Auguste Maquet Biography

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Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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Son of a prosperous industrialist, Auguste Maquet (mah-kay) studied, then taught, history at Paris’s Lycée Charlemagne. By 1830, he had joined his school friends Gérard de Nerval and Théophile Gautier, later prominent writers, in Le Petit Cénacle, a bohemian literary group formed to support Romanticism against the classical tradition. That same year this cénacle rowdily championed the premiere of Victor Hugo’s revolutionarily poetic drama, Hernani. Soon, Maquet abandoned teaching for writing, using a romantically anglicized version of his name, Augustus MacKeat, to sign his work. In 1836 he joined the staff of the Figaro, Paris’s daily morning newspaper.

The professional turning point for Maquet came in 1838, when de Nerval, with whom he had written some short fiction, gave Maquet’s three-act play Le Soir du Carnaval to Alexandre Dumas for revision. Dumas transformed the play into Bathilde, which premiered on January 14, 1839, at the Théâtre de la Renaissance under Maquet’s name. The ambitious youth was grateful to Dumas for the play’s modest triumph.

The following year, Maquet himself gave his Le Bonhomme Buvat to Dumas, who fleshed out this short historical romance about a 1718 conspiracy against the regent of Louis XV into Le Chevalier d’Harmental and submitted it to the newspaper La Presse. Although he wanted to include his coauthor under the title, the director refused to dilute the marketability of Dumas’s name. Instead, Maquet contentedly received the then-vast sum of eight thousand francs for his part in the novel.

This second success launched Maquet as a major contributor to the development of the roman-feuilleton—a long narrative serialized in daily newspapers for mass readership. Recognizing the profitability of the historical romance—especially as paid by the line—Dumas wanted no other collaborator and no other genre as of 1843. In that landmark year, Maquet and Dumas embarked together on the spectacularly popular Les Trois Mousquetaires, which would become the first volume in the first of their three historical trilogies.

In 1845, when a pamphleteer calling himself Eugène de Mirecourt libelously attacked Dumas for “running a novel factory,” Maquet loyally supplied Dumas with a magnanimous testimonial to the older man’s fairness in their dealings, for a retaliatory lawsuit against de Mirecourt. Later that year, attending the production of Les Mousquetaires with his family, Maquet burst into tears when the actor playing d’Artagnan announced Maquet’s name alongside Dumas’s as coauthor. This recognition and Dumas’s directorship of the Théâtre-Historique, for which the two dramatized many of their novels, seemed to guarantee Dumas’s eventual payment of all Maquet’s accumulated wages.

In 1858, however, weary of waiting, and disturbed by the theater’s failure and the bankrupt Dumas’s flight to Brussels, Maquet sued for revocation of an earlier agreement giving Dumas total rights, half the author’s rights, and his name on their eighteen cowritten novels. Although he won twenty-five per cent of the author’s rights, the court denied him all proprietary rights. In 1861 Dumas was still bitter enough about the litigation to call Maquet a thief, but by 1868 they had reconciled. Nonetheless, they never collaborated again, nor did Maquet ever write his intended account of their partnership.

Despite several works of his own, Maquet figures in literary history and reference books, and in peers’ biographies, primarily as Dumas’s most valuable collaborator. As such, he earns praise for his good research abilities and his eye for promising material—which, however, he is criticized for using ploddingly. By most accounts, Dumas breathed life into Maquet’s inert drafts, producing inimitably lively dialogue, accelerating the pace, and concocting cliff-hanger endings to the chapters. However, manuscripts of Maquet’s original drafts indicate that gradually Dumas trusted his partner enough to submit the latter’s versions without a single change. Indeed, Maquet indisputably improved The Count of Monte Cristo, which Dumas originally opened with the Rome section but, at Maquet’s suggestion, reconceived to begin with his hero’s youth in Marseilles. Finally, Maquet’s own work after his separation from Dumas was successful enough to pay for his chateau in Sainte-Mesme.

Bibliography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Gorman, Herbert. The Incredible Marquis: Alexandre Dumas. New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1929. Gorman portrays a tall, handsome, shy, and scholarly Maquet, whose solitary writings he evaluates as “Dumas without the tang.”

Ross, Michael. Alexandre Dumas. North Pomfret, Vt.: David and Charles, 1981. Ross raises the “vexed question” of Maquet’s precise contributions as collaborator.

Schopp, Claude. Alexandre Dumas: Genius of Life. Translated by A. J. Koch. New York: Franklin Watts, 1988. Schopp offers more detail than most Dumas biographers on Maquet’s role in the partnership, emphasizing both men’s daily industriousness under pressure.