According to Mario Vargas Llosa, Ernest Hemingway once unceremoniously punched a foolish fan who made the unfortunate mistake of saying hello while Papa imbibed his Mojito at El Floridita. So it’s best to agree with Hemingway when he counted Alexandre Dumas’ “Queen Margot” among his favorite novels in a 1935 Esquire interview, up there with the likes of “War and Peace” and “Huckleberry Finn.”
“Queen Margot”, from 1845, follows the “The Two Dianas”, “The Page of the Duke of Savoy” and “The Horoscope” chronologically, and puts us right in the middle of the French Wars of Religion that saw Catholics and Huguenots exercise their righteous Christian love upon each other, (inevitably resulting in several million deaths.) The inciting event is the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre – the original red wedding. The arranged marriage between the Catholic Marguerite of Valois and the Protestant Henri III of Navarre appeared to be Catherine de Medici’s benevolent peace-making attempt between the followers of the Duke de Guise and the Huguenots of Admiral Coligny. Protestant leaders poured into Paris to celebrate the love match, and the grand new era of religious tolerance that was bound to ensue. Much merriment was had by all for five days.
Then King Charles IX ordered Coligny’s assassination, the doors to Paris closed, and thousands of Huguenots were slaughtered before they’d had time to wipe the wedding cake crumbs off their face. Even the newlywed Henry barely managed to escape the massacre.
Dumas captures the chaos of St. Bartholomew through the eyes of two of his classic heroes: Dashing Protestant La Mole and head-bashing Catholic Annibal de Coconnas. They first meet as sworn enemies and soon find themselves the most devoted of brothers. Their touching cross-denominational friendship is even more concentrated than the friendship of the Musketeers, (which, after all, had to go four ways.) La Mole and Coconnas are Asterix and Obelix, Tom and Huck, Orestes and Pylade. To read the duo as homo-erotic might be a stretch, but some of their scenes do raise modern eyebrows, (like the one in which Coconnas refuses to sleep with his mistress, having sexually wilted duing La Mole’s temporary absence.)
In any case, La Mole attracts the attention of Marguerite de Valois, Queen Margot.
Dumas’ portrait of Queen Margot is one of kind, generous sensuality. She manages to have four or five different love interests throughout the novel without any of them feeling insincere. Even her relationship with her confidant, Duchesse de Nevers, overflows with teh sexy, and here the modern reader may freely and confidently raise modern eyebrows.
The queen said: “Have you forgotten our agreement, my dear Duchess?”
“No; I shall be your respectful servant in public—in private, your madcap confidante, is it not so, madame? Is it not so, Marguerite?”
“‘Yes, yes,” said Margot, smiling.
“No family rivalry, no treachery in love; everything fair, open, and aboveboard! An offensive and defensive alliance, for the sole purpose of finding and, if we can, catching on the fly, that ephemeral thing called happiness.”
“Just so, duchess. Let us again seal the compact with a kiss.”
And the two beautiful women, the one so pale, so full of melancholy, the other so roseate, so fair, so animated, joined their lips, as they had united their thoughts.
Clearly Margot swang both ways.
Actually, she swings in a multitude of ways, forming alliances and ducking accusations from maleficent Catherine de Medicis, (whose poison-loving ways give the novel two or three memorably tense moments.) “Queen Margot” got adapted into a lavish historical epic in 1994, starring Isabel Adjani and Vincent Perez. A fittingly sensual spectacle, it may be well be the best Dumas movie adaptation, because it respects the complex, adult nature of its source material, instead of assuming it’s all sword-swinging kiddie fun.
RATING : MASTERPIECE!