Critical Evaluation

The Corsican Brothers was probably written alongside or between the two novels that established Alexandre Dumas’s reputation and transformed the fortunes of French popular fiction. These two novels, Les Trois Mousquetaires (1844; The Three Musketeers, 1846) and Le Comte de Monte-Cristo (1844-1845; The Count of Monte-Cristo, 1846), first ran as serials in daily newspapers, in direct opposition to Eugène Sue’s Les Mystères de Paris (1842-1843; The Mysteries of Paris, 1843) and The Wandering Jew. Dumas’s two exceedingly long novels also set the pattern for his own career and his future wealth. Their literary method also established a pattern that would dominate French popular fiction for the next half century.

At the time of writing The Corsican Brothers, Dumas had been attempting to establish himself in the more respectable arena of the theater and had imagined his endeavors in prose fiction as more akin to those of more upmarket writers; The Corsican Brothers explicitly acknowledges its influential debt to the work of its dedicatee, Prosper Mérimée, whose novella Colomba (1840; English translation, 1853) had helped romanticize Corsica.

Mérimée was by no means reluctant to incorporate melodramatic and supernatural elements into his own work; his other famous novella, Carmen (1845; revised, 1847; English translation, 1878), is unashamedly melodramatic, and La Vénus d’Ille (1837; The Venus of Ille, 1903) is one of the classics of French supernatural fiction, but he was careful to temper them with other literary qualities. Dumas, by contrast, was a writer whose success was always closely linked to excess, and The Corsican Brothers is no exception in that respect, even though it was probably intended to be excessive. At the time this novel was written, it was not exceptional to adopt the novella form, which Dumas had tried several times before. However, his future output was, inevitably, dominated by long serials improvised as he went along on a daily basis, which required a very different kind of discipline; he only returned to the shorter format on rare occasions.

The central challenge...

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