Alexandre Dumas

Start Free Trial


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1725

Alexandre Dumas (père) 1802–1870

(Full name Alexandre Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie) French novelist, dramatist, memoirist, historian, essayist, and short story and travel sketch writer.

Popular in his own time, Dumas père has remained a favorite storyteller among generations of readers throughout the world. His best-known works are the novels Les trois mousquetaires (1844; The Three Musketeers; or, The Feats and Fortunes of a Gascon Adventurer) and Le comte de Monte-Cristo (1845; The Count of Monte Cristo), adventure stories that abound with swordfights, lavish costumes, beautiful women, and narrow escapes. But these represent a minute portion of writings produced by this enormously prolific author, whose published novels, plays, stories, essays, and other works number in the hundreds. Due to his prolific output and the high entertainment value of his fiction—not to mention questions concerning his collaboration with other writers—critics have often judged Dumas harshly. Nonetheless, his work as a dramatist, which include the plays Henri III et sa cour (1829; Henry III and His Court) and Antony (1831), helped to usher in the Romantic era on the French stage.

Biographical Information

Dumas's father, Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, was the son of a marquis and a Haitian slave, and he took his family name from his African mother. After Thomas's death in 1806, Dumas was raised by his mother, an innkeeper's daughter named Marie-Louise-Elisabeth Labouret, in the town of Villers-Cotterêts, near Paris. He attended the local parochial school, and when he was older worked as a clerk but moved to Paris at the age of twenty, lured by the theater. Influenced by the dramatic works of Shakespeare, the poetry of Lord Byron, and the historical romances of Sir Walter Scott, Dumas collaborated with two others in writing a one-act play, La chasse et l'amour (1825). The young playwright used the pseudonym Davy, taken from the name of his paternal grandfather; but soon he was writing under his own name and began producing a series of important dramas that included Henri III and His Court, Antony, and Christine; ou Stockholm, Fountainebleau, et Rome (1830). During the Revolution of 1830, Dumas became interested in republican politics, and with the return of monarchy under King Louise Philippe, he decided to leave France in 1832. There followed several years of travel in Switzerland, Russia, Italy, and other parts of Europe, adventures Dumas began recording in Impressions de voyage (1833-37; The Glacier Land) and numerous other books of travel essays. In the 1840s, having returned to France, he embarked on the most fruitful decade of his life, years which saw the serial publication of The Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte Cristo, and dozens of other novels. He was so prolific, in fact, that critics began to raise questions concerning his use of collaborators such as Auguste Maquet. In 1845, French journalist Eugène de Mirecourt charged publicly that Dumas ran a "literary factory" in which he exploited the efforts of slave-like scribes. The slander case against Mirecourt, which Dumas won, was not the only harbinger of bad tidings as the 1840s came to a close. During those years of prosperity, Dumas spent money lavishly, and built a mansion dubbed the "Château de Monte-Cristo," which housed his many lovers, pets, and hangers-on. By 1850 he was bankrupt, and was forced to sell his home. Also in that year the Thèâtre Historique, which he had founded in 1847 to stage his own dramas, went bankrupt. Dumas fled to Brussels to avoid his creditors, and continued to write at a feverish pace, this time without the help of Maquet or other collaborators.

By 1853 his finances were back in order, and he returned to Paris, where his memoirs had been published to great success. He also founded and began writing for several journals with titles based on his most acclaimed novels, including Le mousquetaire and Le Monte-Cristo. As passionate in his personal life as he was in his work, Dumas had enjoyed a number of lovers and fathered several illegitimate children, including the future writer Alexandre Dumas fils in 1824. He was married briefly in the 1840s to actress Ida Ferrier and engaged in a celebrated affair with the American actress Adah Isaacs Menken in the late 1860s. His voluminous literary output continued, though slackened somewhat from its zenith in the 1840s, and he continued to travel widely. But his fortunes steadily declined, and when he died in his son's home at the age of sixty-eight, little remained of the riches Dumas had accumulated in his highly successful career.

Major Works

Like his contemporary and rival Honoré de Balzac, Dumas set out to produce a vast body of fiction that would depict the width and breadth of a society, specifically France from the Middle Ages to his own time. In so doing, he produced his two best-known works, The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, as well as dozens—even scores—of other novels. (English-speaking readers may be disappointed to scan his list of published writings in vain for The Man in the Iron Mask: the book is actually a compilation taken from several of his works and did not exist as such during Dumas's lifetime.) In writing these "historical romances," as they were called, Dumas pioneered the genre of historical fiction, bringing together actual events and people with characters and incidents of his own creation. The Three Musketeers, for instance, is drawn from the quasi-historical memoirs of a figure called M. d'Artagnan; Dumas, for his part, drew the characters of D'Artagnan, as well as Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, out of those memoirs. He built their adventures around events involving King Louis XIII, Cardinal Richelieu, and other prominent personages of seventeenth-century France. Likewise The Count of Monte Cristo, a tale of unjust imprisonment and revenge, has its roots in an account from the Napoleonic era. Less well-known at the time, but more significant to modern critics because it offers insights into Dumas's views on his African heritage is Georges (1843; George; or the Planter of the Isle of France). Like Monte Cristo, it is a tale of revenge, with the important difference that it is Dumas's only story—and one of the few works of Western literature prior to the twentieth century—in which the hero is a mulatto. Another work little-known in his time, but more noted in the twentieth century, is his examination of a courtesan's career in "respectable" society, Fernande (1844; Fernande; or, The Fallen Angel). But such topical novels are the exception rather than the rule in an oeuvre that includes far more works depicting the French past of Medieval times and the Renaissance.

In his later years, Dumas produced an obscure novel destined to attract more attention after his lifetime: La terreur prussiene (1866; The Prussian Terror) sounded an alarmist warning regarding a militaristic Germany, which by the time of his death had invaded France. Interestingly, the work was first translated into English in 1915, when Britain was engaged in war with Germany on the battlegrounds of Dumas's homeland. Principal among Dumas's dramatic works is Antony, a tale of seduction, intrigue, and murder that shocked Paris audiences because it was set not in the classical past, but in contemporary France. Similarly, La tour de Nesle (1832; The Tower of Nesle) presents a scandalous plot involving sex and betrayal, this time set in medieval France. Also notable are several plays depicting lives and events surrounding monarchs, including Henry III and His Court, which vies with Hugo's Cromwell for the title of first play of the Romantic era; Christine, about Queen Christina of Sweden; and Charles VII chez ses grands vassaux (1831; Charles VII at the Homes of His Great Vassals). Dorothy Trench-Bonett, who produced the first English translation of the latter 160 years after its writing, referred to it as one of the first pieces of Western literature that offered a protest against the slave trade. Other than his novels and plays, the third significant component of Dumas's oeuvre is comprised of his travel writings and other essays, including his celebrated autobiography Mes mémoires (1852-54; My Memoirs), which did not appear in English until 1907.

Critical Reception

Of all his works, Dumas's historical romances are best known in the English-speaking world, where he has enjoyed at least as great a following as he has among French readers. In France, he is most noted for his dramatic writings, which critics have long recognized as groundbreaking works. Not only was Antony innovative in its use of a contemporary setting for a classic tale of erotic intrigue, the staging of Henry III and His Court in February of 1829 made it the first Romantic play, although Hugo's Cromwell was actually written earlier. In spite of his contributions to French and world literature, however, in his own day Dumas often found himself the butt of harsh criticism. His work was routinely dismissed as mere entertainment of the lightest sort—hardly more substantial than The Wandering Jew and other works of his largely forgotten contemporary, Eugène Sue. Certainly Dumas ranked low in comparison to the more critically celebrated (though sometimes almost equally prolific) writers of his time such as George Sand, Balzac, and even Victor Hugo. In addition, the sheer volume of his works—not to mention his habit of padding his writing with excessive quotations and dialogue—made him appear more like a human writing machine than an artist. His astounding output, in fact, left him open to questions regarding the authorship of works produced under the name "Alexandre Dumas." But he proved in his later work that collaboration was not an absolute requirement for production on his part, and observers have pointed out that no joint authorship has ever been claimed for My Memoirs and any number of his widely praised non-fiction works.

The sheer endurance of his historical romances, which have seen countless film interpretations, seems in itself a sign of Dumas's singular power as a creative talent, and his reputation has steadily increased over time. Though his work has enjoyed scant critical attention in proportion to its sheer bulk, he remains a figure of interest. In the late twentieth century, critics have continued to investigate his lesser-known writings for their contemporary relevance. Of greatest interest, perhaps, has been the fact of his African ancestry and its influence on George and other works. This racial theme, along with various sexual aspects of Dumas's work, including androgyny (Christine), promises to provide decades' worth of fruitful critical inquiry.

Gamaliel Bradford (essay date 1926)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5833

SOURCE: "Alexandre Dumas," in A Naturalist of Souls: Studies in Psychography, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1926, pp. 179-205.

[In the following essay, Bradford provides an overview of Dumas's career and works and defends him against critics who appraise his writing as mere entertainment.]

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 child-like 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 Dantes 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 birthdate 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 hundred'1 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 sea-port 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 written, 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 modem 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 lovestories 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.

Jared Wenger (essay date 1940)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6917

SOURCE: "Violence as a Technique in the Dramas and Dramatizations of Dumas père," in The Romanic Review, Vol. XXXI, No. 3, October, 1940, pp. 265-79.

[In the following essay, Wenger analyzes the violent scenes in Dumas's dramatic works according to a tripartite model involving "Play," "Show," and "Struggle."]

Alexandre Dumas the elder has an appeal for popular and scholarly reader alike. The present study of his dramas springs from this appeal, is undertaken because of his fame as a novelist, and is inspired by an interest in the problems of fiction. This is no paradox. Dumas is remembered today largely for his romances; yet he began his career with a drama, and, like Voltaire, he was fascinated by the stage throughout his life. Once more it is true: scratch a novelist and you find a playwright.1 The dramatic works of a man like Dumas present an interesting aspect of the general problem of the relations of fiction and the theatre. Because of this, and because scenes of violence, with which we are particularly concerned here, often find their most effective form upon the stage; and finally because every study demands a certain simplification, it seems preferable to approach Dumas rather as dramatist than novelist.

A critic may perhaps object that Dumas' dramas are justly buried in oblivion, or at least are fittingly disposed of by Gustave Lanson: "Surtout Dumas a le sens de l'action…. Il a inventé, ou exploité plus qu'on n'avait fait avant lui un certain genre de pathétique: celui qui naît d'une angoisse physique, devant la souffrance physique."2 One can only answer, first, that no talent is deservedly forgotten, and, second, that the problems of tempo, action, and the technique of violence3 are important enough to justify the present study: that is—a qualitative review of the violent scenes in Dumas' sixty-six collected plays.4

Before launching into our analysis, let us adopt for novel and drama a convenient tripartite arrangement of their many and various elements. Let us attempt further a classification that will include, however roughtly, both the psychological and logical phases of these two art forms—that will comprehend, in other words, the point of view of both reader and writer of fiction, both spectator and performer of drama. On this basis, we may say that the three fundamentals of the novel are: the attitude of the tale-teller and his listeners, the raw material of the narrative, and the author's critical depiction and judgment of life. Similarly, drama has its tripartite basis in the Play (or Illusion), the Show (or Spectacle), and the Struggle; and in this analysis we have preferred Anglo-Saxon terms, not necessarily because "the voice of the people uttereth only truth," but because the frequent occurrence of these terms in popular speech indicates how clearly even the uncritical realize the elements and properties of dramatic art.

Play is a word much misused in the vernacular, yet in its connotation of "Illusion" it represents doubtless the most fundamental element of drama—the child-like "let's pretend" of actor and watcher which corresponds to the "tell me a story" attitude in fiction. Show is (in the Elizabethan sense of the term) that which is shown and seen, the raw material of drama—so necessary an attribute that it is often vulgarly mistaken for the whole scope of dramatic art, ranging as it does from pure spectacle at one extreme to the careful depiction of emotion, character, and background. Struggle is the element of drama which has been, since the Greeks at least, its most thorough means of interest and suspense, related to the savage joy in physical conflict and the civilized devotion to sport, and elevated by critics since Aristotle into the noblest fundamental of dramatic art. In other words, drama is based on the play instinct, is made evident by show, and makes its appeal largely through struggle. Let us use these three elements in evaluating the violent scenes of Alexandre Dumas père.


The illusion of vitality is characteristic of the dramas of Dumas. The dramatist—an exemplar of bodily prowess and animal appetite, one of these nineteenth-century Rabelaisians, like Balzac and Gautier and Hugo—revelled in his own physical exuberance, and revealed this very personal trait in his dramas,5 especially in two characters which are himself in very thin disguise: Porthos and D'Artagnan. Porthos, as we know, was addicted to feats of strength and food-consumption—traits which he shares with his creator. The Porthos ideal inspires such scenes as the following: the actor Kean blackening a prize-fighter's eye; a Scottish laird drubbing a whole troop of varlets; Catilina hurling a gigantic discus into the river Tiber; Gorenflot, a Renaissance monk, consuming great quantities of food.6 Such scenes are never very deceptive: they are consistently on the level of "let's pretend." The spectator of course realizes the exaggeration of these incidents and characters, but rejoices in the pretence, the illusion, the "fun."

Where Porthos makes a muscular appeal to the play instinct, D'Artagnan appeals because of his quicker wit and nimbler grace. He is a subtler character, but none the less reminiscent of his creator. The D'Artagnan type is revealed by a mannerism or trick of speech. Thus Buridan strides vaingloriously into La Tour de Nesle: "J'ai fait vingt ans de guerre; j'ai fait vingt ans d'amour." A gambler cries: "Je jouerais la peste que je voudrais la gagner." Another, accused of trickery, laughs: "C'est peut-être vrai, mais je n'aime pas qu'on me le dise," and throws the dice in his adversary's face. The effect is not glaringly original: its relations with the tricks of the popular dramatist are obvious; yet these terse speeches are sufficiently characteristic and frequent to merit some title: they might be referred to as D'Artagnanesque language. Similar bravura passages occur in many plays; indeed, there are two D'Artagnanesque characters in La Reine Margot, and the Gascon makes a last triumphant bow as the jester Chicot of La Dame de Monsoreau.7 D'Artagnan always delights by his impertinence: he, like Porthos, represents drama at the level of "play." Thus, D'Artagnan and Porthos, despite superficial differences, are brothers under the skin and children of Dumas: brawn and brains, they are united by their kinetic appeal.

The appeal to the play instinct is likewise evident when the author depicts—as he obviously enjoys doing—turbulent election scenes, whether in modern England or Republican Rome. Similarly, we feel he takes a playful pleasure in confronting his characters with the apparatus of the torture chamber. And in his comedies he usually finds a physical or playful basis for mirth: the change of a youth's voice, or two Scotsmen who turn London streetcomers until they become giddy. An element of very physical "pretence" is also discoverable in the description of the debilities of Catilina in the play of that name; and in La Dame de Monsoreau Dumas makes the reader and spectator actually feel the shivering of the cold-blooded "mignons": this is his way of emphasizing their effeminacy.8 However, it must be added that episodes like these represent a transition from the "illusory" to the spectacular or picturesque phase of dramatic action.


This second type of violence is achieved in Dumas' plays largely by devices of make-up, costume, stagedecoration, local color, and gesture. As for make-up, it would be tedious to list the examples of blood and bruises: a severed human head is brought forth from a cask (reminiscent of a similar trick in Shakespeare's Richard III); or Cassandra is shown with an axe in her skull.9 As a device of stage-decoration, the simulation of dizzy height by means of precipices, gulfs, high windows, vertiginous ruins, is just as frequent: the most gory episode is that of the Vampire who is hurled to his death at the foot of a precipice.10 This is stage-decoration with a kinetic appeal.

Such violent and spectacular effects as these come mostly from the bag of tricks of actor, stage-carpenter, and artificer of melodrama. "Show" of a higher level is the local color by which the Romantic School set great store. Dumas is an obedient Romantic in this respect; yet, in addition, he betrays—as one will note by listing the settings and periods of his plays—a remarkable search for the violent phases of period and locale. Thus, beginning with his exotic settings:

Classical: Caligula hurling his consul to a murderous mob; punishment by strangling, burial alive, or artery-severing; slaves thrown to man-eating lamprey-eels; turbulent crowds.

British: noisy elections; prize-fighting and fisticuffs in general; acrobatics; Scotch claymores.

German: consumptives (who spit blood); cruel doctors; sadistic sons; and characteristic (Sturm und Drang) misunderstandings between father and son, or uncle and nephew.

Italian: use of poignards; the Corsican vendetta.

Spanish and Oriental: truculence between brothers or between father and son; duelling; patricide, or mortal insult offered to a father.11

And, continuing with the French period settings:

Medieval: towers and dungeons; rough mobs; thieving gypsies (in the fashion of Hugo's Notre Dame de Paris); the madness of Charles VI (very much after Shakespeare's manner).

Renaissance: religious wars; blood feuds; the poisons of Catherine de Medicis and her astrologer; swordplay in profusion.

Louis XIII period: musketeers; duels; religious wars.

Louis XIV: elegance; Fronde; civil war and religious persecution.

Regency: musketeer characters still; the secret police of Cardinal Dubois.

Louis XV: elegant and cynical immorality; duelling.

Revolution and Empire: the howling mob as in Republican Rome or Democratic Britain; saber-to-chest attitude and challenge: "Au nom de la République!"12

This catalogue discloses that, except for such obviously "elegant" periods as that of Louis XIV, Dumas emphasizes the violent shades of exotic and historical color; further, that he seems to have studied each period and locale sufficiently well to find material for at least three plays apiece.

Dumas' "modern" plays have certainly a more restricted setting; yet they too have their violent color: the Byronic hero, the dying consumptive, rape, abduction, clandestine accouchements, and the duel.13 Even so, the colorful exuberance of all these plays—exotic, historical, and modern—cannot conceal the fact that Dumas has achieved here little that is altogether original. He has merely emphasized in a rather athletic way the spectacular effects of the Romantic School in general and of melodrama in particular.


We pass by very slight gradations to a third element of drama, an element revealed largely in gesture, speech, and situation. Each of these has also a higher and lower degree of poignancy. Gesture, for example, presents on the lower level of this scale many muscular and, at the same time, spectacular effects, which are half struggle, half show. Let us list some of the most effective of these moments: an impetuous lover stills his ardor by tearing at his breast; an emprisoned Spaniard bites the iron bars of his cell; the actor Kean relieves his rage by breaking a chair; Milady de Winter grinds her teeth and "twists her body" in wrath; a German hero beats his brow moist with the sweat of mental anguish; a medieval nobleman assuages his grief by throwing himself to the floor and rolling about.14

But there is also a higher type of gesture. It is exemplified at its best when the Duchess of Guise puts her arm, already bruised by her husband's iron glove (she shows the marks), through the rings of a door bolt. Similarly: Antony tears off his bandages that he may have the "happiness" of bleeding to death in his mistress's home; a Bedouin seizes his treacherous lady-love by the hair; a murderous husband hurls his wife roughly to the floor; a lover marks wicked Queen Marguerite's face with a pin from her head-dress; an infernal spirit pricks with an iron pen the arm of a guilty nun; Milady is branded on the shoulder; and a villainous stepmother is mauled and killed by a vicious dog. In all these instances of violent gesture, a sadistic quality is uppermost; and, what is more, the cruelty is usually directed against women. It is true that mistreatment of women, common in the earlier plays, declines with the years, until Dumas allows only his most despicable characters (Milady and Orsola) to be so used.'15 Even so, feminine suffering, revealed in gesture, remains one of the most memorable violent effects of Dumas' plays.

Like gesture, dialogue has a higher and lower grade of violence. Of the latter type, Dumas' act-endings have been much admired. The curtain falls as the Duke of Guise orders: "Qu'on me cherche les mêmes hommes qui ont assassiné Dugast!" Christina of Sweden is similarly brutal and brief: "Qu'on l'achève!" Henry VIII warns Catherine Howard: "Préparez-vous à aux juges qui ont condamné Anne Boleyn!" These curtain-lines would be incomplete without mention of Monte-Cristo's famous cry: "The world is mine!"—a cry more familiar in English than in the original French ("A moi le monde!"), as it was heard literally around the world in the performances of countless melodrama troupes. However, it is with Dumas an old formula, first used in L'Alchimiste (1839): "Ce trésor est à moi!"16

For all their effectiveness, these act-endings are merely happy trouvailles of the melodramatist's art—of which the ordinary style is shown at its worst in this ungrammatical sample from Les Mohicans de Paris (1860): "Je veille sur toi, et, fusses-tu dans les griffes de Satan, par le Dieu vivant, je t'en tirerai!" On a higher level are bits of pseudo-historical dialogue: the dreadful cry of Charles IX during the Massacre, "II faut que je tue quelqu'un!" or Cromwell's characterization of a particularly violent Puritan, "Mordaunt, vous êtes un terrible serviteur!" Related to such speeches are various neat, D'Artagnanesque phrases ("Madame, où mettezvous le poison dont vous vous servez d'habitude?—Cette femme a dû passer par ici, car voilà un cadavre").17 Despite their "smartness," these speeches do not represent our author's highest effects in the realm of dialogue; rather his best-remembered phrases are those of women: "Vous me faites mal, Henri! Vous me faites horriblement mal!" Or: "Qu'elle est froide cette lettre! qu'elle est cruellement froide!"18 Here again we catch the sadistic note, and the note of feminine suffering. The suffering of women indicates struggle of a more poignant type, and represents, as we shall see later, one of Dumas' most original contributions to the violence of gesture and dialogue.

As with dialogue, so with situation—there is a higher and lower degree of violence. Dumas' subjects are typical of Romanticism: scenes of terror, hypnotism, convulsive love, gambling, duels, brutal cynicism. There is the prolonged and violent death of Tomson in Richard Darlington, a scene in which he clings to a moving carriage-wheel; but this depends partly upon stage-setting for its effect. Violence of a higher degree is probably best represented by Le 24 février, a one-act play, which, though it was performed at a theater called Gaieté, dealt with a gruesome infanticide, fratricide, and a hint of patricide; but this play was adapted from the German.19 Thus, Dumas' stage-crimes cannot be called more abhorrent than those of his colleagues: unnatural murder, rape, incest and threat of incest, intense physical torture, furtive births and criminal infanticide are no different in his plays than in those of other Romantics.20 These gruesome incidents are quite pronounced as late as 1850 (Urbain Grandier), although they gradually become rarer with the years.

Dumas' originality lies rather in another direction: his drama excels not so much in crime as in punishment, which is personified in the character of the bourreau or headsman, surely the most pervasive and long-lived of all his violent devices. This figure first stalks darkly into Richard Darlington, appears in fifteen plays, and makes a farewell appearance only in the last of the Dumas dramas, Les Blancs et les bleus (1870). Certainly it would be hard to find a more recurrent character;21 yet it is precisely in the excessive use of the hangman that Dumas' violent situations reach their climax, over-reach it, and tend—as a natural result—to the absurd. The bourreau is make-believe, "play" again: the cycle is complete.

Thus, we may sum up finally our tripartite catalogue. In its Play elements, Dumas' action is rich, befitting his own rich physical nature. In its Show elements, his work presents little variety from the devices of Romanticism, though his local color is often quite athletic. Finally, in its Struggle elements, his action becomes at moments distinctly original.

The debts of these plays are many and obvious. There is something at once earnest, pathetic, and engaging in the humility of Dumas toward his School and toward his betters. He invariably acknowledges his borrowings in the most flattering manner possible—by clever imitation. Thus we easily catch overtones of all his principal sources.

For example: Antony is asked how many times he has loved: "Demandez à un cadavre combien de fois il a vécu." Yaqoub the Saracen says to his new master: "Vous payez cher un cadavre." A headsman to his son: "Malheureux, tu ne sais pas que je suis né pour punir." Richard Darlington to his wife (with unintentional pun): "Jenny, vous êtes mon mauvais génie."22 We are tempted to write after all such expressions: "Schiller." Without meaning thereby to cite chapter and verse as literal sources for these lines, one can at the same time feel in them to what extent the spirit of Schiller—that is, the youthful Schiller—had permeated the writers of Dumas' generation and been absorbed by them. Likewise we can be reasonably sure that cruel sons and brutal German doctors in Dumas' plays come also from Schiller (Die Räuber especially). Similarly, one catches a Byronic note (or, at any rate, the continental translation of Byron) in such a phrase as the following: "Vous avez une intention que je ne puis comprendre; vous marchez vers un but que je ne connais pas."23 Also Byronic are various sadistic young men (Antony, Alfred d'Alvimar, the Duc de Richelieu), heroes of early Dumas plays. When Bertuccio exclaims: "Je ne suis pas fou: je suis Corse!" one is reminded of Victor Hugo.24 Likewise, when we encounter laboratory scenes, medicine or pseudo-science, and the Mephistophelian character,25 we may be sure that Goethe is the ultimate inspiration. Scenes of English democracy, Scottish honor, the tortured wife (Jenny Darlington) usually suggest Scott (particularly Kenilworth and The Surgeon's Daughter). Spanish scenes draw heavily from a variety of sources—Hugo (Castillian honor, angel-and-demon antithesis, Charles V's election), the Spanish drama and in particular the Duke of Rivas (monastery scenes and blood-feuds between hidalgos), even old Corneille (the mortal insult of a blow). The figures of the huntsman and the human bloodhound come from Fenimore Cooper. Kotzebue provides his figure of the "Stranger." Even the Wandering Jew is present.26 There is, finally, a very extensive debt to the Arabian Nights, reminiscent of Dumas' youthful reading: Monte-Cristo's treasure-trove was surely inspired by Ali Baba's Sesame, and in a late and unimportant little play we find a horse named Bab-Ali.27

Thus we see, however briefly and incompletely, Dumas' debt not only to Romantic literature in general, but to a variety of sources. Still, making every allowance for conventionalities and for collaborators,28 there is a residue which cannot be explained away: the Janus-faced portrait of the author (D'Artagnan and Porthos); a trick of speech which may be called D'Artagnanesque; a fondness for scenic effects of height—precipices and so forth; a tendency to make local color emphasize the athletic genius of a people or an age (though here he is in debt to Scott); neat curtain-lines; the abiding figure of the bourreau; and the suffering of women portrayed in gesture and speech. These elements—though they vary in their originality—are frequent enough, and fundamental enough, to be considered Dumas' own.

It is perhaps fitting at this point and in the light of these themes to review Dumas' dramatic career chronologically. Below are listed certain of the most characteristic moments of that career, the titles being plays to which reference has already been made in most cases, and the names in parenthesis being the heroes or villains in each case.

1829: Henri III et sa cour (Duc de Guise)

1830: Christine (Monaldeschi)

1831: Napoléon Bonaparte (character of the Spy)

1831: Antony

1831: Richard Darlington (Tomson)

1832: La Tour de Nesle (Buridan)

1833: Angéle (Alfred d'Alvimar)

1839: Mile de Belle-Isle (Duc de Richelieu)

1839: L'Alchimiste (Fasio)

1847: La Reine Margot (La Môle, Coconnas)

1847: Le Chevalier de Maison-Rouge

1848: Monte-Cristo, Parts I and II

1849: Le Comte Hermann (Fritz Sturler)

1850: Urbain Grandier

1856: La Tour Saint-Jacques (Raoul de la Tremblaye)

1858: Les Forestiers (Bernard Guillaume)

1860: La Dame de Monsoreau (Chicot, Bussy d'Amboise)

1864: Les Mohicans de Paris (Salvator)

As can be seen, Dumas' dramatic career covered five decades. The first (1820's) saw his school-boy efforts, his acquisition of dramatic technique and verse form in an adaptation of Schiller's Fiesco, and his début in Henri III. The second decade (1830's—seventeen plays of the collected work) introduced most of his favorite themes: Shakespearian murder scenes, a long line of Byronic heroes and Mephistophelian villains, the type of D'Artagnan, the consumptive hero, the Walter Scott types of intrigue, and the theme of buried treasure. The third decade (1840's—twenty plays) marked a relapse from the earlier Romantic frenzy into the production of well-made plays for the Théâtre-Français;29 but in the second half of the period there was a rebirth of the old-time somber violence in the dramatizations which now for the first time made their appearance.30 The fourth decade (1850's—eighteen plays) began with one of the least original works,31 but in La Tour Saint-Jacques marked the climax of Dumas' great medieval reconstructions and dramatizations for his Théâtre Historique, and with Les Forestiers sounded momentarily a new and refreshingly realistic note. During the last decade (1860's), Dumas' dramatic talent wore itself out; for, with the exception of the two famous dramatizations noted above, the plays were all inferior.32

This chronology helps to make clear an essential antithesis: the difference between Dumas the dramatist and Dumas the dramatizer. The chief dramas, as we have seen, make their most sensational appearance in the thirties; the dramatizations, taken from his popular romances and arranged for the stage by himself or with collaborators, begin in the forties. Some of them, it is true, are mere pot-boilers: Madame de Chamblay, Gabriel Lambert, Le Gentilhomme de la montagne, Le Chevalier d'Harmental and Le Chevalier de Maison-Rouge (both almost incomprehensible in their dramatic guise), and Urbain Grandier. These are often hampered by too much plot, too many characters, too many settings.33 However, a few other dramatizations rival the earlier dramas in violence: the Musketeer series, the Monte-Cristo tetralogy (though not all equally), Les Mohicans de Paris, and a last masterly effort, La Dame de Monsoreau. And these works, complicated and lengthy as they were (one of them ran to nine hours in performance), were almost uniformly successful. We need only recall the figures of Milady, Mordaunt, La Carconte, the Villefort family, Chicot, to understand their success. For these dramatizations provide the last and most characteristic aspect of Dumas' violence, an aspect which serves more than any other to link him to the later nineteenth century. They support and contribute to that atmosphere which we are forced, for want of a better term, to call "Clinical Suspense"—a sentiment which springs, in the case of novel-reader and drama-seer, from an excessive and disgusting cumulation of physical strain and tension.

For illustration: two examples of this type of suffering, certainly two which come readily to mind, are Milady de Winter and M. de Villefort. Here are people beset with all manner of cruel problems, cumulating in rapid succession. They are confronted with prison, banishment, branding, burning, disgrace, sudden death, madness—a succession of grim horrors—until at last our hatred of the criminal turns to vague sympathy, then surfeit becomes open disgust, which leads to a kind of impersonal aloofness. The characters themselves have ceased long since to have any personal function, have become mere puppets in the force of cumulative suffering. In other words, the hurricane has become important in itself.

Yet we must not believe that because the character has lost his identity in the process, he has lost every valid literary function. An example is the horrid death of La Carconte in the second Monte-Cristo play. It is not enough that this woman must plan and execute a violent murder and herself endure an even more violent death: she must also be suffering from fever at the time! The very chattering of her teeth adds to the aura of physical suffering which surrounds and finally obscures her.34

For the source of this technique we can go back to Dumas' first great play, Henri III et sa cour. Here indignity and suffering crowd upon the Duchess of Guise until we cease to think of her, and think only of her bruised and broken arm subjected to hurt and agony. It is safe to say that not the Duchess of Guise, but the Duchess of Guise's arm is the heroine of the tragedy.

Mme de Guise, however, pales a trifle when compared with her successors. The three greatest pathological characters in Dumas' plays—Villefort, La Carconte, Milady—made their first appearance in serial stories; and even on the stage they reflect the lengthy serial story in their long-drawn agonies. Here is, indeed, a case where novel has added to the power of drama. These dramatizations even make possible a comparison between Dumas and the Greeks. In plays like these we feel something of the same shameless and dreadful crowding of woe and grief (though seen in their most physical aspects) that we encounter in the myths set on the stage by the great Greek dramatists. There are distinctions, to be sure: where the Classic audience saw behind the suffering, Destiny; where the Neo-Classicists saw Character; Dumas saw only Suffering itself.35 Now, though this element of "clinical" suffering existed more or less from the first in Dumas' plays, one must also remember that it occurred after 1840 most strikingly in the dramatizations. Therefore we may say that Dumas' most original effect of violence owes part of its originality to fictional technique; and furthermore that the dramatizations of Dumas scarcely deserve the neglect to which scholars have often consigned them.

The final antithesis which will best serve to evaluate Dumas' technique, and will likewise help to set him in his period, is a distinction between GESTURE and POSTURE. This difference can be stated in the following terms: gesture aims always at some significance, some symbolism; whereas posture aims merely toward an arrangement effectively picturesque to the spectator. Gesture is un-self-conscious, active, and individual; posture is aloof, and consciously conceives of itself in relation to a whole composition. A historical example: Cromwell's smearing with ink the faces of his fellow regicides is good gesture; the attitudinizing of the Girondins at the foot of the guillotine is mere posture.36 Though posture is indispensable to the drama of Dumas—he would scarcely be a Romantic or an heir to the spirit of 1789 without it—still he manages, contrary to Hugo, to subordinate posture to gesture; and this he accomplishes chiefly through his "clinical" technique, which itself owes much to his dramatizations.

In other words, we are prepared to say that Romanticism, in all its forms and personalities, existed on several different levels, the self-conscious and the conscious, the unconscious and the subconscious. It was at its worst (or is least agreeably tolerated today) in its self-conscious and conscious manifestations; it is most significant, powerful, and inexorable in its unconscious and subconscious manifestations; and it was here that Alexandre Dumas père played his most effective part. For it was this latter aspect of Romanticism which contributed most to the following period. Dumas, and others of his kind, help to complete the unity of the nineteenth century by forming a connecting link with the Symbolists and fin-de-siècle decadents.37 As dramatist and dramatizer, he represents not only the cross-fertilization of the arts in the Romantic period but also the break-down of the hierarchy of letters during the whole century. Debtors of Dumas' school of literature were such aristocrats or esoterics as Barbey d'Aurevilly, Villiers de l'Isle-Adam, Rimbaud. Even the greatest of the raffinés, Proust, had a taste for the vulgar—proved by such terms as his meilhachalévisme, or such phrases as "aimant opéracomiquement les femmes." Havelock Ellis goes so far as to say, in a penetrating passage, that Proust—like most of us—burlesques and scorns what he most loved.38 This does not mean that a later generation of Frenchmen turned consciously to Dumas, though in the democratic, paradoxical nineteenth century extremes rubbed elbows; but the young men of 1870 and 1890 were open to the unconscious influences of Romanticism, even when they most scorned its topmost flights—which were, as a consequence, its most transitory. The type of violence purveyed by Dumas became an element, even a stock-in-trade, in the work of Baudelaire, Verlaine, Wilde. As Mario Praz has indicated,39 there are some elements which even the humblest men of letters share with the greatest; and in the presentment of physical suffering and anguish the serial writers and melodramatists of the mid-nineteenth century paved the way for the Bohemian, anti-popular authors of the Decadence.

Though Dumas may be denied the title of first-rank artist, he is certainly a first-rate artisan—kraftgenialisch, as the Germans call their muscular authors; and, as a preparation for the spirit of the late nineteenth century, his Clinical Technique is certainly a force to be reckoned with.


1 Cf. Arthur W. Pinero, Robert Louis Stevenson as a Dramatist, Papers on Playmaking, IV, of the Dramatic Museum of Columbia University, 1914; W. S. Hastings, The Dramas of Honoré de Balzac, Baltimore, 1917; Ramon Fernandez, "Le Message de Meredith," Messages, Paris, Gallimard, 1926; F. B. Van Amerongen, The Actor in Dickens, New York, Appleton, 1927; etc., etc.

2 G. Lanson, Histoire de la litérature française, 21eéd., pp. 977-978.

3 Cf. the present writer's "Speed as a Technique in the Novels of Balzac," PMLA, March 1940.

4 Calmann-Lévy, 25 vols., 1889-1899.

5 Invaluable and indispensable is the work of F. W. Reed, A Bibliography of Alexander Dumas Père, London, Neuhuys, 1933; much material is also to be found in H. Parigot, Le Drame d'Alexandre Dumas, Paris, Calmann-Lévy, 1899. Both are especially good for biographical elements in Dumas' plays. There is a pleasant description of the "playful" fantasy of Dumas in Léon Daudet, La Tragique Existence de Victor Hugo, Paris, Michel, 1937, pp. 168-172, etc.

6 Porthos: Kean, III, 4; Le Laird de Dumbiky, I, 1; Le Comte Hermann, I, 1; Catilina, II, 7; Les Mousquetaires, VI, 4. Eating: La Tour Saint-Jacques, III, 3; La Dame de Monsoreau, v, 5.—References are by act and scene, the Roman numeral marking the tableau (if the play is so divided) or the act.

7 D'Artagnan: La Tour de Nesle, I, 3; Un Mariage sous Louis XV, I, 8; Halifax, Pr. 5; La Jeunesse des Mousquetaires, II, 3; v, 3; Les Mousquetaires, x, 2; La Reine Margot, II, 9; La Dame de Monsoreau, x, 5.

8 "Play" elements: Richard Darlington, II; Catilina, V; La Reine Margot, XI, 9; La Guerre des femmes, VI, 1; Le Chevalier d'Harmental, VI, 2. Comedy: L'Invitation à la valse, Scs. II, 12; L'Envers d'une conspiration, II, 6. Medical and physical: Catilina, III; La Dame de Monsoreau, II, 1.

9 Blood: Charles VII chez ses grands vassaux, IV, 3; La Tour de Nesle, IX, 4; Caligula, Pr. 9; Le Chevalier de Maison-Rouge, X, 1; Catilina, I, 10; II, 8; VI, 9; Les Blancs et les Bleus, VI, 6; Les Mohicans de Paris, I, 19; L'Orestie, I, 12.

10 Precipices, etc.: Le Vampire, VIII; La Noce et l'Enterrement, III (burial alive); Henri III et sa cour, V; Christine, Pr.; Richard Darlington, IV; VIII, 3; Don Juan de Marana, I, 5; VI, 3; Le Roman d'Elvire, II, 13, 17. Also: La Tour de Nesle, Kean, Caligula, Paul Jones, Lorenzino, Les Demoiselles de Saint-Cyr, Le Laird de Dumbiky, La Reine Margot, Monte-Cristo (1), Villefort, La Jeunesse des mousquetaires, La Guerre des femmes, La Tour Saint-Jacques, La Dame de Monsoreau.

11 Exotic color. Classical: Caligula; Catilina; L'Orestie; British: Richard Darlington; Kean; Le Laird de Dumbiky; Les Mousquetaires; L'Honneur est satisfait; L'Envers d'une conspiration; German: character of Henri Muller, Angèle; Le Comte Hermann; Le 24 février; La Conscience; Italian: Christine; Lorenzino; Monte-Cristo (first and second Parts); Teresa; Spanish and Oriental: Don Juan de Marana; Le Gentilhomme de la montagne; Charles VII chez ses grands vassaux; Le Vampire.

12 Historical color. Medieval: Charles VII chez ses grands vassaux; La Tour de Nesle; La Tour Saint-Jacques; Renaissance: Henri III et sa cour; La Reine Margot; La Dame de Monsoreau; Louis XIII: La Jeunesse des Mousquetaires; Les Mousquetaires; Urbain Grandier; Louis XIV: La Guerre des femmes; Les Demoiselles de Saint-Cyr; La Jeunesse de Louis XIV; Regency: Une Fille du régent; Le Chevalier d'Harmental; Louis XV: Paul Jones; Mile de Belle-Isle; Un Mariage sous Louis XV; Louise Bernard; Le Verrou de la reine; Revolution and Empire: Napoléon Bonaparte; Le Chevalier de Maison-Rouge; La Barrière de Clichy; Les Blancs et les Bleus.

13 Modern: Antony, I, 2; III, 7; Teresa; Angèle, 8; III 8; V, 4; Le Comte de Morcerf, I, 4; Marbrier, II, 15; Les Mohicans de Paris; Gabriel Lambert; Madame de Chamblay.

14 Colorful gestures: Henri III et sa cour, V, 2: Kean, IV, 8; La Jeunesse des mousquetaires, IX, 3; Conscience, II, 7, 10; La Tour de Nesle, III, 3; also Don Juan de Marana, Le Comte Hermann, L'Envers d'une conspiration, Les Forestiers, Intrigue et Amour.

15 Sadistic gestures: Henri III et sa cour, III, 5; V, 2; Antony, I, 6; Charles VII chez ses grands vassaux, V, 5; Richard Darlington, IV, 3; La Tour de Nesle, II, 4, 5; Don Juan de Marana, VIII, 2; Intrigue et Amour, VI, 3; Le Chevalier de Maison-Rouge, VIII, 7; La Jeunesse des mousquetaires, Pr. 8; Les Mohicans de Paris, I, 19, 26.

16 Act-endings: Henry III et sa cour, I, V; Christine, V; Catherine Howard, VI; Les Mohicans de Paris, VIII; L'Alchimiste, II; Monte-Cristo (2e Partie), I; also Angèle, IV; Antony, I.—Compare as a combination of act-ending and gesture the last two instances, particularly where Angèle throws herself headforemost to the floor—something of a feat for a woman just out of childbed.

17 Pseudo-historical dialogue: La Reine Margot, III, 3; Les Mousquetaires, V, 8; also II, 6; X, 2. "Smart" dialogue: Villefort, IX, 5; La Jeunesse des mousquetaires, XII, 7; cf. a particularly effective scene in action, Le Chevalier d'Harmental, IX, 4.

18Henri III et sa cour, III, 5; Antony, II, I.—Note how the rhythm of the sentences reinforces the anguish. A study of the use of repetition for stage-effect would not be wasted: for example, it is little used in Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, but grows in frequency throughout the eighteenth century: cf. Turcaret, Le Philosophe sans le savoir. The relations of eighteenth-century comedy with melodrama should be noted.—Note also the rhythm of D'Artagnanesque speech: "C'était une croix et pas autre chose; c'était au bras gauche et pas autre part" (La Tour de Nesle, VIII, 4).

19 Violent situations: (fear) Christine, V, 1; (love) Catherine Howard, II, 3; IV, 3; (gambling) Mlle de Belle-Isle; (duels) Angèle, Halifax, L'Envers d'une conspiration, La Dame de Monsoreau; (hypnotism) Urbain Grandier; (death) Richard Darlington, VII, 2; (patricide) Le 24 février, esp. Scs. 3, 7.

20 Abhorrent crimes: Antony, II, 7; Teresa, III, 12; La Tour de Nesle; Angèle, III; Caligula, II, 5; Paul Jones, V, 6; Halifax, III, 9, 10; La Reine Margot, X, XIII; Catilina, I, 7, 9; IV, 5; Urbain Grandier, II, 1; XI, 4; Le Marbrier, II, 15; III, 6; L'Orestie, I, 12; II, 11; Le Gentilhomme de la montagne, V, 6. Clandestine: Richard Darlington, Pr. 7; La Tour de Nesle, IV; Angèle, III, 8; Paul Jones, II, 3; Monte-Cristo (Ire Partie), IX; Catilina, II, 1.

21 Headsman and hangman: Richard Darlington, Catherine Howard, L'Alchimiste, Lorenzino, La Reine Margot, Villefort, La Jeunesse des mousquetaires, Les Mousquetaires, Catilina, Le Chevalier d'Harmental, La Guerre des femmes, Le Comte Hermann, Urbain Grandier, L'Envers d'une conspiration, Le Gentilhomme de la montagne, Les Blancs et les bleus. —The device is all the more pathetic in its last manifestation because it is not at all germane to the plot: the headsman is obviously present only to please the author.—Cf. the bourreau character in Balzac's Épisode sous la Terreur and in Joseph de Maistre's Soirées de Saint-Pétersbourg.

22 Schillerian tone: Antony, II, 4; Charles VII chez ses grands vassaux, II, 5; Richard Darlington, V, 7; cf. Intrigue et Amour, IV, 3.—Dumas' debts to Schiller are very thoroughly treated by Edmond Eggli, Schiller et le romantisme français, Paris, Gamber, 1927, II, 300-380, passim.

23 Byronic tone: Monte-Cristo (2e Partie), IV, 3.

24 Hugoesque tone: Monte-Cristo (Ire Partie), VIII, 9.

25 Buridan, of La Tour de Nesle, should be noted as a character who starts out as D'Artagnan, and changes, in mid-career, to Mephistopheles. Here the character changes his function; but Schiller's play, Don Karlos, actually changes its hero after the third act. The Romantics easily swept aside questions of consistency which would have bothered the Neo-Classics.

26 The various influences are treated clearly but not exhaustively by Parigot, op. cit. Reed, op cit., contains valuable information of Dumas' youthful adaptations: Schiller's Fiesco and Scott's Ivanhoe (now lost). Kabale und Liebe was also adapted; but Schiller is also present in Le Comte Hermann, Christine, Le 24 février (adapted from Werner), La Conscience. Goethe in Henri III, La Tour de Nesle, Catherine Howard, Don Juan de Marana, Le Comte Hermann. Byronic hero in Napoléon Bonaparte (the Spy), Antony, Charles VII, Teresa, Angèle, Kean, Mile de Belle-Isle (the Duc de Richelieu), Paul Jones (final appearance, and here with democratic overtones, "the rights of man"). Scott's influence dominant in Richard Darlington, Le Laird de Dumbiky, L'Envers d'une conspiration. Shakespeare adapted in Hamlet (considerably toned down!), and there was a youthful translation of Romeo and Juliet, from which he was able to use bits in Kean and Les Mohicans de Paris (balcony scene and Queen Mab speech). Hugo especially in Lorenzino and Le Gentilhomme de la montagne. Corneille in the latter play. Rivas and the Spanish tradition in Don Juan de Marana and Le Gentilhomme de la montagne (Dumas' least original play). Cooper in Le Comte Hermann; Les Forestiers, v, II; Les Mohicans de Paris, v, 7; judgment of him in Le Marbrier, II, 6. Kotzebue in Louise Bernard. Wandering Jew theme in the latter play and Morcerf.

27 Arabian Nights: La Noce et l'Enterrement (burial alive, as of Sinbad the Sailor); Villefort, I, 3; Les Mousquetaires, XI, 2; La Chasse au chastre, I, 2; Tour Saint-Jacques, IV, 10; Le Roman d'Elvire, III, 3; Le Gentilhomme de la montagne, II, 10; III, 3.

28 There are divided opinions on the subject of Dumas' collaborations: G. Simon, Histoire d'une collaboration, Paris, Crès, 1919, tends to exaggerate them; Reed, op. cit., takes the opposite stand, with more evidence.

29Un Mariage sous Louis XV, Les Demoiselles de Saint-Cyr, Halifax, Louise Bernard, Mile de Belle-Isle.—The relationship of the pièce bien faite with the melodrama, and their antecedents, need further elucidation, though there is much of value in Parigot, op. cit., pp. 159 ff. and ch. xi.

30Le Comte Hermann marks the summit of Goethian and Schillerian influence, and introduces the Cooper woodsman-character.

31Urbain Grandier even goes back to Scribe's operatic Robert le diable for its demoniacal settings.

32L'Envers d'une conspiration resembles the earlier well-made plays with British settings; but Le Gentilhomme de la montagne is a hodge-podge; Gabriel Lambert is confused; and Les Blancs et les bleus is only a military melodrama. Madame de Chamblay contains a last faint echo of l'homme fatal of 1830; and we find therein a rather pathetic attempt to introduce peasant themes and sociological discussion after the manner of Balzac and the new school of Realism (II, 9; IV, 5).—There is also an attempt in all these later pieces to tone down the old violence: in Les Mohicans, Madame Orsola is killed off stage.

33 It would be interesting to note the number of changes of scene necessary to most of Dumas' dramatizations (not counting the spectacular plays); also the number of double, triple, and even quadruple sets he and his collaborators find indispensable to the action: Le Chevalier d'Harmental sins notably in this respect.—These, and other problems that confront the dramatizer, are very well discussed in the essays of a contemporary, Sidney Howard: cf. his prefaces to dramatizations of Sinclair Lewis's Dodsworth, New York, Harcourt, Brace, 1933, and Humphrey Cobb's Paths of Glory, New York, French 1935.

34 Dumas' debts cannot hide his originality: obviously La Carconte is suggested by Lady Macbeth; but it is in the heaping up of physical suffering that Dumas is original.

35 The comparison is complicated by the whole Greek concept of Fate and Destiny, is further confused by the fact that long acquaintance with the legends robs them of much of their brutality, and is finally obscured by the awe with which we tend to approach the Classics.

36 Similarly, the ending of Hugo's Quatre-Vingt-Treize is posture; whereas his Travailleurs de la mer ends in a magnificent gesture.—Note also Egon Friedell's curious comparison of the French Revolutionary heroes to Schillerian characters, A Cultural History of the Modern Age, New York, Knopf, 1931-1932, II, 396-397.

37 There is no need to discuss here his gift to later melo-drama and historical drama. Sardou doubtless learned much from Dumas: for instance, the trick, apparently originated in the expatriate Scotch heroes of Scott, of injecting a Frenchman as commentator into his historical scenes (in Patrie, for example, or against the Byzantine background of Théodora). This trick Dumas had introduced in the Gaul Acquila, of Caligula, with the additional virtue of relating him to the plot.

38 Havelock Ellis, From Rousseau to Proust, Boston and New York, Houghton, Mifflin, 1935, p. 374.

39 Mario Praz, The Romantic Agony, London, Oxford, 1933, pp. 197 ff., 378 ff., finds for example in Eugène Sue's Mystères de Paris similar elements to those employed by Verlaine and Pierre Louÿs.—We might add that Dumas' Caligula, in its presentation of the abstract brutality of the Ancient World, is also a preparation for Louÿs' Aphrodite.

Principal Works

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 732

La chasse et l'amour [As Davy] (drama) 1825

Henri III et sa cour [translated as Catherine of Cleves; also published as Henry III and His Court] (drama) 1829

Christine; ou Stockholm, Fountainebleau, et Rome (drama) 1830

Antony [Anton)] (drama) 1831

Charles VII chez ses grands vassaux [Charles VII at the Homes of His Great Vassals] (drama) 1831

Napoléon Bonaparte; ou, Trente ans de l'histoire de France (drama) 1831

Richard Darlington (drama) 1831

Térésa (drama) 1832

La tour de Nesle [The Tower of Nesle] (drama) 1832

Gaule et France [The Progress of Democracy] (history) 1833

Impressions de voyage. 5 vols. [The Glacier Land, also published as Travels in Switzerland] (travel essays) 1833-37

Don Juan de Marana; ou, La chute d'un ange [Don Juan de Marana] (drama) 1836

Kean, ou Désordre et génie [Edmund Kean, or The Genius and the Libertine] (drama) 1836

Caligula (drama) 1837

**Crimes célèbres. 8 vols. [Celebrated Crimes] (essays) 1839-40

Une année à Florence (travel essays) 1841

Excursions sur les bords du Rhin (travel essays) 1841

Nouvelles impressions de voyage: Midi de la France [Pictures of Travel in the South of France] (travel essays) 1841

Le capitaine Aréna (travel essays) 1842

Le chevalier d'Harmental (novel) 1842

Le speronare [partially translated as Journeys with Dumas: The Speronara] (travel essays) 1842

Le corricolo [Sketches of Naples] (travel essays) 1843

Georges [George; or The Planter of the Isle of France] (novel) 1843

La villa Palmieri (travel essays) 1843

Fernande [Fernande; or, The Fallen Angel: A Story of Life in Paris] (novel) 1844

Les trois mousquetaires. 8 vols. [The Three Musketeers; or, The Feats and Fortunes of a Gascon Adventurer] (novel) 1844

Louis XIV et son sièle. 2 vols. (history) 1844-45

Le comte de Monte-Cristo. 8 vols. [The Count of Monte Cristo] (novel) 1845

Une fille du Règent [The Regent's Daughter] (novel) 1845

Les Frères corses [The Corsican Brothers] (novel) 1845

La Reine Margot [Marguerite de Valois] (novel) 1845

Vingt ans après [Twenty Years After; or, The Further Feats and Fortunes of a Gascon Adventurer] (novel) 1845

Le chevalier de Maison-Rouge. 6 vols. [Marie Antoinette: or, The Chevalier of the Red House: A Tale of the French Revolution] (novel) 1845-46

La dame de Monsoreau [Chicot the Jester; or, The Lady of Monsoreau; also published as Diana of Meridor; or, The Lady of Monsoreau] (novel) 1846

Le Bâtard de Mauléon [The Half Brothers; or, The Head and the Hand; also published as The Bastard of Mauléon] (novel) 1846-47

Mémoires d'un medecin: Joseph Balsamo [The Memoirs of a Physician] (novel) 1846-48

Les quarante-cinq [The Forty-Five Guardsmen] (novel) 1847

Impressions de voyage: De Paris à Cadix [From Paris to Cadiz] (travel essays) 1847-48

Le vicomte de Bragelonne; ou, Dix ans plus tard [The Vicomte de Bragelonne; or, Ten Years Later] (novel) 1848-50

Le véloce; ou, Tanger, Alger et Tunis [Tales of Algeria; or, Life Among the Arabs] (travel essays) 1848-51

Oeuvres complètes. 286 vols. (novels, short stories, travel essays, memoirs, histories, and essays) 1848-1900

Le collier de la reine [The Queen 's Necklace] (novel) 1849-50

La tulipe noire [Rosa; or, The Black Tulip] (novel) 1850

Ange Pitou [Taking the Bastille; or, Six Years Later] (novel) 1851

Le Vampire (drama) 1851

Pietro Tasca (drama) 1852

Mes mémoires [My Memoirs] (memoirs) 1852-54

La Comtesse de Charny [The Countess de Charny; or, The Fall of the French Monarchy] (novel) 1852-55

Isaac Laquedem (novel) 1853

Catherine Blum (novel) 1854

Souvenirs de 1830 â 1842. 8 vols. (memoirs) 1854-55

Les Mohicans de Paris [The Mohicans of Paris] (novel) 1854-58

Samson (drama) 1856

Black [Black, The Story of a Dog] (novel) 1858

De Paris à Astrakan (travel essays) 1858-59

Le Caucase: Voyage d'Alexandre Dumas [Adventures in the Caucasus] (travel essays) 1859

Les Louves de Machecoul [translated in two parts as The Royalist Daughters and The Castle of Souday] (novel) 1859

Les Garibaldiens, révolution de Sicile et de Naples [The Garibaldians in Sicily] (history) 1861

Théâtre complet d'Alexandre Dumas. 15 vols. (dramas) 1863-74

Le Comte de Moret [The Count ofMoret; or, Richelieu and His Rivals] (novel) 1866

La terreur prussiene [The Prussian Terror] (novel) 1866

Histoire de mes bêtes [My Pets] (essays) 1867

Les blancs et les bleus [The First Republic; or, The Whites and the Blues] (novel) 1867-68

Souvenirs dramatiques (essays) 1868

The Romances of Alexandre Dumas. 60 vols. (novels) 1893-97

Oeuvres d'Alexandre Dumas père. 38 vols. (novels) 1962-67

*Most of Dumas's prose works were originally published serially in periodicals. In addition, due to the controversy surrounding the authorship of many of his works, Dumas's collaborators are not identified here.

**This work also includes essays written by Auguste Jean Francois Arnould, Narcisse Fournier, Pier Angelo Fiorentino, and Jean Pierre Félicien Mallefille.

Richard Parker (essay date 1944)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4036

SOURCE: "Some Additional Sources of Dumas's Les trois mousquetaires," in Modern Philology, Vol. XLII, No. 1, August, 1944, pp. 34-40.

[In the following essay, Parker discusses a number of works that influenced Les trois mousquetaires, most notably the memoirs of the Comte de Brienne.]

From the time of the publication of Les trois mousquetaires in 1844, when the author in his preface tried to throw his readers off the trail by his reference to the nonexistent folio manuscript No. 4772 or 4773 (he was uncertain which!), there has been a merry chase in tracking down the sources of Dumas's masterpiece. With the feigned naïveté of the ingenious literary plunderer that he was, he slyly admits having used the Mémoires de M. d'Artagnan.1 And, indeed, out of the first volume of this work, the only one of the three that he seems to have consulted, Dumas2 derived the account of D'Artagnan's departure from Gascony on his famous nag; his encounter with Rochefort ("Rosnay" in the Mémoires); his arrival in Paris and meeting with Porthos, Athos, and Aramis; the story of the gold-embroidered belt with the false back; the affair with the innkeeper's wife, i.e., the beautiful Mme Bonacieux; the intrigue with the perfidious Milady (whose role is vastly developed by Dumas); the almost incredible tale of D'Artagnan's masquerading as the Comte de Wardes; the rivalry between the King's Musketeers and the Cardinal's Guards, etc. In short, most of the picturesque background and many of the characteristic incidents were taken by Dumas from this early example of the realistic novel with historical setting.3 It must be observed, however, that Dumas's handling of the material lends a movement, a sharpness of character, a verisimilitude, a dramatic element—in fine, an interest—which the memoirs of the contemporary Courtilz fail to attain.4

Though whole books have been written on the origins of D'Artagnan,5 most writers give as Dumas's sole source the Mémoires of Courtilz.6 Woodbridge,7 however, points to Dumas's use of the Mémoires de M. L. C. D. R. (Comte de Rochefort) for the dramatic incident of the discovery of the fleur de lys branded on Milady's shoulder. For the famous story of the diamond pendants8 given by Anne of Austria to Buckingham, a number of commentators have categorically asserted that Dumas alone is responsible. Samaran, judged by many to have done the most reliable work on D'Artagnan, writes:

Les lecteurs des Trois Mousquetaires… s'étonneront peut-être de ne pas trouver dans les pages qui vont suivre les renseignements qu'ils attendent sur le beau Buckingham, les amours d'Anne d'Autriche… . Il faut done … les prévenir qu'Alexandre Dumas a un peu abusé de leur complaisance quand il leur a montré le jeune d'Artagnan se taillant sa part—et quelle part!—dans ces subtiles intrigues et ces mirifiques exploits.9

Lloyd Sanders, though he is acquainted with the La Rochefoucauld source (which I shall consider later), is provoked that we should know nothing "about the ball at which Anne of Austria confounded the Cardinal by appearing with the diamonds on her. That is pure Dumas."10 Likewise, Charles Sellier declares that the diamond-necklace incident "is due entirely to the imagination of the romancer."11

On the other hand, Lenotre12 claims as the source for this story Roederer's comedy Les Aiguillettes d'Anne d'Autriche.13 Roederer, basing his plot on seventeenth-century memoirs, has further complicated the story by having Buckingham and a valet in the service of the Duchess of Carlisle ("Mme de Winter" in Dumas) each cut off two pendants from the Queen's string of twelve. This duplication of the theft, I take it, was rendered necessary by the playwright's adherence to the unities of time and place; for by this device he saved the time needed for manufacturing the stolen pendants and also eliminated a trip to England. Moreover, one of the three acts of the play is devoted to the efforts of the Queen to induce the Cardinal, ridiculously garbed, to perform a dance before her. These modifications change the story so fundamentally that I am inclined to believe that, at the most, the play could have served only to call Dumas's attention to the dramatic possibilities of the tale.

The primary sources for the story of Buckingham's infatuation for Anne of Austria are, in reality, to be found in the memoirs of La Porte,14 La Rochefoucauld,15 Mme de Motteville,16 and the Comte de Brienne.17 The first three of these relate the opening incident of the intrigue, when the Duke of Buckingham, in the garden at Amiens, overstepping the bounds of convention, attempted to seize the Queen in his arms so ardently that she was forced to call her retinue. He later turned back from his homeward trip and appeared unexpectedly at Anne's very bedside, from which he had fairly to be driven.

A comparison of these three accounts will serve to show Dumas's indebtedness to each. The point of view of the memorialists is quite different. La Porte, the valet de chambre of the Queen and later of Louis XIV, apparently not in the close confidence of any of the principals, saw events almost as an outsider. Though he played a role as messenger between Mme de Chevreuse and Anne of Austria, he seems to have been unaware of what was going on, and he paid for his obtuseness with his dismissal by the jealous Louis XIII.18 In Dumas's novel he is depicted as having much more astuteness, and he enjoys the complete confidence of the Queen. Moreover, he is closely woven into the story by being the godfather of Mme de Bonacieux. Mme de Motteville, who was really much more intimate with the Queen and had the story directly from her, though at a later date, is intent only upon preserving the reputation of her mistress and proving her guileless innocence. According to Mme de Motteville, it is to the evil influence and machinations of Mme de Chevreuse that the whole unfortunate incident is due. Dumas pays little attention to this apologia of Mme de Motteville and pictures the Queen as being swept along by the ardor of the gallant Englishman. La Rochefoucauld, who may very well have heard the story from the originator of the intrigue, Mme de Chevreuse, with whom he was long infatuated, tells the anecdote like a sophisticated and skeptical man of the world, making the Queen and Buckingham equally culpable.19

Dumas makes use of this tale rather by indirection when he has the Duke of Buckingham, pleading his love in a passionate secret interview with Anne, recall to her his daring declaration in the garden at Amiens.20 The incident, as related by Dumas, follows La Porte and La Rochefoucauld in that it takes place at night, whereas Mme de Motteville does not mention the time. He follows Mme de Motteville and La Porte in laying the scene outdoors, while La Rochefoucauld has it take place in a private room of the Queen. The Duke's unexpected return to see the Queen is related by all three authors as taking place on the next day and in Amiens; but Dumas places the second meeting a week later and in Paris, thus bringing the historical personages in contact with his own characters. The result of this affair, according to Dumas, was the dismissal of Mme de Vernet and Putange, the Queen's squire, and the fall from favor of Mme de Chevreuse. La Rochefoucauld makes no mention of these repercussions, but Mme de Motteville includes La Porte himself among those dismissed. Since Dumas was reserving an important role for the Queen's confidential valet, he ignores this detail. La Rochefoucauld, however, is the only one to mention the ambitious and romanesque scheme of the Duchess of Chevreuse and the Comte de Hollande to duplicate their own love affair by bringing Anne of Austria and the Duke of Buckingham together in the same relation. Dumas has the Duke support his suit by the example of this lesser love. Although Dumas is indebted to all three of these memoirs, he follows much more closely the spirit of La Rochefoucauld's account.

An interesting borrowing of Dumas from Mme de Motteville is Buckingham's explanation of his purpose in seeking war in order to further his love suir. Here is her analysis of the Duke's motives:

Cet homme [Buckingham] brouilla les deux couronnes pour revenir en France, par la nécessité d'un traité de paix, lorsque, selon ses intentions, il aurait fait éclater sa réputation par les victoires qu'il prétendoit remporter sur notre nation.21

Dumas has Buckingham say:

Quel but pensez-vous qu'aient eu cette expédition de Ré et cette ligue avec les protestants de La Rochelle que je projette? Le plaisir de vous voir! … Cette guerre pourra amener une paix, cette paix nécessitera un négociateur, ce négociateur ce sera moi.22

What is particularly interesting here is that this nicely illustrates the chief principle of Dumas's philosophy of history, namely, that little causes bring about important events.

The second incident in this plot is the affair of the diamond pendants, first given by Louis XIII to his spouse and then presented by her to the fascinating Englishman. For private or official reasons, Mme de Motteville and La Porte did not see fit to record this part of the intrigue that so compromises the Queen. However, it is related with some gusto by La Rochefoucauld,23 and with more verve and greater detail by the Comte de Brienne.24 The tenor of the story is the same in Dumas and the two sources. Anne of Austria presents a string of twelve diamond pendants to the Duke of Buckingham as a token of her affection. An agent of the Cardinal succeeds in cutting off two of these pendants, whereupon Buckingham closes the ports of England to all departures of ships, has two identical stones cut, and sends the present back to the Queen of France in time to foil Richelieu's plot to dishonor her in the eyes of the King. For the sake of comparison and better comprehension I will enumerate the principal details of the intrigue as they are recorded in Dumas and the Comte de Brienne.

1. Dumas:
Anne herself presents the pendants to Buckingham.
Gift of pendants conveyed by Mme de Chevreuse.
2. Dumas:
Mme Lannoy learns of the present.
As in Dumas, but without lengthy questioning.
3. Dumas:
Letter of Richelieu to Milady bidding her steal two pendants.
Richelieu sends letter to Countess of Clarik.25
4. Dumas:
Richelieu suggests that the King give a ball.
As in Dumas.
5. Dumas:
Milady writes to Richelieu that she has the diamonds.
No answer to Cardinal's letter.
6. Dumas:
Queen sends D'Artagnan to England for the jewels.
The Duke divines the Queen's danger on discovering his loss.
7. Dumas:
Buckingham discovers his loss on arrival of D'Artagnan.
His valets inform Buckingham of theft on return from ball.
8. Dumas:
Buckingham places an embargo on all ships leaving England.
The same.
9. Dumas:
This will be interpreted by the French as an act of war.
It is so interpreted.

It will be seen that in most of the essential details there is agreement between Dumas and the Comte de Brienne. I have not added the account of La Rochefoucauld, for in no case is there agreement with him when the incident is not mentioned by the Comte de Brienne. Moreover, the only changes made by Dumas in Brienne's account are obviously to give a place for his own character D'Artagnan. I conclude, therefore, that the Mémoires of the Comte de Brienne served Dumas for the construction of this part of his plot and that he had no need of recourse to the scanty narrative of La Rochefoucauld.

The denouement of the whole intrigue occurs at the King's ball, when the Queen confounds the Cardinal by appearing dressed in all twelve pendants, which have arrived just in time through the heroic efforts of D'Artagnan and his comrades.26 Though the idea of having this highly dramatic scene take place at a spectacular ball is due to the genius of Dumas, he is indebted exclusively to the Mémoires of Brienne for the description of the setting.27 For this Dumas went to the Eclaircissemens of the same volume he had been using, where he found, ready at hand, the full account of a fete given at the Hôtel de Ville on February 24, 1626, for the King and Queen. In some places Dumas has followed this description to the letter.

Preparations for this event had been going on for two weeks (not one, as Dumas's time shrinkage requires him to state). The city authorities had erected stages for the seats of the ladies, procured hundreds of wax tapers, ordered a large quantity of food, and invited the bourgeois of Paris to attend. Dumas follows closely these details, adding a comment here and there and mentioning the hiring of musicians at double the ordinary wage. Then he falls back upon almost a word-for-word description out of the Comte de Brienne:

Et le mardi 24 dudit mois, jour de caresme prenant, sur les dix heures du matin, seroit venu audit Hostel-de-Ville le sieur Delacoste, enseigne des gardes-du-corps du Roy, suivy de deux exempts et de nombre d'archers du corps, qui ont demandé audit sieur Clément toutes les clefs des portes, chambres et bureaux dudit Hostel-de-Ville, qu'il leur a à l'instant baillées avec un billet attaché à chacune clef pour la reconnoître; et se sont, lesdits gardes, saisis de toutes lesdites portes et avenues dudit Hostel-de-Ville.28
A dix heures du matin, le sieur de La Coste, enseigne des gardes du roi, suivi de deux exempts et de plusieurs archers du corps, vint demander au greffier de la Ville nommé Clément, toutes les clés des portes, des chambres et bureaux de l'hôtel. Ces clés lui furent remises à l'instant même; chacune d'elles portait un billet qui devait servir à la faire reconnaître, et à partir de ce moment le sieur de La Coste fut chargé de la garde de toutes les portes et de toutes les avenues.29

Various later arrivals are then enumerated by Dumas almost as they actually occurred, except that the novelist makes the "bon nombre d'archers" into the specific "cinquante" and omits references to the town officials and their dinner. Then he continues his reproduction of Brienne, this time interpolating the reference to M. des Essarts, who is the commanding officer of D'Artagnan:

Sur les trois heures de relevée sont venues deux compagnies des gardes dans la Grève, l'une françoise, l'autre suisse, le tambour sonnant.30
A trois heures, arrivèrent deux compagnies des gardes, l'une française, l'autre suisse. La compagnie des gardes-françaises était composée moitié des hommes de M. Duhallier, moitié des hommes de M. des Essarts.31

Dumas here neatly adds his own character to M. Duhallier, whose arrival had already been mentioned by Brienne.

Other unimportant guests are described by Brienne but are dismissed in a sentence by Dumas. Now the romancer begins to cut down on the time elapsed. Note also his explanatory details:

Sur les onze heures du soir y est venue madame la première président, qui a esté reçue par mesdits sieurs de la ville, et placée à la première place.
Sur la [sic] minuit, l'on a dressé la collation des confitures pour le Roy, dans la petite salle du costé de l'église Saint-Jean, où a esté aussi dressé le buffet d'argent de la ville, gardé par quatre archers… .32
A neuf heures arriva madame la première président. Comme c'était, après la reine, la personne la plus considérable de la fête, elle fut resçue par Messieurs de la Ville et placée dans la loge en face de celle que devait occuper la reine.
A dix heures on dressa la collation des confitures pour le roi, dans la petite salle du côté de l'église Saint-Jean, et cela en face du buffet d'argent de la ville, qui était gardé par quatre archers.33

Dumas passes over the description of the three tables full of fried fish. And the lateness of the hour seems to have startled the modern writer, for he forbears mentioning the fact that the musicians played all night for the crowd of bourgeois until the arrival of the royal party at four o'clock. In Dumas the King arrives at midnight but excuses himself, even as in the real account, for his tardiness. Dumas alters the excuse nicely to suit his needs:

Laquelle Majesté s'est excusée de ce qu'elle venoit si tard, que ce n'étoit pas sa faute, ains des ouvriers qui n'avoient pas achevé assez tost les préparatifs.34
Sa Majesté répondit en s'excusant d'être venue si tard, mais en rejetant la faute sur M. le cardinal, lequel l'avait retenu jusqu'à onze heures pour parler des affaires de 1'Etat.35

The King and Queen and their suite immediately upon their arrival repair to their dressing-rooms to don their costumes for the ballet.36 The names of all twelve participants in the ballet are listed by Dumas exactly as they are found in the Comte de Brienne. The King's role, which in the actual ballet was that of a "gentilhomme persan lettré" in Part II and a Spanish guitar-player in Part III, is changed to that of a hunter—a change be it noted, that is entirely in conformity with Louis's real character. From this point on, Dumas goes quickly into the denouement, narrating the opportune return of the jewels by D'Artagnan and the discomfiture of the Cardinal. This part of the plot is wholly Dumas's. It is perhaps surprising that Dumas did not use the riotous scene that followed, when the crowd, as in a President Jackson reception, overturned the tables in their eagerness to devour as much food as possible. The comedy element, however, would not have suited the high seriousness of the revenge motif.

In reproducing Brienne's account, Dumas has shortened the narrative considerably; made the details more specific; modernized the spelling and language; advanced the time to fit into his story; interpolated references to his own fictional characters; introduced an extensive account of the Queen; and brought in the Cardinal, who was actually not present. Though we see that Dumas lifted whole paragraphs from the Mémoires of Brienne, we must observe that the narrative—vivid, fast-moving, and dramatic—is wholly his; and the borrowed descriptions have become an integral part of the picture of the past that is, as has been frequently pointed out, more realistic than his very sources. And it is this extraordinary facility of Alexandre Dumas for turning dry-as-dust memoirs into living, thrilling tales that has caused The three musketeers to be read as avidly now as when it was first published one hundred years ago.


1 Gatien de Courtilz de Sandras, Mémoires de Mr. d'Artagnan, capitaine lieutenant de la première compagnie des mousquetaires du roi, contenant quantité de choses particulières et secrèttes qui se sont passées sous le regne de Louis le Grand (3 vols.; Cologne: Pierre Marteau, 1700). Later editions appeared at Amsterdam in 1704 and 1715.

2 I shall not enter into the complicated question of the real authorship of the works signed by Dumas—a question which three court cases and a prison sentence for Mirecourt (Jacquot), compiler of the notorious Fabrique de romans: maison d'Alexandre Dumas et compagnie, only partially settled. Although August Maquet, to whom Dumas himself sent a copy of Les trois mousquetaires with the dedication "Cui pars magna fuit," had an important role as historical investigator and preparer of the first drafts of various chapters, neither he nor any of the other employees of "Dumas and Company" ever published alone anything of merit. Consequently, it is perfectly just to speak, as I shall do, of the work as by Dumas. For able presentations of both sides of this question, cf. articles by Gustave Simon in Revue de Paris, May-June, 1919, pp. 98-112, and by G. Lenotre in Revue des deux mondes, XLIX (1919), 862-88.

3 B. M. Woodbridge, Gatien de Courtilz, sieur du Verger: étude sur un précurseur du roman réaliste en France (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1925). He gives an analysis of the Mémoires, including a brief comparison with Les trois mousquetaires, and classifies the work as a realistic novel rather than a bona fide memoir.

4 Cf. H. Parigot, Alexandre Dumas, père (Paris: Hachette, 1902), p. 122. The author declares of Dumas: "Nul n'a mieux restitué la manière et le sentiment de ce 17e siècle."

5 Eugène d'Auriac, D'Artagnan, capitaine-lieutenant des mousquetaires (Paris: Baudry, 1846); Jean de Jourgain, Troisvilles, D 'Artagnan et les trois mousquetaires: études biographiques et héraldiques (Paris: Champion, 1910); Charles Samaran, D'Artagnan, capitaine des mousquetaires du roi: histoire véridique d'un héros de roman (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1912). Other less-informed writers have written more popular articles in the literary magazines. These latter and the recent general biographies in English by A. F. Davidson, P. H. Fitzgerald, H. S. Gorman, F. H. Gribble, G. Pearce, and H. A. Spurr offer nothing new in the way of sources of Les trois mousquetaires.

6 E.g., J.-M. Quérard, Les Supercheries littéraires dévoilées (Paris: Paul Daffis, 1869-70), I, 387. He devotes considerable space to a rather malevolent enquête on Dumas's works, affirming that "il est aujour-d'hui bien prouvé que l'auteur des Trois mousquetaires en a puisé la pensée dans le premier volume de Mémoires de d'Artagnan"; see likewise I, 1106. So also C. Glinel (Alexandre Dumas et son œuvre [Rheims: F. Michaud, 1884], p. 386) declares: "L'idée de ce roman a été puisée dans les Mémoires de M. d'Artagnan."

7 P. 49.

8 I.e., the ferrets or aiguillettes de diamants (cf. Les trois mousquetaires, Vol. I, chaps. viii-xxii passim).

9 Pp. 83-84.

10 "D'Artagnan and Milady," Cornhill magazine, XLIX, 224.

11 "The real d'Artagnan," Harper's, CV, 278-81.

12Revue des deux mondes, XLIX, 869.

13 In Antoine-Marie Roederer, Intrigues politiques et galantes de la cour de France sous Charles IX, Louis XIII, Louis XIV, le Régent et Louis XV, mises en comédies (Paris: Charles Gosselin, 1832).

14Mémoires de P. de La Porte, premier valet de chambre de Louis XIV, contenant plusieurs particularitiés des règnes de Louis XIII et de Louis XIV ("Collection des mémoires relatifs à l'histoire de France," ed. A. Petitot and Monmerqué, Ser. II, Vol. LIX [Paris: Foucault, 1827]), pp. 297-99.

15(Œuvres de La Rochefoucauld, nouvelle edition … par M. D. L. Gilbert et J. Gourdault (Paris: Hachette, 1874), I, 7-13.

16Mémoires de Madame de Motteville ("Collection des mémoires relatifs à l'histoire de France," ed. Petitot [Paris: Foucault, 1824], Vol. XXXVI), pp. 342-49. This source, unmentioned by any commentator, should have been the most obvious, for Dumas cites Mme de Motteville's Mémoires directly to testify to her impecuniousness (Les trois mousquetaires [Paris: Calmann-Lévy, n.d.], I, 205).

17Mémoires inédits de Louis-Henri de Loménie, Comte de Brienne, secrétaire d'état sous Louis XIV (Paris: Ponthieu, 1828), I, 331-45.

18 La Porte, p. 298.

19 Cardinal Richelieu, who could certainly have added some piquant details to this intrigue, dismisses the subject in a few noncommittal sentences describing the official acts of Buckingham's embassy (cf. Mémoires du cardinal de Richelieu, publiés d'après les manuscrits originaux pour la Société de l'Histoire de France [Paris; 1921], V, 98-99). Retz merely mentions, in passing, the Duke's love of the Queen and her favorable response (cf. Mémoires du cardinal de Retz … [Paris: Ledoux, 1820], II, 496).

20 Dumas, I, 152-54.

21 Mme de Motteville, I, 248.

22 I, 154.

23 I, 11-13.

24 I, 331-36.

25 Milady bears the name of the Countess of Clarik in Brienne and the Countess of Carlille in La Rochefoucauld. The lack of certainty in the name of this agent of the Cardinal gives an excellent opening for Dumas to take possession of the role for his infamous Countess de Winter (Milady).

26 Dumas, Vol. I, chap. xxii.

27 I, 336-45.

28 I, 339.

29 I, 257.

30 I, 339.

31 I, 257.

32 I, 340.

33 I, 257.

34 I, 341.

35 I, 258.

36 This ballet, which Dumas called the Ballet de la Merlaison, was really entitled Grand bal de la douairière de Billebahaut, and the descriptive verse to accompany the various entrées was published by Mathurin Hénault in 1626.

A. Craig Bell (essay date 1952)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2439

SOURCE: "The Neglected Side of Dumas," in The National and English Review, July, 1952, pp. 32-60

[In the following essay, Bell briefly examines more than a dozen of Dumas's lesser-known novels and other works.]

On July 24 this year the Mayor of Villers-Cotterets is unveiling a new statue1 to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of the little town's most illustrious citizen—Alexandre Dumas. The ceremony will be attended by admirers from all over the world; for despite austere critics and academic historians of literature, Dumas continues to hold the attention of posterity.

Anniversaries of the births and deaths of great writers have in reality little significance; if their works survive at all they are timeless, and if they do not live in the affection and esteem of posterity no amount of eulogy, however erudite, will give them new life. Nevertheless they provide occasion and material for the pointing of a moral or the adorning of a tale, and for the making of comparisons which are not always odious. I will begin by stating that precisely a hundred years ago, when Dumas' celebrity was just past its peak, and until about the time of his death, the name of a contemporary was frequently linked with his merely on account of the equal popularity of a couple of works; and I leave it to the French Academy and such-like highly respectable literary institutions to enlighten us as to why there is unlikely ever to be a statue erected to Eugène Sue, and why the Mystères de Paris and The Wandering Jew have long ago dropped out of circulation while Monte-Cristo and Twenty Years After live on.

"Genius is always prolific." The dictum, attributed both to Haydn and to Beethoven, is true enough. One might even add to it and say: "Genius is always too prolific," recalling the colossal output of nineteenth-century French writers. (The complete works of Balzac, Hugo, Georges Sand and Dumas would form a reasonable library.) Like all such writers Dumas has had to pay the price of an almost incredible fertility, namely, that of having a mere handful of his works perpetuated, and the rest consigned (in many instances unjustly) to oblivion.

But it is useless for the critic to shake his head over this "squandering of genius," as it has been termed, and to call to mind the meticulous (dare one say over-meticulous?) Flaubert. No amount of revision and polish would have been any use to such as Balzac and Dumas, consumed by the dæmon of creation. They wrote their best when they wrote at their fastest. Balzac wrote La Cousine Bette in six weeks and Dumas the first four volumes (roughly a quarter) of Monte-Cristo in sixteen days. With them speed and inspiration were indivisible.

To try to assess in the brief space of one article the achievement of a man who wrote nearly sixty novels, without counting a host of plays, books of travel, memoirs, causeries, poetry, history and even cookery, is virtually impossible. One can only make a general survey. But even this may be useful if, during the course of it, we endeavour to throw light on dark covers and to break down traditional barriers of prejudice and caution.

To the average reader and critic Dumas is first, foremost and all the time, a writer of historical romances rather than a novelist. This view is imposed by blind, tradition, merely because the historical romances from the outset achieved such popularity as to overshadow the rest of his works out of all proportion to merit or justice. And it is all but forgotten, at least in this country, that Dumas began his literary career as a dramatist and that for more than a decade (1830-43) he was known in France chiefly as a playwright. He was, in fact, one of the very few writers who have achieved success both as dramatist and novelist. It was Walter Scott, that predominant influence on French Romanticism, together with Froissart, Barente and Thierry, who turned him to history. The death of the "Wizard of the North" in 1832 spurred on his ambition to "do for France what Scott had done for Britain." He began, not by writing historical romance, but a serious historical study—Gaule et France. In the course of his career Dumas wrote something like a dozen works in this vein. The fact that they were not successful and have been utterly forgotten does not alter the fact that his attitude towards history was always one of respect, even reverence. He never regarded history as a mere picturesque background for bloody intrigues, or as an escape from contemporary realities, as so many third-rate writers of historical romance have since done. This is worth remembering and should be set against his oft-quoted dictum: "It is permissible to violate history provided you have a child by her." And it is worth while recording that The Three Musketeers, perhaps the most famous historical romance ever written, only came into being fortuitously. For it was while making researches for a history of the reign of Louis XIV that he chanced to come across the Mémoires de d'Artagnan of Gatien de Courtilz.

It was not, in fact, until 1838, when he was thirty-six, that Dumas produced his first historical romance. This was Acté, set in the reign of Nero. It was neither a failure nor a success. Read to-day, it comes apparent that Dumas had not yet found himself. It was not until three years later, with Le Chevalier d'Harmental (known in English as The Conspirators), that it became apparent that the successor to the author of Quentin Durward had been found. The first of Dumas' great historical romances, it still remains one of the best.

The next three—Sylvandire, Ascanio and Cécile—bear too obvious traces of Maquet's hand, and fall short. Then with The Three Musketeers and Monte-Cristo in 1844, the spate begins. I shall say nothing of the historical romances produced thereafter. Posterity has decreed that they shall be the Dumas who is for Everyman. That achievement received its full measure of reward in its own time and has never ceased to receive it. Instead, I should prefer to draw attention to an achievement which, while it is quite as great, has been unjustly overlooked by all except the few who are adventurous enough to stray off the well-beaten track and to explore for themselves: I mean the achievement of Dumas the novelist as distinct from Dumas the historical romancer.

That this is an achievement may be gathered from the fact that Dumas wrote over twenty novels of contemporary life, of which some seven or eight are to be counted among his best works—an assertion which will doubtless be hotly disputed, especially by those who have never read them. All the same, it is a fact little known, even to Dumas enthusiasts, that Dumas began his career as a writer of fiction in 1836 with two novels of contemporary society— Pauline and Pascal Bruno. Both must be accounted indifferent. Then, following hard on Acté (already mentioned) came La Chasse au Chastre and Le Capitaine Pamphile, and with them Dumas can be said to have found himself. They are indeed two bottles of the brightest Dumas vintage, sparkling with a humour and a fantasy which Dumas alone brought to French literature.

Between the appearance of Le Chevalier d'Harmental in 1842 and The Three Musketeers in 1844, no less than seven novels were written. Of these three are historical romances, and are negligible; the others, novels of modem society, are of far greater power and interest. They comprise: Georges, a tale of racial antagonism in the Isle de France; Amaury, a study of paternal love and jealousy; Fernande, the story of a courtesan; and Gabriel Lambert, the story of a galley slave Dumas purported to have met at Toulon. The two latter stand out from the others. In some ways, indeed, they are among the most remarkable of all Dumas' novels. Had they appeared among the vast Comédie Humaine of Balzac they would not have been out of place.

The fallen woman has always been a theme of attraction for French writers, from Prévost to modem times. Manon Lescaut, Marion de Lorme, Bernerette, Marguerite Gautier, Nana, are all famous courtesans of fiction. Fernande is Dumas' one and only contribution to the gallery. As was to be expected he takes the sentimental Romantic view, selecting the exceptional, educated girl, an officer's daughter who has been seduced by her guardian, and who only awaits some real deep love to shed all grossness. This Romantic attitude had been adopted by Hugo with Marion de Lorme, and was to achieve its apogee later by Dumas' son in La Dame aux Camélias. There is nothing here of the realistic brutality of Balzac's Valérie Marneffe (in La Cousine Bette) or Zola's Nana, or the icy, ruthless objectivity of Prévost's Manon. Nevertheless it would be wrong to condemn Dumas' novel on that count merely. The exceptional can be as convincing and true as the average; it all depends on how it is done. Within its limits Fernande is a first-rate novel, one of the outstanding examples of nineteenth-century Romantic fiction.

Having touched the magical spring of historical romance, Dumas wrote little in a different vein for the seven years following the appearance of The Three Musketeers in 1844. But with the Revolution of 1848 and the coup d'état of 1851, a change came over the political and literary scene. Romanticism became gradually outmoded, and the Romanticists themselves were exiled, self-exiled, dispersed or finished. Dumas himself, his greatest days over, his magnificent chateau "Monte-Cristo" stripped and sold to pay his debts, his theatre, the "Historique," bankrupt, fled to Brussels to work in peace. There, free from pestering creditors and would-be collaborators, his thoughts swung backwards to the place of his birth and the days of his youth, and laying aside his colossal autobiography, Mes Mémoires (one of his greatest works) he dashed off that trilogy of pastoral novels—Conscience l'Innocent, Catherine Blum and Le Meneur de Loups—three of the most delightful and perfect novels that came from his pen, redolent of country life and with ordinary country folk as the characters.

Returning to Paris in 1854, he brought out his own journal Le Mousquetaire, for which he wrote among other things those charming sketches of the animal life at his former palatial mansion of "Monte-Cristo," under the title of Histoire de mes Bêtes, and continued Mes Mémoires. He also wrote several historical romances, but none of them came up to the standard of those written in the greatest days.

Then in 1857 came the great Naturalistic novel of Flaubert—Madame Bovary. Dumas read it and disliked it, but it influenced him nevertheless. The growing posthumous influence of Balzac, although he had no sympathy with the latter's work, made itself felt too, as also the later work of Georges Sand. He saw clearly that the endless feuilleton was finished, the historical romance out of favour and Romanticism itself a spent force. So, just as the spirit of the age had urged him to write Antony and the Romantic dramas of the 1830's, and the historical romances of the 1840's, now he returned to the genre of his earlier Fernande and Gabriel Lambert, and produced between 1857 and 1860 seven novels of contemporary life, of which Black, Le Chasseur de Sauvagine, Le Fils du Forçat and Le Père la Ruine are outstanding.

These novels are unique among Dumas' output, and reveal an even greater transformation in technique and style than do the later novels of Dickens from his earlier ones. With their concentration on the smaller, domestic issues, their attention to detail, their careful building up of background and deliberate unfolding of the story, above all, in the milieu and the ordinary, unromantic nature of the characters, they are almost Naturalistic. Le Père la Ruine, indeed, is sheer tragedy, grim and stark in its relentless impetus.

It is one of the injustices of posterity, and the price of an excessive popularity, that these great novels have never received their due share of recognition. If he had not written historical romances and left only the novels to his name, Dumas would still have been one of the outstanding novelists of the nineteenth century. Only a public unconscious of real values, only critics who are content to remain ignorant of hidden worth, could allow publishers to go on printing and reprinting the same handful of romances, leaving these novels unread.

But fiction and drama were only two facets of Dumas' genius. Poetry, history, short story, biography, travel, journalism—he was to attempt them all. Space forbids discussion of each here. It is enough to say that, poetry and history excepted, he left something of enduring worth in each genre. He was not a short story writer like Mérimée, Daudet or Maupassant; but Un Bal Masqué, Le Cocher de Cabriolet and Marianna can hold their own in any representative anthology of the conte. Mes Mémoires, already mentioned, in spite of its inordinate length, inequalities and longueurs, is a remarkable work. And no survey of his achievement would be complete without reference to his books of travel, which contain some of his best writing and were among his most popular works in France. En Suisse, describing his travels in Switzerland in 1832, and De Paris à Cadix, recounting his trip to Spain in 1847, are particularly fine, as also is the unclassifiable Les Garibaldiens—translated by R. S. Gamett (Benn, 1929) as On Board "The Emma"—which, vividly narrating Dumas' own part in Garibaldi's Sicilian campaign, and published serially in La Presse, gives him the claim of having been the first accredited war correspondent, and remains the outstanding production from his pen in the last decade of his life.

Even so hurried and cursory a glance over Dumas' gargantuan output must, surely, give an impression of astounding vitality, fecundity and diversity. Not even Scott, or Dickens, created more hugely and intensely. Very superior critics, who see no further than Flaubert, Henry James, Proust and James Joyce, may sneer and belittle: but the greatest intellects such as Hugo, Lamartine, Heine, Georges Sand and Bernard Shaw have paid their tributes to Dumas. He was a "force of nature," as Michelet apostrophized him in wonderment and admiration, and has reserved for himself a deep and lasting place in the affection of posterity.


1 The former bronze statue, by Carrier-Belleuse, erected on the centenary of Dumas birth, was removed and melted down for war purposes by the Nazis during their occupation of France.

Further Reading

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 738


Davidson, Arthur F. "The Great Novels." In Alexandre Dumas (pére): His Life and Works, pp. 216-56. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1902.

Covers the period 1843-53, when Dumas produced his most significant works of fiction.

Hemmings, F. W. J. "The Novelist." In The King of Romance. A Portrait of Alexandre Dumas, pp. 114-30. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1979.

Examines Dumas's career as a novelist, from his beginnings in the years of "roman-feuilleton mania" during the 1840s through his collaboration with Auguste Maquet and the writing of his most celebrated works.

Lang, Andrew. Introduction to My Memoirs, by Alexandre Dumas, translated by E. M. Waller, pp. xvii-xxxiv. London: Methuen and Co., 1907.

Expands on aspects of Dumas's early life covered in the Memoir and provides an overview of the author's later career.

Ross, Michael. Alexandre Dumas. London: David and Charles, 1981, 293p.

Offers an examination not only of Dumas's major works but also of critical junctures in his life, such as his transition from dramatist to novelist.

Spurr, Harry A. "His Writings." In The Life and Writings of Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870), pp. 183-270. New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1902.

A detailed anecdotal account of Dumas's development as a historical novelist.


Arni, Ora. "The Semiotics of Transactions: Mauss, Lacan and The Three Musketeers." Modern Language Notes 100, No. 4 (September 1985): 728-57.

Examines the passage "from hand to hand" in The Three Musketeers and relates aspects of this to semiotic theories of displacement.

Cooper, Barbara T. "The Backward Glance of Parody: Author-Audience Complicity in a Comic Reduction of Dumas's Henri III et sa cour." Essays in Literature 13, No. 2 (Fall 1986): 313-26.

Offers a detailed study of Cricri et ses mitrons, a parody of Henri III et sa cour by Carmouche and others.

George, Albert J. "The Major Romantics." In Short Fiction in France 1800-1850, pp. 135-65. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1964.

Offers a study of Dumas's short fiction alongside works of other "Major Romantics" such as Victor Hugo and George Sand.

Girard, Marcel. Introduction to The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas, pp. v-xi. London: J. M. Dent, 1966.

Places Dumas's novel in its historical setting with a brief review of its factual bases. Short but detailed bibliography of Dumas's works is included.

Jones, Julie. "Vargas Llosa's Mangachería: The Pleasures of Community." Revista de Estudios Hispanicos 20, No. 1 (January 1986): 77-89.

Examines the influence of Dumas's musketeer novels, along with Victor Hugo's Notre Dame de Paris, on scenes in Mario Vargas Llosa's La Casa Verde.

Lang, Andrew. "To Alexandre Dumas." In Letters to Dead Authors, pp. 100-108. London: Longmans, Green, 1892.

An apostrophe to Dumas which presents his work as a tonic to a "generation suffering from mental and physical anaemia."

Luciani, Vincent. "The Genesis of Lorenzino: A Study of Dumas Père's Method of Composition." Philological Quarterly XXXV, No. 2 (April 1956): pp. 175-85.

Examines the historical antecedents of Dumas's 1842 drama Lorenzino, based on the real-life figure Lorenzo de Medici.

Moraud, Marcel. "The Evolution of the Romantic Drama in the Plays of Alexandre Dumas and Victor Hugo." Rice Institute Pamphlet XV, No. 2 (April 1928): 95-111.

The second of three addresses on "The French Historical Drama," this piece reviews Dumas's beginnings as a dramatist in juxtaposition to the early career of his contemporary and competitor, Victor Hugo.

Raitt, A. W. "Alexandre Dumas père." In Life and Letters in France: The Nineteenth Century, pp. 36-42. London: Thomas Nelson, 1965.

Examines, within its historical setting, the dramatic breakthrough made by Dumas in Antony.

Shaw, Kurt. "French Connections: The Three Musketeers Motif in Andrei Bitov's Pushkinskii dom." Canadian Slavonic Papers 37, Nos. 1-2 (March-June 1995): 187-99.

Examines references to Dumas and The Three Musketeers in a novel by Soviet writer Andrei Bitov.

Stowe, Richard S. "The d'Artagnan Trilogy" and "Other Fiction." In Alexandre Dumas père, pp. 66-84 and 127-34. Boston: Twayne, 1976.

An overview not only of Les trois mousquetaires, Vingt ans après, and Le vicomte de Bragelonne of "The d'Artagnan Trilogy," but of other works such as Georges and Les Frères corses.

Vincendeau, Ginette. "Unsettling Memories." Sight and Sound 5, No. 7 (July 1995): 30-2.

Reviews La Reine Margot, the parody D'Artagnan's Daughter, and other film adaptations of Dumas's work.

Wood, Allen G. "Of Kings, Queens and Musketeers." Papers on French Seventeenth Century Literature XXIV, No. 46 (1997): 162-71.

Evaluates the representation of historical events provided in Les trois mousquetaires.

Additional coverage of Dumas's life and works is contained in the following sources published by Gale Research: Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 119; DISCovering Authors; and World Literature Criticism, 1500 to the Present.

Marcel Girard (essay date 1968)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3573

SOURCE: Introduction to The Forty-Five, by Alexandre Dumas, J. M. Dent and Sons Ltd., 1968, pp. v-xiii.

[In the following essay, Girard outlines the historical setting of The Forty-Five.]

The Forty-five is a sequel to Marguerite de Valois and Chicot the Jester, especially to the latter, and it is difficult to follow the plot or to understand the characters without bearing in mind the earlier episodes. The three novels together form a huge chronicle of the reigns of Charles IX and Henri III, from 1572 to 1585, that is to say from the Massacre of St Bartholomew to the death of the Duc d'Anjou; a terrible epoch, well suited to inspire a novelist.

Why did Alexandre Dumas break off at that date? Surely the assassination of Henri III, last of the Valois, in 1589 would have made a much better ending to a period of history. Those four years of struggle between the king and the League, tragically terminated by the murder of both protagonists, offered material for no less exciting a tale. Moreover, some of the secondary intrigues covered by The Forty-five are not concluded, and we remain a little hungry. Internal evidence suggests that Dumas had not had time to finish; and in fact the Revolution of 1848 called him to other activities—politics and journalism—which led him ultimately to ruin and exile. We shall therefore never learn from his pen what became of Chicot, or whether the beautiful Duchesse de Montpensier yielded to the advances of young Ernauton de Carmainges. Never mind! The curious reader can always refer to the usual history books.

For history—need we say it once again?—is the raw material of the novel, and provides Dumas with his brilliant title: The Forty-five. Nothing so intrigues and excites a reader as those numbers which skilful authors use as titles for their works. Balzac had led the way with his Story of the Thirteen. Forty-five can equally pass as a cabbalistic number. The Duc d'Eperon himself explains to the king why he has chosen just forty-five noblemen to protect him against murder and conspiracy. Notice that grouping, at once magical and tactical:

'I will explain, Sire. The number three is primordial and divine; furthermore, it is convenient. For instance, when a cavalier has three horses, he is never reduced to going on foot. When the first is weary, the second is at hand; and the third replaces the second in case of wounds or disease. You will always have, then, three times fifteen gentlemen—fifteen in active employment, thirty resting. Each day's service will last twelve hours, and during those twelve hours you will always have five on the right hand, five on the left, two before and three behind. Let any one attack you with such a guard as that!'

Those forty-five Gascon nobles, who present themselves at the gates of Paris on the day of Salcède's execution in October 1585, are a strange collection. Badly dressed, empty purses, mouths full of astonishing Gascon oaths (mordieu! parfandious! cap de Bious! Ventre saint-gris!), mounted on old farm-horses, they are a fair embodiment of those age-old types of young provincials who 'go up' to the capital in search of fame, love and money. They are so many copies of the most famous of all Gascons, d'Artagnan, as we see him arriving in Paris at the beginning of The Three Musketeers; or, again, of La Mole and Coconnas who make their entry in the first pages of Marguerite de Valois. Indeed those sensational arrivals illustrate a theme of the nineteenth rather than of the sixteenth century. Here too Balzac, with his Rastignac, has shown the way. The pity is that Dumas has not given his Forty-five more prominence, more unity, more esprit de corps. A few members of the group we come to know fairly well: Loignac their captain, Sainte-Maline, Chalabre and one or two others—above all Ernauton de Carmainges, so handsome and so gentle. But the group as a group we hardly know at all; we seldom see it living and acting as a collective reality. The real interest of the Romantic Age centred upon individuals only: the hour of Unanimism had not yet struck! Despite the title, Dumas makes us share much more in the thoughts and feelings of Henri de Bouchage, for example, and above all of Chicot, who is here, as in the earlier volumes, his spokesman and, so to speak, his other self.

The historical situation is the outcome of a ten-year struggle for power between four political forces; a hypocritical contest, stealthy, delivering its blows with velvet-gloved hands, making more use of poison and calumny than of the sword. It is none the less a fight to death.

First we have the king, Henri III—'Henriquet', as the common people nicknamed him from contempt. Aged only thirty-four, but prematurely old, effeminate and tortuous, he has bequeathed to history a sorry reputation. Modern historians, however, tend to rehabilitate him, and even Dumas presents him here in a more favourable light than in the previous volumes. Despite caricature and shady jokes, he embodies the reason of State against faction, political intelligence in the service of national unity. Delicacy, fairness—yes, and a measure of courage—appear in his conduct, and I find him possessed of a certain charm, owing perhaps to his dark character of fallen angel condemned without a hearing Like Chicot, I would be tempted to follow and serve him—even while loading him with blame—because he represents in Paris the only valid force that can prevent the realm from disintegration.

The Guise party, forming what is called the League, is an assembly of all the 'factious' who, under pretext of serving the Catholic faith and opposing the Reformation, seek to win for themselves titles and lucrative employments. At the head of the League, the three princes of Lorraine and their sister (the Guise) mean to supplant the Valois on the throne of France. They rely on the most fanatical elements of the clergy, those 'leaguer-monks' such as Frère Borromée, who handle a sword more readily than a rosary and wear coats of mail under their habits. Behind them looms the sombre figure of His Most Catholic Majesty, Philip II, King of Spain, who would like to use, or at least to neutralize, France in order to wage his war against England. None of these conspirators will stop at anything. Mademoiselle de Montpensier, a madly romantic young woman who has fiendishly allowed Salcède to be executed on the Place de Grève, goes so far as to organize the king's removal by employing in turn the methods of seduction, of force, of lies, of a disordered and vain imagination. History will show the Leaguers successful for a moment in obtaining control of Paris—the famous Journée des Barricades; but Henri III will arrange for the assassination at Blois, by his Forty-five, of the Duc de Guise and the latter's brother the Cardinal de Lorraine. Thus he will recover his authority, but not for long: Jacques Clément, a young monk who appears for a moment here, will in turn avenge the League by killing the king with a knife-thrust to the belly. Finally, this long rivalry will profit Henri de Navarre: the Bourbon dynasty, not that of Guise, will succeed to the House of Valois.

The king has another and equally dangerous rival in the person of his own brother François, formerly Duc d'Alençon and now Duc d'Anjou. Just as Henri III succeeded his brother Charles IX, so the ties of blood do not prevent him from plotting under the tacitly condoning eyes of the Queen Dowager, their mother Catherine de Médicis. We recall Anjou's cowardly assassination of Bussy d'Amboise and his pursuit of Diane de Méridor with his sadistic attentions. Politically he is even more fatal and more odious. That little ill-famed man, the very embodiment of evil as Dumas presents him, had extravagant ambitions. First he solicited the hand of Elizabeth of England, despite their difference in age; but Elizabeth, who in 1579 had had the contract drawn up for political reasons, refused at the last minute to proceed, notwithstanding two journeys to London by her suitor. In default of England, he sought to become sovereign of the Low Countries, and had himself proclaimed Duke of Brabant and Count of Flanders with the apparent consent of William the Silent. The Flemings, however, were against him and he had to undertake a campaign against Antwerp which is a model of ignominy. After causing the death of thousands of French noblemen, he will fly like a coward but lose none of his big-headedness. History tells us that he actually died at Château-Thierry, as in the novel, but on 10th June 1584 according to l'Estoile's Diary, not in the following year. Likewise, the date of the disastrous siege of Antwerp is 17th January 1583, and history says nothing on this occasion about dikes being breached and consequent floods. Dumas, in order to heighten the effect of his story, has antedated an event that took place during the wars of Louis XIV. Finally, and above all, there is no evidence that the Duc d'Anjou was poisoned, let alone by Diane de Méridor! According to her biographers Diane was at that time living quietly at the Château de Montsoreau, near Saumur, where she had rejoined her husband after the death of her lover.

Here we have a good illustration of Dumas' attitude towards history. For him, as for most romantic authors, 'artistic truth' takes precedence of 'factual truth'. There is an accepted principle that the novel must not be a mere re-presentation of events: what must appear above all else is the idea. Now, factual detail is often the fruit of chance; it does not enable us to sort out the real play of cause and effect, the mutual operation of characters and of circumstances. History has been transmitted to us in a state of disorder. The role of fiction, therefore, is to re-establish the true order of things, the true order of the mind. It is possible, for example, that the Duc d'Anjou died, in l'Estoile's words, 'of a serious haemorrhage, accompanied by a slow fever which had gradually weakened him and reduced him to skin and bone'. But of what importance is that? So far as Dumas is concerned, what matters is that Anjou, at the age of thirty-four, paid the penalty of unbelievable crimes of which he had been guilty no less in his private life than in his political activity. Whatever may have been the instruments employed by fate—sickness or poison—Anjou's death accords with the logic of his character and with that of his period. The hand of Diane appears as the hand of vengeance, of an almost abstract justice, which transcends the accidental circumstances of the event.

Lastly, there is the fourth, though somewhat belated, political force: the party of Henri de Navarre, king of that famous little province on the Pyrenean frontier, leader of the Protestants, the future Henri IV. It is undoubtedly with him that Dumas' sympathy lies. That intelligent Gascon, brave and libertine, the 'Vert-Galant', the 'good king' of popular song, was a political brain of exceptional quality. He was the creator of France's prosperity at the beginning of the seventeenth century, the champion of tolerance and apostle of national unity. Like Chicot, Dumas cannot but yield to the charm of that attractive and brilliant personality.

However, the hour of Henri IV has not yet come. The future hero has taken refuge in his province, which he enlarges slightly by seizing the city of Cahors; he uses rather like a hostage his own wife, sister of Henri III, the celebrated Queen Margot, whom he deceives with La Fosseuse, but who cuckolds him in return with Turenne, neither of which facts will prevent them from making common cause; in a word, he moves his pawns so that they may be in a position of strength at the right moment. In The Forty-five, the reader does not witness the last phase (1588-94) of that climb to power. If he wishes to know more about those events and their attendant circumstances, he will be able to consult, among other works, Michelet's History of France ('The Sixteenth Century', Book II, Part 3, chapters 10-15), in which the romantic historian takes over from the historical novelist, although the views of the world taken by those two writers present fundamental differences. The world of Alexandre Dumas, as we see it at the end of this long chronicle of the reign of Henri III, has all the characteristics of a poetical world: it is created 'from the head', conjured up 'from within'. There is nothing intellectual about the mental processes of our author; they are diametrically opposed to the objective methods of a scientific mind, such as the true historian must possess. If we have several times caught him in the act of flaunting history, the fact is that his inner vision is so strong that his pen cannot submit to reality. No, reality must bow to his vision.

How did Dumas see the world? He saw it as a theatre. In the episodes provided for him by ancient sources, he does not look, in the manner of an historian, for social, religious, economic or strictly political causes: as on the stage, he sees only the confrontation of personalities. The historical actors play their parts, good or evil, with their personal ideas and passions.

This kind of 'psychomachy' is wholly within the romantic tradition, which conceives society as a juxtaposition of individuals. Men and women speak, move, lay plans, succeed or fail, as in the theatre; history is made by and through them. A naïve and popular concept, but one that will always please the majority of readers more than will today's habit of reconstructing history in the light of ideologies.

The psychological level of this theatre is not very high. André Gide went so far as to describe its performers as mere 'puppets'. That is rather unfair: Dumas' puppets, after all, are endowed with minds and hearts, though it must be admitted that their motives are over-simplified. The truth is that everything happens as if each scene were based upon a picture; and indeed at that period genre painting was highly favoured in all countries. Dumas' text might serve as a commentary upon the great compositions of, say, Paul Delaroche, his contemporary, whose 'Princes in the Tower' or 'Assassination of the Duc de Guise' are contemplated with a shudder by visitors to the Louvre or the Musée de Chantilly. When you read Dumas' account of the death of the Duc d'Anjou, you receive the impression that he is describing the attitudes of the persons concerned as they might have appeared on canvas. 'Henri was sitting beside the head of the couch whereon his brother was extended. Catherine was standing in the recess in which the bed was placed, holding her dying son's hand in hers. The Bishop of Château-Thierry and the Cardinal de Joyeuse repeated the prayers for the dying, which were joined in by all who were present, kneeling, and with clasped hands.' In this way the story unfolds like a succession of 'historical scenes', which, as I have elsewhere remarked, correspond to the several numbers of a serial novel.

Such a design from another pen would give a completely static effect. Fortunately, Dumas' nature is so strong that it animates all he touches. His concept is saved from 'woodenness' by what we may call his prodigious instinct for life. That vigour which, in the last resort, is the master quality of Alexandre Dumas, grips the reader, convinces him and compels his willing and confident assent. Consider, for example, that unlikely pursuit across Flanders and northern France, where we see Diane de Méridor and her faithful Rémy, amid fearful perils, trying to overtake the Duc d'Anjou and wreak revenge. How can the modern reader, who is generally sceptical, consent to walk in the footsteps of those two determined shadows? Because Dumas leads him firmly by the hand, obliging him to follow; and such is the constraint that never for a moment can he decide to close the book and leave his heroes, who through war and flood have become his friends, until he reaches that forest, where of course Rémy will cut Aurilly's throat, and until he comes to the palace of Château-Thierry, where of course Diane will poison the infamous duke. The movement of the story is like that of destiny—it sweeps us along: we cannot escape.

That inevitability, however, does not weigh heavy and oppress the reader as it does in most novels of the romantic era. All is saved by the liveliness of the story. Oddly enough, Dumas is a gay author—which certainly does not mean a comic author. He is a happy author and makes us happy because he has a sense of humour. This humour enables us to accept situations that would otherwise be intolerable. It is he, for instance, who lightens the dreadful scene in the 'Corne d'Abondance', that cheap lodging-house from which we know that one of the two adversaries, Chicot or Borromée, will not come out alive. True, we are present at a scene of veritable butchery; but through the narrative, among the wine bottles and the repartee, there moves a breeze of refreshing gaiety which lessens its horror. That humour is like the air that sustains life. Dumas does not take himself too seriously, and there perhaps lies the reason for his remarkable success.

There is only one human activity about which he never jests: love. Love indeed plays an important part in The Forty-five, no less important than that of politics and war. It is in fact the driving force, for it will determine the inner motives of the actors. Even those who have no share in it, either because they do not love or because they are not loved, will use the love of others to achieve their ends, to set their snares, to organize conspiracy and to forge the links of alliance. The crazy love of Henri de Bouchage for Diane de Méridor; the unclean love of the Duc d'Anjou for the same Diane; the loving friendship of Rémy le Haudoin for Diane again, which we guess to be very strong; the desperate love of Ernauton de Carmainges for the beautiful but Machiavellian Duchesse de Montpensier; the ironic and frivolous love of Henri de Bourbon for La Fosseuse; the scandalous loves of Marguerite de Navarre; and lastly the mournful love, reaching beyond the grave, of Diane for her murdered lover—all those happy and unhappy passions sustain the interest of the historical narrative, breathe into it their warmth and emotion, endow it with more humanity.

Humanity: here at last is the key-word that alone can explain the enduring popularity of Dumas' novels after more than a hundred years. The word must be understood not according to its psychological but according to its moral content. His concept of man proceeds not from observation but from a sort of wager: men are good or they are evil—sheer Manichaeism! What are we to think of it? One might embark on a long and fruitless discussion of human nature. Is it simple or complex; given or acquired; responsible or irresponsible? Dumas believes that there are men naturally good and others purposely evil. Chicot, Diane, Rémy, du Bouchage, Henri de Bourbon are among the good. The Duc d'Anjou, Aurilly, the Duc de Mayenne, the Duchesse de Montpensier, Borromée are among the evil. The subject of The Forty-five, as of the earlier volumes, is the struggle between good and evil. The heroes are redressers of wrong: they pursue a cause or a sacred vengeance. The moral point of view may irritate twentieth-century readers; it is in fact the weakness of the novels of Dumas, as of those by Victor Hugo and other romantic authors. From the artistic and aesthetic standpoint their method is too heavyhanded. But the public at large does not feed upon art and aesthetics alone; it needs consolation, reassurance. In the eternal 'combat of day and night' the ordinary man takes sides and gets excited.

'The false and the marvellous are more human than the true man,' wrote Paul Valéry. Alexandre Dumas verifies that saying, for there is no writer at once more false and more human. The false, however, is relative and open to dispute. The human is absolute and imposes itself as a sensible reality of the heart. That was understood by his great contemporaries, his peers, all of whom were his friends. 'You are a force of nature,' Michelet wrote to him. 'He is an Enceladus, a Prometheus, a Titan,' declared Lamartine. And his work was hymned in verse by Victor Hugo as 'glittering, numberless, dazzling, happy, in which daylight shines'. Times have changed, but the huge romantic massif of Dumas has scarcely been affected by erosion. Despite the new means of escapism and the universal triumph of the television screen, his books are read everywhere. None will refuse assent to this judgment of Apollinaire, which sums up all the esteem and all the friendship which this great man deserves: The wonderful Dumas.

Barnett Shaw (essay date 1969)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1617

SOURCE: Introduction to Alexandre Dumas, Père: The Great Lover and Other Plays, adapted by Barnett Shaw, Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1969, pp. 1-4.

[In the following essay, Shaw offers a condensed overview of Dumas's life and works.]

Alexandre Dumas was the son of a mulatto general, Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, who served under Napoleon. His grandfather was the Marquis Davy de la Pailleterie, who had married a native named Marie-Cessette Dumas while running a plantation on the island of Haiti. Both Dumas and his father ignored the title to which they had a right, preferring to use the name Dumas.

Dumas was born in Villers-Cotterets, forty miles from Paris, on July 24, 1802. After finishing his schooling he went to Paris and obtained a position as clerk for the Duke of Orleans. It was not long before he had a mistress, and in 1824, a son. The son, Alexandre Dumas fils, was destined to become a writer like his father and even for a time to surpass him in popularity as a dramatist. For Dumas père, still in his twenties, a farce written with a friend had a modest success and started young Alexandre on a serious career as a dramatist.

Dumas swept through nineteenth-century Paris like a whirlwind. He was the uncrowned "King of Paris" who—according to a contemporary—could have filled every theatre if all other dramatists had stopped writing. Victorien Sardou called Dumas the best man of the theatre of his century. His influence in the field of drama has been enormous, although often overlooked by writers of theatre history. His Henri III et sa cour (1829) was the first great triumph of the Romantic movement. His Antony (1831) was the first romantic drama in modern dress, attacking the accepted idea of marriage and proclaiming the rights of love. The play created a sensation in Paris, and it became the inspiration for hundreds of "triangle" plays that persist to this day.

The intense passion and power of Antony were again put to work in Kean (1836), a play whose hero was ostensibly the English actor Edmund Kean, but in reality Dumas himself. The play has never left the stage in France, and a movie version was made many years ago.

Dumas created the historical drama, the play of "cape and sword," first in the most popular melodrama of all time, La tour de Nesle (1832), and later in the dramatizations of his Les trois mousquetaires, Le Chevalier de Maison Rouge, and other novels. Dumas, who became as popular a novelist as he was dramatist, put most of his novels on the stage, and even built his own Théâtre Historique where they were presented. It was also in this theatre that Dumas first produced his verse translation of Hamlet, to be the standard version of that Shakespeare play in France until 1916, racking up 207 performances at the Comédie-Française. One of the big events in Paris during February, 1848, was the performance of Monte Cristo, a play so long that it had to be produced on two successive evenings. To critics who said the play was too long, Dumas replied: "There are neither long nor short plays, only amusing plays and dull ones."

Dumas also tried his hand at comedy, and was very successful. Three of his comedies, Les demoiselles de Saint-Cyr, Un mariage sous Louis XV, and Mademoiselle de Belle-Isle, played in repertory at the Comédie-Francaise for many years.

The playwright's travelogues were as widely popular as his novels and plays. His accounts of his trips to Switzerland, Russia, and Algeria are like no other travel books ever written. English editions of these travel books appeared in the United States in the 1960s.

Dumas monopolized Parisian society as he did the theatre and the novel. When he entered a room, women sighed and men grew envious. When he spoke, the most eloquent held their breath to listen. Not the most modest of men, he was quite aware of his magnetism and charm. Once, when asked if he had enjoyed a certain gathering, he replied: "I should have been quite bored if I hadn't been there."

With unbounded enthusiasm Dumas could draw an astounding number of facts from the depth of a phenomenal memory. He usually wrote fourteen hours a day, in a perfect hand, seldom making a correction, and without groping for a word. Very often he had a novel or play complete in his head before he sat down to write. He wrote the first volume of Le Chevalier de Maison Rouge in sixty-six hours on a bet.

But in 1845 Dumas met with ill luck; he was attacked as a plagiarist by a disgruntled writer named Mirecourt. The accuser was sentenced to two weeks in prison for libel, but much damage was done to Dumas's reputation. For many years in France, Dumas was belittled as an improvisor. Writers were jealous of this giant of a man who dominated every field of literature. Today, the true genius of Alexandre Dumas is recognized more than ever; new editions of his works appear constantly in France, and as translations in other lands.

Fiorentino, with whom Dumas collaborated on some works dealing with Italy, said: "Dumas is not a dramatic writer, he is the drama incarnate. And how many believed themselves to be his collaborators who were only his confidants! In his books, but above all in his plays, his collaborators had only the slightest share. He remodeled the scenarios, changed the characters, added or cut down scenes, and wrote all in his own hand."

George Bernard Shaw, in his Dramatic Criticism, said: "Dumas père was what Gounod called Mozart, a summit of art. Nobody ever could, or did, or will improve on Mozart's operas, and nobody ever could, or did, or will improve on Dumas's romances and plays."

It was the revolution of 1848 that hastened the decline of Dumas. Shortly after the coup d'état of 1851 with which Louis-Napoleon declared himself emperor, Dumas fled to voluntary exile in Brussels. His theatre went into bankruptcy, and creditors seized his cherished chateau of Monte Cristo at Port-Marly, a mansion into which he had poured vast sums.

A few years later he returned to Paris in an attempt to recoup his fortune. He tried his hand at the editorship of several newspapers, and he continued to write at a furious pace. He had plays on the boards every year until 1869, the year before he died. But the quality of his work declined under the intense pressure. Plays on the level of Antony, Kean, and Mademoiselle de Belle Isle did not come again from his pen. The two exceptions were a one-act gem called Romulus, which he wrote for the Comédie-Française, and a full-length historical comedy-drama called La jeunesse de Louis XIV. This play, which in many ways surpasses Les trois mousquetaires, was accepted by the Comédie-Française, but was stopped by the censors. It had a successful run in Brussels, however, and played in Paris after the death of Dumas, well into the twentieth century.

Dumas died in December, 1870, at the home of his son near Dieppe, as Bismarck's troops were invading France. Four years earlier, in his novel titled La terreur prussienne, he had warned of the danger of Prussian imperialism. The writer was buried in the cemetery of Villers-Cotterets, beside his mother and father.

Both Dumas, father and son, were dramatists. The father became a novelist, but never stopped writing plays. The son started as a novelist but eventually devoted himself to the theatre. His chief claim to fame today resides in one play, La dame aux camélias, called Camille in English-language versions, which was also the basis for Verdi's opera La traviata. Neither as novelist nor dramatist was the son capable of creating heroic characters like those that dominate the father's work: d'Artagnan, Edmond Dantes, Chicot the jester, Bussy d'Amboise, Porthos, Athos, Aramis, Annibal de Coconnas, and Cagliostro. All of those men except Edmond Dantes had actually lived, but they had been long forgotten until Dumas père immortalized them. Dumas put himself into his heroes.

In 1883 a statue of Dumas père, designed by Gustave Doré, was unveiled in Paris, on the Place Malesherbes. Dumas is seated at the summit; on one side a group of people is reading one of the romances that have been printed and reprinted in every language, and on the other side is a bronze of D'Artagnan with drawn rapier. At the statue's inauguration, one speaker said that if every person who had been thrilled by The Three Musketeers or The Count of Monte Cristo had contributed a penny to the memory of Dumas, the statue could have been cast in solid gold.

Published posthumously, with the help of Anatole France, was Dumas's Grand dictionnaire de cuisine. Culinary art was just another interest in the life of the irrepressible Alexandre Dumas. Far from being a dull collection of recipes, his cookbook is an amazing series of anecdotes, with interesting treatises on food, dining, wine, and even mustard.

The fabulous chateau of Monte Cristo, about which Dumas wrote in only one book, his charming Histoire de mes bêtes, has been declared a national monument by the French government, and an organization called L'association des amis d'Alexandre Dumas, founded by the popular French writer Alain Decaux, is engaged in restoring the chateau and the spacious gardens to their former splendor.

Meanwhile the name of Alexandre Dumas père survives—on the printed page, on the stage, and in more than three hundred films based on his plays and novels, in France, England, the United States, and even in Japan, where thirty movies have been made from his works.

His future remains unlimited.

A. Owen Aldridge (essay date 1972)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6070

SOURCE: "The Vampire Theme: Dumas Pere and the English Stage," in Revue des Langues Vivantes, Vol. XXXIX, No. 4, 1973, pp. 312-24.

[In the following essay, originally presented as a paper in 1972, Aldridge discusses the sources of Dumas's little-known drama Le Vampire (1851).]

One of the least known of all the works of Alexandre Dumas, père, is his drama Le Vampire, 1851. It is so obscure that it has not even been honored by a separate printing, but is merely available in the collected edition of the author's dramatic works.1 The play is important, however, in the biography of Dumas and in the history of comparative literature in the nineteenth century. It not only figures in the development of the vampire theme, but also reveals literary relations between France and England in a precise source-influence perspective. Dumas derived the central character and atmosphere of his drama from a famous English shocker story, The Vampire, 1818, attributed to Byron, but actually written by the latter's physician Dr. John William Polidori. Then Dumas' drama was adopted by two British dramatists, Dion Boucicault and Augustus G. Harris. Boucicault used Dumas' play as the basis of the first act of a "sensation drama" The Vampire, 1852, and Harris appropriated Dumas' work wholesale and produced it under the title Ruthven, 1859. The resemblances between the original and Harris' copy are so close, that one might almost say that the English drama is a translation of the French or at the least a paraphrase in Dryden's sense, "where the author is kept in view by the translator, so as never to be lost." Since Harris makes no reference of any kind to a French original, his Ruthven must be considered an arrant plagiarism.

Studies of Dumas, whether biographical or critical, do not for the most part even mention his play Le Vampire, but many of them treat his reactions to the performance of another play also named Le Vampire by Charles Nodier in 1823. Nodier's play had originally been produced at the Théâtre Porte Saint-Martin in 1820 and was revived in 1823 in the same theatre with the same artists in the leading roles.2 Dumas spreads into five chapters of his Mémoires his reminiscence of a performance of the play and his conversation with the author during an intermission.3 At the time Dumas was young and naive and had never heard of vampires. During the intermission chat, Nodier told the impressionable youth of his personal contact with a vampire a few years previously on a trip to Illyria, the region bordering Transylvania. In the house where he lodged at Spalatra an old man had died and returned from the dead three days after being buried. He asked his son for food and after nourishing himself retired. The son informed Nodier and predicted a return of the spectre. Nodier kept watch at his window and two days later saw the old man appear at the door at midnight. The son later reported that the old man had eaten and drunk as before, and had said in parting that he expected the son to visit him at the same time on the next evening. On the morning of the second day following, the son was found dead in bed. The authorities opened the grave of the old man and found his body perfectly preserved and breathing. They drove a stake through his heart; he cried out loudly and emitted blood through his mouth. Nodier even tried to give a scientific aura to the notion of vampires by describing an experiment he had carried on with a microscopic animal, which he called a "rotifer." This animal died, but was preserved for three years on a grain of sand. Each time Nodier wet it with a rain drop, it came back to life.

The performance of Nodier's play Le Vampire together with the author's conversation provided Dumas with the inspiration not only for his own play of the same name, but also for a play on the Don Juan theme, which obtained a certain fame. He recalls in his Mémoires: "Cette intervention d'êtres immatériels et supérieurs, dont la destinée même fait le côté fantastique plaisait à mon imagination et peut-être est-ce cette soirée qui sema dans mon esprit le germe de Don Juan de Márana, éclos onze ans après seulement."4

The theme for Nodier's drama came from a sensational short story by Lord Byron's physician Dr. John William Polidori, which was based on an idea of Byron himself. Byron never completed his vampire story, which was first published in 1819 under the title "A Fragment-Translation from the Armenian."5 In this tale, the narrator sets out on travels accompanied by a friend Augustus Darvel, a figure of great mystery. At Smyrna in the Turkish cemetery, Darvel dies after giving extensive instructions concerning the manner of his burial. He asks to be interred at the exact spot where a stork is seen, and gives the narrator a ring which is to be flung into salt springs precisely at noon on the ninth day of the ninth month. Finally, he exacts a solemn pledge from the narrator to conceal the fact of his death from every human being. The two major themes introduced in this fragment are the pledge to conceal death (so that the vampire may later reappear in society) and the combination of attraction and repulsion in the personality of the vampire.

In Polidori's tale, practically a continuation of Byron's, an English gentleman Aubrey embarks on a tour of the continent with a fascinating man of mystery, Lord Ruthven.6 After discovering that Ruthven possesses vicious habits of gambling and seduction, Aubrey makes his way alone to Greece. Here he meets an innocent, young and beautiful girl, Ianthe, who accompanies him on expeditions in quest of archeological remains and acquaints him of the existence and nature of vampires. One stormy night he discovers that she has been attacked and killed by one of them. Aubrey is so affected by this tragedy that he falls desperately ill and remains in a coma for many days. When he recovers consciousness, he discovers that Ruthven has been nursing him. They resume their travels and are attacked by robbers, Ruthven receiving a fatal wound. Before dying he makes Aubrey swear that he will not reveal his fate until a year and a day have passed. Aubrey later discovers that the robbers had exposed Ruthven's body to the moonlight. When Aubrey returns to England he finds Ruthven already on the scene and wooing his sister. He again becomes gravely ill and recovers consciousness only on the last day of his promised year of silence when he learns that Ruthven is to marry Miss Aubrey on the morrow. By the time he is able to reveal the truth about Ruthven, his sister is already dead, having "glutted the thirst of a vampire." It is important to notice that in this narrative, Ruthven merely disappears, presumably to take advantage of more victims. In all later versions, he is overcome by the forces of good.

Polidori's tale was published in the New Monthly Magazine in April 1819. In the next year it was translated by Charles Nodier and published in two editions under the title Lord Ruthven, ou Les Vampires.7 Nodier also adapted it to the stage in a three act melodrama which was produced for the first time at the Théâtre Porte Saint-Martin on 13 June 1820 under the title Le Vampire. This was only fourteen months after the appearance of Polidori's tale.

Without question, Nodier's play should be interpreted as an early manifestation of French romanticism, a precursor of Hernani.8 It opens with an introductory vision based on a setting from Ossian, the grotto of Staffa, and incorporating other characters from Scottish legend, Ithuriel and the bard Oscar. Another name from Ossian is applied to Aubrey's sister—Malvina—who had been merely Miss Aubrey in Polidori's original. In the prologue, Nodier establishes that his play is to deal with "certains âmes funestes, dévouées à des tourments que leurs crimes se sont attirés sur la terre, jouissent de ce droit épouvantable, qu'elles exercent de préférence sur la couche virginale et sur le berceau." The reference to the cradle is not borne out by any other vampire literature.

The first act follows Polidori closely. Sir Aubrey had met Ruthven in Athens and together they had resolved that Ruthven should marry Aubrey's sister Malvina. Attacked by brigands, Ruthven had been slain and his body placed in the moonlight. Aubrey on returning to Scotland had arranged that Malvina would marry Count Marsden, the brother of Ruthven. Marsden, by the way, is another name introduced by Nodier. When Marsden appears, he is not a brother, but Ruthven himself. He provides a plausible explanation and wins the hand of Malvina. In the second act, two new characters, Edgar and Lovette are united in marriage, and the bard Oscar sings a song warning her against Ruthven. The latter succeeds in isolating her and is about to take her honor when Edgar appears and kills him. Ruthven exacts from Aubrey the promise not to tell Malvina of his death until twelve hours have passed, and he is left alone in the moonlight. In the third act, the revived Ruthven claims the hand of Malvina. Aubrey kept by his promise from denouncing him, falls into a physical decline and is carried off by domestics. As the wedding hour approaches, Aubrey escapes from his captors and is stabbed by Ruthven. In the final moments, Malvina faints, the exterminating angel appears in a cloud, and Ruthven is swallowed in the shadows.

Less than two months after the initial French performance, a "free translation" of Nodier's drama by J. R. Planché was presented at the Theatre Royal English Opera House under the title The Vampire; or, The Bride of the Isles.9 Oddly enough, Planché in the printed version apologized "to the Public for the liberty which has been taken with a Levantine Superstition, by transplanting it to the Scottish Isles." This suggests that he was personally responsible for the Scottish setting, whereas of course it already existed in Nodier's version. Furthermore since Byron was himself half Scottish, Nodier could certainly be excused for assuming that the characters he had created also belonged to that nationality. Vampirism, moreover, was already associated with the North of England, if not with Scotland. In 1816, John Stagg had published a ballad-like poem entitled "The Vampyre" in a collection entitled The Minstrel of the North. Planché in his autobiography observed that he tried in vain to persuade the theatre manager to allow him to change the setting "to some place in the east of Europe," but the impresario "had set his heart on Scotch music and dresses," and the latter were moreover already in stock.1

In his "Introductory Vision," Planché substituted the spirits Unda and Ariel from Rosicrucian lore for Nodier's Ossianic characters, probably in order to diminish the Scottish atmosphere. Unda and Ariel explain that a vampire needs to marry a fair and virtuous maiden from whom he may drain her blood supply, but they do not say, as some legends do, that the vampire obtains a release from his condition by this means. His "race of terror" will merely come to an end unless he obtains some "virgin prey."

Further information concerning vampires is conveyed during the first act by M'Swill, a comic character, described as a henchman of Ronald, Baron of the Isles, the counterpart of Sir Aubrey. The only name which Planché adopts from his predecessors, however, is Ruthven, Earl of Marden. It is Ronald's son who had died in Greece, cared for by Ruthven. Ronald was present at his son's death, and later he and Ruthven were attacked by bandits. Ruthven was killed and his body placed in the moonlight. Ruthven's brother is expected in Scotland to claim the hand of Ronald's daughter, Margaret, but he turns out to be the original Ruthven, who explains that he had recovered from his wounds. In a soliloquy Ruthven reveals that he feels contrition for his misdeeds and pity for his victims. "Daemon as I am, that walk the earth to slaughter and devour, the little that remains of heart within the wizard frame—sustained alone by human blood, shrinks from the appalling act of planting misery in the bosom of this veteran chieftan… . Margaret! unhappy maid! thou art my destined prey! thy blood must feed a Vampire's life, and prove the food of his disgusting banquet." On the eve of a wedding between Robert and Effie, Ruthven forces himself on the young girl and is shot by Robert. Ruthven dies in the arms of Ronald, first making the latter promise to keep silent about his death until the next morning and to throw a ring into Fingal's cave. The business of the ring goes back to Byron's original fragment and is not found in Polidori.

When Ronald goes to the cave in the second act to throw the ring, he finds Robert hiding and hears a voice commanding, "Remember your Oath." Robert and Ronald fight inconclusively. Margaret despite earlier misgivings now feels a strong attachment to Ruthven and is anxious for the marriage to take place. Since Ronald cannot expose Ruthven because of his oath, his confusion gives the appearance of madness. He frees himself in time to confront Ruthven in the chapel just before the wedding. Ruthven seizes Margaret and attacks Ronald, but Robert intervenes. The moon sets and Ruthven vanishes into the ground.

Planché also had the ingenious notion of combining the Don Juan theme with the vampire theme. Although many points of resemblance and some of actual contact may be perceived in the two literary traditions, the only work wich actually brings them together is Planché's "operatic burlesque burletta" entitled Giovanni the Vampire, or, How Shall We Get Rid of Him? presented at the Adelphi Theatre, 15 January 1821. Unfortunately the printed text is limited to an "Introductory Vision" and to the words of the songs in the rest of the production.11 The characters include Giovanni the Vampire; Leporello, his valet; the Ghost of the Commandant; and Donna Anna, Daughter of the Commandant. The author's purpose was to bring about through burlesque the "total annihilation" of the composite character of the vampire seducer. The author in his address to the public after referring to the "Levantic superstition concerning Vampires," comments on "the wonderful resemblance which exists between the notorious Don Giovanni, and the supernatural beings aforesaid; not only in their insatiable thirst for blood, and penchant for the fair sex, but in the innumerable resuscitations which both have, and still continue to experience." There is considerable truth based upon shrewd observation in this parallel even though it may have been intended primarily for satirical effect.

Needless to say, Planché's burlesque failed to drive either Don Juan or Ruthven out of circulation. Two separate German operas were based on Nodier's play: Der Vampir by W. A. Wohlbrück with music by H. Marschner, produced in Lepizig, 28 March 1928, and Der Vampyr by C. M. Heigel with music by P. J. von Lindpainter, produced in Stuttgart, August 1928.12 The Wohlbrück-Marschner version follows Nodier very closely although the cast of characters is increased.13 Ruthven is still the vampire, but the lord of the manor is the father, not the brother of Malvina. The latter is engaged to Aubrey, who has sworn not to reveal that Ruthven is a vampire. Malvina's father wants her to marry Ruthven in order to unite the two families. There are two other young girls, Ianthe and Emmy, who are irresistibly attracted to Ruthven, and who glut his thirst. In the end, Aubrey finally reveals the secret of Ruthven and is rewarded with the hand of Malvina and the blessing of her father.

The von Lindpainter-Heigel version departs rather drastically from its source.14 The action takes place in France. Ruthven does not appear, but Graf Aubri is the vampire. Isolde, daughter of Port d'Amour, is to be married to Count Hippolyte, when Graf Aubri appears, as from the dead, and wins the favor of both Isolde and her father. In the meantime he appeals to supernatural forces for aid in the conquest of Lorette on the eve of her wedding.15 Hippolyte kills Aubri, who exacts a pledge from Port d'Amour not to reveal his fate until midnight. Hippolyte predicts his triumph over Isolde, but she appeals to God, and good defeats evil in a happy ending.

In the summer of 1829, Planché was given the opportunity of adapting the Wohlbrük-Marschner opera to the English stage. Leaving the music untouched, he revised the libretto, laying the scene of action in Hungary, which he considered more appropriate for the vampire theme, and substituting a Wallachian Boyard for the Scottish chieftain.16

We know that Dumas' drama Le Vampire was directly inspired by Nodier since we have the author's own account of the circumstances of inspiration, but comparison of Dumas' drama with Nodier's reveals few similarities. The principal link between the two plays is the name of Dumas' vampire, Lord Ruthven. Dumas' play was written with the collaboration of Auguste Maquet and produced at the Ambigu-Comique, 20 December 1851.

Dumas' first sign of originality is placing the action in Spain. Up to this time the only other vampire literature associated with the Iberian peninsula was a very obscure collection of stories, Manuscrit trouré à Saragosse, written in French by a Polish Count, Jean Potocki, and published in Russia in 1804-1805.17 Dumas' opening scene represents the courtyard of an inn where preparations for a wedding are in progress. The inn-keeper dismisses Lazare, who has been accused of flirting with the bride. Lazare is a comic character with resemblances to Beaumarchais' Figaro and da Ponte's Leporello. A group of French travelers enter, led by the romantic hero Gilbert, who finds himself strangely attracted to a Moorish girl, who had arrived the preceding day and had attracted attention by the paucity of her diet, composed entirely of a few grains of rice eaten with sticks of ivory. This circumstance reveals that she is a ghoul. Bringing a ghoul and a vampire together in the same play was a tour de force comparable to the achievement of Grabbe who united Faust and Don Juan in a tragedy produced in 1829. In twentieth century terms, it perhaps could be considered comparable to a motion picture entitled Dr. Erotica Meets the Daughter of Fanny Hill. Dumas' source was the story in the Arabian Nights, of Sidi Nouman, a beautiful bride who eats nothing but rice, which she nibbles grain by grain, and eventually is perceived in the cemetery devouring a corpse which had been buried the same day.18 Since there is no room at the inn, the travelers decide to continue their journey toward the Chateau de Tornemar, a forbidding structure in the neighboring mountains which all the inhabitants of the area are afraid to approach. They are joined by a girl of noble demeanor, Juana, who has fled from a convent in order to keep a rendezvous at the chateau with her fiancé. In the second act, the travelers arrive at Tornemar and discuss supernatural beings while dining. Gilbert announces that he is a descendant of La Feé Mélusine and expresses belief in the existence of supernatural beings. The legend of Mélusine, written down in the fifteenth century by Jean d'Arras, concerns a beautiful maiden who is partly transformed into a serpent on every Saturday. In vampire lore the legend resembles that of the lamia in Greek literature, the beautiful woman who also turns into a serpent. In Greek tradition, the serpent woman is usually a force of evil; whereas Mélusine in Dumas' play represents goodness and benevolence.19 Gilbert describes some of the fairy lore depicted in medieval tapestries, and another traveler turns the subject to ghouls who take the form of beautiful women, specifically referring to the story in the Arabian Nights on which the character of the Moorish Girl is based. After another traveler comments on the pleasure derived from telling stories of apparitions and vampires while seated in a group around a warm fire, the conversation turns to vampires in Peru, who appear at the stroke of midnight. Nodier had mentioned Peru in one of the stories in his collection Infernalia, 1822, but otherwise there were no connections between this part of the world and the vampire tradition.20 Just as the speaker refers to midnight, the hour of twelve sounds and Ruthven appears in the castle, followed by Lazare who has been engaged as his valet. Lazare tells the story of the castle: it had formerly been inhabited by the youngest of three brothers who invited the others to visit him and then murdered them on the way; as a result every time people pass the night there, several are found dead on the succeeding morning. Shortly after Lazare reveals that the last heir of the castle is Juana's fiancé, the latter's dead body is found in an antechamber, and it is later revealed that he has fallen prey to the ghoul. Almost at the same moment a cry comes from Juana's room, she is also found dead, and Ruthven emerges through her door. Gilbert strikes him mortally, but Ruthven before dying offers a plausible explanation for his presence and exacts a promise from Gilbert to expose his body to the moonlight on the mountain.

The third act takes place in a chateau in Brittany. Gilbert's sister, Hélène, announces his imminent arrival. He is preceded, however, by Lazare who has been engaged as Gilbert's valet; he reports that he had encountered a masked man en route. When Gilbert appears, he tells of narrowly escaping a bullet shot on the road because of the intervention of a mysterious woman. As he reveals that he is engaged to a beautiful Dalmatian lass, Antonia, Hélène announces that she is to be married on the very next day to a Scotsman, George. The latter, who appears almost immediately, turns out to be no other than Ruthven; he offers the explanation that he had not been really killed in Spain, but merely wounded. The Ghoul disguised as a peasant girl exhorts Gilbert to sleep that night in the hall of the castle which is hung with tapestries. She is the one who had already saved Gilbert on the road as well as the Moorish girl of the first act. While Gilbert sleeps, the fairy Mélusine appears in a vision. She reveals that the same forces of evil which had killed Juana are about to descend upon Hélène and that Ruthven is a vampire.

The fourth act begins with a comic scene featuring the pusillanimous Lazare who has reentered the service of Ruthven. Gilbert accuses Ruthven of requiring the sacrifice of two virgins every year, and as a result everyone assumes that Gilbert is suffering mentally. Ruthven in solitude calls on his supernatural enemy to appear—this turns out to be the Ghoul, who is pitted against Ruthven because she wants Gilbert for herself. In their confrontation it is made clear that if either denounces the other, that one will become mortal again and that Ruthven has only twelve hours to live unless he can obtain a virgin. Lazare reveals to Hélène the truth about Ruthven. The vampire kills Hélène offstage just as midnight strikes. Gilbert rushes to her door, and engaging Ruthven in a death struggle, throws him out of a window to the foot of a precipice.

The scene shifts in the fifth act to a Circassian palace, where Lazare has brought Antonia with the aid of the Ghoul, now known as Ziska. Gilbert appears, lamenting his sister's death, and recognizes Ziska from her previous appearances. Ziska reveals her deep love for him and offers to use all her supernatural powers in his behalf, but he rejects her. A tempest blows up, and a shipwreck takes place off shore. Lazare throws out a rope hoping to rescue some hapless sailors, and as he pulls, Ruthven emerges from the sea. Gilbert, realizing that the fiend is still at large, offers himself to Ziska provided that she save Antonia from Ruthven. Ziska gives him a poison with which he and Antonia may join themselves forever in death, but before they are able to take it she makes a supreme sacrifice, giving him a sword which has been blessed and which will annihilate the vampire and his powers forever. As soon as Ziska provides this explanation she dies, having paid the penalty for betraying one of her own race. Gilbert thereupon deals Ruthven the final blow. The play ends with a heavenly tableau in which Juana and Hélène as angels raise Ziska from the earth and give their blessing to Gilbert and Antonia.

The final tableau has a strong resemblance to the ending of another play by Dumas produced fifteen years previously. This play, Don Juan de Maraña, ou, la Chute d'un ange, 1836, is more famous, but not necessarily better than Le Vampire. In the concluding scene, the spirit of one of the protagonist's victims who has become an angel offers her forgiveness, and thereby leads him to repent.12 In this connection it is significant to recall Dumas' assertion in his Mémoires that the earliest inspiration for his Don Juan de Maraña came from Nodier's Le Vampire.22

A scant six months after the Paris production of Dumas' play, an adaptation incorporating the essential elements of its first two acts appeared on the London stage under the title, The Vampire. Written by an Irish-born dramatist, Dion Boucicault, who performed in many of his own works, the play incorporates the ingenious device of tracing the career of a vampire during the course of three separate centuries, a device possibly borrowed from the Gothic novel Melmoth. The first act concerns the seventeenth; the second, the eighteenth; and the third, the contemporary nineteenth. The names of the characters are different from those in Dumas' play, but the plot is the same. Boucicault compressed into one act the essential ingredients of the first two acts of Dumas' play, but he was forced to leave out the characters of Mélusine and the Ghoul. Boucicault made his debut as an actor in the title rôle at the first London performance, 14 June 1852. "Charles Kean deemed 'vampires' beneath his tragic dignity; so Boucicault himself appeared as the supernatural creature… . Oddly enough, Boucicault's Irish brogue, which always came out strong except in French dialect parts, did not seem anachronistic."23The Vampire belonged to a genre which Boucicault labelled "sensation drama." "Sensation is what the public wants," he said to William Winter, "and you cannot give them too much of it."24 Despite the strong dose of sensation combined with Boucicault's effective acting, the play was not a great success, and the author brought out a revised version in only two acts entitled The Phantom.

In this version, the first scene represents a Welsh inn during the time of Cromwell. The innkeeper, Davy, has just taken a bride and is about to celebrate his nuptials, when Lucy Peveryl appears on the way to meet her fiancé at sundown in the ruins of nearby Raby Castle. She is followed by Lord Clavering and a large party who decide to escort her to the castle. Davy is superstitious and a coward, but, nevertheless, consents to act as guide. As they settle down at the castle, Lord Clavering recounts a story of a Bohemian vampire "who had died some fifty years before but who had made a compact with the fiend to revive him after death." At the end of the story a newcomer arrives and is made welcome. He is Alan Raby, who pretends to be a poor gentleman, but he is recognized by Davy as the former Puritan lord of the castle who had been slain ten years previously. Davy is cowed, however, into keeping silent. He retires to an adjoining room and discovers the slain body of Lucy's fiancé. Almost immediately Lucy runs screaming from another room and dies in the arms of Lord Clavering. Soon after Raby emerges from the same room and is shot by Clavering. Before dying, Raby convinces Clavering that he had not been the killer of Lucy and agrees to forgive Clavering for shooting him if the latter will carry his body to the mountain peaks and expose it to the first rays of the moon. Clavering does so, and in the final scene of the act, Raby, his body bathed in light, addresses the moon as "Fountain of my life."25

Boucicault's play, despite its resemblance to Dumas' Le Vampire, may be considered an original work. It draws upon Dumas only in the first act and follows an independent path in the later scenes. The setting is completely changed as are the names of the characters. The dialogue, moreover, is not directly translated from Dumas, but is newly written. Practically no element of originality whatsoever, however, may be found in another play on the theme seven years later, Ruthven by Augustus Glossop Harris, produced at the Royal Grecian Theatre, 25 April 1859.26 It is almost a word for word translation of Dumas' Le Vampire, incorporating a few plot changes, primarily in the direction of simplification. Harris leaves out the character of Mélusine and the French chamber of tapestry. All the other major characters are the same, and they even bear the same names. Harris compresses the five acts of his source into four acts by merging the first two of Dumas and greatly shortening the third. Whenever he makes changes in dialogue, his version is usually more explicit. Dumas, for example, has the ghoul remark concerning Juana: "II te faut deux heures pour aller retrouver ton beau fiancé… . Je l'aurai joint dans trois minutes!" Harris has her say, "It will take thee two hours, Juana, before you can be in the arms of your affianced husband—he shall be in mine long ere that." Similarly, the ghoul in Dumas remarks in the succeeding scene: "II était jeune! il était beau! … Me voilà redevenue jeune et belle! … A l'an prochain, Gilbert!" Harris has her say: "He was young and handsome—no matter, I have once more a new lease of existence! Gilbert, it is thou that art next doomed."

It is hardly necessary to give a plot summary of Ruthven since it would be almost identical to that of Le Vampire. The only differences are minor, and for the most part they appear at the end of the play. Dumas has Gilbert kill Ruthven with a sword; Harris has him do it with a pistol. Dumas has Gilbert learn from Mélusine that Ruthven is a vampire; Harris substitutes a dream vision. The last act in Dumas takes place on the Black Sea; in Harris, on the Bay of Naples. In Dumas, Ziska offers Gilbert the poison which will enable him to be united forever with Antonia; in Harris, Gilbert has carried it with him for years. Harris' only major innovation concerns an amulet in the form of a cross which Gilbert gives to his sister and which disappears on the night of her death in a mysterious way. When Gilbert is about to take poison, Ziska offers him the amulet, explaining that she had taken it from Hélène's body, thinking that it could someday be used to "save an innocent virgin, and exterminate Ruthven." Ruthven hires two ruffians to bring Antonia to him in a churchyard, but he is repelled by the amulet. Gilbert knocks him to the ground and commands him to repent as the clock begins to strike. At the stroke of midnight, the vampire disappears in smoke.

Even though greater tolerance has traditionally been extended to dramatists than to poets and novelists in the matter of borrowing from other writers, Harris' drama is so close to the original that it cannot possibly be explained euphemistically as an adaptation. In a sense, Harris was paying a great compliment to Dumas by appropriating his work wholesale, but at the same time he was perpetrating a fraud on his audiences by his arrant plagiarism.

Twelve years later a farce joining the vampire theme with literary plagiarism was produced at the Royal Strand Theatre: The Vampire, a Bit of Moonshine, written by R. Reece. The main character is a vampire who makes a living by writing horror stories stolen from other authors. According to the author, the play is based upon "a German legend, Lord Byron's story, and a Boucicaultian drama." Literary justice would have best been served if Harris were the main target, but apparently this dubious honor was accorded to Boucicault since the protagonist of the farce was an Irishman speaking in an exaggerated brogue.

Many other vampire dramas and vampire films have followed Harris' play, but none of them have portrayed the character of Darvel-Ruthven, the joint creation of Byron, Polidori and Dumas.


1Théatre complet de Alexandre Dumas (Paris, 1865), II, 399-535.

2 Jean Larat, La Tradition et l'exotisme dans l'œuvre de Charles Nodier (1780-1844), (Paris, 1923), p. 128.

3Mes Mémoires, LXXIV-LXXVIII. (Paris, Colmann-Lévy s.d.), III, 148-209.

4 Like his drama on the vampire theme, Dumas' Don Juan was also imitated in an English play, to be precise, in Arnold Bennett's Don Juan de Marana.

5 Roland Prothero, ed., Works of Lord Byron (London, 1899), III, 446-454.

6 "The Vampyre: A Tale by Lord Byron," in New Monthly Magazine, XI (April 1, 1819), 193-206.

7 Larat, op. cit., p. 127.

8 It is so presented by Henri Peyre in Qu'est-ce que le romantisme? (Paris, 1971), p. 78.

9 6 August 1820, according to Planché's Recollections and Reflections (London, 1901), p. 27; 9 August, according to printed edition of The Vampire (London: Printed for John Lowndes, 1820).

10Recollections and Reflections (London, 1901), .p. 27.

11 Printed for John Lowndes (London, 1821).

12 These dates are taken from Hugo Riemann, Opera-Handbuch (Leipzig, 1887).

13Der Vampir, Romantische Oper in vier Aufzügen (München, 1883).

14Der Vampyr, Romantische Oper in drei Akten (München, 1828).

15 Hippolyte is a name probably derived from a character in E. T. A. Hoffmann's vampire story Cyprians Erzählung, 1821, but otherwise there is no connection between the two works. Hoffman's Hippolit is a count who discovers that his new bride is a ghoul.

16Recollections, p. 104.

17 Roger Caillois, ed., Manuscrit trouvé à Saragosse (Paris, 1958).

18 "Histoire de Sidi Nouman," Les Mille et une nuits … traduit par Galland (Paris, 1839), III, 222-226. This is also the source of Hoffman's Cyprians Erzählung, mentioned above.

19 Dumas' play was produced in the year preceding the publication of Gerard de Nerval's sonnet El Desdichado, which also incorporates elements from the Mélusine legend.

20 (Paris, 1822), p. 80.

21 In an earlier version of the same scene, three allegorical angels contend for his fate; one calls for vengeance; another for mercy; and the last for justice. Leo Weinstein, The Metamorphoses of Don Juan (Stanford, 1959), p. 111.

22 It is important to notice also that the most popular Don Juan play in Spain, Zorrilla's Don Juan Tenorio, 1844, was produced eight years after Dumas' Don Juan de Maraña. Although critical opinion is divided concerning the degree of resemblance between the two works, it seems most unlikely that the Spanish dramatists would not have known and used the work of his eminent French contemporary.

23 Townshend Walsh, The Career of Dion Boucicault (New York, 1915), p. 45. Neither Walsh nor R.G. Hogan, author of Dion Boucicault (New York, 1969) realized that The Vampire was related to Dumas. The astute vampirian, Montague Summers, however, made the connection, The Vampire His Kith and Kin (London, 1928), p. 315. Another of Boucicault's plays produced earlier in the same year, The Corsican Brothers, also derived from Dumas. A devastating review of Boucicault's The Vampire appears in Henry Morley's Journal of a London Playgoer (1851-1866), (London, 1891), pp. 45-46. According to Morley, "Spectral Melodrama" in the piece had "reached the extreme point of inanity."

24 Winter, Other Days (New York, 1908), p. 130.

25 In the New York, 1856 edition of The Phantom, described as Bourcicault's Dramatic Works, No. 3, the dramatist's name in consistently spelled with an R even though a printed signature leaves it out. The reason for this, according to William Winter, is that about 1859-60 "he made the interesting discovery that his ancestry was French, ancient, noble, and aristocratic" and that his name should be spelled in the French style. Other Days (New York, 1908), p. 130.

26Ruthven: A Drama in Four Acts (London, Thomas Hailes Lacy, n.d.).

Douglas Munro (essay date 1983)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3882

SOURCE: "Two 'Missing' Works of Alexandre Dumas, Père," in Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, Vol. 66, No. 1, Autumn, 1983, pp. 198-212.

[In the following essay, Munro examines the publishing histories of two little-known works by Dumas, the historical romance Le comte de Moret and the drama Pietro Tasca.]

This article is primarily concerned with the "missing" manuscripts of two works by Alexandre Dumas, père, Le comte de Moret and Pietro Tasca. But these, it should be noted, are not alone among his works in being "missing", for various other manuscripts of his, all plays, may also, for a variety of reasons, be counted as lost. First, I may instance the manuscript of Les Gracques. This was one of his early attempts at writing a tragic drama, in verse, and in Comment je devins auteur dramatique1 he states "Je composai d'abord une tragédie des 'Gracques', de laquelle je fis justice, en la brûlant aussitôt sa naissance"—that would be in 1827. L.-Henry Lecomte repeats this statement,2 as does Quérard3 who goes on to refer to Dumas' Fiesque de Lavagna, which was another drama in verse, adapted from Schiller, the manuscript of which, according to him, went the same way as that of Les Gracques. It may well be that Dumas did burn the manuscripts, but could it be possible that some sheets escaped the flames or that there were earlier drafts?

There was next, possibly written more or less at the same time as Les Gracques, a prose drama entitled Les puritaines d'Écosse, which was drawn from Scott's Old Mortality. Dumas, in collaboration with Frédéric Soulié, had planned the outline of the play and had indeed started writing it, but, again according to Lecomte,4 it was never finished. Dumas confirmed this in his Mes mémoires5 where he wrote: "[Scott] avait deux caractères qui séduisaient invinciblement Soulié, c'étaient John Balfour de Burley et Bothwell. Le sujet choisi, nous nous mîmes avec ardeur à l'œuvre; mais nous avions beau nous réunir, le plan n'avançait pas". Presumably, whatever was written has vanished for ever.

The influence of Scott on Dumas was quite extraordinary. Several years earlier than the attempt at writing Les puritaines d'Écosse, he had written a "Mélodrame en 3 actes et à grand spectacle" entitled Ivanhoe. Fortunately, this is one manuscript which has not been lost; it is now held by the Bibliothèque de Dieppe (Cat. MS. 81 / AS 15), having been given to that library by Dumas, fils, in or about 1886. It comprises thirty-four white, numbered leaves, written on both recto and verso, with, on the first leaf, Ivanhoe in Dumas' hand. The play was performed at the Dieppe Casino in May 1966 by the 'Compagnie Jehan-Ango', and in the announcement of the performance it was stated that this "spectacular melodrama" was written in 1819. Dumas was then only seventeen years old.

About 1835 Dumas wrote a play of five acts and six tableaux, with an epilogue, to which he chose to give the title L'Écossais. This was based on Quentin Durward and apparently closely followed the original. It was never performed or published. Charles Glinel in his article "Le théatre inconnu d'Alexandre Dumas pére",6 wrote: "Le manuscrit original, composé vers 1835 ou 1836, retrouvé par Frédérick Lemaître en 1871, donné par lui au libraire Laplace, fut remis par ce dernier le 7 juin 1877 à Alexandre Dumas fils. Nous avons acquis après la mort de Laplace une copie de "L'Écossais" qu'il fait exécuter soigneusement par Mlle. Augustine Métayer, et qui est élégamment reliée avec un curieux récit du sort du manuscrit original et avèc les pièces justificatives". What happened to the original is now not known.

Then there is the five-act play Gulliver which, again, was neither performed nor published. The curious thing here is that Dumas' publishers Calmann-Lévy, in their Catalogue raisonné des œuvres de Alexandre Dumas, issued in 1902, the centenary of the year of his birth, reproduced on page (17) a "page autographe d'Alexandre Dumas' 'Gulliver', féerie inédite". Lecomte7 wrote: "Sont entièrement perdus: 'Jane Eyre', drame en 5 actes; 'Les âmes vaillantes', drame en 5 actes, destiné à L'Ambigu; 'Gulliver', féerie en 5 actes, pour laquelle Dumas traita en 1850 avec la Porte-Saint-Martin, sans que cette convention eût des suites; et 'Samson', opéra fait avec Edouard Duprez, et dont quelques fragments furent exécutés à l'école spéciale de chant, en 1856". The manuscript must be presumed to be lost. In so far as Samson is concerned, there was published in 1856 Première séance de l'année 1856. Exécution de fragments de l'opéra (inédit) de 'Samson', poème de MM. Alex. Dumas et Ed. Duprez. Vaugirard, Impr. Choisnet, 8vo., pp. 8. I shall refer to Les âmes vaillantes later in this article, but, as regards Jane Eyre, which obviously was based on the Charlotte Bronte novel, Dumas referred to it at some length in his 'causerie' "Comment j'ai fait jouer à Marseille le drame des 'Forestiers"', published in Bric-à-brac,8 and Charles Glinel simply mentions it, entitling it Jeanne [sic] Eyre, along with Les âmes vaillantes, in his article 'Le theatre inconnu d'Alexandre Dumas père'9 as "ne se retrouvent pas".

There is a further original manuscript of a Dumas drama which is most certainly irretrievably lost, nor was it ever published. It is of a comic opera in two acts entitled La Bacchante (Thaïs), written in collaboration with Adolphe de Leuven and Amédée de Beauplan, with music by Eugène Gauthier, and first performed at the Opéra-Comique on 4 November 1858. Glinel, in the article "Le théatre inconnu d'Alexandre Dumas père", wrote:10 "Dumas avait eu l'idée avec de Leuven et Amédée de Beauplan un opéra-comique sur un sujet antique, intitulé 'Thaïs', sorte de pendant de 'Galathée'. Il avait même écrit, et nous en avons le manuscrit, les trois premières scènes du livret. Tous trois convinrent de déplacer l'action et d'en changer l'époque. La scène se passa dès lors dans une villa de Florence, en 1550, et la pièce dont il s'agit devint 'La Bacchante'. Elle était écrite surtout pour Marie Cabel. Une indisposition du ténor Jourdan interrompit les représentations après la troisième soirée et Meyerbeer dont on répétait 'Le Pardon de Ploërmel', écrit aussi pour Mme Cabel, fit si bien que 'La Bacchante' ne fut pas reprise". Unfortunately, the libretto and score were both destroyed in a fire in the Salle Favart. Glinel went on to write, in a further instalment of Le théatre inconnu,11 "Heureusement M. de Spoelberch de Louvenjoul avait obtenu des auteurs une copie du livret et d'Eugène Gautier [sic] une réduction au piano de l'œuvre musicale. 'La Bacchante' n'est donc pas perdue pour tout le monde et nous devons à l'obligeance inépuisable du savant bibliophile et dilettante bruxellois la copie intégrale du livret".

Finally, there was a translated version of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet which was again neither performed nor published and which, apparently, was made in collaboration with Paul Meurice. Romeo et Juliette consisted of five acts and eleven tableaux, and, according to Glinel,12 the entire manuscript was in the hand of Meurice. Although this may have been so, I am inclined to the belief that Dumas, in fact, did the translating, dictating it to his friend. Charles Chincholle13 stated that the play was in alexandrines, and Benjamin Pifteau14 told of Dumas reading it to his friends in his chambers in the Rue de Richelieu somewhere about 1864. What happened to the original manuscript is unknown, but it seems at one stage to have been passed by Meurice to Dumas, fils, who allowed Glinel to make a copy of it. Thereafter it disappeared. Extracts from it may be found in several of Dumas' works, most notably in his Souvenirs d'une favorite and La fille du marquis and, oddly enough, in his Grand dictionnaire de cuisine, where he quotes forty-one lines from the play in his article dealing with the preparing and cooking of larks.

I. Le comte de Moret: The Vicissitutes of a 'Vanished' Romance

Between 17 October 1865 and 23 March 1866, with only occasional lapses, Dumas contributed as a 'feuilleton' to a Paris daily literary paper, Les Nouvelles, an historical romance entitled Le comte de Moret. Les Nouvelles, a short-lived and seemingly not very successful venture, was founded by one Jules Noriac. It was first published on 20 September 1865, ran into difficulties in the Spring of 1866, and was taken over by Dumas on his own account and renamed, on 18 November 1866, Le Mousquetaire, after that earlier and most famous of his journals, the original series of which had ceased publication on 7 February 1857.

Copies of Les Nouvelles were lodged with the Bibliothèque Nationale, but the 'run' is now incomplete and lacks those numbers published on 18 and 21 October, 1, 2, 3 and 27 November 1865, and 1 March 1866, in all of which parts of Le comte de Moret appeared.

The romance hinges on the war in Piedmont and the imaginary career of Antoine, comte de Moret, the illegitimate son of Henri IV, who was believed to have been killed during the battle of Castelnaudary in 1632, although his body was never found. A legend persisted that, seriously wounded, he had escaped finally to die as an aged hermit in Anjou during the reign of Louis XIV.

Dumas' story opened on 5 December 1628 and ended in 1630. It really covers a brief period following the conclusion of The Three Musketeers with the return of Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu from the siege of La Rochelle. Other historical personages in the romance are the two queens, Anne of Austria and Marie de Medici, the duchesse de Chevreuse, and Montmorency. And Dumas introduces a new soldier of fortune—Etienne Latil—who has many of the attractive characteristics of d'Artagnan.

In 1850 Dumas had already written what was, in effect, the sequel to Le comte de Moret, a story entitled La Colombe, related in the form of letters and dealing with the imagined fate of that remarkable man. The period covered by La Colombe, according to the dating of the letters, was 5 May 1637 to 10 September 1638, although their contents covered events both at, as well as after, the battle of Castelnaudary. The writing of a story in the form of letters is a most unusual one for Dumas, but it worked successfully.

La Colombe never appeared in serial form and was first published in Belgium as: La colombe, / par / Alexandre Dumas. / Bruxelles, / Librairie du Panthéon / 1850. The format is 15 x 9½ cm. and the number of pages 128. It appeared in the publishers' series La Nouveauté Littéraire with yellow paper wrappers. One other edition, in a slightly larger format and of 112 pages, was published in Brussels in the same year by Alphonse Lebègue.

Both these editions preceded the book's first publication in France under the title of Histoire d'une colombe, by Alexandre Cadot (1851, 8vo., 2 volumes, pp. 305 and 319), the second volume including Dumas' Chateaubriand and Le roi Pépin. The Semaine Littéraire du Courrier des Etats-Unis. Receuil Choisi de romans, feuilletons, ouvrages historiques et dramatiques, en prose et en vers des auteurs modernes les plus renommés (New-York, F. Gaillardet), published the work in 1853 under the title of La colombe, volume 5, part 4, pp. (1)-34 in double columns.

The first appearance of the work in English was in the London Journal in 1857, and it was again published by Methuen in Alfred Allinson's translation in 1906. It was never published as a translation in the United States.

Copies of Les Nouvelles must have found their way to the United States, and a first, emasculated translation of Le comte de Moret appeared and was, as stated on the verso of the title, "entered according to Act of Congress in the year 1867 by Henry L. Williams". The title-page reads as follows: "The / count of Moret: / or, / Richelieu and his rivals. / By Alexandre Dumas, / Author of Monte-Christo, The three guardsmen, etc., etc. / Translated from the French / By Henry L. Williams, Jr. / New York; / Published by Henry L. Williams, / 119 Nassau Street". The book is in-octavo and consists of pages (3)-160 printed in double columns; there are fifty-five chapters and an epilogue. The translator has omitted pages from the conclusion of Dumas' original and substituted material of his own, giving, moreover, no indication that he has done so. There is, indeed, another gap in one run of ten chapters. Williams must have had no knowledge of the logical sequence of the story which had been written earlier as La Colombe, otherwise he would surely never have had the ineptitude to rewrite the conclusion as he did.

In the following year the book was published again. It appeared as: The count of Moret; / or, / Richelieu and his rivals. / by / Alexander Dumas. / Author of The count of Monte Cristo, The chevalier, etc., etc., / Translated from the French of Alexander Dumas, / by Henri L. Williams, Jr. /, for Peterson's edition of Alexander Dumas' great works. / Philadelphia: T. B. Peterson & brothers; / 306 Chestnut Street. The verso of the title consists of the publishers' 'blurb', a shortened list of titles by Dumas published by Peterson, and the necessary "entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1868, by T.B. Peterson & brothers". The book measures 23.3 x 14.3 cm., and is a reprint of the 1867 Williams edition with the same pagination.

I have also been able to trace another, but mutilated, copy of the work in an American private institutional library. Lacking its title-page, it has 266 pages printed in double columns, and measures 24 cm.; there is no epilogue. No advertisements remain to help identification, but on internal evidence it would appear virtually certain that it is a copy of the edition published in New York by George Munro (c. 1876) in his Seaside Library.

The edition published by Williams (and this, incidentally, is the only work by Dumas translated by Williams which he published himself) was in the New York Public Library. Their copy, however, no longer exists and it is by courtesy of that institution that I possess a microfilm copy of that particular printing of Williams' version. The Peterson & Brothers edition is still, fortunately, with the British Library. The Library of Congress in its Main and Official Catalogues does not locate any copies, and its National Union Catalogue refers only to the edition in the New York Public Library which is no longer extant. James Kelly's American Catalogue of Books lists simply, "'The count of Moret'. Translated by Williams. 8vo., paper, 75 cents, Peterson, 1869"; and Petersons' catalogue in the Publishers' Trade List Annual, 1873, even more simply, "'The count of Moret'. Price 75 cents".

To carry the American side of the story further, there appeared among the advertisements for The Royalist Daughters and The Castle of Souday (both comprising the Williams' version of Dumas' Les Louves de Machecoul) a work entitled and spelt equally The Count of Morian (or Morion); or, Woman's revenge which, it has been suggested, might have been an announcement for The count of Moret. Since both of these last titles were copyrighted by Dick and Fitzgerald of New York in 1862, some four years before Le comte de Moret appeared serially, there could obviously be grave doubts as to the authenticity. In fact, this work is by Frederick Soulié, and my copy, with the title "The count of Morion [sic]; or woman's revenge. Translated from the French … by Edward Magauran, esq.", was published in New York by Williams Brothers, 24 Ann-Street. Boston: 6 Water-Street, in 1847.

This is the stage at which it may be said that the book vanished, the only verifiable volume extant of a translated version being the copy held by the British Library.

But, to enliven matters, there was published Short Stories by Alexandre Dumas, Ten Volumes in One, New York, Walter J. Black co., n.d. [1927], 8vo., 8 unnumbered pages 'Table of contents', 3 unnumbered pages, 'Introduction' signed 'G.W.B.', (1)-1003 in double columns. In point of fact, these are not short stories. The book is made up of extracts from some of Dumas' well-known and less well-known works, and includes also extracts from some of the spurious titles credited to him. But among these extracts there are eleven genuinely taken from Le comte de Moret, as well as one entitled The death of Richelieu which appeared neither in Les Nouvelles nor in Williams' version, but which could have been included in the final pages of the original manuscript and for some reason was not published.

In 1936, in what would seem to be the unlikely city of Buenos Aires, there was published: El conde de Moret; novela historica que abarca el periodo entre Les tros mosquetaros, y Veinte años despues. Buenos Aires: Talleres gráficos argentinos L.J. Rosso, 1936, 23½ cm., pp. 2 preliminary leaves, (7)-581, 1. Page (7) comprises a preface signed "Evaristo Etchecopar", in which he writes: "La presente versión pertenece al Correo de ultamar … revista del siglo pasado extinguida en 1885 … En ella apareció el Conde de Moret en 1865 y siguió publicándose periódicamente, hasta que la muerte de Dumas vino a dejarla trunca". Copies of this book are held in the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library, but, strangely, in neither the extensive Biblioteca Nacional nor the Biblioteca de Palacio in Madrid.

The book was printed from the text published in the Correo de Ultramar which, from its very name, would have circulated in South America. The Spanish version was apparently made at the time of the serial issue in Les Nouvelles, included the material in the copies missing from the Bibliothèque Nationale, and clarified the position regarding Williams' deliberate disregard of ten vital chapters, as well as the other gap in the run of chapters referred to earlier.

To the sounding of trumpets, in 1944 Le Sphinx rouge (announced as an unpublished romance by Dumas) burst upon an unsuspecting French public, and France-Soir gave a "Version ramassée, limitée aux épisodes essentiels". In fact, Le Sphinx rouge was Dumas' Le comte de Moret, and the manuscript that reached France-Soir comprised only three sections of the original four of the romance. It was written on Dumas' familiar blue paper and each section was paginated separately—the first comprising 117 leaves, the second 120, and the third 171. According to France-Soir Dumas had offered the manuscript to an admirer, Madame T …, née Falcon, sister of the singer Jenny Falcon, and married to a member of the Russian aristocracy whose name was never disclosed.

After the Revolution of 1917 Madame … 's family emigrated to France, and in 1944 the manuscript became the property of the director of Les Éditions universelles and was duly published as Alexandre Dumas, Le Sphinx rouge (Roman historique). Les Éditions universelles, Paris; on the verso of the title is: "Copyright … Paris, 1946", and the announcement that 150 numbered copies had been printed on "pur fil des Papeteries de France,…, constituant authentiquement l'édition originale". The format is 18½ x 11½ cm., with the pagination: (7)-9 'note liminaire', (3), (13)-752, and 3 pages' table of contents, with a frontispiece portrait of Dumas and, underneath, ten holograph lines signed "fin du 3e volume A Dumas". This edition was reprinted with the same format and pagination in 1947.

It was not long before the readers of the Bibliothèque de Lectures de Paris were offered Alexandre Dumas' Le comte de Moret, Roman historique. Illustrations de Maurice Sauvayre S.E.P.E. Paris, n.d. [1948], 18½ x 12½ cm., 4 volumes bound in 2, pp. (5)-6 'Alexandre Dumas et "Le comte de Moret"' par Roger Giron, (7)-286, and (5)-268; there are no tables of contents. Each volume has a woodcut frontispiece, and five and four other woodcuts respectively in the text. Twenty-four copies were printed on "papier Marais-crèvecœur". The editorial note on the verso of the title-page of volume 1 contradicts itself when it states that the Bibliothèque Nationale possesses the only copy of the journal in which the romance appeared "en son entier" by then going on to state that unhappily there are a few gaps which have been filled in with, in italics "… simples résumés très concis du texte disparu", which may, of course, have been summaries taken from the retranslated Spanish version. M. Giron states that Le comte de Moret was dedicated to Dimitri Pavlovich Narischkine "en memoire de l'hospitalité royale" which had been given to Dumas when he was in Russia in the years following 1858.

The collation of Le Sphinx rouge and Le comte de Moret, which are divided respectively into 'parties' and 'volumes', shows that the former, in addition to variations in the text, has had interpolated, in the first division of the book, four new chapter headings, while the second divisions of both books do not vary in so far as the titles of chapters are concerned. Moreover, the third divisions of both books once again vary in several chapter headings, and Le Sphinx rouge finally stops short at Chapter XXI of the "troixième partie".

The fourth volume of Le comte de Moret, Chapter 1, is Chapter XLIII in Williams' version. Williams' next three chapter headings are mis-spelt, and after Chapter XLVI he reverts with his numbering to XLV, repeats XLVI, and then goes to XLVII. Chapters VII-XVIII are omitted, but three chapters are interpolated. With his own Chapter L, Williams continues with Chapter XIX from Le comte de Moret; Chapter XX is given a garbled title and, after Chapter XXII of the French text (the work finishes at Chapter XXIII), Williams includes in his version the other garbled material which he was unwise enough to subjoin, comprising two chapters and an epilogue.

Subsequently the Les Editions universelles version published as Le Sphinx rouge was republished on three occasions. The first was as: Le Sphinx rouge / par / Alexandre Dumas / collection Marabout; verso of title "…éditée et imprimée par Gérard & co …" (Verviers) Belgique; n.d. [c. 1955], 18 x 11.3 cm., pp. 5-539, 4 pages of publishers' advertisements, blank, notes on the book and its author inside back cover, illustrated paper covers. The second as: Alexandre Dumas / Le Sphinx rouge / Éditions Galic / … / Paris; n.d. [1964], 20.7 x 13.2 cm., pp. (1), (11)-373, grey boards, and the third as: Alexandre Dumas / Le Sphinx rouge / Éditions Baudelaire / Livre club des Champs-Élysées / … / Paris, n.d. [1966], 20 x 13 cm., pp. (I)-VII introductory note on Dumas, (1)-530; preceding the title-page is a photograph copy of Daumier's cartoon of Dumas and a photograph of Dumas' monument in the Place Malesherbes, Paris; this has coloured boards. This last edition was reprinted in 1967 with the same format and pagination. None of these reprints includes the "note liminaire" published in the original Les Éditions universelles edition.

There can only remain the hope that the missing final leaves of the fourth part of Dumas' holograph manuscript may come to light. This is not as impossible as it may seem, for manuscripts of his works, in whole or in part, have the uncanny knack of appearing quite out of the blue from time to time, and not only in auctioneers' and specialist booksellers' catalogues. Should this happen, we shall then have the Count in Dumas' full romantic portrayal, and perhaps an English translation may be published, not only as a literary curiosity, but on its merits as one of his major romances.

II. Pietro Tasca

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1795

That apparently lost holograph manuscripts of Dumas do in fact reappear entirely unexpectedly may be further exemplified by one such that was offered to me at the beginning of the war through a Jewish émigré from Vienna.

It was no less than the complete manuscript of a play in five acts in prose, wholly written on some ninety loose sheets in Dumas' familiar, beautifully-flowing hand and on his famous blue paper.

The manuscript bore no title or list of characters. The lack of title was possibly due to the loss of the first sheet, on which it was Dumas' invariable custom to write his titles in a large, even script, together with an indication of the acts and tableaux. But there may have been another perfectly good reason, which will be explained later. That there was no list of characters is not unexpected; Dumas rarely, save in a few of his early dramas, troubled to supply this in detail, leaving it doubtless to reveal itself in the course of rehearsals and duly to be supplied by the publisher.

One or two notes were written on the manuscript, one signed by Charles Chincholle. From this it would appear that the manuscript was in Dumas' possession towards the end of his life, when he was very friendly with the young Chincholle who, besides writing an interesting booklet (Alexandre Dumas Aujourd'hui, avec photographies par Pierre Petit. Paris, D. Jouast, 1867), contributed to Dumas' journal Dartagnan and had brief introductions by Dumas to two of his books—Dans l'ombre (Paris, Librairie internationale A. Lacroix, Verbroeckhoven et Ce, Éditeurs … même maison à Bruxelles, a Leipzig, et a Livourne, 1871) and Le lendemain de l'amour (Paris, Calmann-Lévy, 1880). Lacking a title, the play came to me as Pietro Tasca, after its main male character. The action of the drama is centred around a miscarriage of justice in the Venice of the Doges towards the end of the fifteenth century. There are alternative versions of the epilogue, and it would seem likely that it may have been the draft of a play which was thrown aside for more urgent work, then forgotten, and finally lost. From the simple fact of a recorded miscarriage of justice, Dumas had woven a satisfying drama, as could be expected in any historical or, indeed, other play he wrote.

To return to what I have mentioned earlier about the lack of title and other information, the holograph manuscript of another play by Dumas, Lesâmes vaillantes, has seemingly disappeared, and that title could very well be applicable to Pietro Tasca. Glinel, an eminent authority on Dumas, stated15 that Les âmes vaillantes in 5 acts, had been written for the Théâtre Ambigu-Comique, and mentioned a letter from Dumas to Anténor Joly, the then manager of that theatre, dated 26 February 1852 (Collection Ernest Lemaître, Laon). But Noël Parfait, secretary and friend of Dumas during his exile in Brussels between December 1851 and January 1853, in a letter to Glinel dated 5 August 1892, stated that the manuscript of Les âmes vaillantes had unfortunately disappeared.

However, and this is where the interest quickens, Dumas, fils, in Paris in January 1872, had a visitor who called himself His Royal Highness Prince George Kastriota Scanderberg, King of Albania and Epirus, Hereditary Prince of Croia, and of all the Albanian Colonies, Duke of Saint-Pierre in Galatina, and patrician of Rome, Naples and Venice. He was accompanied by, as Grand Marshal of the Palace, a retired Neapolitan commissioner of police, and, as Captain of the Guard, a retired French police inspector. He told Dumas that he had met his father in Naples in 1862, where the two had become so friendly that Dumas, père, had given him the manuscript of an unpublished play of his entitled Les âmes vaillantes.

J. Lucas-Dubreton in his La vie d'Alexandre Dumas père,16 in its English version Alexandre Dumas the fourth musketeer,7 relates how, in October 1862, Dumas had received a letter from the Greco-Albanian Council in London asking him to do for Athens and Constantinople what he had done with Garibaldi for Palermo and Naples. The letter was signed by the Prince of Scanderberg. Two more letters came, addressed "My dear Marquis", and, according to Lucas-Dubreton, Dumas proved gullible enough at this stage to offer his yacht Emma to the 'Prince' for the transport of ammunition. Then, one fine day, the Chief of Police of Naples sent for Dumas and told him that the pseudo-Prince was a trickster and intriguer.

In his book Dumas Father and Son,18 Francis Gribble states that Scanderberg's real name was Del Prato, and that he was the son of an Italian carpenter. In 1859 he had served a sentence of six months imprisonment for fraud. He had come to Paris fully expecting to be safe there, as he knew that the police archives had been burnt during the Commune. He had prospered from the sale of the insignia of a fictitious 'Order of the Commander of Christ'. When the police found out who he was and came to arrest him, they found that he had been warned in time and had disappeared safely into Spain.

I wrote to Francis Gribble asking him whether he could give me any information concerning the manuscript of Les âmes vaillantes about which Scanderberg had spoken to Dumas, fils. He replied that the information about the Scanderberg episode had been taken from an article published many years ago in Le Temps, but he could not remember the exact date; he added that there was certainly no information about that missing play. I have diligently searched the files of Le Temps from the 1870s onwards and cannot find any such article; one may have appeared earlier, but I doubt even this. It may be, of course, that Francis Gribble had been mistaken and was, in fact, referring to an article in some other journal, but, even so, in my research I have never found any reference to Les âmes vaillantes in any French periodical published in the 19th century.

Dumas, of course, washed his hands of the whole affair. But did he pass on the manuscript of Les âmes vaillantes, and could it have been Pietro Tasca, to 'Scanderberg'? The absence of the first sheet is in keeping, for 'Scanderberg' would be very likely to destroy this if he had proposed selling the manuscript; to leave it might have been dangerous if others knew of Dumas' gift and to whom it went.

And now for further proof that this is, indeed, an unknown play by Dumas, whether it be entitled Les âmes vaillantes or Pietro Tasca. The sheets of blue paper are certainly one indication of its authenticity. Moreover, the writing has all the characteristics and tricks of penmanship that belong to Dumas—he has numbered the sheets of each act separately (but not individual tableaux where there is more than one in each act); that is, each act begins afresh on page 1, the sequence being continued until its conclusion. This manner of pagination is frequently to be noted in his drama manuscripts.

Again, and not an uncommon thing with Dumas, in the haste of writing he has forgotten the exact chosen designation of one character and another, even making the change in the middle of an act, thus explaining why there is no list of characters; this could be an indication of temporary cessation of work or of a draft, and it may also be the result of the influence of the writing of romances concurrently with dramas, the former gaining by the variation of their designations. In the manuscript there are many turns of expression which are constantly to be met with in his work. There is the noted peculiarity of one speaker repeating part, or even the whole, of another's words; this is an extremely characteristic tendency and one so easily made irritating, but which Dumas' genius not only carried off satisfactorily but also frequently turned to masterly effect.

Another common habit in this drama is to marshal phrases or expressions in twos, threes, and even fours. So, too, at the conclusion of act III, the Mask's words: "Adieu, if you speak the truth, au revoir if you lie" may be connected with not a few Dumas phrases, of which perhaps the most famous is the conclusion to Le vicomte de Bragelonne: "Athos, Porthos, au revoir; Aramis, adieu for ever".

Passing, then, from what may be regarded as proofs of Dumas' skilful mechanism, I come to the more literary indications. The characters are for the most part essentially of the type beloved by him, including a mysterious masked man (how fond Dumas was of masked executioners; two other examples are provided in "The three musketeers" and in the drama Cromwell et Charles 1,er Paris, Marchant, 1835), and a woman who must atone for her guilt in such a way that it will be condoned by the audience. There are any number of clever situations and arresting scenes such as he excelled in, and I will mention but one of a dozen—the powerful opening scene played in a dim light and with no word spoken.

From his first dramatic efforts Dumas made a point of including in his most moving and tragic pieces an occasional lighter touch. In this play there is the conversation between some women and a sacristan, and in the trial scene the naïve and kindly evidence given by the character Felice. Dumas was always careful not to overdo these breaks in the poignancy, unlike Hugo, who often carried them to lengths of farce.

What, then, is the manuscript's true history, and why was it that it never came to be printed or published? The key to the puzzle may be somewhere among Dumas' lesser articles or in an unpublished 'causerie'.

I hold the firm belief that any Dumas manuscript of rarity and importance such as this should belong to France, and so I passed it to the late Jacques Guignard, Conservateur en Chef of the Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal, and now, handsomely bound, it is in that library.


1Théatre complet de Alex. Dumas (Paris, 1874), (1)-34.

2Alexandre Dumas, 1802-1870. Sa Vie Intime. Ses Œuvres (Paris, 1902), p. 107.

3Les supercheries littéraires devoillées (Paris, 1847), p. 426.

4 Op. cit., p. 20.

5 (Paris, 1863), iv. chap. cviii, p. 267.

6Revue Biblio-Iconographique, 6e année (1899), 33 Série, pp. 10-11.

7 Op. cit., p. 173.

8 Paris, 1861, vol. 1.

9 Op. cit., p. 15.

10 Op. cit., 2e[sic] année (1899), 3e série, p. 515.

11 Op. cit., 6e année (1899), 3e série, p. 7.

12 Ibid., p. 15.

13Alexandre Dumas Aujourd'hui (Paris, 1867), p. 22.

14Alexandre Dumas en Manches de Chemise (Paris, 1884), p. 16.

15Revue Biblio-Iconographique, 6e année (1899), 3e série, p. 15.

16 Paris, 1927, Vie des hommes illustres, No. 14, pp. 209-12.

17 Translated from the French of J. Lucas-Dubreton by Maida Castelman Darnton (London, 1929), pp. 232-36.

18 London, 1930, pp. 162-65.

Don MacLennan (essay date 1988)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4019

SOURCE: "Metastasis; or Dumas, Joyce and the Dark Avenger," in English Studies in Africa: A Journal of the Humanities 31, No. 2, 1988, pp. 119-27.

[In the following essay, MacLennan identifies evidence of The Count of Monte Cristo 's influence on A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce.]

The count bowed, and stepped back. "Do you refuse?" said Mercédès, in a tremulous voice. "Pray, excuse me, madame," replied Monte Cristo, "but I never eat Muscatel grapes."1

It is obvious that Joyce read and digested Dumas's novel The Count of Monte Cristo, and that he selected Monte Cristo (Edmond Dantès) as an archetypal hero, a model on which the unheroic Stephen2 initially models his personality and whom he unconsciously adopts as a catalyst for his ultimate rebellion. Both novels are about revenge: Dumas's lengthily, Joyce's concisely and anti-climactically, as nobody in the novel takes any real notice of the "fearful Jesuit".3 Monte Cristo has no difficulty with primary action; Stephen is presented as finding primary action (sex, politics and sport) distasteful and not in keeping with his or the novel's aesthetics.

It is, of course, standard practice for writers to use, criticize, bounce off, or improve on earlier texts (especially if those texts are a trifle inferior) as Shakespeare did in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Jane Austen dumped The Mysteries of Udolpho into the scouring vats of her art; and J. M. Coetzee has used an eighteenth-century novel as the matrix of his deconstruction of it. The phenomenon of intertextuality is not new: it may even be subsumable under a general notion of translation, the art of re-creating a text from a text in another language or from another age. Such use of texts by writers is, perhaps, another way of stressing the suggestive power or latah [a Malay word meaning "infinite suggestiveness", according to Anthony Burgess, Earthly Powers (Harmondsworth, 1982), p. 236.] of tradition, where the present is what it is by virtue of the deep layers of what has already been written. This does not mean that all writers will plunder texts in the same way or for the same reasons.

There has been a great deal of research focusing on intertextuality in Joyce. The earliest was Stuart Gilbert's.4 The first five chapters of his book are a veritable mine of suggestions about Joyce's sources. Z. R. Bowen's Musical Allusions in the Works of James Joyce5 is crucial for a full understanding of musico-poetic resonances of Joyce's texts. M. Reynolds's Joyce and Dante: The Shaping Imagination6 and W. H. Schutte's Joyce and Shakespeare7 are seminal works of explication. And no serious reader of Joyce can afford to not read H. Kenner's Dublin's Joyce8 and Flaubert, Joyce and Beckett: The Stoic Comedians.9 Joyce did, after all, prophesy that he would keep scholars busy for centuries to come.

In Joyce's novel, the young Stephen admires heroes like Napoleon, and has read The Count of Monte Cristo. His heroes are of crucial importance to him in his childhood where he can actually be a kind of hero, as when he complains to the Rector about his unjust punishment by Father Dolan for breaking his glasses. Through his courage he proves the falsity of the Prefect's claim that he is a "lazy idle loafer" and becomes a true hero for the boys of his class.

Stephen has grown up surrounded by talk of heroes, especially Irish ones like Parnell, and it does not take much to see that the drift of Joyce's novel is a transformation of Stephen from being a boyish hero, through the temptation to be a hero of religion (like Loyola), to becoming a hero of art (like Byron). That Joyce evolved Stephen as a progression of shed roles is not in dispute. That implicit texts or scenarios are inextricable from the presentation and development of character is also not in dispute. The focus of this paper is rather on the proleptic scenarios of Joyce's novels that are to be found in Dumas's. It is not an original claim that Joyce was an habitual imitator and parodist, but a comparison of the two novels does show, strikingly, how Joyce culled some of the comestibles for his metastatic process and made them artistically significant.

Edmond Dantès, returning from an arduous sea voyage and on the point of marrying his beloved Mercédès, becomes a victim of an elaborate frame-up. He is arrested and taken off to the island prison of the Château d'If, where he remains for fourteen years. Most of these years are spent in solitary confinement, until the day he decides to tunnel his way out to freedom and finds himself in the cell of the Abbé Faria. In the Abbé he discovers a spiritual father: the Abbé is an aristocrat, fabulously wealthy, a scientist, a linguist, an incorrigible inventor ("old artificer"), and a wise and pious Christian imprisoned for his political opposition to the regime. He is far from mad, and educates Edmond, pouring his vast and universal knowledge into the young man. The Abbé is truly the Daedalus to Edmond's Icarus.

The parallel to A Portrait is immediately apparent. First of all, the aunt with the unusual name, Dante,10 suggests that Stephen's lineage is connected with that of Edmond Dantès. Stephen arrives at consciousness after a blameless voyage in the amniotic sea, declares innocently that he is going to marry Eileen, and is immediately castigated and told to "apologise". His first contrary experiences in life are thus sexual repression and religious guilt: subsequently he never can disentangle mortal and venial sin. Stephen is incarcerated in the Château d'If of self and guilt. Catholic Ireland keeps his spirit bound. His freedom is curtailed, and for fourteen years, from going to school to leaving university, he is a prisoner in his body, Dublin, and Ireland ("the old sow that eats her farrow"—P., p. 208), with no immediate prospect of escape. His life is centred on the conviction that he must get free, "fly by those nets" (P., p. 207) and escape the "sentinels". Adumbrating the new aesthetic of A Portrait the dying Abbé says to Edmond,

… philosophy, as I understand it, is reducible to no rules by which it can be learned; it is the amalgamation of all the sciences, the golden cloud which bears the soul to heaven. (M.C., p. 144)

Stephen learns nothing of the rules of life, only how to argue Aristotle's aesthetics and Aquinas's theology. Like Edmond he lurches blindly on, "exhaust[s] all human resources; and then [he] turn[s] to God" (M.C., p. 109). For years Stephen is bemused, if not seduced, by the image of the priesthood, and he too "turns to God" when his life becomes intolerably confused and guilt-ridden. However, his appointed task in the novel is to transcend religion and escape from its clutches as Edmond Dantès escapes from the Château d'If. This is an artistic if not a psychological paradox: that we should live by changing places with the dead.

During his captivity Edmond wishes to die, but when he meets the Abbé he experiences a sudden surge of optimism:

… the sight of an old man clinging to life with so desperate a courage, gave a fresh turn to his ideas, and inspired him with new courage and energy. (M.C., p. 126)

But in Joyce's novel there are no universal men like the Abbé, only fragmented and inadequate men, in itself evidence of "Irish paralysis".

Edmond is the child of the Abbé's captivity. Like the celibate priests who educate Stephen and cram him with knowledge, the Abbé is Edmond's spiritual father. He says to Edmond:

My profession condemns me to celibacy. God has sent you to me to console, at one and the same time, the man who could not be a father and the prisoner who could not get free. (M.C., p. 162)

The celibate priests, too, would have Stephen believe that he will be heir to the fabulous treasures of Heaven, as Edmond will be heir to the Abbé's immense treasures hidden in the cave on the island of Monte Cristo.

As Edmond escapes by changing places with his spiritual father, so Stephen escapes his predicament by assuming the role of the poet-priest of "the eternal imagination" and supplanting his biological father with a father of his own conception. Only then is Stephen ready for the Fall into Life, and his Fall recalls Edmond's as he is hurled in a shroud from the walls of the Château:

Dantès felt himself flung into the air like a wounded bird, falling, falling, falling with a rapidity that made his blood curdle … it seemed to him as if the time were a century. At last, with a terrific dash, he entered the ice-cold water, and as he did so he uttered a shrill cry … (M.C., p. 175)

This episode foreshadows the one where the young Stephen is nudged into the slimy ditch (P., p. 21) and also the episode that culminates in the epiphany of the young men swimming: "Cripes, I'm drownded" (P., p. 173). Stephen's fall into reality, his baptism in life, makes his need to escape Ireland more urgent, for the life he is enmeshed in proves to be a nightmare from which he is trying to awake.11 Home, family and Ireland become irrelevant as he prepares to fly away to Paris, the city, incidentally, where Edmond completes his revenge.

A Portrait is the story of a young man in revolt against his father and all those things his.father represents—family, religion and politics. As jejune hero he struggles painfully through from childhood to adolescence, but his final victory is Pyrrhic because he remains "a cold fish". Stephen is not a romantic hero, for a romantic hero is one who is capable of primary action, like Byron and Monte Cristo. Stephen is an imprisoned sensibility through which shadows, analogues and epiphanies pass to be recorded on his tabula rasa. The method of the novel is, therefore, a progressive series of revelations, and of accumulating motifs, echoes and analogues. The mind of the hero, the would-be artist, discovers order in and imposes order on the chaotic manifold of experience. But Stephen is not Monte Cristo, or Napoleon or Byron or Milton's Satan because he cannot act in the real world. His growth is merely a sloughing off of progressively outworn shrouds or disguises. And where

the novel increases in richness and resonance, Stephen himself becomes more of an absence.

Monte Cristo, then, proves more than a role: he is an informing archetype of an escaped prisoner, who returns dazzlingly to life. In A Portrait the reader alone has access to the novel's dazzling plunge into life, only to watch (as is the case in Dumas's novel) the hero himself quietly withdraws into obscurity.

When Monte Cristo entertains two of his acquaintances on his bark, he gives one of them, Franz, a spoonful of hashish to eat. Reality melts away and Franz flies off on the viewless wings of hallucination. Edmond, now known to all as the Count of Monte Cristo, says to him:

Well, unfurl your wings and fly into superhuman regions; fear nothing, there is a watch over you; and if your wings, like those of Icarus, melt before the sun, we are here to receive you. (M.C.,p. 288)

This is how Dumas describes Franz's experience:

His body seemed to acquire an airy lightness, his perception brightened in a remarkable manner, his senses seemed to redouble their power, the horizon continued to expand; but it was not that gloomy horizon … but a blue, transparent, unbounded horizon, with all the blue of the ocean, all the spangles of the sun … then, in the midst of the songs of his sailors,—songs so clear and sounding, that they would have made a divine harmony had their notes been taken down,—he saw the Isle of Monte Cristo … (M.C.,p. 288)

Franz's experience with hashish is compared by Dumas to a vision of Aladdin's cave, to "shadows of the magic lantern". It is this island cave that Joyce refers to specifically in the following paragraphs:

His evenings were his own; and he pored over a ragged translation of The Count of Monte Cristo. The figure of that dark avenger stood forth in his mind for whatever he had heard or divined in childhood of the strange and terrible. At night he built up on the parlour table an image of the wonderful island cave out of transfers and paper flowers and coloured tissue paper and strips of the silver and golden paper in which chocolate is wrapped. When he had broken up this scenery, weary of its tinsel, there would come to his mind the bright picture of Marseilles, of sunny trellises and of Mercedes.

Outside Blackrock, on the road that led to the mountains, stood a small whitewashed house in the garden of which grew many rose-bushes: and in this house, he told himself, another Mercedes lived. Both on the outward and on the homeward journey he measured distance by this landmark: and in his imagination he lived through a long train of adventures, marvellous as those in the book itself, towards the close of which there appeared an image of himself, grown older and sadder, standing in a moonlit garden with Mercedes who had so many years before slighted his love, and with a sadly proud gesture of refusal, saying:

—Madam, I never eat muscatel grapes. (P.,p. 64)

The description of Franz's state of sublime euphoria is suggestive of Stephen's own when he sees the Bird Girl standing in the water:

A girl stood before him in midstream, alone and still, gazing out to sea. She seemed like one whom magic had changed into the likeness of a strange and beautiful seabird. Her long slender bare legs were delicate as a crane's and pure save where an emerald trail of seaweed had fashioned itself as a sign upon the flesh. Her thighs, fuller and softhued as ivory, were bared almost to the hips, where the white fringes of her drawers were like feathering of soft white down. Her slateblue skirts were kilted boldly about her waist and dovetailed behind her. Her bosom was a bird's, soft and slight, slight and soft as the breast of some dark-plumaged dove. But her long fair hair was girlish: and girlish, and touched with the wonder of mortal beauty, her face. (P.,p. 175)

Also echoed in this passage is the mute passion of Valentine communicating with the stricken Noirtier, a rich analogue of the unspoken and longed for passion that the Bird Girl communicates to Stephen:

Valentine, by means of her love, her patience, and her devotion, had learned to read in Noirtier's look all the varied feelings which were passing in his mind. To this dumb language, which was so unintelligible to others, she answered by throwing her whole soul into the expression of the countenance, and in this manner were the conversations sustained between the blooming girl and the helpless invalid, whose body could scarcely be called a living one, but who, nevertheless, possessed a fund of knowledge and penetration, united with a will as powerful as ever, although clogged by a body rendered utterly incapable of obeying its impulses. Valentine had solved this strange problem, and was able easily to understand his thoughts, and to convey her own in retum. (M.C.,p. 596)

Stephen has no female to respond to his deep need. Even the fictional Count has in his protection an exquisite and sensual Greek girl whom he rescued but with whom he has no sexual relations.

Franz wakes:

The vision had entirely fled, and as if the statues had been but shadows coming from their tomb during his dream they vanished at his waking … He found that he was in a grotto, went towards the opening, and through a kind of fanlight saw a blue sea and an azure sky. The air and water were shining in the beams of the morning sun … (M.C.,p. 289)

This is echoed in A Portrait. Stephen is prisoner in his vile body as Edmond is prisoner in the Château d'If; his soul longs to be free, to move into the sun. Edmond's grotto is the cave of art, alluring and beautiful, a temporary refuge from the life of the world.

Earlier in the novel the Abbé warns Edmond with a piece of Platonic recall or prevision:

I see it in the depths of the inner cavern. (M.C.,p. 166)

Physical escape is not enough, is only a beginning. There must also be some guarantee that the hero has achieved inner harmony and purpose, otherwise he is simply lugging his burdens about with him. Joyce's interpretation of the Abbé's proleptic vision is that art, too, is a prison, just as the world is a prison.

There is no doubt in Dumas's novel about the real actions performed by Edmond, whereas in A Portrait Stephen is trapped in the chronic inaction of Ireland where there seem to be no debates worth having and no heroic actions to be performed.

Yet Stephen, like Monte Cristo, becomes "the dark avenger" (P.,p. 64), the "Avenging Angel" (M.C.,p. 354). He has his revenge on society by outwardly complying with everything it wants and yet going his own way; by transcending the national obsessions with sport, alcohol, sex, history, religion, kinetic art, and politics. Where Monte Cristo's friends sip Lacryma Christi, Ireland is drowned in a lacrymose Catholicism. Stephen would like to see himself as an incognito, secret agent of revenge, an elusive, intellectual scourge, an enfant terrible. But he takes his revenge on the whole of his society in "silence, exile and cunning", and becomes the artist, the "priest of the eternal imagination, transmuting the daily bread of experience into the radiant body of everliving life" (P.,p. 225). His revenge on life is to turn life into literature. Only his schoolfellows seem to realize just how much posturing is involved, for the paradox remains that even though he plans to escape Ireland and revenge himself on the "priest-ridden race", he remains an unemployed Irish Catholic artist-priest. In this painful charade Stephen has become the cold, bloodless antithesis of a romantic hero:

" … do you think the count is really what he appears to be?" "What does he appear to be?"

"I really do look upon him as one of Byron's heroes whom Misery has marked with a fatal brand; some Manfred, some Lara, some Werther, one of those wrecks, as it were, of some ancient family, who, disinherited of their patrimony, have achieved one by force of their adventurous genius which has placed them above the laws of society … he is a being returned from the other world." (M.C.,pp. 421-22)

In his flight from reality, Stephen is comforted by the idea of a secret purpose, by the belief that he is "born to serve" the world as an outsider, an artist, an agent of Providence. The cost of this is, once again, anticipated by Dumas:

'Listen,—I have always heard tell of Providence, and yet I have never seen him, nor anything that resembles him, or which can make me believe that he exists. I wish to be Providence myself, for I feel that the most beautiful, noblest, most sublime thing in the world, is to recompense and punish.' Satan bowed his head and groaned. 'You mistake,' he said; 'Providence does exist, only you have never seen him, because the child of God is as invisible as the parent. You have seen nothing that resembles him, because he works by secret springs and moves by hidden ways. All I can do for you is to make you one of the agents of that Providence.' The bargain was concluded. "I may sacrifice my soul, but what matters it?" added Monte Cristo. "If the thing were to do again, I would again do it." (M.C.,p. 496)

Dumas catches here Monte Cristo's sense of ennui as the awareness sets in that his plans for revenge are actually working out faultlessly, and that it is no longer exciting to be an agent of Providence because he is acting from habit rather than from inspiration or desire.

In A Portrait, Stephen grows up assailed from both within and without. From without the attack is familial and social. The inner pressure on Stephen is desire, and he vacillates between natural desire and unnatural suppression of that desire through self-discipline and Loyola's spiritual exercises. Desire pushes him into life and into art, and art finally lifts him beyond desire. Stephen, Joyce is careful to point out, is not fulfilled. Like Noirtier, Stephen is struggling against a sensory handicap. Dumas might well be describing here a French equivalent of "Irish paralysis":

Noirtier was sitting in an arm-chair, which moved upon castors, in which he was wheeled into the room in the morning, and in the same way drawn out again at night. He was placed before a large glass, which reflected the whole apartment, and permitted him to see, without any attempt to move, which would have been impossible, all who entered the room, and everything which was going on around him. Noirtier, although almost as immovable and helpless as a corpse looked at the new-comers with a quick and intelligent expression, perceiving at once, by their ceremonious courtesy, that they were come on business of an unexpected and official character. Sight and hearing were the only senses remaining, and they appeared left, like two solitary sparks, to animate the miserable body which seemed fit for nothing but the grave; it was only, however, by means of one of these senses that he could reveal the thoughts and feelings which still worked in his mind, and the look by which he gave expression to this inner life resembled one of those distant lights which are sometimes seen in perspective by the benighted traveller whilst crossing some cheerless desert, apprising him that there is still one human being who, like himself, is keeping watch amidst the silence and obscurity of night. (M.C.,p. 595)

There are other parallels between Dumas's and Joyce's novels, but to conclude let me refer to one more of the main parallels. Dumas's novel is about a protracted revenge for an original sin. Monte Cristo, finally confronting Mercédès after so many years, claims:

"I, betrayed, sacrificed, buried, have risen from my tomb, by the Grace of God, to punish that man." (M.C.,p. 885)

But he weakens, will not revenge himself on Mercédès's son because he is still in love with Mercédès. His only course of action is to disappear sadly from the world, empty handed:

"Death is about to return to the tomb, the phantom to retire in darkness." (M.C.,p. 887)

Betrayal, sacrifice, death, resurrection, ascension—the life of Christ is also, ironically, a model for both novels. Stephen might well have used the renunciatory words of the saddened Count after he has refused to revenge himself on Mercédès's son:

"No, it is not existence, then, that I regret, but the ruin of my projects, so slowly carried out, so laboriously framed." (M.C.,p. 889)

Eileen is denied the young Stephen; the hooded girl on the steps of the tram eludes his grasp (P.,p. 71). Stephen cannot obtain the love of a woman. The artist is doomed to make the "proud gesture of refusal": "Pray, excuse me, madame, but I never eat Muscatel grapes."


1 A. Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo (first published in French in 1845) (London, 1968), p. 700. Further references to this work will be made in the text (M.C.).

2 In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (London, 1966). All references are to this edition and will be given in the text (P.).

3 As Mulligan calls him in Chapter 1 of Ulysses.

4 S. Gilbert, James Joyce's "Ulysses" (London, 1930).

5 New York, 1975.

6 Princeton, 1981.

7 New Haven, 1957.

8 Bloomington, 1956.

9 Boston, 1963.

10 Mrs Dante Riordan, who taught him geography.

11Ulysses (New York, 1934), p. 35.

A. Craig Bell (essay date 1988)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1025

SOURCE: Foreword to Fernande: The Story of a Courtesan, by Alexandre Dumas, translated by A. Craig Bell, Robert Hale, 1988, pp. 5-8.

[In the following essay, Bell provides a brief examination of the influences behind Femande, Dumas's story of an upper-class prostitute.]

To the reader who knows only the Dumas of the historical romances this naturalistic novel of contemporary Parisian society with a courtesan as its 'heroine' will come as a surprise, and he will almost certainly wonder as to the reasons for his writing it. A brief explanation, then.

In 1842 Dumas wrote his second1, and one of his best, historical romances, namely Le Chevalier d'Harmental (better known in England as The Conspirators) after which, surprisingly, between that year and 1844 (year of the ever-famous Les Trois Mousquetaires) he wrote no less than seven novels of which three are historical romances, and negligible,2 and four novels of contemporary life which are by no means negligible.3 Of these latter, Fernande is by far the greatest. Written in 1843 it was occasioned by the publishers of a work to be given the title of La Grande Ville and planned as a study of Paris and its society, who approached Dumas with a request for a contribution dealing with the shadier aspects of them. The result was the atonishing article Filles, Lorettes et Courtisanes, undertaken as he tells us in the preface, 'reluctantly, and only because no one else dared.'

In the course of his researches into this class of women he discovered that a surprisingly large number had been led to take up their sordid way of life after having been seduced while young and inexperienced by older men, and in many cases had come from respectable and even aristocratic families. This fact led him to consider making just such a woman the centrepiece of a novel, and from this idea he created Fernande—a woman who had come from an aristocratic family, had received a good education and showed talent in art and music. But seduced and betrayed by a comrade-in-arms of her dead father who had asked him to take his place and be her 'guardian', and left alone and unbefriended to live as best she could, in a kind of desperate revenge on herself and society for her degradation she makes herself a high-class courtesan. And this life of hectic factitious gaiety is led by her until she meets the young, rich, handsome Baron Maurice de Barthèle. Forestalling by a decade the similar situation and affair of Armand Duval and Marguerite Gautier in his son's La Dame aux Camélias (in the preface to his novel Dumas fils acknowledges his debt to his father's creation), Femande falls deeply in love with him as he with her although he is married, becomes his mistress and for his sake puts her former way of life behind her. With what result the novel narrates. In Dumas's own words:

Our story is not so much a narrative of events as a drama of analysis. It is a moral autopsy we are undertaking. And just as in the soundest body there is some organic lesion through which sooner or later death strikes, so the noblest hearts hide secret weaknesses which serve to remind us that man is a compound of noble sentiments and petty actions.

While the courtesan Fernande is the keystone of the narrative, the other characters are drawn with consummate skill—in particular Madame de Barthèle with her goodness of heart and unorganised mind; while the waspish Madame de Neuilly is delineated with the observation and acidity of Jane Austen or Trollope.

In fact, the novel is a revelation of a new facet of Dumas's genius; and that it is authentic Dumas and not by any other hand is manifest to anyone who has read his sixtyodd novels to any extent. Every page is stamped with his style. Furthermore there is a sure and certain imprint to be found in the discussion (typically French, this) over Madame de Barthele's luncheon table on the state of contemporary art, music and literature in the course of which, replying to Madame de Neuilly's horror at her (Femande's) confessed admiration of Shakespeare: 'That barbarian,' Femande replies, 'That barbarian is the being who has created the most after God,' and goes on to tell her that all women should have a cult of gratitude to him for his creation of the most admirable types of their sex in Desdemona, Miranda and Ophelia.

Dumas was proud of his Shakespearian dictum, which became famous, and which he was to repeat in his Mes Mémoires (1852-55). To savour to the full the allusion and atmosphere the reader should know that until the visit to Paris in 1827 of the English Shakespearean company under Kemble, in the minds of the French theatre-minded public and critics the Bard was indeed regarded as the 'barbarian' of Voltaire. But to the young militant Romantics Shakespeare completed a literary revolution begun by Scott and Byron. Two more than the rest were moved and inspired by the English players' performances: one was Alexandre Dumas, the other Hector Berlioz. The latter was so far carried away and so desperately in love with the Irish actress Henrietta Smithson, that he was said to have declared, 'I will marry Juliet and write my greatest symphony on the play!'4 Dumas wrote differently but equally ecstati cally: 'Imagine a man blind from birth suddenly receiving the gift of sight and discovering a whole world of which he had no idea existed … I realised that Shakespeare's works contained as much variety as the works of all the other playwrights combined, and recognised that next to the Creator himself, he had created more than any other being. … '

Later he was quoted as saying, 'I owe every Englishman a debt of gratitude for Scott, Byron and Shakespeare.' English readers should surely be grateful to the French writer for those words.


1 His first was Acté, set in the time of Nero.

2 Viz. Sylvandire, Ascanio and Cécile.

3 Viz. Georges, Amaury, Gabriel Lambert and Fernande.

4 Five years later, in fact, Harriet was married to Berlioz.

Renee Winegarten (essay date 1991)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5090

SOURCE: "Alexandre Dumas: Fact and Fiction," in New Criterion, Vol. 9, No. 9, May, 1991, pp. 32-9.

[In the following essay, Winegarten assesses Dumas's career and writings from a late-twentieth-century perspective, taking into account the changing standards in the evaluation of the author's work.]

If reading is a vice that goes unpunished, as the poet has it, then Alexandre Dumas père (1802-1870) offers one of the principal means of access to that form of depravity for devotees too numerous to mention. Throughout the world, how many have tasted for the first time the refined pleasures, the ecstasies and thrills of reading, in The Three Musketeers and its sequels, or The Count of Monte-Cristo? How many have ventured to own that it was Dumas senior who set their feet on the primrose path, not just of dalliance, but of extremely serious liaisons with other novelists in the loftiest realms of literature? André Malraux, visiting Cayenne in his role as minister of culture, remembered a novel he had read as a small boy, Dumas's Georges, the adventures of a half-French mulatto with a will of steel who led a revolt against the British in the Caribbean. Malraux remarked elsewhere that he had passed when young from The Three Musketeers to Balzac, implying a kind of progress to higher things.

There, the word "judgment" is out. Malraux was far from alone in suggesting that Dumas was not a figure of the first order. It has long been customary to look askance at that prodigiously prolific writer: his early historical importance as a dramatist is readily admitted in manuals of literature, but his novels do not usually form part of the syllabus like those of Merim6e, Stendhal, or Balzac. All the same, M6rimee (who—like Dumas—also wrote historical fiction) said that he admired Dumas more than Sir Walter Scott, the doyen of historical novelists. Certainly, Dumas is greater fun: he does not linger over description or preachment, and he is very rarely tedious.

Can Dumas be mentioned in the same breath with Balzac (who started out by writing lurid adventure stories but moved on afterwards)? Certainly, Dumas did not think of himself as an "artist," sacrificing life to perfection in art in the manner of Flaubert. On the contrary, his contemporaries saw him as an elemental force, and he was intent on living life to the full. Claude Schopp, the noted authority on Dumas, rightly subtitles his biography of a man who was large in every sense, "the genius of life."1 As for Dumas—surprising as it must seem nowadays— he considered himself to be a disciple of "the realist school" of Aeschylus and Shakespeare. He called himself a humanist and a popularizing novelist. "I am movement and life," he declared. Verve and vigor were certainly among his supreme qualities.

There may be a change in Dumas's post-humous fate, possibly because greater consideration is now being given to popular aspects of writing or culture in general, if not always with sensible results. Moreover, pressure is being exerted to eliminate so-called elitism or discrimination when discussing all forms of creativity. Perhaps certain elements in Dumas's work carry a charge that is in accord with current modes and moods, and especially with a taste for melodrama. (Has that taste ever been totally eliminated? Even great works, especially in the realm of opera, contain more than a modicum of melodrama.) It would appear that Dumas is actually enjoying a revival of sorts. In any case, he has always occupied a secret alcove in the hearts of lovers of pure narrative and narrative skills, and admirers of generosity of spirit.

Not so long ago, Dumas's play Antony (1831), which was a huge success in its own day, would have seemed unactable on the modern stage. Yet it was presented (in translation) in the spring of 1990 at the famous Citizens' Theatre, Glasgow, and was found to be worth while and highly enjoyable. It was, however, surely a serious mistake to move the setting from the 1830s to the 1880s. The current mania of stage directors for moving dramas and operas out of their historical context is often a token of laziness, conceit, or condescension toward the public. Antony encapsulates the spirit of the early 1830s. The reason why the play made so deep an impression in 1831 was because it depicted the passionate relationship between a man and a woman "realistically," that is, in contemporary speech, dress, and manners, without classical decorum or historical remoteness. The play's success also owed a great deal, as Dumas himself generously owned, to the talents of Marie Dorval and Pierre Bocage, who displayed a "natural" or unrhetorical style of acting that took Paris by storm and made their reputation as Romantic actors par excellence.

Antony, the doomed young Byronic hero or anti-hero, is illegitimate, and can discover nothing about his parentage. Thus, although he is superior in every way to the gilded youth of the age, he can have no place in good society. He rebels and rails against its conventions and prejudices. The damage done to his personality is manifest. What might be called the existential anguish caused by his non-status is exacerbated by his despair at the social impossibility of his union with Adèle, the woman he loves, who has been obliged to suppress her passion for him in a loveless marriage to the respectable Colonel d'Hervey.

The lovers meet again after the passage of years: Adèle now has a child; she reluctantly repulses Antony, and takes flight. At an inn on her route, whither he has pursued her, he takes her by force in a jealous frenzy. Their secret liaison becomes known in society, where only casual affairs (as distinct from grand passions) are commonplace. When the absent husband is at the door, Antony stabs Adèle as she herself wishes, in order to preserve her reputation. "She resisted me, I killed her!" cries Antony, throwing his dagger at the Colonel's feet. Curtain. Antony knows that he will be executed for her murder. The new theme of 1831 was middle-class adultery, regarded as an extremely serious matter, because it affected money and inheritance. Dumas was quite as much interested in money, or rather wealth, as Balzac, whom he regarded as his rival.

On the face of it, there would seem to be little in Antony to occupy a modern audience. The play was, as Dumas said, "a love scene in five acts." Nonetheless, Antony's revolt against social prejudice and society in general, his race to sexual gratification, the conflict in Adèle between being true to her passion and obedience to ideas of family, convention, and convenience—these have not altogether lost their force, as the welcome accorded to the Glasgow production made plain. Nor has Dumas's dramatic urgency, as he hurtles his prose drama along, despite the ill-timed tirade on the aim of modem theater being to reveal the human heart in all its nakedness.

When Dumas wrote the play he was in the throes of his passion for the writer Mélanie Waldor (married to a military man by whom she had a daughter). He gave his own retrospective sexual jealousy to Antony. All this, together with Dumas's curious ancestry (about which more will have to be said), made him declare that he was Antony minus the murder, as Mélanie was Adèle minus the flight. In a poem which he said was written two years before the play, and which he appended to it as a preface, Dumas cried, "Woe, woe to me, cast by heaven into this world a stranger to its laws!" Adèle, too, alludes to Antony as one who seemed a "stranger" or outsider in the world. This was over a hundred years before Camus's novel L'Etranger. The wild tones that can be heard in the poem and the play are to be found in Dumas's frenzied letters to Mélanie Waldor. What now often seems to be role-playing or excess was actually the way people liked to address each other in that era.

At one remove, another play of Dumas's has been holding the boards recently in Paris and London. This is Kean, ou désordre et génie (1836), in the version made in 1953 by Jean-Paul Sartre at the request of the late Pierre Brasseur. A bravura performer, Brasseur had become internationally famous for his portrayal of the great Romantic actor Frédéric Lemaître in everybody's favorite French film, Les Enfants du paradis. Originally, Lemaître himself had taken a version of Kean by two hack writers to show to Dumas, who put life into it and transformed it into a striking vehicle for the noted thespian. As for Sartre, he was partial to melodrama and sought to revive it. He said he greatly loved Dumas, judging him to be an excellent novelist and the author of some very good plays.

Sartre kept to Dumas's outline and retained many of his predecessor's potent lines, while bringing to the subject his own existentialist preoccupations. In Dumas, Kean is the dissipated English actor of genius (who had died only a few years before), the social outcast in revolt against society, and the abuser of privilege in the Romantic manner. In Sartre's version the great actor turns into the existential "bastard," or, as Sartre expressed it, "this man who becomes an actor to elude his resentment against society, and who carries with him a kind of revolutionary force." In Paris in 1987 the role was taken with great acclaim by the film star Jean-Paul Belmondo, like Brasseur a bravura performer, in a lavish production. In London in 1990, in translation, it was again a huge popular success as played by Derek Jacobi, a sensitive and versatile actor though not by nature a bravura one. Sartre's existentialist game with the actor's lack of a sense of identity, when united with Dumas's exhilarating melodramatic plot, can prove a mixture difficult to resist in the theater.

Dumas had actually seen Kean himself, the great Shakespearian, perform inParis; he also admired Kemble and Macready. Ever since, as a youth of seventeen, Dumas had attended a provincial performance of Hamlet in the pallid adaptation by Jean-François Ducis, he worshiped Shakespeare and was mad about the theater. He made his name as a dramatist with historical plays, including Henri III et sa cour (1829), with its reminiscences of Shakespeare, Schiller, and Sir Walter Scott, a play that heralded the triumph of the French Romantic movement before its acknowledged dramatic advent with Victor Hugo's Hernani.

It was only afterwards that Dumas turned to writing novels, usually with the aid of a succession of collaborators, who included the helpful Auguste Macquet (or Augustus Mac Keat, as he liked to be known) and even the poet Gérard de Nerval. The wits used to refer to the enterprise as if it were a commercial firm, the House of Dumas and Company. Both The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte-Cristo, for instance, were the work of Dumas and Macquet, though it would be difficult to see in them the presence of different hands—always supposing that the breathless reader could manage to stop to look for them. The two writers were often to be found working twelve hours a day, with at least two novels on the stocks at the same time. Indeed, when Dumas stood as a candidate in the elections of 1848, he put himself forward as "a worker," listing the sizable number of his works in justification of the title. According to him, these amounted to four hundred volumes and thirty-five dramas in twenty years. However, the electors decided not to revise their own more common notion of what constituted a proletarian and did not adopt him.

Not content with his huge output in fiction, Dumas often turned his novels into plays. It was common practice: George Sand took the same course (although, as Dumas thought, to less effect). Dumas employed collaborators and regurgitated his works in different genres because he needed money—for his mother, his wife, his children, his friends, all and sundry, including the extremely long line of his mistresses—though "line" inaccurately suggests succession rather than simultaneity. These last included numerous actresses, the opera singer Caroline Ungher (famous as Bellini's Norma and Donizetti's Parisina) and, in his declining years, the American Jewish equestrian performer Adah Isaacs Menken. Temperamentally, Dumas enjoyed the siege, but he was inclined to grow bored shortly after the surrender.

He lived extravagantly when he had money, ruining himself in building a château or mansion in various styles, including Gothic, Renaissance, and Moorish, with an English garden. He called it Monte-Cristo. It had a harem for his mistresses, and a menagerie of over two hundred animals. No fewer than six hundred friends were invited to the housewarming in July 1848, and there was always open house for numerous parasites. Dumas was wildly generous, and often in debt. "I have never refused money to anyone except to my creditors," he said once. It was the lordly attitude he gave to his Kean. The Count of Monte-Cristo himself, with his fabulous inexhaustible wealth and the immense power it gives him, is the wish-fulfillment of a writer who dreamed of riches. Dumas made money enough but it slipped through his fingers.

The list of Dumas's works is daunting. It seems unlikely that anyone could have read them all. Here are no slim volumes in the refined manner of a Jane Austen, but novels each consisting of eight or ten tomes. Dumas belongs with those who produced in such quantity that quality and reputation inevitably suffer. Yet Baudelaire (critic as well as poet), while regarding Dumas's facility or "fearful dysentery" with disfavor, could not refrain from lauding the novelist's prodigious imagination: "this man … seems to represent universal vitality," he wrote. The sheer energy involved is breathtaking. Dumas lived in an age when writers were "geniuses," larger than life, incredibly productive and energetic (Victor Hugo, Balzac, George Sand).

Besides being a playwright and novelist, Dumas was one of the founders of modern journalism, at a time when the cheap popular press was being launched in France. He wrote about anything and everything: drama criticism (often padded out with lengthy quotations), reminiscences (occasionally improved by invention), lively accounts of his travels (he would be an indefatigable traveler—to Italy, Germany, England, Spain, Russia, North Africa, and elsewhere). Dumas even wrote on gastronomy and fashion. He founded papers of his own like the charmingly named Le Mousquetaire, Le d'Artagnan, Le Monte-Cristo, none of which enjoyed a long life. Never one to hide his light under a bushel, Dumas also claimed to have invented the roman-feuilleton, the novel published in the popular press in installments. If he did not invent it, he was certainly one of its most admired and sought-after practitioners. His fiction has survived much more readily than that of Eugène Sue, the once popular author of The Mysteries of Paris and The Wandering Jew.

His ambitions were vast—quite as vast as those of Balzac, who aimed to capture an entire society in all its aspects in a series of novels. "My first wish has no limit," said Dumas. "My first aspiration is always for the impossible." (He once contemplated writing a novel that began with Jesus and ended with the last man!) In effect, what he sought to do was to re-create the whole of French history and make it live in drama and fiction. Many around the world have acquired their first notions of French history from Dumas, just as they have gained their idea of American history from the cinema.

In the early nineteenth century, historical inquiry was seen as resolutely modern. Dumas might treat documents or memoirs in a cavalier fashion, but they provided the starting point for imaginative re-creation and inventiveness. From the fourteenth century he took the subject of what is perhaps his most famous play, La Tour de Nesle (1832), about the secret scandalous goings-on of Queen Marguerite de Bourgogne. Concealed under a mask, she makes a habit of having each young lover murdered after a single night of pleasure and the body thrown in the Seine. It is a satisfyingly lurid melodrama of hidden and mistaken identities, passion, power, intrigue, and incest. The French cinema in its heyday could hardly miss an opportunity to film such a subject.

Dumas contributed to the revival of interest in the late sixteenth century with his novels about the last Valois kings and the Wars of Religion. He also stimulated curiosity about the early seventeenth century—an era with a romantic tinge of its own. Men and women were thought to live in those days a more energetic and exciting kind of life than was experienced in a bourgeois industrial era like his. It is difficult now to see the age of Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu, or the revolt of the nobles known as the Fronde, without something of Dumas coloring one's view.

For many, the period is forever associated with the three (or four) musketeers who fight in unquenchable friendship, all for one and one for all, in the struggle to outwit the dangerously clever Milady. Les Trois Mousquetaires (1844), based partly on the apocryphal memoirs of d'Artagnan, the impoverished Gascon who became Captain of the King's Guard, was surely in Edmond Rostand's mind when he charted the exploits of Cyrano, the (honorary) Gascon scholar-poet-dramatist, and the Gascon cadets, in Cyrano de Bergerac (1897). The fact that both d'Artagnan and Cyrano once lived and breathed cannot altogether remove the impression that they are more vivid on the page or the stage than they are in history.

Then there was an epoch-making event much closer to Dumas's own period: the Revolution of 1789. He must have heard a good deal about it from those who lived through the upheaval. His own father had risen rapidly from the ranks to become a general in the revolutionary armies. The Revolution dominated Dumas's imagination as a writer, just as it did the minds of many of his contemporaries, all seeking to grasp the causes and the significance of such a blood-stained phenomenon, to explain and sometimes even to justify its grislier manifestations. In 1845-46 Dumas published a strange novel, Le Chevalier de Maison-Rouge, based on the memoirs of the so-called Marquis de Rougeville, who had joined a secret society that made several vain attempts to rescue the imprisoned Queen Marie-Antoinette.

Some of the seemingly most far-fetched episodes in this novel had their models in actuality. For instance, the woman protagonist who offers to change clothes with the Queen, in order to facilitate her escape, recalls the generosity of an English lady who asked to take the Queen's place. A similar offer was made to the imprisoned Mme Roland who, like the Queen she hated, declined to accept the sacrifice. In the novel, the Chevalier de Maison-Rouge stabs himself under the guillotine at the moment when the Queen is executed, in a scene typical of frenetic Romantic excess and horror—and yet a man was actually found still alive under the scaffold when the Queen was guillotined. Like many of his contemporaries, Dumas was haunted by the guillotine and its victims. After this book he wrote a cycle of novels on the pre-revolutionary and revolutionary period: Joseph Balsamo, Le Collier de la Reine, Ange Pitou, La Comtesse de Charny, in an attempt to chart the decline and fall of the French monarchy. This cycle has recently been reprinted, doubtless to coincide with the bicentenary of the Revolution. Later in life, Dumas would return to the theme of the Revolution and its consequences.

Although the novelist had no great sympathy for the Bourbon dynasty, he did feel deeply for prisoners whatever their allegiance—not only the unfortunate Queen Marie-Antoinette, but also the earlier "Man in the Iron Mask" (supposedly the twin brother of Louis XIV) who spent a lifetime in prison. Most famously, perhaps, there is his own hero, the long-suffering Edmond Dantès, confined for years in the dungeons of the château d'If at Marseilles. Dantès's cruel fate and his later role as relentless avenger were drawn from an actual case of betrayal and wrongful imprisonment found in the police archives. Like the Count of Monte-Cristo, the original victim was a master of impenetrable disguise. He did not share with his fictional counterpart, though, the rare gift to be at home in many different countries and languages.

This fellow feeling with prisoners probably derived from the fact that the novelist's father, General Dumas, had been imprisoned in Naples under the Bourbons who ruled the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. It happened when he was returning from Napoleon Bonaparte's Egyptian campaign, and he never fully recovered from the sickness he contracted in the Neapolitan prison. Indeed, he died in 1806 when Dumas was not yet four years old. In Egypt, General Dumas had made the grave mistake of expressing a different view from that of General Bonaparte, who saw to it that he was sent into retirement and deprived of the pension due to him.

While Dumas spoke of Napoleon as his father's "murderer," he could not help admiring the military genius who promoted French gloire. When, after Napoleon's downfall in 1815, the Bonapartists (in opposition under the Bourbon Restoration) adopted the Emperor's belated conversion to "liberalism," Dumas could be found among their number. Later, he would become a friend of Prince Napoleon (son of the Emperor's brother, Jérôme, former King of Westphalia), and would visit the island of Monte-Cristo with him. There is no way of following the political intricacies and intrigues that led to Edmond Danteès's long and terrible incarceration without some acquaintance with the effect of the rapidly changing regimes of the years 1814-15, or with the cynical and unscrupulous characters who (like Edmond's enemies) knew how to profit by those changes to rise to positions of power and wealth. Unjust imprisonment is not a theme that has become outdated.

Dumas's ancestry was more likely to make him another Antony or outsider than a figure of established society. He and Alexander Pushkin were (as far as I know) the only heirs of Byron to have Africans among their forebears. The mighty Russian creator of Eugene Onegin was at once proud of his African great-grandfather and unhappy at what he called his own "negroid ugliness." Dumas was sometimes teased in a thoughtless manner about his touch of the tarbrush (as it used to be called); sometimes he met with real animosity. One of Dumas's enemies, no doubt jealous of his popular success, wrote that his collaborators worked like "Negro laborers under the whip of a mulatto." There was a play on words here, for the word "nègres" is used in French to mean not only blacks but literary assistants. When the electors of 1848 made it clear that they did not want a "Negro," Dumas thought of standing as a candidate for election in the Antilles. The writer's long-dead grandmother, Cessette Dumas, had been a black slave of Saint-Domingue (Haiti), at that time in part a French colony. She bore several illegitimate children to Colonel Antoine-Alexandre Davy de La Pailleterie, a Norman reprobate of noble but modest rank with the courtesy title of Marquis, who had gone to the colony to seek his fortune.

Three of the children were sold into slavery to help finance the father's return to France with his son, Thomas-Alexandre, whom he acknowledged. With the Revolution and careers open to talent, Thomas-Alexandre enlisted under his mother's name of Dumas in the army of the Republic, distinguished himself by performing singular feats of strength and heroic valor, and was rapidly promoted. He was able to marry the daughter of the former majordomo to the Ducs d'Orléans, first princes of the blood royal, who possessed a chateau at Villers-Cotterets, the town where the future writer was born. It was under the protection of the Duc d'Orleans (later King Louis-Philippe) and in his offices in the handsome Palais-Royal that the young Dumas would begin his career in Paris as a copy clerk.

Notwithstanding his friendship with the ill-fated Duc de Chartres (elder son of the Duc d'Orléans), who was to die in a tragic accident, Dumas did not prove particularly loyal to the Orléans house, the younger branch of the Bourbon dynasty. When the Revolution of July 1830 broke out, sealing the fate of the elder branch, Dumas dashed off to Soissons, a town close to his birthplace, to obtain powder for the insurgents. He was not at all pleased when Louis-Philippe ascended the throne. As he wrote in his memoirs (which, despite numerous volumes, only reach to February 1833), the young men of the people who made the Revolution of 1830, that "ardent youth of the heroic proletariat," as he called them, are soon cast aside, and "the parasites of power" rise at their expense to position and command. There was never any doubt where his sympathies lay.

During the Revolution of 1848, Dumas was to be found in the streets, marching with the students and workers. Although in the beginning he supported Louis Napoleon (the first Emperor's putative nephew), Dumas was opposed to his presidency. The coup d'état of December 2, 1851, which set the scene for the Second Empire a year later, led to his departure for Brussels. However, he was not there as a political exile like Victor Hugo and so many others (with whom he sympathized), but rather because he was bankrupt. The construction and furnishing of his mansion, together with his lavish entertaining there, had largely contributed to his financial plight. He would be prosecuted in 1855 for public expressions of sympathy with the political exiles, and he visited Victor Hugo on his "rock" in Guernsey (in 1857)—a gesture of friendship much appreciated by the poet in exile.

By 1860, after obtaining a large advance for the publication of his complete works, Dumas was again in funds. He acquired a schooner and set sail for Sicily to join Garibaldi and the Thousand, who by then had taken Palermo. (The writer had encountered the popular liberator before, in Turin.) Dumas offered to obtain arms for Garibaldi who, having captured Naples, made him a freeman of the city where his father had once been incarcerated. In addition, the grateful Garibaldi appointed Dumas director of the Naples museums. The tireless novelist founded a paper, L 'Independente; he also published a French version of Garibaldi's memoirs, and an account of the expedition of the Thousand. G. M. Trevelyan, the distinguished historian of the Sicilian campaign, observed that this account was "not inaccurate on the whole." Trevelyan also thought that the value of Dumas's edition of Garibaldi's memoirs as a historical document was "underrated."

As a result of his exploits and services for Garibaldi, Dumas was invited to join an insurrection in Albania, and was offered the rank of general, but he declined. He was by then over sixty. Those malicious observers, the brothers Goncourt, meeting him some years later, remarked on his marvelous talent as a raconteur. They said that he had an "enormous ego, as large as himself but, they added, he was "overflowing with kindliness and sparkling with wit."

It is no wonder that Dumas is a name to conjure with among Italian writers. In Umberto Eco's recent novel, Foucault's Pendulum, for instance, the three friends, Casaubon, Belbo, and Diotallevi, have something of the three musketeers about them, with (it has been suggested) the computer named Abulafia making a fourth. In his inexhaustible, learned, and often hilarious variations on the vast theme of secret societies, Eco does not fail to mention Dumas's novel Le Collier de la Reine, echoing its author's view that the famous scandal over Queen Marie-Antoinette's necklace was prompted by a masonic plot to discredit the monarchy.

At the head of Eco's Chapter 97 is an epigraph from Dumas's novel Joseph Balsamo. Balsamo was a doctor and charlatan known as the Count of Cagliostro, born in Palermo in 1743, devotee of occultism and freemasonry, and exiled for his part in the scandal over the Queen's necklace. Readers will find in that chapter a discussion about the relative merits of the popular serial novel or roman-feuilleton and high art. This debate echoes current critical preoccupations. Where the roman-feuilleton "seems to speak in jest, basically it makes us see the world as it is, or at least as it will be. Women are much more like Milady than Clélia Conti," suggests Belbo. (The French translation names the idealized passionate Italian heroine of Stendhal's La Chartreuse de Parme, whereas the English version offers Dickens's sentimental Little Nell, who belongs to a different tradition entirely.)

How seriously are we meant to take Belbo's defense of the roman-feuilleton of Eugène Sue and Alexandre Dumas? What credence should be given to his suggestion (after Dumas himself) that the novel of adventure and romance is fundamentally "realistic," or potentially so, if that is what he means? Are we supposed to agree to his proposition that the vengeful, resourceful, sexually independent Milady, who nearly outwits d'Artagnan (ever ready to fall "in love" at the sight of an attractive woman), is a more normal or recognizable representative of womanhood than a heroine like Clélia? Is Umberto Eco playing with current feminist criteria here?

There follows Belbo's satirical pastiche of Eugène Sue (with his belief in the malign powers of the Jesuits) and of Dumas and the historical adventure novel, with allusions to Joseph Balsamo/Cagliostro and to Jeanne de La Motte, who was branded for her part in the scandal of the royal necklace. All this is doubtless written tongue-in-cheek, or half in jest, as part of an intellectual game, designed—like the rest of the book—to stimulate the reader's wits, blur the frontiers of fact and fiction in the current style, and confound us all with the author's cleverness. Nonetheless, it may indicate a line that could lead to a certain revaluation of Dumas's writings, should anyone venture to pursue it, or believe it worthwhile to do so.

For the fact remains: Dumas was loved, and is still loved in a way that contemporaries of his like Vigny or Mérimée or Sue are not. He wanted to give pleasure and he succeeded. Imaginative and narrative skills like his are not to be despised. Besides, we are not obliged to stay on the heights all the time.


1Alexandre Dumas: Genius of Life, by Claude Schopp, translated from the French by A. J. Koch; Franklin Watts, 506 pages.

Adrian Kiernander (essay date 1996)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6599

SOURCE: "Paris Was Always Burning: (Drag) Queens and Kings in Two Early Plays by Alexandre Dumas pére, " in Essays in Theatre, Vol. 14, No. 2, May, 1996, pp. 158-73.

[In the following essay, Kiernander explores aspects of androgyny and sexual ambiguity in the plays Christine and Henri III et sa cour.]

It is apt that the writings of Alexandre Dumas père, which deal so frequently with overwhelming obsession, should have provoked similar extraordinary obsessions in his readers. The result of one such obsession is a vast repository of Dumas material, the book collection alone consisting of over 2,500 titles (many of them multi-volume works), in the Auckland City Library, collected in the first half of this century by a passionate New Zealand bibliophile Frank Wild Reed. Reed corresponded avidly with similar Dumas fanatics around the world, and his own substantial collection was augmented by the legacy of one of his older co-devotees, R. S. Garnett, an Englishman who bequeathed to Reed his even larger collection which he had in part acquired from the French collector Glinel, who in turn had acquired material, including unpublished manuscripts, from the estate of Dumas.'

Included in the collection are four generally unknown essays by Dumas which form part of a volume called Les Étoiles du monde, dealing with the "great" women of history, each chapter accompanied by an engraving of its subject. The four chapters contributed by Dumas have a common theme of sexual perversity, dealing with the L/lesbian poet Sappho, the Roman Lucrece, Cleopatra, and the transvestite Joan of Arc—it was in fact on a charge of transvestism that Joan was burned. Almost perversely, the engraving accompanying the essay on Joan, rather than depicting her as a female-to-male cross dresser, shows her looking as feminine as possible under the circumstances, wearing a kind of cast-iron crinoline. There seems to be a marked desire here to avoid the question of transvestism.

On the other hand, in the section dealing with Sappho, Dumas's essay is completely open and apparently nonjudgemental about Sappho's poetry and biography indicating a sexual attraction to other women, and there is nothing in the accompanying engraving which seems pejorative—in fact she looks strikingly similar to the depiction of the French national hero Joan, and the same model may have been used for both images. During the course of the essay Dumas cites standard French translations of Sappho's major surviving poem, and then offers his own version on the grounds that the others are "insufficiently lesbian."

It is not clear whether Dumas himself selected these subjects to write about or whether they were assigned to him by the editors of the volume, but their existence throws an interesting light on Dumas's first two serious plays to be staged under his own name, Henri III et sa cour and Christine, both historical dramas based on the lives of monarchs, Henry III of France and Queen Christina of Sweden. Both of these figures were popularly reputed to have orientations towards lovers of the same sex, and both had (and still have) the reputation of being habitual transvestites.

What was there in these two that attracted the young Alexandre Dumas? And is it important? Much recent queer theory would cast doubt on the value of that kind of biographical inquiry which attempts to discover homosexual aspects of the lives of the historical and famous, and I resist the temptation to speculate about the biography of a writer whose professional nickname, pére, attests to his heterosexual productivity—except to note that Alexandre Dumas fils was born out of wedlock, which is only one of many instances of a defiantly and prodigiously unorthodox uncontrollability in the author's sexual history—exuberantly non-monogamous and largely non-uxorious (though, according to legend, highly procreative)—which might be read as having some proto-queer features, if queer is in part characterised by a lack of conventional control and restraint and an indulgence in (particularly sexual) fantasy.

Instead I would like to look at some queer features of the two transvestite scripts as texts and to speculate on possible approaches to putting Henri III, the more theatrically promising of the two from this point of view, onto the stage as queer theatre. Christine is particularly interesting as a parallel example from the same period of a script that deals with another monarch notorious for transvestism; however it is a weaker script which would be less likely to have theatrical potential at the end of the twentieth century, and so will be given slighter attention in this paper. My reasons for choosing queer theory include the fact that this is the only current theoretical methodology which focuses on the intersections and interferences between the diversionary uncontrollability of sexual fantasy/desire and the controlling teleology of social and political power.

Some versions of queer theory have sought to rethink and reject the traditional trope of the marginalisation of gay and lesbian people;2 in addition there has been a strategic counter-hegemonic move to focus on the pervasiveness of a broadly defined queerness in human society. In a provocative gesture which has been frequently quoted, Michael Warner has pointed out that sexuality is shaped by representations and claims that "fantasy and other kinds of representation are inherently uncontrollable, queer by nature. This focus on messy representation allows queer theory, like nonacademic queer activism, to be both antiassimilationist and antiseparatist: you can't eliminate queerness, says queer theory, or screen it out. It's everywhere. There's no place to hide, hetero-scum!" (Warner 19) The aspects of queer theory which are most important for the purposes of this paper are the recognition of the pervasive nature of queerness, the celebration of its festive resistance to control, by self or other, which links it with Bakhtinian theories of the carnivalesque, and its opposition to traditionalist discourses which, at the extreme, valorise sex only when it is heterosexual, monogamous, post- and intramarital, procreative, and hierarchical.

The chronology of the writing and production of the two scripts is somewhat confused and needs brief explanation. A version of Christine was written first but, although it was initially accepted for performance at the Théâtre Français, its staging was postponed. Then Dumas's huge success with the subsequent Henri III, which was the first Romantic drama to be staged at the Théâtre Français, beating Hugo's now more famous Hernani by a full year, prompted him to revise and tighten Christine, which was subsequently performed at the Odéon. In both scripts the ambivalently depicted personalities and practices of the homosexual/transvestite monarchs lead to a crisis of patriarchal authority, identity, and representation in the societies they rule, perhaps inevitably precipitated when the position of Big Daddy, the validating symbol of traditional patriarchal authority (see Donkin and Clement), is occupied by the figure of a capricious woman or a sodomitical drag queen.

The problematising of patriarchy in these scripts fits neatly with the patterns of monarchical crisis in the late 1820s when Dumas wrote them, a period when a shaky, ersatz monarchy had been reimposed on the rubble of the Revolution and the Empire. The Restoration was marked by a re-imposition of patriarchal social values which had been partially thrown off during the period of the revolution; liberalised laws introduced in the early 1790s concerning divorce and homosexuality, which had been gradually weakened under Napoleon, were overturned as soon as Louis XVIII acceded to the throne (Copley 24).

In what looks like evidence of a widespread anxiety about the status of patriarchal values, the subject of the first-written play was common currency, one of three dramatisations of the life of Queen Christina to be staged in Paris almost simultaneously; Dumas claimed that he was spurred to write his drama when he was impressed, at the Paris salon, by a depiction by a woman sculptor of an incident from the life of the Swedish queen: the assassination, at Christina's orders, of her Italian lover Monaldeschi. This murder of a man at the instigation of a woman seems to have been the most interesting feature of the Christina legend in Paris in the 1820s. Within a year of the production of Dumas's two plays came the 1830 uprising which toppled the wouldbe autocrat Charles X. For a few days France was once again moving towards being a republic (partly aided by a typically histrionic exploit by Dumas himself) only to compromise at the last minute with the coronation of Louis-Philippe, the Citizen King.

Contemporary recollections of the first performance of Henri III reinforce that the play was perceived by some as an anti-patriarchal gesture: there were stories that the younger members of the audience performed a noisy dance around the theatre's bust of Racine (Dumas himself commented wryly on this legend, pointing out that it is impossible because the bust of Racine is set into a wall) chanting "Racine vanquished! Voltaire vanquished!" (The French word "enfonce " is interesting in this context, being derived from a verb meaning "to pierce" or "to penetrate.") The fathers of French theatre, at least, were clearly perceived as being under attack by the play.3 But like its ambivalent protagonist, the play's unsettling politics and its slippery relation to contemporary events are neatly illustrated by the reactions of the critics, one Royalist newspaper finding the play supportive of the monarchy, others calling it "a flagrant conspiracy against the throne and the altar" and lamenting that "Royalty and religion are delivered up to the beasts of the amphitheatre" (Bassan and Chevalley 34).

Dumas himself was similarly ambivalent. By a coincidence he was a junior clerk in the service of the Duke of Orleans at the time and audaciously had pressured his employer, who would soon become King LouisPhilippe, into attending the opening performance of Henri III. This was a potentially dangerous gesture, as the play was widely interpreted as an allegory of the French political situation before the 1830 revolution, with Henri taken to represent Charles X and Orleans identified with Henri's lethal opponent de Guise. Even King Charles read the play in this way and interrogated Orleans on the subject.4 But almost immediately after Orleans became Louis-Philippe, Dumas, instead of trying to benefit from a relatively close relationship with the new monarch, ostentatiously resigned from his employment. He later re-established a close relationship with members of the royal family but remained a republican, and after the revolution of 1848 stood unsuccessfully for the National Assembly, quoting from his writings from 1831 onward as evidence of his republicanism and drawing a clear link between his work as a writer and as a politician. But his nuanced attitude, distinguishing finely between institutions and persons, is summed up in a slogan which he launches in his own voice: "Death to the monarchy! and God save the King!" ("A ses concitoyens" 4).

There is no doubt that official attitudes, even as late as the reign of Napoleon III, regarded some of his work as subversive of monarchy and authority. A censorship report banning revivals of La Tour de Nesle draws attention to the abasement of royal persons in other plays and questions how to allow a play "whose main character is a Queen of France … who, after every night's debauch, has the body of the lover to whom she has given herself thrown into the Seine." Calling it a tissue of crimes and monstrosities, the report demands that it be read in the light of "respect for crowned heads and the impression that such scenes must leave in the mind of the masses" (La Censure 78; my translation).

Aspects of the life of Queen Christina are relatively well known to us from the film with Greta Garbo, and though the film makes no reference to lesbianism, it does famously focus on Christina's penchant for dressing as a man. In the play, which has a loose, episodic structure extending over several years and ranging widely across Europe, Christine plays havoc with the certitudes and stability of authority not only by being a woman, but by repeatedly relinquishing and then reclaiming the Swedish throne. Early in the play she abdicates so casually as to effectively mock and devalue the importance of political power.

Henri de Valois is less well known in the twentieth-century anglophone world, so some facts about his bizarre history, a combination of Richard III and Ubu Roi, enrich a reading of the script. The third son of Henri II and Catherine de Medici, he had two older brothers between him and the French crown, so it probably made sense for him to accept the kingdom of Poland when it was offered, even though his father and his eldest brother, François II, had both already died and his brother Charles IX was the French King. But only six months after Henri became King of Poland, Charles died and Henri inherited the French crown. Hearing the news in a letter from his mother, he left Cracow secretly at once, according to popular history (see for example Cook 112), escaping through a window of the royal palace to return to France and enraging his Polish ex-subjects by taking the crown jewels with him. Recent scholarship suggests that the accusations of homosexuality which were popularly levelled at Henri as part of an oppositional political campaign in France may not have any foundation in historical fact (see Le Roy Ladurie 235; Cameron); nevertheless homosexual appetites and transvestite behaviour seem to have continued in the nineteenth century to be part of what was popularly known about him through the sources which Dumas may have used such as l'Estoile's chronicles of the period of Henri III. Certainly in his own day his authority was troubled by a number of scurrilous pamphlets and caricatures representing him as a "hermaphrodite," which circulated widely. The commentary on the image labelled "Les Hermaphrodites" reads: "I am neither male nor female, and if I am in my right mind, which of the two should I choose? But what does it matter which one looks like? It is better to have them both together— one thus receives double pleasure."5

One scurrilous publication which appeared in the year of Henri's death (qtd. in Cameron 82) reveals clearly the linked anxieties about the penetration of the male body and castration which underlie the attacks on Henri. In addition to accusations of wearing make-up and women's clothing, the pamphlet claims that

he devised a fantasy in his mind that through artifice he could be transformed in his shape, and to better execute his diabolic wish he summoned all the most excellent surgeons, physicians and philosophers of his time and permitted them to cauterise his body and to make all the openings and wounds that they wished, in order that they might render him apt to conjoin himself with men: at whose persuasion they cut him up in several places and castrated him. But in the end he remained, by the permission of God, useless in terms of both sexes.

Henri's contemporary, Elizabeth I of England, was able to take advantage of the discrepancy between her "body politic" and her "body natural," astutely exploiting as a woman the available images (which were helpful in her dealings with the representatives of an otherwise anxious patriarchy) of virgin, seductress, and mother (Montrose); for Henri, who lost control of his self-fashioning, the popular image of his sodomitic "body natural" was too monstrous to be linked to that of the Kingdom of France. In addition, sodomy, which in England was conceptually linked with papist heresy, was in France used by Henri's conservative Catholic enemies, as Stephen Orgel has pointed out, as a codeword for Protestantism, a reference to his moderate treatment of the Huguenots.

But if in history Henri was interpellated into queerness as an act of political opposition, his character, as depicted in the play, can be read as a defiant challenge to that interpellation, Henri flaunting the term of abuse and converting it into a badge of victory in the same way that the word "queer" itself has recently been turned back and used to affirm what it was previously used to attack. Judith Butler celebrates the promise she sees when "the subject who is 'queered' into public discourse through homophobic interpellations of various kinds takes up or cites that very term as the discursive basis for an opposition" ("Critically Queer" 23). The character Henri's flagrant and deliberate abuse of the dignity of high office is a form of citation of the queerness which was attributed to him. It operates in part as a strategy to problematise and oppose the play's representatives of orthodoxy.

The negative aspects of Henri's life are recorded in Dumas's sources but are deployed by him in strangely ambivalent ways, needlessly focusing on the outrageous behaviour of the King (who is a relatively inconsequential figure in the development of the main plot, though one of the most memorable figures in the script) but indulging in the pleasure of his transgressions, acknowledging the intelligence of his game-playing, and allowing him to score an important political victory at a late and crucial moment in the sub-plot. This ambivalence carries into the early stage history of the play, in which the actor playing the role changed the interpretation from what was intended to be a pejorative picture of the King to something much more sympathetic. This went against Dumas's stated instructions, but in his preface to the published script the playwright concedes that he rapidly saw that the actor's changes were an improvement on his own original concept.

Throughout the play, despite the political problems of his reign, Henri flagrantly toys with power, playing capricious games, promoting his favourites on whims, acknowledging that the real power in the realm is his manipulative mother while at the same time showing enough political acumen that the throne is neither clearly his nor not his but suspended in a state of destabilising uncertainty.

Dumas's script takes up the story late in the reign. Henri is King of France but is represented in the early part of the script as an apparent weakling under the controlling influence of his mother and surrounded by his mignons, the fashionable young men mainly from the minor nobility who were his favourites and whose political and social ascendancy was much resented by the established aristocracy.

Henri never actually appears on stage in women's clothing but in one of his first speeches he reveals that for a costume ball scheduled for that evening he is planning to appear as an Amazon, a detail Dumas must have got from an actual event, a masquerade held during the reign of Charles IX in celebration of the marriage of Henri de Navarre (the future Henri IV) in which King Charles, together with Henri, who was then duc d'Anjou, and their youngest brother François Hercule, duc d'Alençon, appeared as Amazons armed with bows and bare-breasted (Le Roy Ladurie 231). Nor, incidentally, does Christine appear in drag in the other play. However if the visual image of the transvestite monarch is repressed in both plays, the repressed returns through the introduction of travesty roles. In Henri the otherwise unnecessary figure of a cheeky pageboy is foregrounded, played of course by a woman, and in Christine a major cross-dressing plot is developed, involving a female character who disguises herself as a boy to be able to travel round Europe in the company of the man she is in love with.

The fact that we never see Henri in full drag may be the result of discretion on Dumas's part, but it might alternatively be read as something more threatening. Marjorie Garber in Vested Interests discusses the figure of the cross dresser, when looked at rather than through, as epistemologically unsettling, a third term upsetting the binarism of masculine-feminine, neither male nor female but something else entirely which disturbs the neat categories of self and other, insider and outsider, identification and alienation. Dumas's Henri, by being openly transvestite but leaving his transvestism invisible, is particularly treacherous territory, a double-cross dresser, a transvestite who refuses to show his true colours, who is impossible to look directly at but famous and flagrant enough not to be looked through. He is a known drag queen disguised as a man/king who upsets the hierarchies based on binarism but whose invisibility puts him just out of reach of the surveillance and punishment to which the traditionalist forces, now uncomfortably on the outer, would like to subject him.

Structurally the main narrative of Henri III, to which the figure of Henri is only peripheral, is a tight and skilful historical Romantic melodrama dealing principally with the illicit love of one of Henri's favourites, Saint Mégrin, for Catherine, the wife of Henri's powerful adversary, the duc de Guise (whose nickname was "le Balafré," or "Scarface"). De Guise is the play's main representative of traditional patriarchal forces, the script foregrounding his roles as husband and as leader of the ultra-conservative Catholic League which is in conspiracy against the King. Here the script plays with genres, and therefore patterns of audience alignment, in quite unexpected ways. Instead of putting the duc de Guise, who is also called Henri, into a favourable light as an alternative to the King's dissipation and his threat to patriarchy, it does its best to make him the real villain of the piece, borrowing from theatrical genres as old as Roman comedy, medieval poetry and the commedia dell'arte. The love triangle in which the script involves him places both him and his wife in the tradition of the marriage of January and May, in which illicit young love always triumphs and the impassioned cuckold is shown as a comic Pantalone.6 De Guise in the script alienates audience sympathies further by his brutal treatment of his wife whom he, wrongly at that point, suspects of infidelity. In a horrific scene in act 3, which aroused the passions of the first-night audience and contributed to the play's enormous success, de Guise forces his wife to write a letter to Saint Mégrin which will lure the young suitor into a trap, first intimidating her by trying to make her drink what she believes to be a cup of poison, and then by sheer brute force, crushing her arm with his mailed fist until, as the stage directions and dialogue make plain, it is bruised visibly blue. De Guise's aim is twofold—first to avenge his honour as a man and husband, and subsequently to depose Henri from the throne, thus gaining fully for himself the power he had held in veiled form as Regent during the reign of Henri's eldest brother François II.

I want to explore the difference that the fact of Henri's reputation, highlighted by contrast with de Guise, makes to the script, and the opportunities this offers for the intervention of queer theory in the reading and staging of the play. In other words, what happens as a result of the choice of a shifting, ambivalent, and treacherous character like Henri III as the central figure, rather than some other less queer king fighting off attempts at deposition? It might be expected that the choice of the hyperbolically (and potentially comic) non-masculine Henri would tend to swing "normal" sympathies in the direction of de Guise, but the script appears to foreclose such a response because of that character's overdetermined masculine brutality.

I want to read the action of the script as focusing on a dangerous rather than comic crisis for the hegemonic forces represented by de Guise and the Catholic League. The presence of the non-masculine man has long been, as Eve Sedgwick has argued, a powerful threat for the heterosexist but homosocial organisation of patriarchy, a threat which is neatly located with the use of the adjective "homophobic." Henri's position carries that threat into what is perceived to be, in patriarchal terms, the centre of social and political organisation.

For a start, the effeminate and/or transvestite monarch undermines one of the foundational ideals of patriarchal organisation, the precise fit between the family governed by the omniscient and omnipotent masculine father and the state ruled by an omniscient and omnipotent masculine king. These images naturalise each other by the precision of their structural similarity, and when even one of the two is problematised the "natural" status of both is weakened. In this play both are jeopardised, by Henri's outrageous effeminacy as king and by de Guise's error, his misreading, as husband, of the relationship between his wife and Saint Mégrin.

Also interesting in this context is the close link between the queer and the carnivalesque, which is very apparent in this play. Many of the elements of Bakhtin's description of the carnival are in evidence here—the sense of occasional celebration; the world turned upside down; the grotesque body open to penetration; the social and sexual mésalliances between people of different rank, and the general disruption of traditional hierarchies; and specifically the masked ball to which Henri is planning to wear his Amazon costume. (In case any of the audience have missed the point, one of the mignons, the Vicomte de Joyeuse, is planning to come as Alcibiades.) The problem with this carnival, from the point of view of the nobility, is that its lord of misrule is also the King of France, and that it threatens to burst the confines of its allotted space and take over the whole year, the entire realm. Henri's throne room is permanently converted into a riotous playground for the favourites where, for example, Saint Mégrin can, with impunity, blow shotgun pellets through a peashooter at the highest ranking Duke in the kingdom. More significantly, when de Guise disdains to fight a duel with Saint Mégrin on account of the difference in their rank, Henri capriciously offers to create the young man a Duke on the same social level so a combat can take place. The seriousness of what is at stake in this carnivalesque clash is made evident by Henri's need to cancel the masked ball in favour of a council of state when political events overtake his plans. In terms of the social life of the court and the politics of the behind-the-scenes struggle (not to mention the theatricality of the play itself) this represents a serious sacrifice.

Henri's transvestism poses a further challenge to the patriarchal organisation de Guise represents. Any hegemonic system such as patriarchy depends for its success on naturalising the terms of its own ascendancy, and it will do this by insisting upon stable images of identity, and by a close control over representation. The king is the king, the nobility is the nobility, and privilege is accorded to those men, but not women, who naturally deserve it through position, rank, birth, sex and a rightful place in the scheme of things. Henri's transvestism is a powerful force undermining the certainties which such a process of naturalisation depends upon, revealing gender—one of the plinths of this construct of privilege—as a form of performance.

Judith Butler has made the point that gender performativity is too often simplified into a straightforward option or role adopted in a state of perfect freedom of choice by a subject who is in a position to choose. She draws attention to the fallacy that "gender is a construction that one puts on, as one puts on clothes in the morning, that there is a 'one' who is prior to this gender, a one who goes to the wardrobe of gender and decides with deliberation which gender it will be today. This is a voluntarist account of gender which presumes a subject, intact, prior to its gendering." But this is not to say that gender is not performance. She continues:

Gender is performative insofar as it is the effect of a regulatory regime of gender differences in which genders are divided and hierarchised under constraint. Social constraints, taboos, prohibitions, threats of punishment operate in the ritualised repetition of norms, and this repetition constitutes the temporalised scene of gender construction and destabilization. There is no subject who precedes or enacts this repetition of norms. To the extent that this repetition creates an effect of gender uniformity, a stable effect of masculinity or femininity, it produces and destabilises the notion of the subject as well, for the subject only comes into intelligibility through the matrix of gender. ("Critically Queer" 21-22)

Butler's writing suggests why a figure like the duc de Guise is threatened by a transvestite monarch. Henri is in fact the one who demonstrates the greater courage and audacity, attributes traditionally associated with masculinity, through his willingness to take advantage of the very limited free-play in the apparatus of gender, to defy the constraints of the regulatory regime, to ignore and evade, as King and as persona, the "taboos, prohibitions and threats of punishment." But more dangerously still, Henri gives the game away. By his gender transgressions he draws attention to that one fact that de Guise cannot afford to acknowledge—that even as a real man de Guise is no more a self-present subject than the unreal man currently occupying the throne. And since neither of them can naturally occupy the place of God/King/Father, the most legitimate performer of the role may be the one who can best play (with) it. In this scenario Henri is the rightful King after all.

The exhilarating and inextricably chiasmatic confusion of marked and unmarked binary terms provokes a crisis in the symbolic which, as Butler points out, is to be "understood as a crisis over what constitutes the limits of intelligibility" and which will "register as a crisis in the name and in the morphological stability that the name is said to confer" (Bodies 138). In a play where several of the characters have a multiplicity of titles there is a paradoxical shortage of names: "Henri" serves equally for the King, the father of the King, and the man who would be king, while both King Henri's mother and Duke Henri's wife are called Catherine. With this crisis in reference, is it any wonder that de Guise the patriarch becomes confused and anxious about the integrity of his own name, body, and identity, which threaten to be invaded or absorbed into those of his arch-rival and alter-ego?

I would like finally to think about what kind of production might realise something of this reading of the script of Henri III on the stage, and unsurprisingly queer theory suggests a recourse to queer theatre. Both blatant and passing cross-dressing by the actors, and casting against and across sex, would be starting points. So would be moves to break up the forward drive of the very strong narrative with carnivalesque moments of celebration and indulgence in the spectacle of the moment. Splitting and blending of the characters, with the possibility of confusion between Henri de Valois and Henri de Guise. Music throughout—it is in any case a melodrama. The script allows for costuming which is, in both senses of the word, fabulous. Finding a way to make a space for the censored drag ball, putting it into the performance but under erasure as an imperfectly repressed fantasy, so showing (and not showing, because it too would be under erasure) the visible image of Henri for once in his unused Amazon outfit, which it would be a shame to waste. Emphasising the references to magic which run through the script— the play opens with an unrealised promise of necromancy. Taking seriously the figuratively byzantine and literally labyrinthine events—several of the characters get about through secret passages—, extending and exaggerating them so that the script's sense of space and chronology was threatened. An intensification to the maximum of the marital brutality of the duc de Guise, and of the transgressive effeminacy of Henri—as Butler says, "[t]he hyperbolic gesture is crucial to the exposure of the homophobic 'law' which can no longer control the terms of its own abjecting strategies" ("Critically Queer" 23). Above all, my ideal production would attempt to make serious and savage the clash between the two Henris and to highlight what is dangerously at stake in the King's transvestism, rather than treating him as a feeble-minded weakling, a pop-camp joke. Peggy Phelan points out in her essay on Jenny Livingstone's film about the black transvestite world of New York, Paris Is Burning—from which I have adapted the title of this paper—: "[G]ender and sexuality are games played for keeps and no one who steps too far outside traditionally assigned roles is ever home free" (109).

All this may be leaving Dumas far behind, but any anti-patriarchal project is hardly likely to be concerned about someone whose nickname is "the father." As a father figure his role in the project of this production might be that of the sacrificial victim, if as an author he were not always already dead. Nevertheless Dumas the republican, the translator of Sappho, the vanquisher of Racine and Voltaire, the playwright whose works were censored for their offences against the decency and dignity of royalty, reappears at my elbow intent on having the last word, suggesting a rethinking of the play's often-quoted final line. In the play's closing moments, in a strange, savage, and shocking twist to the comic genre of the passionate cuckold, the Pantalone de Guise has just trapped and assassinated the young lover of his wife. Immediately turning his thoughts to his long-term goal, the throne of France, he says, "Good! and now that we've finished with the valet, let's take care of the master." Here is a doubled narrative closure, an overdetermined example of a typical patriarchal structure implying ultimate certainty and the univocal voice of history, which wraps up not only this play but also any putative sequel. Both the play's action and structure seem to be on the side of de Guise.

But as Dumas and his audience schooled in French history knew well, the ending of the story is different. The historical de Guise certainly had Saint Mégrin murdered, but during his subsequent attempts on the throne he was in turn murdered by agents of the weakling Henri, his body multiply penetrated in precisely the way that his homophobia fears the most. One of Dumas's sources even recounts a graphic detail in which Henri, coming to view the assassinated Duke, gives the dead body a kick in the face (L'Estoile 103). In the play Dumas gives a different, even more powerfully overlayered double ending, in which two simultaneous readings of the same line, one literal and one ironic, contradict each other, further destabilising the certainties of hegemonic patriarchy. Staging that would be a real challenge for a production.


1 A study of this huge and still largely unexamined collection as it relates to the plays of Dumas is currently under way, and the opening sections of this paper result from this still preliminary investigation. I would like to express my thanks to the curator of the Auckland City Library Rare Books Room, Donald Kerr, who has been extremely helpful to me in my initial searches of the material and whose bibliographical study of the collection is the only serious scholarly attempt to date to deal with Reed's life's work.

2 Henry Abelove touches on this issue in "From Thoreau to Queer Politics," and expanded on it in a conference paper given at the Australian National University Humanities Research Centre in 1993.

3 Another, though apparently apocryphal, anti-patriarchal story which circulated about the opening night, and which was related by Dumas, was that "a cry of death had been uttered by a young fanatic called Aumary Duval, who demanded the heads of the members of the Academy— a parricide cry since the unfortunate man was the son of M. Aumary Duval, member of the Institute, and nephew of M. Alexandre Duval of the Académie Française" (Bassan and Chevalley 28).

4 According to Dumas, the Duke of Orleans dismissed any parallel by claiming that his wife was not unfaithful and, ironically given the events of only a few months later, that he was not disloyal.

5 Stephen Orgel in "Gendering the Crown" has recently pointed out a strange irony in the perception of the feminised monarch which bears directly on the image of Henri III: contrasting with the negative connotations in the depiction of Henri's "femininity" is "a transvestite portrait of [Henri's grandfather] François II done by the Fontainebleau artist Nicolo Bellin da Modena around 1545." The portrait is accompanied by a verse which explains that "though the King is a Mars in war, in peace he is a Minerva or Diana."

6 It is noteworthy that, even though the historical de Guise was only relatively young at the time of the events of the play, in the first production at the Théâtre-Français the actor, Joanny, who played the role was judged a little too old (Bassan and Chevalley 31), which may have accentuated the discrepancy between the ages of the Duke and Duchess.

Works Cited

Abelove, Henry. "From Thoreau to Queer Politics." The Yale Journal of Criticism 6.2 (1993): 17-27.

Bassan, Fernande, and Sylvie Chevalley. Alexandre Dumas pére et la Comédie Française. Paris: Lettres Modernes, Minard, 1972.

Butler, Judith. Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex". New York: Routledge, 1993.

——. "Critically Queer." GLQ: A Journal of Gay and Lesbian Studies 1.1 (1994): 17-32.

Cameron, Keith. Henri III, a Maligned or Malignant King?: Aspects of the Satirical Iconography of Henri de Valois. Exeter: U Exeter, 1978.

La Censure sous Napoléon III: Rapports Inédits et in extenso (1852 a 1866), préface de *** [sic] et interview de Edmond de Goncourt. Paris: Savine, 1892.

Cook, E. Thornton. The Royal Line of France. London: Murray, 1933.

Copley, Anthony. Sexual Moralities in France, 1780-1980: New Ideas on the Family, Divorce, and Homosexuality: an Essay on Moral Change. London: Routledge, 1989.

Donkin, Ellen, and Susan Clement, eds. Upstaging Big Daddy: Directing Theater As If Gender and Race Matter. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1993.

Doty, Alexander. Making Things Perfectly Queer: Interpreting Mass Culture. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1993.

Dumas, Alexandre. "A Ses Concitoyens de Seine-et-Oise, Alexandre Dumas, candidat à la représentation nationale." [Election manifesto]. Paris, 1848.

——. Christine, ou Stockholm, Fontainebleau et Rome. Théâtre Complet de Alex. Dumas. Vol 1. Paris: Calman-Lévy, n.d. 199-306.

——. "Cléopatre, Reine d'Egypte." Les Étoiles du monde 81-98.

——. Les Étoiles du monde: galerie historique des femmes les plus célèbres de tous les temps et de tous les pays. Paris: Garnier, 1858.

——. Henri III et sa Cour. Théâtre Complet de Alex. Dumas. Vol 1. Paris: Calman-Lévy, n.d. 117-98.

——. "Jeanne d'Arc." Les Étoiles du monde 115-38.

——. "Lucrèce." Les Étoiles du monde 219-34.

——. "Sappho." Les Étoiles du monde 287-300.

Garber, Marjorie. Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural Anxiety. New York: Routledge, 1992.

Halleys-Dabot, Victor. La Censure dramatique et le Théâtre: histoire des vingt demières années, 1850-1870. Paris: Dentu, 1871.

——. Histoire de la censure thétrâle en France. Paris: Dentu, 1862.

Kerr, Donald. "Frank Wild Reed, the Antipodean Alexandrian: A Study of a Book Collector." Master's thesis. Victoria U of Wellington, NZ, 1992.

Le Roy Ladurie, Emmanuel. L 'État Royal: de Louis XI à Henri IV, 1460-1610. Paris: Hachette, 1987.

L'Estoile. Journal des choses memorables advenues durant tout le règne de Henry III Roy de France & de Pologne. n.d.

Montrose, Louis Adrian. "'Shaping Fantasies': Figurations of Gender and Power in Elizabethan Culture." Representing the English Renaissance. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. Berkeley: U. of California P, 1988. 31-64.

Orgel, Stephen. "Gendering the Crown." Unpublished essay. n.d.

Phelan, Peggy. Unmarked: The Politics of Performance. London: Routledge, 1993.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley: U of California P, 1990.

Warner, Michael. "From Queer to Eternity." Voice Literary Supplement 106 (Jun. 1992): 18-19.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Alexandre Dumas, père World Literature Analysis