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Re: I need this book. Camilla Send a noteboard - 11/05/2011 09:58:27 AM
That was one long, but lovely, review. Unfortunately, it gave me much pain due to my current lack of funds. Then again, I wouldn't have the time to read it right now, anyway. I should get over the pain.

At least it must be really quite cheap from Amazon france. It sold here for 10 CAN$.

Oh dear. I bought it.

And thanks for reminding me of the Eco novel again :P

I really don't know how much you'll like the Eco, it's a strange book. The protagonist is evil and loathable (racist, mysogyn, misanthrope.. and paranoid, obsessive, with circular logic), without any redeeming quality, and most of the book is his first person diary... the sort of character you really hope will at least die horribly at the end. Most of the people he's involved with are one way or another as unpleasant as the main characters, or misguided idiots (Want a novel set among the villains, without any hero in sight, here it is...)

There's also nothing terriby original in the racist/hateful tirades of the protagonist, it reads like a catalogue of antisemite literature of the 19th century (and based on the few quotes I could identify, from Nietzsche, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Léo Taxil and others, it probably is a catalogue, as the character can for the most part only parrot what he's read) . Eco borrowed Dumas' device of filling the gaps in history with inventions of his own and make a plot out of those holes (and contrary to Dumas, it is often if not always quite credible) but I don't know.. there's something that made me a bit incomfortable with all of it and spoil my fun at Eco's terribly clever writing (and this aside from having to read pages and pages of antisemite, mysogyn, homophobe, racist comments), with his whole idea of forging an history of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, especially that since it's Eco, you'd have to be extremely well-read in the subject to separate truth from invention.

This sounds like Eco. I would expect catalogues. I'm afraid there is no dampening my expectations. I did not think Queen Loana was quite as good as the preceding, and I was not a great fan of Island of the Day Before, but I still enjoyed them tremendously. But I'll wait for the English translation.

Map of Time you should get from your friend is really quite funny, btw (but I don't know the real people in it well-enough to tell if his research is good and they're credible). It's intelligent, but it's a bit tongue-in-cheek and even a little satiristic.

And heavy. I am talking about sheer weight in my hand.

I was always more of an Athos fan myself, though.

I'd probably rank them Aramis, Athos, Portos and then d'Artagnan myself. :)

Huh. I would say Athos, Aramis, d'Artagnan, Porthos. Aramis, while brilliant is never quite as loveable as Athos. I think this may be in part due to my having read Le Fils des Mousquetaires (I think that was the title) where Aramis is EVIL. Well, to an extent, anyway. I read it when I was very young and impressionable.

I have also seen indications that she has edited some Dumas books. I am not sure that I am right on this, but I am fairly sure I saw her name on some.

Possibly. She just mentionned writing the notes/presentation for a recent J'ai Lu edition of the trilogy, which gave her the idea for the book.

That would be it.

Wasn't Schopp the one who found the unfinished Dumas a few years ago? I haven't read his biography, though.

Yes, Schopp's the one who managed to track down the "lost Dumas" and edited it a few years ago. He's also written a dictionary of Dumas's characters and locations, and other scholarly work (he established the complete bibliography, notably). He's also written rather scholarly prefaces and notes for a great deal of Dumas' books. He's put out an edition of Dumas's Mémoires, and one of Dumas's correspondance He's considered the ultimate authority on Dumas.

His biography is good if really long (but his style is laborious and not always easy to follow; he is a better scholar than writer IMO), but Schopp is one of those scholars who seem to believe that every little detail he's researched he must put in the final book. His all too detailed discussions of Dumas' finances, notably, got really tedious to me after a while. He has the same habit of putting letters discussing the financial matters going between Maquet, Dumas and the newspaper owners in his introductions to novels. I use to skip those :P

Huh. I suppose there are some academics who get obsessed with the financial paper trail.

I need this book. I really do. I wonder whether I could convince myself it is relevant to my research.

I don't know if it's detailed enough to be useful to you. It discusses a bit Walter Scott but otherwise largely overlooks Dumas' contemporaries abroad (weirdly, so does Eco in his book).

I wouldn't put Scott so much as Dickens or Thackeray as his contemporary, but yes. Did I tell you about the open letter I found from Thackeray to Dumas, asking the latter to finish Ivanhoe. It makes sense in the context of Bertiere's observations on the "unreal" attitude to history. It does recall Scott's treatment of it.

It sounds so lovely. I agree with her take on it, and it is good to finally have someone to point to when the padding charge (inevitably) shows up. People keep bringing it against Dickens as well. It is annoying.

Bertière points out how much Dumas hated to write descriptive passages (and thought he wasn't good at it). Maquet constantly had to insist so Dumas included some (other than descriptions of food, or odd things during travel, those as any good storyteller he liked a lot), as Dumas himself tended to write them too much "stage directions" style. A lot of the descriptions, or historical commentaries, were rather drafted by Maquet and edited and rewritten by Dumas after (Bragelonne is the Dumas novel with the most of those).

Thank heavens for Maquet. I have always enjoyed the history bits. The Norwegian translation of Bragelonne cut out almost all of it. I am still shocked and appalled.

Dumas was an early partisan of "show, don't tell" (there's even a quote where he explains his preferences there). She points out how he loved to introduce characters in action and only later tell the reader something about them. One thing he disliked about his contemporaries was how many set-up chapters they needed, and how many extra words (usually adverbs and adjectives) they used. He inherited this a lot from writing for the stage. When he's accused of "padding", it's with all this, but this stuff is what took him the longest to write. That's not how Dumas "padded" at all. When he wanted to make a quick buck or strech things out, he rather had almost all-dialogue scenes, with a lot of bantering and short answers. Some of his not-so-good novels (Like Women's War) have tons of those. This usually didn't fool the publishers for long, they didn't want to pay a full line for something like "Verdieu! s'écria-t'il.". Other than those novels he botched because he had taken too many contracts at once (and the novels that really suffered from this aren't Dumas's well-knwon novels - he wrote those at the expense of the lesser known, because nowhere as good, ones.

Les Trois Mousquetaires is probably the most typical of Dumas's swift style. He had originally planned Monte Cristo to be far more "theatrical" and short. It was supposed to join in media res a mysterious character with obscure motives (when he befriends the son of his enemy), to be revealed as a terrible revenge very gradually, and its backstory explained only in the third act when the count was revealed not as a villain but the one who'd be wronged (more of a mystery novel, then). Maquet's the one who convinced Dumas he was wasting "the best stuff" if he didn't show the Count as a youth, as a prisoner, and how he gained his fortune and how he set up his revenge etc.

That would have made for a very different book.

Is Colbert really a villain in the books? I always sympathised with him. Oh dear. This happens more often than you would think. I suppose he is rather cold. But I liked him. I should probably reread.

I rather rooted for him too :)

I am glad to hear I am not insane.

In real life he wasn't really a likeable person (a dour bureaucrat, but for all that Maquet hated him, an extremely efficient minister), but nowhere near as machiavellian as the novel depicts him.

He was Maquet's villain, Mazarin's heir (Maquet drafted most of the scenes at and around the Court, Dumas wrote all the Musketeer stuff). Late in the book Dumas pushed him aside to give the part of the spider in the web to Aramis. It's one thing Bertière doesn't like about the book, how it goes in so many directions and the middle is like this huge disgression (the whole Raoul-Louise romance, and the court chronicle) before the novel finally returns to the musketeers, and unlike the previous books the various plots don't really come together so well at the end. Bertière seems to think the novel would have been better if it had dealt with the court stuff as background, the way it's done in the previous two. There's a lot she loves in the novel, though.

I have very strong feelings about he Raoul-Louise thing. I have actually never been able to forgive the real Louise. Whenever her name shows up in books I find myself getting angry. I cannot imagine the books without that. It is like when people call The Two Towers "filling". I don't get it. The Norwegian translation, while it kept the skin and bones of Raoul and Louise and ... oh dear, I cannot remember his name: Raoul's friend -- all the court intrigues have been cut. While it worked well for me when I was a kid, I am growing steadily angrier about it as I grow older and read the original. That is another of my projects: a proper Norwegian translation of the whole book.

For myself, I found the book quite fun (though I really didn't enjoy much the depiction of Louis XIV, even though turning d'Artagnan into a kind of surrogate father setting him on the right path - a role Mazarin had actually played - was fun).

I recently taught English Restoration literature, and I cannot tell you the fun I had reading up on the period and getting flashbacks to the novel. Monk, especially. Do you remember if Pepys shows up? I really need to reread it.

The last third of the book was also heavily influenced by the wishes of the publishers. It had gotten too long and a bit out of control, and they didn't want to pay for extra volumes (a feuilleton volume is a unit of length of 6000 lines), so Dumas got disinterested. They made a deal in his back with Maquet to finish the book swiftly (thus the rushed ending) and to kill d'Artagnan, something Dumas had refused to write (he just approved Maquet's scene). Dumas at the time was more interested in Joseph Balsamo, and in the stage version of Monte Cristo, that would pay him a lot more (beside, during the writing he lost everything to his ex-wife; the money from the play he would get as the secret owner of the theatre it would be played at).

I remember reading about the "edifice" of his history of France pattern in Schopp's introduction to the Sainte-Hermine book. He seemed to think the pattern was almost complete when he died (lacking only that last unfinished book. I haven't read enough of Dumas' less known books to form a clear opinion.

Schopp is (just a bit) more inclined to believe in Dumas' "edifice" then Bertière. She sees it as a late life invention (she's forgiving of it, but doesn't buy it). She doesn't challenge Dumas' aim to want to "amuse and educate" and thus to put a lot of instructive stuff in his books, nor the fact Dumas and Maquet had decided at some point to write a Renaissance, a Baroque and a Revolution cycle, but she points out his real avowed motive for picking the subject of his plays and novels in history (when he didn't buy a synopsis from others...) is that it was a free source of subjects, characters and events he could re arrange (which was his real storytelling genius, he was never that good at creating intrigues from nothing) - that it's because he had written a play on Henri III and had unused reseach that would speed things up that lead him to write La Reine Margot, that it's being given (loaned, but he failed to return it) a copy of Courtilz' d'Artagnan's "memoirs" that gave the idea of the Muskeeters etc.. What Bertière challenges is Dumas's claim after the fact that his novels formed a cohesive project that were the historical counterpart to Balzac's Human Comedy (Balzac aimed to show the whole picture of all walks of life in contemporary France) as "the novel of France", a kind of companion to Michelet's Histoire de France that was being published at the time. That claim Dumas made toward the end of his life, when he was obsessed with his posterity and the literary milieu considered his writing "industrial". Balzac wasn't so admired while alive, but after his death his genius was recognized. It's then that Dumas (who had in fact really disliked Balzac!) strove to present his own work in a similar light, as this big whole (no one bought his claim at the time). Bertière finds this not only contradicts several of Dumas' previous comments on his work (notably his explicit invitation to read the musketeers not as an historical novel but as a tale...) but the books themselves give him the lie. Commentary on the times, historical insight or even vulgarization are virtually absent. The Musketeers are more a commentary on the values, dreams and delusions in Dumas's times than they are about the 17th century (as Bertière explains it, they are to the 17th century what the Arthurian novels are to the middle-ages: a fantasy. Dumas was not fooled, it was his intent to show, rather than the truth that as a Republican he didn't find much about to admire, an heroic 17th century, as it was imagined by the memorialists, and owing massively both to heroic chivalry traditions and to classical heroes and culture. His made his "noble" heroes as close to republicans in mentality as he could, keen to call down figures like Richelieu or Mazarin who would have never stood for such behaviour, let alone Louis XIV!) Dumas also included novels like Monte Cristo in this "edifice", which is really a huge stretch. What Schopp means is more that after he embraced this notion that his novels formed a whole, Dumas employed his last years to try to fill the gaps with novels set in times he had not covered - writing the "Napoleonic" novels, notably.

Yes, that is the impression I got.

I do like the idea of reading them as removed from reality, though.

They are indeed full of allusions to mythology and epics.

I started reading them before I knew enough about history to properly connect the characters to real people (and for a long time I thought the kings and first ministers were the only historical characters), so it works well with how I have formed them in my head. Interestingly, they have in turn shaped how I see history, though. Perhaps I see it all through a mythical haze and that is why it is so alluring.

They're really great to get people interested in History. Like tons of other people, they were one of my first contact with History. At first I was almost disappointed to find out someone like Richelieu was in fact nothing like the villain of Dumas, but I eventually forgave him :)


He had me fooled on the virtue of Charles I and II for a looong time.

He fooled me the longest about Mazarin, and this wasn't helped by the fact a whole historical tradition depicted him almost the same way as Dumas (not after him, but after the same Mémoires that inspired Dumas), and perpetuating some of the same myths (his secret marriage to Anne d'Autriche, how he stole the treasury of France or how he kept young Louis in utter misery etc.) It actually took Bertière to set the facts straight for me (though maybe she became a bit too fond of Mazarin... another historian I like a lot thinks her portrait is a bit too positive).

I know of a professor in French Literature who considers it a masterpiece, so I'll let those two opinions even out.

Bertière too includes it under the masterpiece umbrella (the whole trilogy for her is a masterpiece), but she thinks the third book is not as controlled and tight as the other two, that's structurally it's a mess and uncharacteristic of Dumas in that, as his playwright experience had given him a keen sense for structuring a drama.

I am not sure how his less flattering sides as a man are relevant to the appreciation of his books.

Not really relevant to the appreciation, though relevant to the genesis or history of the books, as some of Dumas's bad professional or personal decisions has affected the books. Bertière doesn't spend a lot of time on that, but she doesn't shy from depicting Dumas as opportunistic, and occasionally bitter or petty etc. It's a well-balanced portrait, overall (as you'd expect of her).

Probably. If not, and I don't get a job after next year, I'll join up with my French lit friend and suggest we translate it ourselves, dammit.

You should, though if you ever did that I'd be forever jealous. I'd love to see her in an interview (she probably did some for French TV, I guess), I might be disappointed but I bet she's fascinating. The other historian I like a lot (and I find him a little similar to her - they probably like each other as they quote one another often...), Jean-Christian Petitfils, has done many interviews and he is, indeed, fascinating to listen to. Petifils has written a biography of Colbert, of Madame de Montespan, the best biography of Louis XIV (IMO) and a great two volume one of Louis XVI and tons more books, including one about "The real D'Artagnan", another about the Man in the Iron Mask, the Affair of the Poisons, also recently about the murder of Henry IV.

That does sound good. I haven't read anything by him. Perhaps it is time I did.
structured procrastinator
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