“Michel Zevaco was that author of genius, who, influenced by Victor Hugo, invented the democratic swashbuckler. His heroes represent the people. They raise and topple empires; predict, in the 14th century, the French revolution; protect weak kings against plotting ministers; and slap down mean kings.” – Jean Paul Sartre
A single towering historical event can be assailed from many directions. Michel Zevaco’s “Buridan, The Hero of the Tower of Nesle” deals with the same scandalous affair as Alexandre Dumas’ “La Tour de Nesle” and Maurice Druon’s “The Iron King.” You would think I’d had enough of these accursed parsonages ( Marguerite of Burgundy, Louis the Hutin, Enguerrand de Marigny, Charles of Valois, and the D’Aulnay brothers ) but “Buridan” is its own charming tale.
Zevaco’s work liberally borrows from (and considerably expands on) the Dumas play. Divided in two parts (volume 2 is titled “The Bloody Queen”) here are some 900 pages of swooning heroines, brawling bravos, and intriguing courtiers ( in both senses of the word). Cliffhangers and reversals succeed each 0ther in Zevaco’s trademarked, paradoxic mix of the speedy and the bloated. Less daring writers of the “cape et epee” school may include one missing royal baby, one hidden tunnel, one poisoned cup, one tavern fight. Zevaco laughs, and provides three or four of each, as if to justify Sartre’s comment. This is democratic entertainment, meant for the masses, and it should therefore be massive.
A plot summary for “Buridan” would be headache-inducing. Buridan is the son of Charles of Valois and Anne of Draman, (but he doesn’t know it.) Buridan is in love with Myrtille. Myrtille is the daughter of Queen Marguerite and Enguerrand de Marigny (but she doesn’t know it.) Marigny hates Charles, Charles hates Marigny. Buridan hates Marigny. Marigny loves Marguerite. Marguerite loves Buridan, so she’s in love with her daughter’s boyfriend, which is why she hates Myrtille, then loves Myrtille, then hates Myrtille again. Buridan’s best friend hates Marigny, but loves Marguerite. Charles loves Myrtille, so he’s in love with his son’s girlfriend. Anne of Draman hates Myrtille and Marguerite, then loves Myrtille but still hates Marguerite. Stragildo serves Marguerite, as does Anne de Draman, pretending to be called Mabel. Gillone pretends to serve Myrtille and Marigny but secretly serves Charles, Lancelot de Bigorgne serves Buridan but also used to serve Charles of Valois.
That’s all simple enough to begin with, but then Zevaco starts complicating things.