The Corsican Brothers

by Alexandre Dumas père

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*Corsica. Mountainous French island in the Mediterranean Sea. Smaller than Sicily, Sardinia, or Cyprus, Corsica is just over one hundred miles south of mainland France. The novel opens with the Parisian narrator, a fictionalized Alexandre Dumas, arriving in Corsica after a visit to Elba, a much smaller French island northeast of Corsica. From Corte and Ajaccio, Corsica’s capital, he travels south to Sartène. Whereas the itinerary the narrator recommends to fellow French travelers emphasizes Corsica’s geographical proximity to Toulon, on the French mainland, the rest of the novel dwells on the gulf between life and customs in France and in its island department, Corsica. The narrator remarks that Corsica is a French department but is far from being France.

While extolling the island’s picturesqueness, its marvelous horses, its famous bandits, and its old-fashioned hospitality, the narrator notes its two supreme differences from the French mainland: its people’s constant use of the Italian language and their belief in the vendetta, a blood feud between families or clans, which originated in Sicily and other parts of Italy.

Corsica is also famous as the birthplace of French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, and nearby Elba was the island of his first exile. Clearly some of the narrator’s admiration for Corsica comes from Dumas’s Bonapartist sympathies. Writing twenty-three years after Napoleon’s death, Dumas brings Napoleon into the story indirectly by making Lucien de Franchi the owner of a saber given by Napoleon to his grandfather at a 1798 battle in Egypt. Fittingly, Lucien associates his and Napoleon’s former island home with space and liberty, refusing to leave it for any city.


*Sartène (sahr-TEN). Southern Corsican province in which the narrator enjoys the hospitality of the de Franchis through the first half of the novel. During his stay with them in the obscure village of Sullacaro—which has exactly 120 houses—he admires Lucien as a fine specimen of manhood and applauds his success in eradicating vendettas. Lucien, in fact, seems almost a cultured noble savage, someone who could play the Parisian gentleman, as does his twin brother, but who prefers to live according to the rhythms of nature in his homeland.

Château of Vincentello d’Istria

Château of Vincentello d’Istria (vihn-chen-TOL-oh DIHS-tree-ah). Ruined family castle to which Lucien and the narrator journey by night to meet a feuding bandit. The landscape is imposing, almost Gothic, with the moon shining down on the ruins, on the Mediterranean in the distance, and on the ridges of Mount Cagna, which divides the island in two—in a manner reminiscent of the twins—unity in separation. In one of the novel’s pointed contrasts between Corsican and Parisian life, Lucien follows the narrator’s praise of agility in climbing steep rocks with a joking reference to the capital’s own hill, Montmartre—a hill in north central Paris, and definitely an elevated urban location with its stairways and residing artists.


*Paris. Capital of France in which the second half of the novel is set, most notably in Louis’s apartment, which the narrator visits immediately on his return to the city. Through deliberate contrasts with the many outdoor settings in Sartène, the action here unfolds mostly in interiors, such as restaurants, elegant bachelor residences, salons of bourgeois households, thereby capturing the capital’s emphasis on fashionable living. Whereas in Sullacaro the narrator accompanies Lucien on a moonlit rendezvous in the mountains with a bandit, here he joins Louis at the young man’s romantic assignation at the Ball of the Opéra, under the clock in the green room. One outdoor site is the place where Louis is buried, Père Lachaise cemetery, established in 1804 in the eastern part of...

(This entire section contains 743 words.)

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the city.

*Bois de Vincennes

*Bois de Vincennes (bwah deh vihn-SEN). Forest east of Paris enclosed in the twelfth century as a royal hunting preserve; the accompanying chateau was used as a royal residence between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries. The large forest area became a popular site for duels, and there both Louis and Lucien duel with Monsieur de Château-Renaud. The final chapter offers a dramatic fusion of Corsican and Parisian customs when Lucien kills his brother’s opponent in a duel that he conducts in the spirit of a vendetta. Despite Lucien’s earlier complaint about France’s tastes and habits diluting Corsican values, it is his Corsican honor that triumphs in the end.


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Dumas, Alexandre, père. The Road to Monte Cristo: A Condensation from “The Memoirs of Alexandre Dumas.” Translated by Jules Eckert Goodman. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1956. An abridged translation of Dumas’ memoirs that relate to his source material for his novels, including The Corsican Brothers.

Galan, F. W. “Bakhtiniada II, The Corsican Brothers in the Prague School: Or, The Reciprocity of Reception.” Poetics Today 8, nos. 3/4 (1987): 565-577. Approaches Dumas’ The Corsican Brothers using the critical apparatus of Bakhtin. While the reading is sometimes difficult, this is the only paper published in English on The Corsican Brothers.

Maurois, André. The Titans, a Three-Generation Biography of the Dumas. Translated by Gerard Hopkins. New York: Harper & Row, 1957. Considered the authoritative biography of Dumas père, his father, and his son. Includes an excellent bibliography. Discusses The Corsican Brothers in a cursory fashion.

Schopp, Claude. Alexandre Dumas: Genius of Life. Translated by A. J. Koch. New York: Franklin Watts, 1988. A biographical and critical approach to the life and works of Alexandre Dumas, père. The volume contains a discussion on Dumas’ adaptation of The Corsican Brothers into a drama in order to pay his bills.

Stowe, Richard S. Alexandre Dumas (père). Boston: Twayne, 1976. An excellent starting place for an analysis of the life and works of Alexandre Dumas père, probably the best source in English. The Corsican Brothers is addressed in part 2 of chapter 10.


Critical Essays