the king, since he is attached to his service through M. de Tréville, but the encounter emphasizes the fictive aspect of history. In the sixth chapter the king is both pleased that his men beat those of the cardinal, while saddened at the schism in the country, occasioned by "deux partis en France, deux têtes à la royauté." (p. 81) D'Artagnan and the king meet face to face in the Louvre, although M. de Tréville and his men were requested to use a secret stairway to avoid the cardinal's surveillance. Once inside, d'Artagnan's actions arouse the admiration of the king, who asks d'Artagnan to relate his exploits.
D'Artagnan's role in recovering the queen's ten diamond tags or ferrets from England and in counterfeiting the other two which the cardinal had taken places him in a privileged historical position. As the cardinal, who played upon the suspicions of the king, set his trap for Anne at the ballet de la Merlaison, it was d'Artagnan alone among the attendees who realized the significance of the queen's appearance with the twelve diamonds. The author shifts the description from the heads of state to the unacknowledged hero who saved the queen:
L'attention que nous avons été obligés de donner pendant le commencement de ce chapitre aux personnages illustres que nous y avons introduits nous a écartés un instant de celui à qui Anne d'Autriche devait le triomphe inouï qu'elle venait de remporter sur le cardinal, et qui, confondu, ignore, perdu dans la foule entassée à l'une des portes, regardait de là cette scène compréhensible seulement pour quatre personnes: le roi, la reine, Son Eminence et lui.
(chpt. 22, p. 282)
D'Artagnan is rewarded, not with an interview with the queen, which would be far too dangerous, but with her arm. He is led into a darkened room adjoining one with the queen, when: "tout à coup une main et un bras adorables de forme et de blancheur passerent à travers la tapisserie" (p. 283) The hero is allowed one brief kiss of this great historical hand, at which time he is given a ring as a token of gratitude, before it is hastily withdrawn. As Michel Picard indicates, "C'est la Reine, évidemment, qui figure la part la plus sacrée et la plus interdite…." (p. 61)
Finally, d'Artagnan's exploits bring him to the attention of Cardinal Richelieu, with whom the young swordsman has a most chilling interview (chapter 40). The reader suffers along with d'Artagnan under the gaze of His Eminence: "Nul n'avait lœoeil plus profondément scrutateur que le cardinal de Richelieu, et d'Artagnan sentit ce regard courir par ses veines comme une fièvre." (p. 494). Richelieu is impressed with the young man's loyalty to the king, yet reminds him that he could easily destroy the young Gascon. The novel concludes with the Cardinal's great exploit, the destruction of La Rochelle, which continues the process of a fictive perspective bringing alive in narrative form the daily events and reality of a great historical moment.
The historical setting of the seventeenth century serves many functions in Dumas' nineteenth-century fiction. It recreates a time which is both familiar in its use of historical names and geographical places, yet marked by the great difference of the Revolution which makes of it an Ancien Régime. As such, the novel rewrites the past so that it can enter into the realm of the symbolic, the imaginary for the general masses. It evokes a time which calls for daring, even scandalous actions, of justified murderous and amo- rous affairs, in a release of libidinal energy. The characters and events in the Trois Mousquetaires are those of common life, of ordinary citizens, more closely related to the reading public. Social hierarchies are lessened, in a general move toward democratization. Material marginalized in academic, historical discourse is given primary consideration, and history is shaped by characters who are known for their actions, not for their birth. Whereas the institutionalized History developed in the nineteenth century was an instrument of closure and death, the historical novel opened up past periods and infused them with life.
One of the most significant uses of French seventeenth-century history in the Trois Mousquetaires involves the rewriting of history to foster nationalistic pride in the past, especially as portrayed in small details of history which reveal national character and the participatory role of the middle class. Along with other historical novels, Dumas' tale of the musketeers seeks to create a national myth of heroic valor and to put it into circulation as an object of exchange. The reader pays for a little bit of history, a piece of the national dream, as the body of seventeenth-century history became textualized, traded, possessed and finally consumed.
Albanese, Ralph. Molière à l'Ecole républicaine. Saratoga, CA: Anma Libri, 1992.
Bem, Jeanne. "D'Artagnan, et après", Littérature, 22 (mai 76): 13-29.
Brady, Patrick. "L'épée, la lettre, et la robe: Symbolisme dramatique et thématique des Trois Mousquetaires", Acta Litteraria Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, 23, 3-4 (1981): 215-225.
Dumas, Alexandre. Les Trois Mousquetaires, ed. Charles Samaran. Paris: Garnier, 1968.
Hemmings, F W J. Alexandre Dumas: The King of Romance. New York: Scribner's, 1979.
Lukacs, Georg. The Historical Novel, trans. Hannah and Stanley Mitchell. Boston: Beacon Press, 1962.
Maurois, André. Les Trois Dumas. Paris: Hachette, 1957.
Picard, Michel. "Pouvoirs du feuilleton ou d'Artagnan anonyme", Littérature, 50 (mai 1983): 55-78.
Ronzeaud, Pierre, éd. Le Roman historique, Actes de Marseille. Paris: Biblio 17, 1983.
Tranouez, Pierre. "Cave filium! Etude du cycle des Mousquetaires" Poétique, 71 (Sept. 1987): 321-331
Roger Macdonald (essay date November 2005)
SOURCE: Macdonald, Roger. "Behind the Iron Mask." History Today 55, no. 11 (November 2005): 30-6.
[In the following essay, Macdonald investigates the origins of the protagonists of the Three Musketeers trilogy and The Man in the Iron Mask.]
Long before the days of mass-produced paperbacks, Alexandre Dumas achieved sales of over one million for his Musketeers trilogy: The Three Musketeers (1844), Twenty Years After (1845) and The Man in the Iron Mask (1850). In an obituary notice published in 1870 after his death, aged sixty-eight, an American newspaper placed Dumas second only to Napoleon Bonaparte as the most famous man of the century. Yet the great French playwright and author, having set the Musketeers firmly on the road to immortality, had been compelled through circumstance to obfuscate their origins, until they came to be regarded as entirely fictional characters, when they were really based on flesh and blood. In doing so he also unwittingly distanced himself from clues to the true identity of the secret prisoner in the mask, a tale more extraordinary and terrible than even Dumas could devise.
In the late 1840s, when Dumas was at the height of his fame, accusations that he was a shameless plagiarist were gathering pace. The drama critic, Granier de Cassagnac compellingly demonstrated that the substance of two of Dumas' plays, Henri III and His Court (1829) and Christine (1830), came straight from the pages of Schiller. Jean-Baptiste Jacquot, an ambitious writer whose services had been spurned by Dumas, produced a pamphlet alleging that Dumas' ‘Novel Factory’ had spawned a whole series of works in his name though written by his many assistants and all based on stolen ideas. The story going the rounds was of Dumas meeting his son, also called Alexandre, and asking him, ‘Have you read my latest novel?’ to which Alexandre replies: ‘No, have you?’
Aware that his real source would provoke fresh accusations of plagiarism, in his preface to The Three Musketeers Dumas instead supplied an entirely fictitious provenance for his romantic adventure. He claimed to have discovered in the Bibliothèque du Roi an unknown manuscript in folio, numbers 4772 and 4773, entitled Mémoires du Comte de la Fère.
Dumas specified the earliest pages of the document, 20, 27 and 31, on which, he said, could be found the first historical references to Musketeers Athos, Porthos and Aramis.
Most readers took Dumas' claim at face value until he made the mistake of alienating a prolific historian and redoubtable bibliophile, Paul Lacroix. In 1850 Dumas brought out another historical novel, The Black Tulip, without acknowledging Lacroix's considerable assistance. Lacroix settled the score by disclosing that Dumas' purported source for The Three Musketeers could not be found at the Royal Library or indeed anywhere else. Dumas still prevaricated for many years but in 1864 he was cornered in an interview he gave for the journal Litteraire de la Semaine. Forced to say whether he believed Athos, Porthos and Aramis to be real people, Dumas could not even then bring himself to admit where he had found their names, instead stating that they ‘had never existed and were simply bastards of my imagination’.
Dumas' real source was in fact an obscure work, first published in 1700, Memoires de Monsieur D'Artagnan that professed to be the autobiography of the long forgotten Charles d'Artagnan, who really did become Captain of the King's Musketeers. It was in fact written by Gatien de Courtilz de Sandras, and thought by most nineteenth-century historians to be largely apocryphal, Dumas borrowed Courtilz's work from the Marseilles public library, whose records show that he never gave it back.
As Dumas must have noticed, on page eleven of his work Courtilz mentions Athos, Porthos and Aramis as being Musketeers, in the same breath: they are summoned to Paris by Tréville, Captain of the Musketeers, to take on Cardinal Richelieu's guards like professional gunslingers brought in to settle a turf war; and that quite by chance, a hot-headed young Gascon, d'Artagnan, arrives in the capital at the same moment. Here, for Dumas' many enemies, was prima facie evidence of plagiarism aplenty.
The irony was that Dumas could safely have stipulated Courtilz as a genuine historical source, for much of Courtilz's so-called autobiography of d'Artagnan was based on fact and, like d'Artagnan himself, the Three Musketeers proved to be real.
They were not from Gascony but Béarn, until 1620 a fiercely independent, pocket-handkerchief state between Gascony and the western Pyrenees. Their antecedents were discovered in the early 1880s when Jean-Baptiste Etienne de Jurgain, a historian eager to preserve the traditions of his native Béarn, began to study its genealogical documents. Jurgain's research, published in the Revue de Béarn, Navarre et Lannes, proved the existence of Henri d'Aramitz, Armand de Sillègue d'Athos, and Isaac de Portau. Aramis, Athos and Porthos, as they called themselves, had close family connections. They all moved in the same circle of bourgeoisie who had bought their way into the petty nobility but as the younger sons, they saw little prospect of an inheritance. For them, fame and fortune must be earned with a sword.
Although Dumas had d'Artagnan rashly committing himself to fighting successive duels with the Three Musketeers at hourly intervals on his first day in the French capital in May 1640, this had no basis in fact. It was the real-life Porthos who inveigled d'Artagnan into the fight with the Cardinal's Guards, thereby forcing them to rush around looking for a fourth Guardsman sober enough to take part. Far from being a chance encounter, this was a pre-arranged multiple duel to settle old scores. The Musketeers inflicted a humiliating defeat on the Cardinal's men and according to Courtilz, d'Artagnan disposed of his opponent in under a minute, establishing his reputation as a formidable swordsman.
The four friends made powerful enemies and in 1643 were ambushed at the Saint-German fair. In saving d'Artagnan, Athos suffered a fatal sword thrust to his side. When Richelieu's successor, Cardinal Mazarin, disbanded the Musketeers in 1646, his only means of removing Tréville, Aramis and Porthos, fearing further attempts on their lives, returned to Béarn. Aramis married a local heiress, only to die without warning in April 1654. Porthos, found a comfortable seigneurie by Tréville, lived to be ninety-five, expiring at Pau from an apoplectic stroke on July 13th, 1712. Although he must have had the constitution of an ox, there is no evidence that Porthos was a particularly strong man. In The Three Musketeers Dumas bestowed upon him the prodigious strength of his own father, the Revolutionary general Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, who could allegedly lift barn doors off their hinges with one hand.
Dumas also drew on a work by Antoine-Marie Roederer, Intrigues politiques and galantes de la cour de France, (1832) for the main plot of The Three Musketeers : the theft of Anne of Austria's diamond studs, her foolish gift to the Duke of Buckingham. Only in Dumas' imagination were the Musketeers involved in this episode (which had actually occurred in 1625) saving the Queen's honour, by replacing the missing diamonds: the real Athos, Aramis and Porthos would have been children, and d'Artagnan still a babe in arms.
Unaware of Athos' true fate, Dumas kept the Three Musketeers and d'Artagnan in robust health until almost the end of the third book in his trilogy, The Man in the Iron Mask. For the central figure of that tale (which fictionalizes an essentially true story of a mysterious prisoner of Louis XIV) he followed the most popular current theory of the prisoner's identity, that of an identical twin of the King. In Dumas' version, d'Artagnan, who remains loyal to Louis, escorts the royal twin to the remote Mediterranean island of Sainte-Marguerite and locks him into the mask.
It is unlikely that this theory of the prisoner's identity could be correct. The arrival of an unexpected second child, allegedly nine hours after the first, could surely not have remained undetected in the goldfish bowl of the French court, and infant mortality was so high that the birth of a second son to Anne of Austria would have been more welcomed than feared. Later, Hollywood scriptwriters gave the story a sinister twist by imprisoning Louis himself in the same mask the King had supposedly devised for his innocent brother.
In the novel, the switch of one twin for the other takes place during the spectacular party at Vaux-le-Vicomte in August 1661, held by Nicholas Fouquet, the French finance minister, to celebrate the completion of his extravagant new château. The real event, attended by Louis XIV, proved the catalyst for Fouquet's arrest—by d'Artagnan—on the King's orders almost three weeks later. D'Artagnan had been employed by Mazarin to carry by word of mouth his most private messages. Consequently, d'Artagnan knew better than most the extent to which Mazarin, aided and abetted by finance minister Colbert (1619-83), had also used the state's money as though it were his own, persuasively demonstrated by Daniel Dessert in Colbert et le serpent venimeux (2000). The Gascon believed Fouquet was no guiltier than either of them and wanted nothing to do with the hypocrisy of his arrest. D'Artagnan therefore feigned or, at the least, exaggerated illness but Louis had no one else he could trust—even the duc de Gesvres, captain of his palace guard, was in Fouquet's pocket—and simply waited until he had recovered. Nonetheless the arrest was perilously close to being a fiasco, for d'Artagnan missed Fouquet's departure from the royal council and had to pursue him down the street. Acting as Fouquet's jailer for the next three years, d'Artagnan became increasingly partisan in his prisoner's interest. Obliged by Colbert to remain within earshot of his charge, d'Artagnan refused point-blank to report on Fouquet's conversations with his lawyers. In 1664, when Fouquet escaped the death penalty, Louis sent him to the remote Alpine prison of Pignerol and as a sign of royal displeasure at his insubordination, d'Artagnan was instructed to lead his escort of a hundred Musketeers across the mountains in savage winter conditions. Olivier Lefèvre d'Ormesson, the only trial judge who had believed Fouquet to be innocent of all the charges, wrote in his journal that d'Artagnan was ‘angry at being ordered to travel to Pignerol and would have got out of it if he could’.
Despite now being out of royal favour, d'Artagnan had a stroke of good fortune. For him the post of Captain of the Musketeers, who had been revived under Cardinal Mazarin's nephew, Philippe-Julien Mancini in 1657, remained completely out of reach. Early in 1667, however, Mancini stoked up a row between his sister, Hortense Mancini and her husband, thereby hoping to gain control of Hortense's spectacular inheritance, left by her uncle the cardinal. Louis impulsively decided to make an example of Philippe and early in 1667 forced him to relinquish his company of Musketeers in favour of d'Artagnan—even though in doing so he was giving d'Artagnan a promotion the King did not feel he deserved. Colbert was outraged by Louis' perverse decision as D'Ormesson commented:
M. de Colbert does not like d'Artagnan … the King's decision in this respect is surprising, he knows d'Artagnan is a friend of Fouquet and Colbert's enemy.
Far from becoming subservient to the King, however, in 1671 d'Artagnan repeated his defiance by refusing to arrest a fellow Gascon, the comte de Lauzun, who had dared to court, even possibly to marry in secret, Louis' ageing but wealthy cousin, the Grande Mademoiselle, whose lands the King coveted for his illegitimate offspring. Lauzun was contemptuously dismissive of their mother, Louis' most durable mistress, Athénaïs de Montespan. When the outraged monarch responded by sending Lauzun to Pignerol, once again d'Artagnan was ordered to escort the prisoner there in the depths of winter. What the manipulative Lauzun told d'Artagnan on the journey left the Captain of the Musketeers disillusioned with his king. The two Gascons may have reached the conclusion that Louis was not entitled to sit on the French throne. In his biography, Louis XIV, (2000) Anthony Levi offers persuasive evidence that Mazarin, not the homosexual Louis XIII, was the Sun King's real father: perhaps Lauzun was in a position to know the truth.
On his return, d'Artagnan was disrespectful to Louis, and the King decided to remove him from court once more by making him governor of Lille. D'Artagnan lacked the education and guile to make a success of the job, and within a few weeks he had fallen out with the King's favourite, the siege engineer, Vauban. Although recalled in disgrace, at court d'Artagnan automatically returned to the position he held for life as Captain of the Musketeers whose men provided protection for the royal entourage outside the palace walls. They can scarcely have failed to notice when in March 1673 Athénaïs de Montespan, her position as maitresse en titre threatened by younger concubines, took part naked in a Black Mass designed to retain the royal favour, at a secluded château south of Paris. It was the most extraordinary incident in what would become known as the Affair of the Poisons, when many of the high and mighty of France were accused of dabbling in black magic and administering lethal substances. Long before the poisons scandal broke, d'Artagnan almost certainly knew what was going on. His reluctance to precipitate a political crisis did not include preserving Athénaïs' reputation and Louis had to take action. In his history of seventeenth-century France, W. H. Lewis concludes that ‘Ridicule was perhaps the only thing in the world that Louis feared’.
D'Artagnan, a loose cannon, had to go. In June 1673 an opportunity presented itself when the King personally oversaw the successful siege of the formidable Dutch fortress, Maastricht. The Musketeers, led by d'Artagnan, were ordered prematurely into a night attack and suffered heavy casualties: perhaps Louis was hoping to arrange d'Artagnan's glorious death on the battlefield as a way out of their difficulties. D'Artagnan had a charmed life, and survived unscathed. However, on the following morning, to foil a Dutch counterattack he was drawn into a near-suicidal charge across open ground by the small English contingent on the French side, led by the Duke of Monmouth and John Churchill, the future Duke of Marlborough. While saving Monmouth during ‘the bravest and briskest action they had seen in their lives’, d'Artagnan was hit in the neck by a stray bullet and reported dead.
Within a few months, a rumour swept Paris of a secret prisoner in the Bastille. He was said to be the playwright Molière, who had challenged the establishment, attacking the hypocrisy and pretentiousness of both the Roman Catholic Church and the court through his comedies. When Molière supposedly died on February 17th, 1673, he did not receive a proper funeral: no burial service took place and the entry in the church register remained unsigned; his body was taken directly to the cemetery of Saint-Joseph late at night. In 1792 his presumed grave would be exhumed and found to be empty and two historians, Anatole Loquin and Marcel Diamant-Berger, writing in 1883 and 1971 respectively were convinced that it was he who became the Man in the Iron Mask. In view of the notoriously poor state of his health, however, it is extremely unlikely that Molière could have survived in prison for more than thirty years. Rather, the Catholic Church may have arranged for him to be buried in unconsecrated ground, as a petty retribution after death for his ridiculing of them in life. The year when the rumour about a mysterious captive began, 1673, and not Molière himself, was the clue.
The state prisoners at Pignerol, Fouquet and Lauzun, were now being guarded by Bénigne de Saint-Mars, d'Artagnan's former quartermaster sergeant, who was forbidden to leave his post for even a single day. In July 1673, however, he sent from Maastricht a coded letter to Louvois about the state of health of a wounded third party, one so important that Saint-Mars himself and some of his men had been sent from Pignerol to the Maastricht battlefield to watch over him.
D'Artagnan was supposed to be dead but none of the purported eyewitness accounts of his demise withstand close scrutiny. One was by a fellow Musketeer who had been injured and missed this part the action; the second by a notorious liar; and the third by a drunken Irish peer. The story of d'Artagnan's Musketeers risking life and limb under withering fire in order to recover the body of their fallen commander was not reported at the time. There would have been no need for such heroics, because frequent truces were declared so that dead and injured combatants could be removed from the battlefield under a white flag. When in 1674 le Mercure Galant said that the Musketeers had failed to retrieve d'Artagnan's corpse, the gossip sheet was promptly shut down by the authorities and its editor imprisoned.
In 1873 an army officer, Théodore Iung, published his research into The Man in the Iron Mask, which established that Saint-Mars had been his jailer at four successive prisons. The names of only two of Saint-Mars' prisoners eluded Iung. The first, surely the Mask himself, had arrived at Pignerol from Paris in March 1674 amid extraordinary precautions, ‘manacled at night’ and ‘kept from view’ in such a way that he could neither ‘shout out or write … who he was’. The second, a prisoner in the Bastille at the beginning of 1699, proved to be Gatien de Courtilz de Sandras, the author of the Mémoires de Monsieur d'Artagnan.
Courtilz went to such lengths to conceal his identity that the authorities were unsure of his real name. After his military career, he became a writer of pamphlets, political tracts and biographies, more than one hundred works in all, printed outside France to escape censorship. He called Louis XIV ‘Le Grand Alcandre’, a reference to Corneille's comedy ‘L'Illusion Comique’, in which the old sorcerer, Alcandre, lives in a cave with his deaf and dumb servants. The Sun King would not have liked the analogy. Courtilz was sent to the Bastille in 1693. He was still a prisoner, although he was given the freedom to go more or less where he liked within its walls, thanks to his influential wife, Louise Pannetier, when Saint-Mars arrived with the Iron Mask in September 1698.
Twenty-five years had elapsed since d'Artagnan's last military campaign, the siege of Maastricht, and outside the senior ranks of the armed forces he was long since forgotten. There is no evidence that Courtilz had ever met d'Artagnan during his military service and Courtilz was never a Musketeer. Courtilz showed no signs of husbanding information on potential subjects for future use, let alone a quarter of a century after the event. Arthur de Boislisle, editor of Saint-Simon's diaries; Jules Lair, author of the definitive biography on Fouquet; and Charles Samaran, who undertook a great deal of original research on the Musketeers, all rejected the cynical view that Courtilz' autobiography of d'Artagnan was pure fiction. Samaran concluded that, ‘not only on general events, but on the deeds and actions of individuals, there are amazingly accurate details’. Jurgain determined that Courtilz's collective reference to Aramis, Athos and Porthos, the first mention of them anywhere, was also founded on fact. Courtilz wrote d'Artagnan's biography while in jail, and his wife smuggled out the manuscript. The only rational explanation is that Courtilz had a prime source of information among the prisoners in the Bastille; but none of his nineteen fellow inmates listed in the prison register had the remotest connection with d'Artagnan. That left the sole prisoner not accounted for, the Man in the Iron Mask, confirming, given the wealth of detail he supplied, that he could only be d'Artagnan himself.
In 1687, during his transfer from another Alpine prison, Exiles, to the island of Sainte-Marguerite, off Cannes, a priest at Grasse saw the prisoner in his mask, made not of iron, but steel. His eyewitness account appeared in a newsletter circulated by clerics, which also reported an unguarded remark made by Saint-Mars about the identity of his charge that ‘All the people one believes to be dead are not’. This meant that the man in the Mask had to be sufficiently well-known to attract comment, for his supposed death to have been widely reported and for him to be held in the utmost secrecy. D'Artagnan, almost alone of all the credible candidates, meets this criteria.
Just before embarking on his spectacular series of historical novels, Dumas produced Celebrated Crimes, a series of eight volumes on dark deeds from history. Volume Six included The Man in the Iron Mask. Like much of Dumas's prodigious output, it owed a great deal to the work of others, in this instance his closest collaborator, Auguste Maquet, a former history teacher. As was often the case, Dumas undermined Maquet's meticulous research by some impulsive contributions of his own. Dumas confessed that in writing an earlier play about the Iron Mask, he had been forced to ‘choose one view of a dramatic situation to the exclusion of all others … and … by the inexorable laws of logic to push aside everything that interferes with its development’. He had selected, and would stick with, the notion of an identical twin in the mask, because ‘it was incontestably the most dramatic’. How ironic, then, that the qualities of loyalty and honour that d'Artagnan possessed, brilliantly captured by Dumas in fiction, proved the Musketeer's eventual undoing in fact: and that Dumas, in failing to give credit to Courtilz, ensured that an even better story would slip through his fingers, the astonishing secret that d'Artagnan himself was the Man in the Iron Mask.
LES TROIS MOUSQUETAIRES (1844; THE THREE MUSKETEERS)
Terrence Rafferty (review date 20 August 2006)
SOURCE: Rafferty, Terrence. "All for One." New York Times Book Review (20 August 2006): 13.
[In the following review, Rafferty offers a positive assessment of a "brisk, agile" new translation of The Three Musketeers by Richard Pevear.]
Words never failed Alexandre Dumas. In his maniacally productive writing career, he pumped out millions and millions of them: some good, some bad and all indifferent to any value other than propelling a story forward at the giddiest possible pace, if not, perhaps, with optimum fuel efficiency. Dumas's novels are shameless word-guzzlers, big and plush and almost sinfully comfortable: ideal vehicles for the long, scenic excursions into French history he regularly conducted for the newspaper readers of mid-19th-century Paris.
He wrote at a speed that pretty much precluded reflection, precision, anything resembling literary refinement, and he famously employed assistants to help out with research, plotting and, some thought, even the writing itself. (The collected works—novels, plays, essays—fill some 300 volumes.) He was accused, in his time, of merely running a "novel factory" and (by no less a personage than Sainte-Beuve) of perpetrating "industrial literature." But if Dumas was a hack, he was a hack with genius. His storytelling never seems the least bit mechanical: no assembly line, then or now, could ever turn out a narrative as joyful, as eccentric, as maddeningly human as The Three Musketeers. Originally serialized in Le Siècle between March and July of 1844, Dumas's best-known novel has been with us for more than a century and a half and clearly isn't going away any time soon. There's no blueprint for that sort of endurance.
Richard Pevear's brisk, agile new translation succeeds, I think, because it does justice to the pure nuttiness of Dumas's writing: the nonindustrial, nonformulaic, downright peculiar qualities that make a work of popular fiction memorable. The Three Musketeers purports to dramatize some significant events from the reign of Louis XIII—the action begins in 1625 and ends three years later—but although many of its characters did actually exist, historical veracity is not (to put it mildly) Dumas's primary concern. History seems too small for him, somehow. Dumas turns the great actors on the world's stage—the king; the queen; her admirer, Lord Buckingham; and Louis's crafty, Dick Cheney-like adviser/puppeteer, Cardinal Richelieu—into bit players, characters whose function is simply to provide opportunities for spectacular displays of bravery, loyalty and wit on the part of the musketeers and their young comrade-in-arms, D'Artagnan.
Lots of historical novels do something similar, of course. What sets Dumas apart is the conscienceless insouciance with which he reduces the mighty to figures in a farce. It would be a stretch, perhaps, to think of him as deliberately subversive, but he has to be credited with an instinctive irreverence toward power and those who wield it, and this attitude may be the most important reason for his persistent appeal. Every generation since that of the first readers of The Three Musketeers has learned, in one way or another, that leaders are on the whole a good deal less noble than those who serve them. Usually—too often—the hard way.
The musketeers—Athos, Porthos and Aramis—and D'Artagnan (who becomes an official musketeer only toward the end of the book) protect their king and queen zealously, even daring at times to sabotage the Machiavellian schemes of the very dangerous Cardinal Richelieu. It's apparent, though, that they perform their prodigious feats not because they believe devoutly in the intrinsic merit of Louis XIII or his queen, Anne of Austria, but because it's their duty to defend the monarchy. This is all the reason they need to risk their lives.
That there's a strong whiff of existential absurdity in their situation is not lost on their creator. Dumas puts his heroes to work at ridiculous-seeming tasks like the recovery of some diamonds, originally presented to the queen by the king, that Anne has imprudently bestowed on the ardent Buckingham. Richelieu, with the aid of his most ruthless agent, the femme extra-fatale known as Milady de Winter, has been trying to get his own pious hands on the gems in order to discredit the queen, so the musketeers' mission isn't inconsequential, and the perils they're exposed to along the way are plenty real. But you remain aware, through all the ambushes and sword fights and breathless escapes, that the queen's predicament is a device better suited to comedy than to the drama of world history.
When The Three Musketeers does at last turn its attention to a genuinely significant historical event—the siege of the Protestant stronghold of La Rochelle—Dumas is unable to conceal his irritation at having to deal with it. The siege, he writes, "was one of the great political events of the reign of Louis XIII, and one of the great military undertakings of the cardinal. It is thus worthwhile, and even necessary, for us to say a few words about it. Besides, many details of this siege are bound up in too important a way with the story we have undertaken to tell for us to pass over them in silence"—as he would plainly prefer to do.
Athos, Porthos, Aramis and D'Artagnan are all required to take part in this campaign, but they seem barely present, only marginally more aware of the battle raging around them than Stendhal's young hero Fabrizio is at Waterloo in "The Charterhouse of Parma." As if to emphasize their obliviousness, Dumas gives them an entirely pointless set piece of derring-do: they occupy an abandoned bastion for a quiet conference, over lunch, on strategies to defeat Milady, and calmly finish their meal before finishing off the attackers who have been trying to recapture their refuge. Sang doesn't get more froid than that.
The episode of the St.-Gervais bastion is Dumas at his idiosyncratic best: a heady mix of intrigue, action and laughing-in-the-face-of-death badinage (all superbly rendered in this translation). It's typical of him, too, that the most stirring bit of swashbuckling in this whole rambunctious novel should occur in what is essentially a digression. In a sense, though, The Three Musketeers is nothing but digressions. That's the beauty of it—and the reason Dumas was able to continue the musketeers' saga for another several hundred thousand words, first in Twenty Years After, serialized in 1845, and then in The Vicomte de Bragelonne, which ran in Le Siècle from 1847 to 1850 and is so gargantuan that it's now usually broken up into three hefty volumes (The Vicomte de Bragelonne, Louise de la Vallière and The Man in the Iron Mask ). And it's also the reason, I think, that his work seems so imperishably (if inadvertently) modern.
No novelist since Dumas has been more irreverent of the conventions of well-made fiction or any more determined to tell stories without identifiable centers. There is, finally, something moving about his helpless, logorrheic outpourings of narrative. His historical novels always wind up saying that everything that matters—love, courage, pleasure and, especially, all-for-one-and-one-for-all friendship—exists most vividly not in the supposed centers of power, but elsewhere: in the margins of history, where the musketeers, immortally, live.
LE COMTE DE MONTE-CRISTO (1844-45; THE COUNT OF MONTE-CRISTO)
Andre Maurois (essay date 1957)
SOURCE: Maurois, Andre. "The Count of Monte-Cristo." In Three Musketeers: A Study of the Dumas Family, translated by Gerard Hopkins, pp. 219-27. London, England: Jonathan Cape, 1957.
[In the following essay, Maurois offers background information on Dumas's The Count of Monte-Cristo, discussing the origins of the text and the influence of the work on Dumas's life and career.]
Monte-Cristo is the keyword to Dumas's work and to Dumas's life. It is the title of his best known novel after The Three Musketeers : it was the name of the crazy house which was his pride and his ruin. It conjures up, better than anything else could do, his dreams of magnificence and of justice.
The idea of [The Count of Monte-Cristo ] had been working in his mind by fits and starts over a number of years. He tells, in his Causeries, how in 1824, happening to be in Florence, he was asked by Jérome Bonaparte, the ex-king of Westphalia, to accompany his son (the Prince Napoleon) as far as the isle of Elba, which was one of the spots sacred to the Imperial family. Dumas was then thirty-nine, the Prince, nineteen, but, of the two, the novelist was the younger. They reached Elba, explored it from end to end, and then went to join a shooting-party on the near-by island of Pianosa which abounded in rabbits and partridges. Their guide, pointing to a sugar-loaf rock rising straight out to the sea, said:
‘That is where Your Excellencies ought to go, if you want good sport.’
‘What's the name of the Fortunate Isle?’
‘It's called the island of Monte-Cristo.’
The name enchanted Dumas.
‘Monseigneur,’ said he to the young prince, ‘in memory of this trip, I shall call one of the novels I have still to write, Monte-Cristo.’1
In the following year, when he was back in France, he signed a contract with MM. Béthune and Plon, for eight volumes to be entitled: Impressions de Voyage dans Paris. He intended to make the book a long archaeological and historical ramble, but his publishers explained that that was not at all what they had in mind. They had been struck by the staggering success of Les Mystères de Paris which Eugène Sue had recently published. What they wanted was a book of romantic adventure set in Paris.
Dumas was an easy man to convince, and no literary project ever frightened him. He set about looking for a plot. It so happened that, some time before, he had put a marker in volume V of a work by Jacques Peuchet, called Mémoires tirés des Archives de la Police de Paris. He had been particularly interested in one chapter, headed Le Diamant de la Vengeance. ‘What Peuchet made of it’, he said in a somewhat ungrateful note, ‘was nonsense … but it was true, all the same, that deep in that oyster there lay concealed a pearl, a rough pearl, an unshaped pearl, a pearl without any intrinsic value … but a pearl awaiting the jeweller's art.’2
It was a fact that Peuchet had been the Keeper of the Archives at the Prefecture of Police. From his files he had compiled six volumes which, even today, would be a rich mine for the writers of serial novels. Here is the strange story which had so strongly appealed to Alexandre Dumas.
In 1807 there had been living in Paris a young shoemaker, François Picaud. This poor devil, who was a handsome chap, was engaged to be married. One day, dressed in his Sunday best, he went to the Place Sainte-Opportune to see a friend, the proprietor of a café, who, like himself, came from Nîmes. This man, Mathieu Loupian, had a flourishing business, but other people's successes made him extravagantly jealous. In the café Picaud found three of his compatriots from the Gard Department, who were also friends of the owner. They pulled his leg about his fine clothes, and he then announced his forthcoming marriage to an extremely beautiful orphan, Marguerite Vigoroux, with a fortune of a hundred thousand gold francs, whose affection he had been so fortunate as to engage. The four friends were dumbfounded by what they had heard, and dazzled by the shoemaker's good luck.
‘When's the wedding to be?’
When he had left, the envious and perfidious Loupian said: ‘I'll put a spoke in that wheel!’
‘How?’ asked the others.
‘A police inspector's looking in later. I shall tell him that I suspect Picaud of being an English agent … He'll be questioned; he'll be very frightened, and the marriage will be postponed.’
Napoleon's police did not take political crimes lightly. One of the three men from Nîmes, Antoine Allut, said: ‘I call that a dirty trick.’
But the others thought it a good joke: ‘After all, one must have a bit of fun at carnival time!’
Loupian lost no time in putting his plan into action. The inspector turned out to be both imprudent and zealous. He jumped at this chance to distinguish himself and, without making any further investigation sent in a report to the police minister, Savary, duc de Rovigo, who at that time was much worried about certain insurrectionary movements in La Vendée. It's pretty obvious, he thought, that this Picaud is one of Louis XVIII's secret agents. The wretched young man was spirited away during the night, completely vanished, and not a word more was heard of him. His parents and his betrothed set inquiries on foot, but, failing to obtain any satisfaction, resigned themselves to the inevitable. The absent are always in the wrong.
Seven years passed. 1814 came, with the fall of the Empire. A man, prematurely aged by suffering, was released from the castle of Fenestrelle where he had all that time been imprisoned. It was François Picaud. His deeply lined face was barely recognizable, and his body was much weakened. While in captivity, he had, with great devotion, looked after an Italian prelate, who had been imprisoned on a political charge and had not long to live. The dying man had bequeathed to Picaud, by word of mouth, all his goods, and, in particular, a treasure hidden in Milan—diamonds, Lombard ducats, Venetian florins, English guineas, French gold francs and some Spanish currency. No sooner was he released than Picaud searched out this treasure, found it, and moved it to a place of safety. Then, under the name of Joseph Lucher, he went back to Paris, to the district in which he had formerly been living. There he asked what had become of a shoemaker called Pierre-François Picaud who, in 1807, had been going to marry the rich Mademoiselle Vigoroux. He was told that a carnival jest, played on him by four mischievous jokers, had resulted in the young man's disappearance. His betrothed had mourned him for two years, and then, believing him to be dead, had agreed to marry the café-owner Loupian, a widower with two children. Picaud asked the names of the other responsible parties, and was told: ‘You can find out about them from a man called Antoine Allut, who lives in Nîmes.’
Picaud, disguised as an Italian priest, and with a quantity of gold and jewels sewn into his clothes, hastened to Nîmes, where he gave himself out to be the abbé Baldini. In return for a fine diamond, Antoine Allut gave him the names of the three other accomplices in the practical joke which had had so tragic a sequel. Some days later, a lemonade-hawker, Prosper by name, got himself a place as a waiter at the Café Loupian. This man, with a ravaged face and threadbare clothes, seemed to be about fifty years old. It was Picaud in yet another disguise. The two men from Nîmes, denounced by Allut, were still regular visitors to the establishment. A day came when one of them, Chambard, failed to turn up at his usual time. It was learned that, at five o'clock that morning, he had been found stabbed on the Pont des Arts. The knife had been left in the wound, and, on the handle, was written: Number One.
Loupian had had, by his first wife, a son and a daughter. The girl, then sixteen, was angelically beautiful. A dandy, claiming to be a marquis and a millionaire, seduced her. Finding herself pregnant, she was compelled to confess her fault to Loupian and his wife, and was kindly, even joyfully, forgiven, since the elegant gentleman was prepared to marry the future mother of his child. A civil and a religious ceremony took place, but, between the bestowal of the nuptial blessing and the wedding breakfast, it was discovered that the husband had fled. He turned out to be a liberated convict, and neither a marquis nor a millionaire.
Consternation in the bride's family. On the following Sunday, their house (which combined the functions of home and place of business) was mysteriously burned to the ground. Loupian was ruined. The only persons who stuck by him were his friend Solari (the last surviving member of the group of ‘regulars’) and Prosper, the former lemonade-hawker, who unknown to Loupian, was the author of all his misfortunes. As was only to be expected, Solari soon died, from poison. On the black drapery which covered his coffin, a piece of paper was found pinned, with, on it in block letters, the words—Number Two.
Young Eugène Loupian, the son of the proprietor of the café, a weak-charactered, harum-scarum lad, was led astray by a party of shady strangers from no one knew where. He became involved in an affair of ‘breaking and entering’ and was sentenced to twenty years imprisonment. The Loupians, husband and wife, penniless and dishonoured, fell lower and lower. They had lost everything—money, reputation, happiness, in this avalanche of disasters. The ‘handsome Madame Loupian’, the former Marguerite Vigoroux, died of grief, and, since she had borne her husband no children, what remained of her personal fortune went back to the members of her own family, who were her legal heirs.
Prosper, the lemonade-hawker, offered his savings to his destitute employer, but on condition that the haughty Thérèse, Loupian's daughter, should live with him. This the proud beauty agreed to do in order to save her father.
As a result of his misfortunes, Loupian was now half mad. One evening, in a dark alley of the Tuileries Gardens, a masked man appeared before him.
‘Loupian, do you remember 1807?’
‘Why should I?’
‘Because it was the year of your crime.’
‘Have you forgotten that, through jealousy, you had your friend, Picaud, shut away?’
‘Ah! God has punished me for it … punished me terribly!’
‘There you are wrong. It was not God but Picaud who, to slake his vengeance, stabbed Chambard, poisoned Solari, burned your house, brought dishonour on your son, and gave your daughter a convict for husband…. See now in Prosper that same Picaud, but in the very moment when he sets his mark upon his Third Victim!’
Loupian fell to the ground, murdered. But just as Picaud was about to leave the gardens, he felt himself held in a grip of steel, gagged, and, under cover of the darkness, carried off. In the cellar into which he was thrown, he found himself in the presence of a man whom he did not recognize.
‘Well, Picaud, I suppose for you vengeance is no more than a joke, eh? But you are mistaken. It has become a raging mania…. You have spent ten years of your life in hunting down three wretches whom you should have spared…. You have committed a series of horrible crimes, and in them I have been your accomplice, since it is I who sold you the secret of your misery…. I am Antoine Allut! I have followed you at a distance, and seen the way in which you have settled your accounts. Only at the last did I realize who you were. I came to Paris for the purpose of opening Loupian's eyes to your identity, but the Devil gave you a minute's start of me!’
‘Where am I now?’
‘What does that matter? You are in a place where you can expect neither help nor pity.’3
Vengeance for vengeance. Picaud was put to death with the utmost savagery. His murderer escaped to England. In 1828, Allut, who had fallen desperately ill, sent for a Catholic priest to whom he confided a detailed account of these terrible events, and told him to communicate it, after his death, to the French judicial authorities.
Allut's last wishes were scrupulously observed by his confessor, and the precious document found a home in the police archives, where Peuchet must have come across it.* * *
There, for Dumas, Balzac or Eugène Sue, was a novel ready-made: and not only for them, but for the general public as well. For thousands of years the unhappy human race has found release in cathartic myths. The most popular of their characters have ever been the Magician and the Dispenser of Justice. The humiliated and the injured live with the hope, which no ill-success can weaken, of witnessing the coming, sometimes of the god, sometimes of the hero, who will redress all wrongs, cast down the wicked, and, at long last, give the good man his deserts. For a time, this Dispenser of Justice was physically strong. Dumas, remembering his father, the general, had successfully incarnated in Porthos the myth of Hercules.
In the Arabian Nights the Dispenser of Justice is personified as a Magician. His power is no longer physical but occult. He can transport the innocent victim to a place where no persecutor can reach him, and can throw open to the poor great vaults filled with jewels. At the time when Dumas was writing, this enchanter had become confused with the ‘nabob’ whose wealth permitted him to indulge his every whim, no matter how wild. Dumas dreamed of becoming just such a distributor of earthly happiness. To the extent, now alas much reduced, to which his own financial difficulties allowed him to do so, he delighted in playing this part in the interest of his friends and mistresses. A cup would have held all the gold he had, but this he scattered with a nabob's open-handedness.
He delighted in the idea of creating a character possessed of a fabulous treasure, and scattering far and wide, through an intermediary, sapphires, diamonds, emeralds and rubies and, furthermore, of making that character the Avenger in some great cause. For Dumas, in spite of his happy exuberance, harboured deep within himself many grievances against society at large, and private enemies in particular. His father had been a victim: he himself was harassed by creditors, and slandered by those skilled in the art of blackmail. He shared with many human beings, who have been unjustly treated, that longing for vengeance which, since the Oresteia, has engendered so many masterpieces. He must have been sorely tempted to find compensation in fiction for the iniquities of the real world.
Peuchet gave him the plot for which he was looking. True stories provide an excellent framework, provided the artist can give them the necessary finishing touches. Dumas was already far advanced in his work when he sent out a call for help to Maquet.
I told him what had been already done, and what remained to do.
‘It seems to me,’ he said, ‘that you have neglected the most interesting parts of your hero's life. I mean, his love affair with the Catalan woman, the treachery of Danglars and Fernand, and the ten years spent in prison with the abbé Faria.’
‘I shall cover all that,’ I replied.
‘But you cannot narrate the matter of four or five volumes, and that is what the whole thing will amount to.’
‘You may be right. Come and dine with me tomorrow, and we'll talk about it again.’
All that evening, all that night, and the next morning, I thought over what he had said, and so true did it seem, that I found my original idea completely changed. So, when Maquet next came, he found the work divided into three distinct parts: Marseille—Rome—Paris.
Together, that evening, we roughed out the first five volumes. Of these, one should be introductory, three should deal with the period of captivity, and the last should cover the escape and the rewarding of the Morel family. All the rest, though not completely finished, was more or less in draft.
Maquet considered that he had done no more than give me friendly advice. But I insisted on his playing the part of collaborator.4
It now remains to see how Dumas adapted Peuchet's material. His hero, Edmond Dantès is, like François Picaud, on the point of marrying the woman he loves, when a series of inexplicable misfortunes come upon him. His Mercédès is stolen from him by Fernand the fisherman as, in Peuchet's story, Marguerite, Picaud's betrothed, is lured into marrying Loupian. But Dumas splits Loupian into two, using him both for Fernand and for the traitor Danglars. The magistrate, Villefort, who sees in the ruin brought upon Dantès a chance of promotion for himself, is modelled on the real police inspector, who was overjoyed to believe Loupian's slanderous denunciation.
The abbé Faria (in the novel, Edmond Dantès's fellow prisoner in the Château d'If) plays the part of the rich Milanese prelate who left his treasure to François Picaud. Dantès, after his escape, assumes a variety of disguises, appearing successively as the abbé Busoni, Sinbad the sailor, Lord Wilmore and the Count of Monte-Cristo, just as Picaud had taken the aliases of Joseph Lucher, the abbé Baldini and the lemonade-hawker, Prosper.
It should not be forgotten that Loupian's daughter, inveigled by an impostor, believed that she was marrying into one of the noblest families in the land, by taking as husband a man who turned out to be a convicted prisoner masquerading as a marquis. This episode was too good to be ignored by the novelist. Dumas introduces under Danglars's roof a certain Benedetto, Villefort's bastard son, a swindler, a thief and a forger, who had once been imprisoned at Toulon and, after escaping, had passed himself off as an Italian prince. The charming Eugénie, Danglars's daughter, accepts his advances, but, on the very day which is to see the signing of the marriage contract in surroundings of the utmost splendour, the bride-groom to be, who is wanted for murder, is arrested.
But normal imagination had not been responsible for the stroke of genius which produced the name Comte de Monte-Cristo, which was to become so deeply imbedded in the memories of countless readers. The mysterious chemistry which assists at the birth of great works had been enriched with this precious reagent on the day when Dumas had gone shooting in the islands which lie about Elba.
The real Picaud had pursued his vengeance in too ruthless a manner to become a popular hero. Dantès must be an implacable avenger, but not a savage murderer. Picaud had assassinated his persecutors. He had taken vengeance into his own hands, whereas Dantès is given his vengeance. Fernand, after becoming the général comte de Morceuf and the husband of Mercédès, commits suicide. Danglars is ruined. Villefort goes mad. But to relieve the hideous darkness of the story, and to recreate the atmosphere of the Arabian Nights, Dumas presents Monte-Cristo with an oriental mistress, Haydée, the daughter of the Pasha of Janina. She is the proud and noble slave whom Dumas would so much have liked to possess.
At the end of the book, Edmond Dantès, now sated with vengeance, goes so far as to provide a dowry for Mademoiselle de Villefort, his enemy's child, who marries Morel, his friend's son. But when the young couple wish to thank their benefactor, Monte-Cristo, and ask his sailor: ‘Where is the count? Where is Haydée?’ the man points towards the horizon:
They looked in the direction indicated by the sailor and, on the stretch of dark blue water separating the Mediterranean from the sky, saw a white sail no bigger than a seagull's wing….
And so The Count of Monte-Cristo finishes like a Charlie Chaplin film, with the back view of a man walking out of the picture.
1. Alexandre Dumas, Causeries, pp. 273-4.
3. See Jacques Peuchet, Mémoires tirés des archives de la police de Paris, vol. V, pp. 197-228 (Paris, Levavaseur-Bourmancé, 1838).
4. British Museum, 39,672, Dumas manuscripts, folios 68-72 (hitherto unpublished).
Amelita Marinetti (essay date December 1976)
SOURCE: Marinetti, Amelita. "Death, Resurrection, and Fall in Dumas' Comte de Monte-Cristo." French Review 50, no. 2 (December 1976): 260-69.
[In the following essay, Marinetti explores the thematic elements of death and rebirth in The Count of Monte-Cristo, arguing that the text exhibits two major mythic cycles—the heroic fall and the myth of the father-seeker/father-slayer.]
Serious literary criticism has paid little attention to Le Comte de Monte-Cristo, apparently concurring with the judgment made on it by Alfred Nettement shortly after its first appearance as a roman-feuilleton in the Journal des Débats.1 Nettement's criticism was aimed primarily at what he considered its improbabilities, both historical and psychological, and its immorality. He ignored Dumas' skill in weaving a story full of dramatic incidents into an historical background remarkable for its verisimilitude to anyone other than a scholar looking for inaccuracies of detail. Since his standard of psychological realism required that all a novel's characters exhibit perfect consistency, he found it unbelievable that Monte-Cristo should consider himself a Christian, yet commit destructive acts. He compared Le Comte de Monte-Cristo, for its incredibility, to The Arabian Nights, yet did not consider that both might contain truth of a different order from that he was seeking.
J.-H. Bornecque, in his preface to the Garnier edition of the work (1962), rehabilitates it and finds justification for its lasting popularity in its expression of the frustrated dreams of its era (for enjoyment, self-expression, and unlimited freedom) and of the deep aspirations of Dumas himself to omniscience, social power, and the conquest of the impossible. In his biography of the three Dumas, André Maurois2 recognized some of the mythic elements in this expression of dreams as a modern embodiment of the figure of magician and dispenser of justice.
However, the wealth of mythic themes which permeate this novel have not been sufficiently recognized or studied. Particularly important are two myths, those of death and resurrection, which have been briefly noted by Jean Tortel in his "Esquisse d'un univers tragique: le mythe de la toute-puissance,"3 and that of the fall, an aspect of the novel which has been completely neglected. These two myths inform the entire structure of the book. In these mythic themes, at a deeper level than in that of the omniscient and all-powerful magician, can be discovered the experience, needs, and fears of a revolutionary era. More important as an explanation of the seemingly eternal appeal of Le Comte de Monte-Cristo is the fact that these themes have special impact in all ages characterized by social and political instability and rapid change, and therefore have been meaningful to most of the Western world and well beyond it ever since the time of Dumas. We should recognize, moreover, not only the variety of the myths which enter into the work, and the skill with which they are enmeshed in the contemporary setting, but the ways in which all these myths are modified by the psychological and historical forces which were at work within Dumas' world.
There is nothing surprising in the profound influence of myth on the structure and themes of Dumas' novel. The early nineteenth century was a period particularly inspired by myth. Its most powerful writers were mythmakers, gifted at crystallizing popular fantasies and in doing so usually reincarnating the mythic heroes and situations of earlier times. The figure of Satan, for example, became associated in the Romantic period with the aggressive, inventive spirit in man, basis of hubris and heresy, but also of self-reliance. Prometheus came to symbolize man's fight for liberty against oppression, while Faust was transformed into a hero of sensibility and suffering caused by his thirst for absolute experience. Pride and rebellious individualism, always present to some degree in the hero, but considered sins in the earlier centuries of Christianity, became virtues as faith diminished.4
Dumas was brought up on sacred history and classical mythology. He learned to read using a magnificent Bible belonging to a family friend and he subsequently found great enjoyment in his own beautiful picture book of mythology. The Bible stories remained so vivid in his mind that he claimed never to have needed to reread it in later life. He also asserted at the time he was writing his memoirs that he still knew every detail of Greek and Roman mythology as thoroughly as he had as a child.5
Yet one need not look to classical and Biblical learning or to contemporary literary examples for sources of a myth of resurrection and fall. Dumas' generation had its own fallen and resurrected hero in the person of Napoleon. This man, fallen from extraordinary heights and banished to imprisonment in Elba, had experienced a brief resurrection during the Hundred Days. A few years later, his memory was resurrected by the translation of his remains to France. Once could even see the rise of Napoleon III as a kind of inferior reincarnation.
Le Comte de Monte-Cristo contains two mythic cycles, similar in pattern yet different in development and emphasis. The first begins with the hero in a state of relative innocence, followed by a fall which is far more terrible than a modicum of guilt would seem to justify (and therefore resembles the catastrophe of death in the life of man), which in turn leads to a hard-won but spectacular resurrection into a position of power far beyond any known by ordinary mortals. This cycle, covering Dantès' imprisonment, escape, and discovery of the treasure willed to him by Father Faria, is contained within the first twenty-four chapters of the book, less than a fourth of the whole. The remainder of the novel recounts another cycle, carrying the hero from a position of noble but contaminated omniscience to a second fall, this time clearly justified, and at last to an ambiguous second resurrection. This is the story of Monte-Cristo's revenge on those who put him in prison, his recompense to his loyal employer, his increasing loss of faith in the rightness of his mission, and his return to the world of death through the two young lovers he has chosen as his spiritual descendants, followed by their rebirth and his own disappearance from the known world.
The essential idea of the fall, at least until its reinterpretation in Camus' work, has been that of a basically innocent man or lesser god, of great stature and good intentions, who oversteps the bounds permitted to aspiring humanity, falls into error, and is severely punished. The basic innocence of Dantès is more evident that in most other versions of the myth. Capable sailor, devoted son, faithful lover, totally honest in his relations with the world, he is not without a certain lack of foresight and a too-easy unawareness of the misery and evil lurking in the hearts of his associates. Owing money to the untrustworthy Caderousse, he departed on a long voyage leaving his old father with barely enough money to last until his return. Once back, with the promise of promotion to captain and marriage to the girl he loves, he is oblivious to the enraged jealousy of Fernand and Danglars who covet, respectively, the woman and the job.
Of deeper interest, however, than these slight implications of neglect or indifference on the part of the young hero is the suggestion made by Dantès himself at the height of happiness in his forthcoming marriage and position that innocence alone cannot merit happiness: "Il me semble," he reflects to Danglars, "que l'homme n'est pas fait pour être si facilement heureux! Le bonheur est comme ces palais des îles enchantées dont les dragons gardent les portes. Il faut combattre pour le conquérir" (I, 49).6
The form of Dantès' fall is a solitary and interminable confinement which is as close to death as a living man can get. The fallen hero disappears at this point and is transformed into the dead hero who will eventually be resurrected. According to Joseph Campbell,7 the myth of the resurrected hero is universal in scope, originally concerning a god or the incarnation of one in a human being. When the hero is not divine in nature, the story concerns his leaving the world of everyday existence and going into a strange region where fabulous forces are at work; there a decisive victory is won, and he returns with the power to grant favors to his fellow men. His adventures usually involve instruction, testing, and transmission of power by a father figure of godlike character. Everywhere in mythical thought truly creative acts have their origin in some sort of dying to the world, after which the hero "comes back as one reborn, made great and filled with creative power."8
The analogy which Dumas intended between his hero and the Christian version of the resurrection myth is apparent in the title itself, and it is interesting to recall that the element of the novel which first occurred to its author was its title, the island of that name which he happened upon while on a hunting expedition with Prince Napoleon in 1841. Moreover, in describing the coat of arms adopted by the Count to go with his new fortune and title (both derived from the island), the narrator says that it is a gold-colored mountain on a blue sea, with a red cross at the summit, "ce qui pouvait aussi bien être une allusion à son nom rappelant le Calvaire, que la passion de Notre-Seigneur a fait une montagne plus précieuse que l'or, et la croix infâme que son sang divin a faite sainte, qu'à quelque souvenir personnel de souffrance et de régénération enseveli dans la nuit du passé de cet homme mystérieux" (II, 383).
The extent to which Dumas was inspired by the career of Napoleon, the contemporary embodiment of the myths of fall and resurrection, is most apparent in his efforts to achieve historical realism in the circumstances of Dantès imprisonment. Dantès went to prison in February 1815, a few days before Napoleon's return from Elba; and the Hundred Days, which gave hope to both, turned out to be the last blow for each. Moreover, the subsequent corruption of Dantès' character through his lust for vengeance and the enormity of his power is surely related to a common contemporary view of Napoleon's evolution.
Dumas reiterates throughout the story that Dantès' imprisonment, of fourteen years' duration, was a death for him, and that the Count of Monte-Cristo was a man who had returned from the grave. Dantès' entry into the town jail (even before going to the ominous Château d'If) is rendered fateful by the three resounding knocks on the heavy door, by the young man's fearful hesitation on the threshold, and by a reference to the air on the other side as "other," noxious and heavy (I, 86). Dantès soon comes to look upon himself as dead and to think of the world outside as that of the living. The spiritual equivalent of physical death comes progressively with his loss of pride (he comes to long to be with other prisoners, even the dregs of humanity), his loss of all sense of time, and finally his loss of identity, becoming merely "Number 34."
A preoccupation with death, which is not the morbid quest for sensation present in some Romantic literature, but is closely integrated with the themes of the novel, is evidenced throughout. Monte-Cristo's "death" in prison leaves its mark forever on his skin, which remains pale and cold. When Franz, the Count's first acquaintance among the Parisian aristocracy, and Albert, son of Fernand and Mercédès, are forced by Monte-Cristo to witness a gruesome execution in Rome, they agree with him that death is the only serious preoccupation in life and the only thing that truly reveals character. The supposed death of Villefort's and Mme Danglars' baby, the real death of Franz's father, both of which come back to haunt the living, and finally the simulated death of Valentine, all point to the central conviction of the novel, that death and death alone truly reveals the significance of life.
As was the case in Greek mythology, a journey into the realm of death must involve a descent into an underground place. Dantès' cell is below ground, with only a small shaft of light coming from above, and the place he constructs on the Island of Monte-Cristo after his escape is set deep in an underground cavern. The enormous treasure which is the source of all his future power is found in a grotto. And for the resurrection of Valentine the Count chooses this same underground cavern, into which her lover Maximilien must descend as did Orpheus in search of his lost love.
The process of Dantès' resurrection begins in prison, long before the possibility of actual escape presents itself. As is often the case in myth, it is brought about through the agency of a semidivine creature who comes to the aid of the hero, here the all-wise Faria. It is only at the very threshold of real, physical death, when he has almost succeeded in starving to death, that Dantès first hears the scratching of this other prisoner and finds in the hope of a companion something to live for. But the rebirth that is Faria's gift to Dantès involves far more than release from prison. Through Faria Dantès is completely regenerated into a new man, with all the wisdom, knowledge, wealth, and strength of character to make it possible for him to play the role of a god in the eyes of others. Imprisonment has sharpened and deepened the mind of this learned man in a way that could never have occurred in freedom. Not only does he impart to Dantès his wisdom and knowledge, but also "ce métier patient et sublime du prisonnier, qui de rien sait faire quelque chose" (I, 237). It is he who is able to penetrate the mystery of why Dantès was accused and locked up indefinitely without ever being brought to trial, thus bringing the innocent young man to his first confrontation with real evil. In this way, although Faria is himself angelic in nature, he plays the mythic role of serpent who presents to the hero the knowledge of good and evil. Finally, Faria provides Dantès with the means of using all his acquired knowledge and strength to real advantage by giving him the secret of an immense hidden fortune. Even more important to the mythic aspects of the story is the fact that the escape plans of the two men end in frustration and failure, and that it is ultimately only through Faria's death, and Dantès' sewing himself into the shroud, that the latter is able to escape.
At this point the story incorporates another widespread myth, that of the father-seeker and the father-slayer. Very often the son seeks his father, who has been lost, or who had exiled him (frequently as a threat to the father). The meeting of the two involves a transmission (or violent wrestling) of a precious heritage, sometimes resulting in the death of the father. The story is undoubtedly related to age-old and ever-new difficulties of getting the old to relinquish their powers to the young.
There is no doubt that Faria is a father figure for Dantès. The latter calls upon Faria long after his death as his "second père … toi qui m'as donné la liberté, la science, la richesse" (II, 717). Dantès' natural father is seen from the beginning as a helpless old man, incapable of doing anything to aid his son in his hour of need, or even of preventing himself from dying of starvation once deprived of his son's support. Dantès is in desperate need of another father, if he is to be reborn as another man, one capable of rising above and triumphing over the weight of evil which threatens to crush him.9 Mythic thought requires that a price be paid for such a miracle. The life of the father must be sacrificed, symbolically if not actually. Birth symbolism is very strong in this episode of the novel: the birth canal is represented by the narrow passage dug between the two cells, the womb by the shroud in which Dantès substitutes himself for Faria, the birth cries by the terrible shout uttered by Dantès just before he hits the surface of the sea (of life) when the guards whom he expected to dig him a grave throw him into the ocean instead.
Another theme which is widespread in mythology and closely connected to primitive ritual is that of the testing of the hero. In ritual this involves severe exercises of severance whereby the mind is radically cut away from attitudes appropriate to the old life patterns, in order to prepare the individual for a new state in life, such as puberty or marriage. After the tests there follows an interval of more or less extended retirement, from which the person returns to ordinary life as a new man, as though reborn. In myth, the hero must pass through a series of trials aimed at rendering him worthy of the favor he asks of the gods or the exalted position he is to fill (i.e., the ordeal of Psyche and the labors of Hercules). Basically, this initiation signifies the obedient acceptance of a ruthless and (to man) senseless universe.
The theme of testing plays an important part in the novel of Dumas, both in the prison episode and in the subsequent ten years during which the Count pre- pares for his revenge. It is repeated at the end of the story as an epilogue. The first test of Dantès' moral fiber comes when Faria is half paralyzed by an attack of apoplexy which puts an end to the two prisoners' hope of escaping together. Although Faria urges his young friend to escape alone, Dantès refuses to leave and vows to stay with him to the end of his life. The reward for this act of loyalty and sacrifice is the secret of Faria's treasure, in the reality of which Dantès refuses for a long time to believe. The crux of the testing within the Château d'If is the withstanding of pain while maintaining hope and moral values. The self-testing to which Monte-Cristo submits after his escape from prison is for the purpose of hardening him to the pain and death of others, essential to one embarked on a spectacular and merciless revenge. Dantès' brief service as a smuggler just after his escape, especially his first taste of gunfire and death, is useful in this regard: "Dantès était sur la voie qu'il voulait parcourir, et marchait au but qu'il voulait atteindre: son cœur était en train de se pétrifier dans sa poitrine" (I, 272-73).
At this point, a lapse of ten years occurs in the narrative. When the resurrected hero reappears, as though from nowhere, it is to rescue the older Morrel from bankruptcy and suicide, to save Albert from Roman bandits, to bedazzle all Paris by his fabulous wealth and apparent omniscience. More than this, the reader sees Dantès as a Protean figure who is able to appear as entirely different people in different places, and within minutes of a prior appearance. Thus, like his mythic predecessors, he is not only reborn, but comes back to the world a totally different person from the Dantès who had entered prison twenty-four years earlier. And again, like the heroes of myth, he is insulated from the world. For example, he appears never to eat. Part of this is a refusal to break bread with his enemies, an eastern custom which he has brought back from his travels in the Orient. Mercédès, who has recognized him and fears for her husband and son, desperately tries to get Monte-Cristo to eat at least a piece of fruit from her garden, as though like Proserpine, the smallest bit of food partaken of would somehow commit him to his host. Yet even when he is host in his cave to Franz, against whom he holds no grudge, he barely touches the magnificent dinner served. Even his voice has a peculiar quality, strident and metallic, as though, visitor from another world, he had not quite succeeded in modulating it to make it sound like that of an ordinary mortal.
Monte-Cristo's apotheosis is the aspect of the novel which aligns it most closely with popular hero literature of all epochs and is thus of less concern to this study of the novel as a variation of the myths of death, resurrection, and fall. However, the resurrection experience is repeated several times during the period of apotheosis in a way that links it closely to the early nineteenth-century fascination with the search for a new identity. Monte-Cristo's identity, unknown to all but Mercédès, is revealed to each enemy in turn, but only when the latter is on the brink of death, madness, or utter ruin, and is no longer in a position to retaliate. Each revelation of the name of Dantès is a moment of such intense drama, is so devastating to the enemy who learns it, and so exhilarating to Monte-Cristo, that one is reminded of the importance in myth and religion of the very name of the deity. The magic power given by earlier peoples to a name had reappeared in Romantic literature as an intense preoccupation with the quest for identity. In a rapidly shifting social and political environment, the status and role of the individual, therefore his identity, are a matter of doubt for him.10 Small wonder that for Dumas and his contemporaries who had grown up in the post-Revolutionary era, there was untold satisfaction in the fact that the pronouncing of one's name alone could produce utter despair in one's enemies, and hope out of despair in those who merited one's gratitude.
Unfortunately, Monte-Cristo's apotheosis, splendid as it is, contains within it the seeds of a new fall. Dantès' state of relative innocence had lasted only until the gift of power and knowledge bestowed on him by Faria offered the possibility of taking action to free himself. It appears that when man defends himself against evil he inevitably becomes to some extent corrupted by it. A basic implication of the myth of the fall is that perfect happiness is necessarily accompanied by perfect innocence and trust, i.e., man before the fall. Knowledge is equated with the temptation to evil. Ambition and inventiveness, which demonstrate an aggressive and analytic attitude toward the universe, are associated with rebellion against God. The children of Cain were both wicked and inventive (inventing the harp, the organ, metal work, planning cities) as was Prometheus (who brought not only fire and light, but the sciences, city building, agriculture, transportation, and music, to man). Thus competence is idealized, but it is also suspect, and man through the ages has striven for competence and longed for innocence.11
Dumas clearly shows in his novel that the truly innocent—Dantès' father, both Morrels, Victorine, Haydée—are doomed to poverty, humiliation, and a wretched death without the aid of the Count's somewhat contaminated competence. The contrast is most striking when we consider the character of Faria, a genius who yet helplessly languishes in prison because of his angelic purity. He cannot envisage the use of power except in the cause of good. He will assent to the possibility of killing a guard to effect their escape only if utterly unavoidable, while Dantès does not understand such scruples. Faria's last days are brightened by thoughts of all the good Dantès will be able to do his friends with the fortune he has bequeathed him, while Dantès can think only of revenge on his enemies.
Monte-Cristo was warned very early, at the brink of his discovery of Faria's treasure, that evil lurks in this new power. A poisonous snake lay coiled at the entrance of the cave like a guardian of the treasure. Yet he clings to the belief that he has been chosen as an agent of Providence for the punishment of the wicked: "Je me sentais poussé comme le nuage de feu passant dans le ciel pour aller brûler les villes maudites" (II, 703). He receives each of his early successes as confirmations of his calling. His pride goes to greater extremes when he boasts of finding pleasure unknown to other men in struggling "contre la nature qui est Dieu, et contre le monde qui peut bien passer pour le diable" (II, 341). Nowhere is the exaggerated pride of Monte-Cristo more evident than in the scene following his promise to Mercédès to spare her son in the duel between them, a forbearance which must necessarily entail his own death. More unbearable to him than the idea of death or of giving up his great project is the fear of being thought defeated, the victim rather than the agent of Providence. Above all else, he is anxious to let the world know in some way that he has stopped the course of Providence by his own will alone. The thought that the self that he has forged with such long efforts will be obliterated is also unbearable to him: "Ce moi que je croyais quelque chose, ce moi dont j'étais si fier, ce moi que j'avais vu si petit dans les cachots du château d'If, et que j'avais su rendre si grand, sera demain un peu de poussière!" (II, 434).
This immoderate pride is vanquished when the Count perceives that the pursuit of his revenge entails harming the innocent. The discovery that Villefort's daughter Valentine, about to be poisoned by her stepmother, is loved by his beloved protégé Maximilien, and even more the discovery of the death of Villefort's son, only a child, both of which situations he brought about himself, are the events that truly shake his faith in his mission. He can no longer number himself among the gods because they have the power to limit the results of their actions—chance is not stronger than they. Symbolic of this problem is the red elixir, the recipe for which Monte-Cristo gives to the ambitious poisoner, Mme de Villefort. On the exact dosage depends whether it cures, injures, or kills. Man can control the dosage of a drug, but once he has attained supreme knowledge and power he cannot control the dosage so as to do only justice and no evil.
This impasse which Monte-Cristo must confront between the legitimate aspirations of man for a social order closer to his conception of justice, and his inability to control the power unleashed by his new freedom to act, is an echo of the central ambivalence of the age. Men of all shades of political opinion were convinced that the forces released by the two revolutions, the French and the industrial, would inevitably bring tremendous changes. But some felt that these changes would be in the direction of greater social justice through scientific rationality, while others were filled with dread of coming chaos and horror. As Jacob Talman has expressed it: "The progressives of all hues spoke of the rights of man: the reactionaries countered with the malignant fickleness of man and the omnipotent, benevolent wisdom of God."12 Dumas himself was basically republican and liberal in spirit. But he felt horror for the excesses of the Revolution, and he blamed Napoleon for what he had cost in the blood of Frenchmen.
The last chapters of the novel are devoted to Monte-Cristo's attempt to resolve this problem. The resolution involves, on the one hand, his own efforts to do good deeds in order to add to the "poids jeté dans la balance en regard du plateau ou j'ai laissé tomber le mal" (II, 761), and on the other hand, an attempt to relive, through the agency of Maximilien, who is as a son to him, the whole experience of death and rebirth through testing and the sacrifice of the father. This time the goal is not revenge or even justice, but love alone, and Maximilien is reborn not as a monster of power and knowledge but as a purely good man.
Monte-Cristo pardons Danglars, the last of his enemies, while he still has his life, his sanity, and the dregs of his fortune, because he himself needs to be pardoned. He does what he can to protect the wife and son of Fernand from the worst effects of the latter's ruin and suicide. He has already saved Valentine from death by poison. But it is not enough simply to reunite the young lovers. Maximilien must believe Valentine dead, must be ready to die himself, not just immediately in the first throes of grief, but after a period of time which would dull the pain of a less devoted lover and give him hope of finding solace elsewhere. Like Dantès many years earlier, he must go to the very door of death in order to be born again into the perfect bliss of love. Only thus will he become worthy of possessing Valentine, "un bonheur infini, immense, inconnu, un bonheur trop grand, trop complet, drop divin pour ce monde" (II, 617).
The temptation motif, less prominent in Dantès' ordeal, is very clearly analogous to that of Christ when it is Morrel's turn to be tested. Monte-Cristo offers him his entire fortune, reminding him of all the power and pleasure it provides, if only he consent to go on living without Valentine. When Maximilien withstands this temptation, Monte-Cristo chooses for the scene of resurrection (of both Morrel and Valentine) the underground cavern that is his palace and has Morrel enter the realm of death through taking hashish, which the latter thinks is a fatal drug. As Morrel is recovering consciousness Monte-Cristo says to Valentine: "Désormais vous ne devez plus vous séparer sur la terre; car pour vous retrouver il se précipitait dans la tombe" (II, 765). Even the theme of the sacrifice of the father reappears, for Monte-Cristo, after leaving them wealth in the form of all his European property, disappears into some mysterious realm, probably never to be seen again. His final message to Morrel is, "Attendre et espérer!" This is the essence of faith and trust in God, and the opposite of the implacable force and omniscient wisdom of the self he had spent most of his adult life to construct and unleash upon the world.
The overall theme of Le Comte de Monte-Cristo is a deeply ambivalent one. Although human independence and competence, in the person of Monte-Cristo, have been shown imperfect and even dangerous, they have brought about a much closer approximation of justice than this particular society offered before his coming. Therefore, despite the shedding of a little innocent (though shown to be potentially guilty) blood in the death of Villefort's young son, it cannot be said that Dantès would have done better to wait and hope. On the contrary, only because a Monte-Cristo has taken on man's guilt, can a Morrel live in innocence and follow his admonition to "attendre et espérer."
1.Etudes critiques sur le feuilleton-roman (Paris: Lagny Frères, 1947), II, 291-412.
2.The Titans: A Three-Generation Biography of the Dumas, trans. Gerard Hopkins (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1957), p. 224.
3.Cahiers du Sud, special issue: Quelques Aspects d'une mythologie moderne, 1951.
4. Peter L. Thorslev, The Byronic Hero: Types and Prototypes (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1962), pp. 85-87 and 108-11.
5.Mes Mémoires (Paris: Gallimard, 1954), I, 196-98.
6. References are to Alexandre Dumas, Le Comte de Monte-Cristo, ed. J.-H. Bornecque, 2 vols. (Paris: Garnier, 1962).
7. "The Historical Development of Mythology," in Myth and Mythmaking, ed. Henry A. Murray (1960, rpt. Boston: Beacon, 1968), p. 19.
9. One is reminded here of the importance of the theme of father-seeking and the father substitute in Stendhal's works. Other points of similarity in theme between Dumas and Stendhal are the importance of death as the true key to character and of imprisonment as a source of self-discovery.
10. S. B. John, "Violence and Identity in Romantic Drama," in French Literature and its Background, vol. 4: The Early Nineteenth Century, ed. John Cruickshank (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1969), pp. 137-38.
11. Thorslev, pp. 94 and 113. See also Jerome S. Bruner, "Myth and Identity," in Myth and Mythmaking, op. cit., pp. 276-86.
12.Romanticism and Revolt: Europe 1815-1848 (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1967), p. 24.
Richard S. Stowe (essay date 1976)
SOURCE: Stowe, Richard S. "The Chronicler of Romance: Le Comte de Monte-Cristo." In Alexandre Dumas (père), pp. 116-26. Boston, Mass.: Twayne, 1976.
[In the following essay, Stowe expounds on the elements of realism in Le Comte de Monte-Cristo, noting that, "almost as soon as the novel was published readers everywhere began seeking or inventing traces of the characters in the locales it described."]
During a visit to Marseille in 18411 Dumas borrowed from the city library a copy—never returned—of Courtilz de Sandras' Mémoires de Monsieur d'Artagnan. In all probability this fortuitous happening planted the seed that ultimately produced Les Trois Mousquetaires. Another such casual, unplanned occurrence lies at the beginning of Le Comte de Monte-Cristo, the only book of Dumas's to challenge, if not to surpass, that novel in popularity. Dumas tells the story in one of his causeries written many years later, "État civil du Comte de Monte-Cristo" ("Vital Statistics on The Count of Monte-Cristo ").2
Early in 1842 Dumas, who was then living in Florence, took the young Prince Napoleon to visit the island of Elba at the request of the prince's father, Jerome Bonaparte. After touring Elba they decided to go hunting on the nearby island of Pianosa. The peasant who carried their game bag assured them that the hunting would be better on yet another island, just visible on the horizon—the island of Monte-Cristo. Off they sailed the next morning to Monte-Cristo, but neither to land nor to hunt. Their rowers informed them as they were about to jump ashore that, the island being deserted, boats could not stop there without all who landed subsequently being quarantined for five or six days. The prince and Dumas debated the risks, then Dumas suggested:
… if Monseigneur is willing…. —What?—We will simply go around the island.—What for?—To fix its geographical position. After that we will go back to Pianosa.—It will be fine to pinpoint the location of the island of Monte-Cristo, but what good will that do?—It will enable me, in memory of this trip I have the honor of making with you, to give the name of the island of Monte-Cristo to a novel I shall write someday.—Then let's go around the island of Monte-Cristo, said the Prince, and send me the first copy of your book.
The novel remained no more than a name in the back of Dumas's mind for a year at least. In 1843 he contracted to write eight volumes of Impressions de voyage dans Paris for the publishers Béthune and Plon, but before he began writing M. Béthune came to inform him that they did not want a "historical and archaeological stroll through Caesar's Lutèce and Philippe Auguste's Paris." What the publishers now envisioned was a novel to compete with Eugène Sue's overwhelmingly successful serial Les Mystères de Paris, in which the Parisian "travel impressions" would be merely incidental.
The change was an easy one for Dumas to make. Searching for a plot, he recalled an anecdote from the police files that had intrigued him for several years and decided to use it as a starting point. Called The Diamond and the Vengeance,3 it told the story of a low trick—a false denunciation—played on a poor shoemaker, François Picaud, as a consequence of which he was imprisoned for seven years. During his imprisonment Picaud served an Italian ecclesiastic who was also a political prisoner, then fell heir to an enormous fortune upon the Italian's death. The second part of the story recounts Picaud's systematic search, after his release from prison, for vengeance on those who had wronged him.
Dumas began his story in Rome, where a rich nobleman named the Count of Monte-Cristo did a great favor for a young French traveller. His recompense was to have the Frenchman serve as his guide when he in turn visited Paris. The trip to Paris, ostensibly to see the city (and to provide Dumas with the pretext for his impressions) was in reality to track down and punish enemies who had had the count imprisoned for ten years. When Dumas had written what now constitutes, with some alterations, Chapter 31-40—the Italian portion of the novel—he spoke of his work to Maquet. Maquet suggested that Dumas was skipping over the most interesting part of his hero's life by starting where he did and he pointed out the awkwardness of trying to fill in that much background material by flashbacks and narration. Dumas continues:
"You may be right," I said. "Come back for dinner tomorrow and we'll talk it over."
That evening, night, and next morning I had thought over his observation and it had seemed so right to me that it prevailed over my original idea. So when Maquet arrived the next day he found the work divided into three distinct parts: Marseille, Rome, Paris. That very evening we worked out together the outline for the first five volumes….
The rest, without being completely finished, was almost all roughed out. Maquet thought he had just done me the favor a friend would do. I insisted that he had done a collaborator's job.
That is how The Count of Monte-Cristo, begun by me as travel impressions, turned gradually into a novel and ended up a collaboration between Maquet and me.
Fragments of the outline in Maquet's writing and letters exchanged between the two men illuminate their continuing active collaboration as they refined and elaborated characters, motivations, and details of action to produce the enormous structure of the completed novel. It was published serially over a year and a half, with several long interruptions for which Dumas invented impressive but vague excuses. In reality the delays were inevitable. During the entire time of composition and publication Dumas and Maquet were engaged in writing plays and other novels—sometimes three at once—together, while Dumas was writing and publishing still more alone, suing Eugène de Mirecourt, and planning his own Château de Monte-Cristo to be built at Port-Marly.
I. Marseille, Rome, Paris
The three sections into which Dumas divided his novel are unequal, but appropriately so. Part one, Marseille, contains thirty chapters; part two, Italie, which is really a bridge between the captivity and the vengeance, has nine noticeably longer chapters; the accomplishment of Monte-Cristo's vengeance in part three fills the remaining seventy-nine chapters (1040 pages in the Garnier edition).
Each of the three sections opens on a precise date—part one on February 24, 1815, as the three-master Pharaon sails into the port of Marseille under the command of Edmond Dantès, the nineteen-year-old first mate who had taken charge when the captain died at sea. Upon the orders of the dying captain Dantès had stopped at the island of Elba where he had delivered a letter to Murat, seen Napoleon, and been given a letter to deliver personally to the Bonapartist group in Paris. The owner of the ship, M. Morrel, welcomes Dantès warmly and promises that his captaincy will be made permanent before the ship sails again. By thus performing his duty and earning the respect of both shipmates and superiors Dantès sets up his happiness: he pays his elderly father's debts to a grasping neighbor, Caderousse, and plans an immediate wedding with his fiancée Mercédès. Unknowingly, by the same deeds he has prepared his downfall. His rival for Mercédès, Fernand, and the envious ship's accountant, Danglars, with the knowledge but not the active help of Caderousse, send a letter to the King's Prosecutor denouncing Dantès as a Bonapartist conspirator. Seized by the authorities in the midst of his prewedding party, Dantès is questioned by M. Noirtier de Villefort, the assistant prosecutor, who had been called away from his own engagement party to conduct the interrogation. At first sympathetic to Dantès, the ambitious and ultraroyalist Villefort is stunned to discover that the letter given Dantès to deliver in Paris is addressed to his own father—a girondin and Bonapartist whose political views Villefort finds intolerable. Fearful for his own position if word should leak out, Villefort reads and destroys the letter, swears Dantès to secrecy, then sends him off to solitary confinement in the Château d'If. There Dantès remains for fourteen years.
The rest of part one details Dantès' imprisonment, the tortures of his loneliness and ignorance of why he is there; his friendship with the abbé Faria4 who not only tells him the secret of the treasure on the island of Monte-Cristo but gives him the incalculable wealth of learning; his near-miraculous escape, and his return to Marseille a transformed man. Now free and endowed with apparently inexhaustible riches and power, Dantès seeks to unravel the mysteries of his years of imprisonment. His father is dead; Mercédès has disappeared. In disguise he tracks down Caderousse and bribes him into revealing the story of the false denunciation, thus confirming his suspicions. In another disguise he intervenes to right the financial affairs of his former employer and friend Morrel, who had been driven near suicide by a series of disastrous reverses. At the end of part one a new Pharaon sails into the port—a duplicate to the last detail of the old vessel once captained by Dantès and recently reported down in a storm. His friends thus rewarded, Dantès is now ready to punish his enemies.
Part two takes place during the pre-Lenten carnival season in Italy in 1838. Before joining his friend Albert de Mortcerf in Rome for Mardi Gras, the young baron Franz d'Épinay decides to take a trip to Elba. From there he goes to Pianosa to hunt, but is disappointed and, like Dumas and Prince Napoleon, accepts his guide's suggestion to push on to the island of Monte-Cristo. They approach the island at night, see the campfires of presumed smugglers, but ascertain that they are friendly and—unlike Dumas and the prince—go ashore. Franz is invited to dine with the leader of the bandits and is escorted blindfolded into the sumptuously appointed caves of the Count of Monte-Cristo, who identifies himself as Sinbad the Sailor. (Franz in turn introduces himself as Aladdin.) Not only the names but the entire episode seem drawn from the Arabian Nights; the description of the interior of the cave, the meal served by the mute slave Ali—everything is unreal, mysterious, and luxuriously exotic. After the meal Franz is given one of his host's hashish tablets and experiences a sort of opium dream, also described in vivid detail. When he awakes Franz is again on the shore and only "Sinbad's" boat on the horizon offers confirmation of the reality of what has happened.
In Rome, Franz and Albert become acquainted with the enigmatic Count of Monte-Cristo who occupies a suite in their hotel. Franz recognizes him as his host on the island but says nothing. The count shows the young men every kindness and it is to him that Franz turns for help when Albert is kidnapped by the notorious bandit Luigi Vampa. Instead of lending the ransom money that Franz asks for, Monte-Cristo goes with him to Vampa's hideout in the catacombs of San Sebastian and secures Albert's immediate release. Before leaving for Paris the next day Albert extracts a promise from the count that he will come to visit him at his home in Paris exactly three months hence, at 10:30 A.M. on May 21st.
Early in the third part it becomes apparent that not only are the sins of the fathers visited on their sons, but the sons are often the instruments of their fathers' punishment. Twenty-three years have elapsed since Dantès was sent off to prison and a new generation has matured, the lives of the young people entangled by threads from a past of which they are often unaware. Maximilien Morrel, son of Dantès' benefactor, is in love with Valentine, daughter of his enemy Villefort by his first marriage. Danglars has a daughter, and Albert de Mortcerf is the son of Mercédès and Fernand. The intricacy of the plot in this long section defies analysis, but a résumé would serve little purpose in any event. Suffice it to say that through all the web of often sordid relationships and family skeletons, Dantès relentlessly pursues his vengeance. Inexorably he prods fate, exposing past crimes or forcing their exposure, precipitating latent crises and catastrophes until again the innocent fall victim to the guilty and he wonders if he has gone too far. A final meeting with Mercédès ends in a final farewell. Dantès revisits the Château d'If. And at the novel's end Maximilien Morrel and Valentine de Villefort stand side by side on the island of Monte-Cristo, watching the count's ship as it disappears beyond the horizon.
II. Art Imitates Life
Le Comte de Monte-Cristo, we are frequently reminded, is not a historical novel but a roman de moeurs—a novel of manners. The story Dumas tells here was not remote from the first audience to which it was addressed; quite the contrary, the bulk of its action was placed squarely in contemporary times and in the city where most of its first readers lived. A fundamental concern, then, for Dumas and Maquet, was reconciling reality and fantasy so as to be convincing—and satisfying—on both levels. Let us look first at the realistic elements, those which justify calling this Arabian Nights adventure a novel of contemporary manners.
The most immediately obvious realism is in settings. From the opening scene on, especially in parts one and three, places are identified and identifiable. All the landmarks of the harbor at Marseille are named as the Pharaon approaches the port and passes them one by one, then streets and squares of the city as Dantès hastens first to see his father, then to the Catalan village to find Mercédès. The engagement dinner of Villefort and Mlle de Saint-Méran is located precisely "on the rue du Grand-Cours, opposite the fountain of the Méduses, in one of those aristocratic old houses built by Puget…." As Dantès is escorted to prison, he recognizes with horror the Château d'If looming up from its rock in front of the boat. Descriptions are brief but, like references to places, concretely real. The same geographic precision, the same concreteness of detail and allusion characterize the description of Caderousse's Auberge du Pont du Gard (Chapter XXVI) and the quartiers and houses of Paris among which characters and action move in part three. Dumas rarely fails to specify not only the part of the city but street names and house numbers. Even the eerie, semihallucinatory episodes of the Italian section of the novel take place in manifestly real locations, be they the hotel of maître Pastrini on the Piazza di Spagna in Rome (both hotel and proprietor were personally known to Dumas), the carnival-filled streets, the moonlit Colosseum, or the island of Monte-Cristo itself.
Dumas's realism goes beyond geography, however; it extends to characters, events, and milieux as well. Other real persons besides maître Pastrini figure in the novel in imagined roles or by way of allusion: the imaginary Haydée, for example, is the daughter of the real Ali Pasha of Janina and is received in the Luxembourg palace by a real Président de la Chambre des Pairs. The text is filled with references to fashionable clubs and restaurants, to real newspapers, to artists and writers of the day, to operas and plays that were being performed. From all this, as from the parallel engagement parties on different levels of society, the balls and dinners of the rich, the financial struggles of the poor, the honest bourgeois life of the Morrels, the social-climbing of Villefort, the unsavory dealings of Caderousse and Cavalcanti, the politics and commerce, there emerges a rich and accurate picture of a society, a picture at once authentic and minutely familiar to the book's first public.
Maquet's notes reveal with what meticulous care the relationships and psychology of the characters were prepared so that this aspect of the book too would be convincing. Behavior is always believable without always being predictable. The avarice of Caderousse is established before he succumbs to the temptation of the false abbé Busoni's diamond. Fernand's role in the tragedy at Janina is consistent with the weakness of character he had demonstrated in 1815, just as the courage and force of character displayed by old Noirtier at the end are in keeping with all prior impressions of him. Danglars's cupidity motivates his participation in the plot against Dantès, dominates his family relationships, and produces both his financial success and his ultimate ruin. The shift of the opening action from 1807—the year of Picaud's imprisonment—to 1815 makes the denunciation of Dantès more immediately believable because it is political. Villefort's motivation is strengthened by the same change.
A final realistic element—though it may not at first seem to be one—is the plot, which is drawn, as we have seen, from a true story. Though Dumas has expanded the simple tale at every point, elaborated the characterizations and profoundly altered the outcome, the core of truth—as fantastic as any fiction—remains. We may suspect that it was to emphasize this aspect of the work that he had Peuchet's anecdote appended to his text in the second reprinting of 1846.
The realism of Le Comte de Monte-Cristo, far from making its fabulous elements seem less believable, makes them more so. They are firmly rooted in a reality so familiar as to be almost tangible. If the reader believes in this reality of setting and situations, if he finds the characters and motives human and credible, then he will be much more ready to accept the impossible as possible. At every point it is clear that Dumas is working from this assumption.
The fantastic is not only rooted in reality; it grows from it also. Dumas's procedure in adapting his source is quite consistently to magnify or exaggerate the ordinary in order to arrive at the extraordinary. The imprisonment of Picaud lasted seven years; Dantès is in the Château d'If for fourteen. The fortune to which Picaud fell heir—admittedly already more than ordinary—amounted to about eleven million francs in property, diamonds and cash, and was located in Milan; Dantès found at least ten times as much buried in the cave on the deserted island of Monte-Cristo. The rich Italian whom Picaud served in prison "less as a servant than as a son" became the abbé Faria, who not only possessed the secret of Monte-Cristo but was in every way an exceptional man, qualified to enrich Dantès intellectually and spiritually as well as materially. The disguises employed by Dantès are more numerous and varied than those used by Picaud in tracking down his enemies. Most striking of all, the humble shoemaker who devoted his life to avenging a wrong becomes a young man of promise transformed by his experience into a Promethean superman.
But the magnification occurs not only in such transformations; it is inherent in Dumas's manner of telling the story as well. One needs only to reread Chapter XXIV—in which Dantès finds the treasure—to see how a relatively simple narration, by its pacing and building up of detail, amplifies the action to a dimension consistent with the spectacular discovery at its end. Dantès himself cannot believe that he will find a treasure there, but step by step as the abbé Faria's words prove true, the reader—like Dantès—is forced to accept first the probability and then the reality.
Not all the fantasy in the novel, of course, thus grows from its factual source or from the realistic fictional context. The most conspicuously fabulous elements spring from Dumas's imagination and temperament. Dantès's remarkable escape from the Château d'If was Dumas's invention—at least it did not come from Peuchet—and it is worth noting that the part of the novel written by Dumas alone is the most heavily charged with romantic exoticism. In that section, starting from his personal experience—which he assigns to Franz d'Épinay—Dumas turns his imagination loose, revelling in the color of the Roman carnival, the mystery of moonlit ruins, the terror of bandits who strike by night. All this is, at bottom, quite conventional and in the vein of Hugo's Orientales and a whole body of literature of fifteen to twenty years before. But the barren rock of Monte-Cristo calls up more remote and personal memories, and he creates inside it a fabulous cavern from the Arabian Nights and a hero who, like the heroes of those tales, blends in his person power, wealth, and mystery.
In his introduction to the Garnier edition of the novel J.-H. Bornecque suggests that Dantès is a projection of Dumas's dreams, frustrations, and nature.5 Relating him to the heroes of Pauline (1838) and Georges (1843), whom he finds to be less complete versions of the type fully embodied in Monte-Cristo, Bornecque argues that the personal qualities of Dumas that Monte-Cristo shares—for example, his love of the sea, his combination of humble origins and ex- ceptional accomplishments—are only the starting point of the resemblance. Monte-Cristo realizes all his dreams, including the final affirmation of his rights and his superiority, in vengeance on his enemies and humiliation of his detractors; through Monte-Cristo, says Bornecque, Dumas vicariously shares this achievement. "Monte-Cristo, determined to conquer the impossible by force of will, is absolutely Alexandre Dumas as he sees himself or as he wishes himself to be."6
Bornecque's arguments are persuasive and his idea is both illuminating and suggestive. There are other comparisons to be made, however, which avoid the fascinating but tricky psychological identification of author and hero. Dantès may be examined in relation to others among Dumas's heroes such as Antony and Kean. Like them he is an homme supérieur who is a victim of society and the laws, prejudices, and hostility of lesser men than himself. Unlike Antony and Kean, Dantès is enabled to move above and beyond the limitations others would impose on him. Where both Antony and Kean ultimately have no choice but to yield to society as it exists, Edmond Dantès, Count of Monte-Cristo, successfully turns the forces of society to his own ends, against those individuals who have been its instruments in his life. For all the differences between them and between the authors, one can see a parallel as well between Monte-Cristo and Balzac's Vautrin, another superman. But where Vautrin's hostility, like Antony's, is directed against society as a whole, Monte-Cristo's is more specific. Where Vautrin does not hesitate at direct intervention to change the course of events (e.g., having Frédéric Taillefer killed in Le Père Goriot), Monte-Cristo operates more indirectly: his victims are made to become victims of themselves—of their own weaknesses of character; their own misdeeds. As Sigaux has pointed out in comparing Dantès and Picaud of Le Diamant et la Vengeance, 7 it is not insignificant that while Picaud—like Vautrin, we add—takes vengeance, Dantès is avenged. At the end justice is achieved and virtue is rewarded because good is ultimately stronger than evil, not merely because of Monte-Cristo's power. This optimistic conviction persists, overriding Monte-Cristo's doubts about his right to take unto himself the prerogatives of God and ringing forth in his final admonition to young Morrel and Valentine: "Wait and hope."
III. Life Imitates Art
Such a view of the world could only add to the appeal of a work already so attractive in its excitement, its surprises, and its value as sheer entertainment. If Monte-Cristo was a projection of Dumas's own dreams, he was surely even more the embodiment of the aspirations of a whole generation, just as the novel was an expression of the visible reality that generation knew. But the aspirations of that generation proved to be universal also. The success of Le Comte de Monte-Cristo was instantaneous, phenomenal, and enduring. Like Les Trois Mousquetaires, this novel has known no period of eclipse in popularity, still appearing in new editions with astonishing frequency and ageing scarcely at all. Its hold on the public imagination is as firm as ever and its hero has assumed a degree of reality for readers at least the equal of d'Artagnan's.
Indeed, if the historical d'Artagnan has become indissolubly merged with the fictional one, the fictional Monte-Cristo has become correspondingly "historical." Dumas transmuted something of the magical world of his novel into reality with his Château de Monte-Cristo at Port-Marly, though this dream was realized only briefly.8 But almost as soon as the novel was published readers everywhere began seeking or inventing traces of the characters in the locales it described. Dumas wrote of this phenomenon in 1857, in the introduction to Les Compagnons de Jéhu ; what he says there would be almost as true had he written it yesterday. Speaking of the importance he attaches to visiting the actual sites of events he writes about, he observes:
That gives such a quality of truth to what I write that the characters I plant sometimes grow where I have planted them, to the extent that some people end up believing they actually existed.
There are even people who claim to have known them.
So now I am going to tell you something in confidence, dear readers, but do not repeat it. I don't want to wrong the honest pères de famille who live by this little industry; but if you go to Marseille they will show you Morrel's house on the Cours, the home of Mercédès in the Catalan village, and the cells of Dantès and Faria in the Château d'If.
When I staged Monte-Cristo at the Théâtre-Historique I wrote to Marseille to have a drawing of the Château d'If made and sent to me. The drawing was intended for the stage designer.
The artist to whom I wrote sent the drawing I had requested, but he went further than I had dared to ask. Under the drawing he wrote: "View of the Château d'If showing the place from which Dantès was thrown." I have learned since that a good man attached to the staff of the Château d'If was selling fish-bone pens made by the abbé Faria himself.
The only problem is that Dantès and the abbé Faria never lived except in my imagination and that, consequently, Dantès could never have been thrown down from the Château d'If nor could the abbé Faria have made any pens.
But that is what comes of visiting localities.
1. The date is probable, not verified. Cf. C. Samaran, introduction to Les Trois Mousquetaires (Paris: Garnier, 1956), p. xii (note 1). J.-H. Bornecque in his edition of Le Comte de Monte-Cristo (Paris: Garnier, 1962) places the incident in 1843 (see pp. iv and lxxii).
2.Causeries (Paris: Michel Lévy, 1860), vol. I, pp. 263 ff.
3.Le Diamant et la Vengeance, by Jacques Peuchet, was published in 1838 as part of a six-volume work called Mémoires tirés des archives de la police de Paris. In his causerie Dumas refers to it as La Police dévoilée. He printed Peuchet's tale with Le Comte de Monte-Cristo in the second printing of the edition published "Au Bureau de l'Écho des Feuilletons" in 1846.
4. The abbé Faria was not merely Dumas's equivalent in the novel of the Italian prelate imprisoned with François Picaud; a real abbé Faria existed and almost certainly provided Dumas with some characteristics as well as a name. Cf. Sigaux, preface to Le Comte de Monte-Cristo (Editions Rencontre), pp. 15-16; Clouard, p. 301; Bornecque, preface to Le Comte de Monte-Cristo (Garnier).
5. Bornecque, pp. xlii-li.
6.Ibid., p. xliii.
7. Sigaux, preface to Monte-Cristo (Editions Rencontre), p. 15.
8. Completed in 1847, the "château" was a house as extravagant and fantastic in its appointments as anything in the Arabian Nights; its architect was one of Dumas's stage designers at the Théâtre-Historique. Maurois and Clouard, along with many others, describe the house and grounds as well as the celebrated party that opened Dumas's residence there. Dumas himself reminisces about Monte-Cristo and its menagerie of exotic pets in Histoire de mes Bêtes. Barely a year after he occupied it Dumas was forced to move out and eventually sold it for less than a tenth of its cost in order to pay off debts. The building still stands, externally at least in woefully dilapidated condition.
Timothy Unwin (review date July 1992)
SOURCE: Unwin, Timothy. Review of The Count of Monte-Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas, edited by David Coward. Modern Language Review 87, no. 3 (July 1992): 754.
In his famous article on Madame Bovary, Baudelaire observes that the final years of the reign of Louis-Phillippe are synonymous with ‘les dernières explosions d'un esprit encore excitable par les jeux de l'imagination’. If excitement was what the reading public craved, then excitement was most certainly what it got with Dumas's famous novel, serialization of which began in the Journal des débats in 1844. This cloak-and-dagger masterpiece is, however, interesting in many ways, not least because it gives quintessential expression to the nineteenth-century myth of the protean and omnipotent manipulator (deliciously caricatured by Gide in Les Caves du Vatican). The present edition makes available in one inexpensive volume the complete text of the anonymous 1846 translation. This translation, which has been the basis of most subsequent ones, reads so well that one is almost tempted to forgive those who thought that The Count of Monte Cristo was an English novel! Together with the text, the editor provides a bibliography, a chronology of the life of Dumas, a useful series of explanatory notes, and a brisk and readable introduction which covers a wide range of subjects: the literary methods of the author, sources and composition of the novel, historical background, and critical reception. The judgement on Dumas's text is favourable but balanced, and constitutes a compelling invitation to read or to reread this classic tale of retribution and vengeance.
LE VICOMTE DE BRAGELONNE (1848-50; THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK)
Richard E. Goodkin (essay date 1999)
SOURCE: Goodkin, Richard E. "Separated at Birth: The Man in the Iron Mask; or, A Louis XIV for the Nineties." Papers on French Seventeenth-Century Literature 26, no. 51 (1999): 319-26.
[In the following essay, Goodkin compares and contrasts Dumas's original text for The Man in the Iron Mask with its 1998 film adaptation.]
The nineties have not always been kind to the age of Louis XIV, which, with its endless obsessions with rank and privilege, has at times been labeled as elitist and exclusionary. It is true that the literature associated with Louis XIV may be more resistant to popularization than some, if only because its intended public was so unembarrassedly a social elite. And there are probably some aficionados of the classical period who exult in the untouchable status that the very notion of classicism seems to confer on a body of work that may be thought immune to the ups and downs of literary taste across the centuries. I personally think that those ups and downs are part of the fascination of literature; the world of books would be a more boring place if every era did not have its own particular versions of Racine and Molière and its own distinct visions of historical figures like Elizabeth I, currently being embodied onscreen by Cate Blanchett, and Louis XIV, who to 1998 moviegoers turns out to bear a remarkable resemblance to Leonardo DiCaprio.
To get down to specifics, I have chosen to analyze the 1998 film, The Man in the Iron Mask, not because I find it to be a masterpiece; although parts of the film are compelling, it is not a great film by any stretch of the imagination.1 Rather, I believe that studying a film about Louis XIV made for an American audience in 1998 can be an instructive way to reflect upon a place that all students of the French classical period inhabit: the intersection between a courtly culture distanced from us temporally, geographically and politically, and our own culture, from whose standpoint we inevitably view Louis XIV and his contemporaries. My premise is that however much we attempt to contextualize the literature of this period in reading and analyzing it, we are still inevitably influenced by our own culture, with all its implicit beliefs; needless to say, this tends to be even more true of our students. In spite of our best efforts, our students bring to seventeenth-century French courtly literature the same kinds of culturally-conditioned questions they bring to contemporary American literature and film, and it may be instructive and enriching to examine those questions, as well as our own cultural prejudices.
So, to put all this in terms of a simple question: what can the 1998 version of The Man in the Iron Mask tell us about the Zeitgeist? If Hollywood's current take on Louis XIV turns Louis into a figure relevant to the presumably youngish audience targeted by the film, it may be able to teach us about some of the cultural baggage that our own youngish audiences bring to the reading of the texts of this period.
The film, set in Paris in 1662, is very loosely based on Alexandre Dumas' Le Vicomte de Bragelonne, the third book in Dumas' trilogy about the three musketeers, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, played in the film by John Malkovich, Gérard Depardieu and Jeremy Irons, respectively, and their sidekick d'Artagnan, personified by Gabriel Byrne. The story of the man in the iron mask is not the main subject of Le Vicomte de Bragelonne, 2 but the story does provide the novel's climactic episode. The legend of the man in the iron mask, a prisoner forced to wear a metal contraption on his face so that he could not be identified by his captors, already had a long history by the time Dumas became interested in it in the 1840s; the legend sprang from the historical incident of a prisoner who was apparently wearing a black silk mask when he was transferred to the Bastille in 1698. Dumas knew of at least nine versions of the story, which mainly date from the second half of the eighteenth century and which identify the masked prisoner as anyone from a bastard son of Louis XIV and Mademoiselle de la Vallière to Fouquet.3 The version Dumas adopts is taken from a late eighteenth-century work attributed to Jean-Louis Soulavie (1752-1813), secretary to the maréchal de Richelieu, the cardinal's great-nephew. According to this work, the man in the iron mask was the twin brother of Louis XIV, born about eight hours after Louis and spirited away to be raised in obscurity. Louis' twin was purportedly imprisoned and forced to wear the iron mask from the age of nineteen, when he accidentally discovered his true identity, until his death.
How does this unlikely tale fare in the hands of Randall Wallace, who both directed The Man in the Iron Mask and wrote the screenplay? Wallace follows Dumas in making his hero Louis XIV's younger twin,4 a man unaware of his identity until he is rescued by the musketeers, who intend to use him in a plot to replace the corrupt, autocratic Louis with his malleable, humane brother. Much of the first half of the film serves to establish the image of Louis XIV as a heartless, debauched ruler, a latter-day Nero who fiddles with nubile young women while Paris burns with the famine brought on by Louis' warmongering. One of the main components of Dumas' novel, the love affair between Louise de la Vallière, mistress of the Vicomte de Bragelonne, and the king, in the film becomes the simple story of a virtuous young couple split apart by an evil king with a roving eye. Louise de la Vallière is rebaptised Christine Belfort, and when Louis becomes infatuated with Christine, he treacherously sends her fiancé, named Raoul as in the novel but now transformed into the son of the mus- keteer Athos, back to the front, where he is killed. The grieving Christine gives in to Louis' advances so that he might agree to help her destitute family, but she eventually learns that Louis sent Raoul back to the front in order to get her in bed, and she commits suicide by hanging herself in front of his bedroom window.
Once the image of Louis XIV as a tyrannical monster has been established, the existence of his younger twin becomes the only way to save the day. The twin, who, like Louis XIV's historically attested younger brother, is called Philippe,5 is kept in isolation by the musketeers and secretly trained to conduct himself not only like a king, but like the unfeeling autocrat that is his brother. The substitution of Philippe for Louis is carried off at a masked ball, with the aid of the twins' mother, Anne of Austria, who has been transformed from the sixty-something matron that history says she should have been in 1662 into a passionate figure of unfulfilled desire incarnated by the actress Anne Parillaud, who incongruously looks like a more conservatively dressed but equally nubile version of "la femme Nikita," a role she played in 1991. The second-biggest invention of Randall Wallace (I will discuss the biggest one subsequently) is the romance between Anne of Austria and d'Artagnan, which has been going on in great secrecy for many years.
Anne, who had been told the younger of her twin sons had died in childbirth, is now eager to make it up to him by bringing him to power, thereby killing two birds with one stone, since he would presumably be a better ruler than Louis. After the substitution of Philippe for Louis has taken place, the newly-reunited mother and younger son preside regally over the masked ball, but after Anne withdraws to her chambers, Philippe cannot carry it off: he is simply not imperious enough to be convincing. D'Artagnan is not in on the plot, because unlike the three musketeers he has mysteriously remained loyal to the king in spite of Louis' tyrannical ways, but d'Artagnan suspects what has happened when he observes Philippe's kindly manner at the masked ball. He manages to take Philippe prisoner and free Louis, thus leaving Philippe in the clutches of the restituted Louis and putting the three musketeers to flight. D'Artagnan finally withdraws his allegiance from Louis when the latter sadistically returns his brother to the iron mask in spite of Philippe's request to die rather than spend another hour in the iron mask.
The climax of the film is the battle waged against the king and his guard, a younger generation of musketeers, by d'Artagnan and the three musketeers attempting to liberate Philippe from the Bastille. The real eye-opener in an otherwise predictable scene that sees the victory of the good twin over the bad one is a revelation that marks the film's greatest invention. After Philippe and the four musketeers have been cornered, Philippe offers himself up as a hostage in order to save his four friends. D'Artagnan, tearful with paternal pride, confesses that he himself is the father of Louis and Philippe.6 Philippe's willingness to sacrifice himself to save his four allies marks the first moment that d'Artagnan has ever felt pride as a father—his stubborn lifelong allegiance to Louis is now understandable.
In the final battle in the Bastille, d'Artagnan is killed when Louis tries to stab Philippe and d'Artagnan intercedes to take the blow. The young captain of the present generation of musketeers is won over to Philippe's cause, and without the knowledge of anyone besides him, the three surviving musketeers, and Anne of Austria, Philippe is substituted for Louis. The cruel despot is sent to prison to live out his life in the iron mask he had intended for his brother, and as the music swells and the audience gathers together its belongings to exit the theater, the weary but contented voice of Jeremy Irons intones, "The king known as Louis XIV brought to his people food, prosperity and peace, and is remembered as the greatest ruler in the history of his nation." Perhaps this is in fact the greatest invention of the entire film.
What are we to make of this turn-of-the-millennium American version of Louis XIV? The evil image projected by Louis XIV is not in itself all that surprising. One of the founding myths of the United States is the belief in the accountability of those who govern, and Louis is portrayed in this film as purely a law unto himself. One might object that given the various alliances and power struggles that were the underlying reality of Louis XIV's absolutist rule, he most certainly was never anything as simple as a law unto himself, but then historical complexity has never been Hollywood's strong suit. Whereas Dumas' novel is chockablock with political intrigue, particularly the ongoing battle between Colbert and Fouquet, Randall Wallace has freed us from such annoying complications.7 In the absence of any serious attempt at portraying the politics of the period, we must conclude that the film simply reflects the deep-seated American mistrust of monarchy and all other forms of inherited privilege. Louis XIV really is portrayed as having no redeeming features: he is a nefarious, utterly unscrupulous ruler, a man incapable of any human emotions other than triumphant arrogance when he dominates and controls those around him and destructive fury on those few occasions when he cannot.8
Given this vision of Louis XIV that goes quickly from bad to worse, the basic problem of the film might be read as this: how can Louis XIV be made palatable to a late-twentieth-century North American audience? How can we reconcile Louis's annoying, stubborn reputation as a glorious king—a reputation that even Hollywood would probably think twice before dispensing with altogether, if only because without it Louis would lose the prestige that makes him fascinating to the general public—with our suspicions that anyone born to that much privilege cannot be the hero of the piece?9 The distrust of inherited privilege is one of the most basic themes of the film, and it requires a kind of rehabilitation of Louis not from above, say, by reconciling him with his God, but from below, in typical Capraesque—or perhaps I should say, DiCaprioesque—fashion. I do not think the casting of Leonardo DiCaprio as the titan of French kings is completely unrelated to his recent role in Titanic as the archetypal American good guy with nothing but heart. The Franco-American confection resulting from DiCaprio's casting as Louis might be termed a grassroots Louis XIV who owes his appeal to the following two conceits: 1) The Man in the Iron Mask makes Louis XIV not the son of a king, but the son of a worthy, hard-working fighting man, d'Artagnan; and 2) the film turns Louis XIV, that is to say, the man who under the name of Louis XIV ruled over France for more than half a century, into his own long-suffering younger brother.
Randall Wallace's transformation of d'Artagnan into the true father of Louis XIV goes a long way toward giving him that thing we love to believe in this country, accountability. Even though d'Artagnan's paternity is not revealed until the last scene of the movie, the earlier sizzling scenes between him and Anne of Austria, as well as rather ponderous pronouncements by d'Artagnan like "Fatherhood is a blessing"—significant pause—"I can only imagine," give us a fairly clear idea of the revelation that is in store for us. The film goes out of its way to make d'Artagnan into not only a faithful father but a vigilant one with high expectations of his son. Early on d'Artagnan piously intones, "I have not yet lost faith that he may become the king we may all wish him to be," and in a later scene he says to Louis, "I have prayed every day for you to become better than your office, better than the law." If d'Artagnan does not give up on Louis until he has seen indisputable evidence that his son is a monster, he is essentially playing a role borrowed from a long history of socially-engaged Hollywood films, the role of the vigilant, caring adult who refuses to give up on the troubled youth, whether a concerned teacher, a social worker, a psychiatrist, or even a parole officer—I know of no earlier cases in which this role is played by a musketeer. How ironic when one considers that the role of the unrepentant hood in this film is played not by the abused twin, Philippe, but rather by Louis XIV himself.
Since accountability proves to be an ineffective strategy in the case of Louis XIV, who can be neither spanked nor sent to his room, the film must come up with an alternate solution, which comes in the oh-so-nineties form of twins separated at birth. What a simple, elegant way out of the dilemma of inherited privilege: Louis XIV doesn't have an evil twin, he is the evil twin! Now it is true that the story of Louis' identical twin, unlike that of d'Artagnan's paternity, is already in Dumas, but Wallace takes it a step further than Dumas. In Dumas' novel, the substitution of Philippe does take place, briefly, but it fails miserably, and Philippe is sent back to prison and life in his iron mask.10 In Wallace's film, Philippe is the perfect solution for the dilemma of how the American public can live with the idea of Louis: after the final substitution, Philippe will live the same life of privilege that Louis would have lived, but he will presumably not be corrupted by power, for he knows first-hand what it is like to suffer a tyrant's whims. Equally importantly from the point of view of the Zeitgeist, the audience files out of the cinema thinking, that poor man has earned the right to lead a charmed life from now on. We have no problem with rags-to-riches stories; in fact, they reinforce our national myth that people have the power to make their own good fortune come to pass. A wretch who has been tortured for many years, imprisoned for who he is, and more specifically for the way he looks: put in those terms, the story of Philippe sounds like a tale of the persecution of a pariah who through no fault of his own just does not fit in, and such a tale is quick to raise our sympathies.
Philippe's suffering has given him the very quality lacking in Louis: sensitivity to others. Philippe's inability to pass as the egotistical, impulsive Louis during the scene of the masked ball points to the very thing that gives him the American public's stamp of approval: his refusal or inability ever to be a law unto himself. The mask then becomes a metaphor for deference to others and for the need to play various roles that take into account factors other than one's own wishes and desires. Although he does ultimately become king, Philippe is never completely unmasked in the sense of becoming the kind of pure narcissist that anyone with absolute power might reveal himself to be, and this is precisely what marks his difference from his brother. In one of the film's most poignant scenes soon after Philippe has been freed from prison and the iron mask, he is seen at the window putting the mask back on of his own free will. He confesses to Aramis, "I've worn this mask so long I don't feel safe without it." Philippe never completely sheds his mask: in exchange for the iron mask, he dons the mask of someone playing the role of a king. He can learn to make his facial expression imitate his brother's, but he feels he will always be a fake at playing a king. When Aramis says to him, "We're offering you the chance to be king," he replies "You're offering me the chance to pretend to be king." Presumably, from the point of view of American moviegoers, that is to his credit.
In conclusion, one of the reasons that it behooves us to pay heed to popular representations of the seventeenth century in the media, whether film, television, or the worldwide web, is that it will help us to renew and replenish the questions we bring to the study of the texts of this period. If a film like The Man in the Iron Mask helps us to realize yet again to what extent our students are apt to be resistant to the idea of inherited privilege so central to Corneille, Racine, Lafayette and many others, we would do well not to avoid but rather to confront this issue head-on. There are many ways we might respond to students' uneasiness with some of the values set forth by courtly literature. We might point out that we have our own forms of inherited privilege in this country, which are deeply woven into our social fabric even if they are not always easily perceptible. We might suggest that the courtly literature of the period itself questions the status quo in various ways, by staging irresolvable conflicts between duty and personal happiness, for example. Or we might observe that even culturally circumscribed literary texts—which all literary texts are, in the final analysis—can and should be studied in terms that go beyond their cultural specificity. Even that most elitist of forms, classical tragedy, raises issues that transcend the social conditions in which it is produced, for example questions of sibling rivalry; seniority vs. merit; duty vs. individual happiness; fidelity to the past vs. openness to the present. I am not recommending trying to make all courtly literature into blockbusters. But I do believe that a film like The Man in the Iron Mask can teach us something quite useful about what it means to study the literature of another time and place that, in spite of our own attempts to immerse ourselves in them, remain very different from our own.
1. A number of films have been made about the story of the man in the iron mask; a history of these versions is beyond the scope of this study. Rather, I aim simply to investigate how the most recent film version of a tale that takes place in the France of the seventeenth century reflects certain cultural prejudices of the present decade toward that period of French history.
2. In fact the incident does not take center stage until chapter 207, about three-quarters of the way through the novel, although the existence of an "alternative" king is hinted at as early as chapter 134.
3. See Alexandre Dumas, Le Vicomte de Bragelonne, 2 vol. (Paris: Robert Laffont, 1991), 2: 916-924.
4. By contrast Mike Newell's 1977 version—which is, by the way, quite an excellent film—makes the prisoner into the older twin and rightful heir to the throne. Newell makes the story into a miniature seventeenth-century-style tragedy about the choice between love and duty, as the prisoner is ultimately forced to choose between leading a life of obscurity with the woman he loves and assuming the identity of the king and losing her, since the king is already married.
5. This is all the more peculiar in Le Vicomte de Bragelonne, since the "other" Philippe, Monsieur, is also a character in the novel.
6. Randall Wallace may not have done much research into this question, but it is actually true that Louis XIII's bisexuality, his disinterest in his wife, and the couple's twenty-year history of infertility have long made doubts about the paternity of Louis XIV a staple of la petite histoire.
7. Mike Newell's version, which was made for a British audience, preserves this aspect of Dumas' novel.
8. The only hint of a more vulnerable side of Louis in the film comes in his relationship with Christine Belfort. In a plot development faintly reminiscent of Racine's explorations of the relations of love and power and the ways the latter constantly contaminates the former, it is only when Christine reveals that she does not love the king but is simply submitting to his power and authority that Louis abandons all attempts to control his vicious impulses.
9. An interesting point of comparison is Shekhar Kapur's Elizabeth, a film about the early years of the reign of Elizabeth I of England. Kapur portrays Elizabeth as sympathetic precisely insofar as her power is tentative and her reign in danger. Once her power base has been established, she is vindicated from the point of view of a late-twentieth-century audience because the film dwells on the personal sacrifice Elizabeth purportedly makes—her substitution of herself as "Virgin Queen" to take the place of the image of the Virgin Mary tarnished in the popular imagination by the Reformation—for the benefit of her people.
10. See Le Vicomte de Bragelonne, chapter 230.
CAPTAIN PAMPHILE'S ADVENTURES (1971)
Spectator (review date 13 November 1971)
SOURCE: Review of Captain Pamphile's Adventures, by Alexandre Dumas, translated and adapted by Douglas Munro. Spectator, no. 7481 (13 November 1971): 695.
Captain Pamphile's Adventures by Alexandre Dumas will make a superb present for anyone of about eleven on; the book is most attractively produced with a fine illustration by William Papas of the rascally Captain on the cover, and the translation, by Douglas Munro, reads well. The story is absorbing, and covers the history of the American Indian, the flora and fauna of tropical jungles, the operation of the slave trade, the whaling industry and international finance.
The world is Captain Pamphile's oyster and he invariably sails off with the pearl. He is a most gentlemanly swindler whose final triumph is, as His Highness the Cazique Don Guzman y Pamphilos. to bamboozle Samuel, a London banker, out of a sum not unadjacent to 12 million pounds. Alexandre Dumas and Captain Pamphile both know well how to tell a tall story and how to tell it with style.
THE NUTCRACKER (1977)
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (review date May 1979)
SOURCE: Review of The Nutcracker, by Alexandre Dumas, translated and adapted by Douglas Munro, illustrated by Phillida Gili. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 32, no. 9 (May 1979): 153.
Based on Hoffmann's The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, [The Nutcracker ] is the adaptation used by Tchaikovsky for the ballet version, although it is not identical; one episode (the story of Princess Pirlipatine) is omitted, Marie becomes Clara in the ballet, and there are other minor changes. The translation of the Dumas version is excellent; the narrative flows smoothly, and the humor is preserved. The sophistication of the writing style and the vocabulary demand readers older than those who are the usual audience for spun-sugar magic, but the book should be of interest to children familiar with the ballet or to those readers who can appreciate the style of Dumas père.
Munro, Douglas. Alexandre Dumas Père: A Secondary Bibliography of French and English Sources to 1983. New York, N.Y.: Garland, 1985, 173 p.
A bibliography of critical writings on Dumas.
Ross, Michael. Alexandre Dumas. London: David & Charles, 1981, 293 p.
A biography of Dumas.
Schopp, Claude. Alexandre Dumas: Genius of Life, translated by A. J. Koch. New York, N.Y.: Franklin Watts, 1988, 506 p.
A comprehensive biography of Dumas.
Bell, A. Craig. Alexandre Dumas: Le Vicomte de Bragelonne (The Man in the Iron Mask): A Critical Study. Devon, England: Merlin Books, 1995, 136 p.
Book-length critical analysis of The Man in the Iron Mask.
Hemmings, F. W. J. "The Novelist." In Alexandre Dumas: The King of Romance, pp. 114-30. New York, N.Y.: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1979.
Discusses Dumas' writing process and provides an overview of his career as a novelist.
Maurois, Andre. "The Three Musketeers." In Alexandre Dumas: A Great Life in Brief, translated by Jack Palmer White, pp. 113-35. New York, N.Y.: Alfred A. Knopf, 1955.
Presents a detailed analysis of the influence of the theatre on Dumas's career.
———. "Dumas and Co., Manufacturers of Novels." In Alexandre Dumas: A Great Life in Brief, translated by Jack Palmer White, pp. 123-35. New York, N.Y.: Alfred A. Knopf, 1955.
Explores questions surrounding the nature and extent of Dumas' collaborative writing process.
Sharpe, Kevin. "Queen and Martyr." Times Literary Supplement, no. 3864 (2 April 1976): 393.
Offers a positive assessment of Marie Stuart, by Dumas, translated by Douglas Munro.
"Flannel and Steel." Times Literary Supplement, no. 3634 (22 October 1971): 1332.
Evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of Captain Pamphile's Adventures, by Dumas, translated and adapted by Douglas Munro.
Additional coverage of Dumas's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale: Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vol. 22; Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Vol. 3; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 119, 192; DISCovering Authors; DISCovering Authors: British Edition; DISCovering Authors: Canadian Edition; DISCovering Authors Modules: Most-studied Authors, Novelists; DISCovering Authors 3.0; European Writers, Vol. 6; Guide to French Literature, 1789 to Present; Literature and Its Times, Vols. 1, 2; Literature Resource Center; Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism, Vols. 11, 71; Novels for Students, Vols. 14, 19; Reference Guide to World Literature, Eds. 2, 3; Something about the Author, Vol. 18; Twayne's World Authors; World Literature Criticism, Ed. 2; and Writers for Children.