More Counts! : Auguste Maquet: “The Count of Lavernie”

“Antoinette, I have known you for 20 hours, but count on me for all eternity! As long as there is breath in me and blood in you, my breath shall find your blood!”


And that exalted sort of romance is the hallmark of “The Count of Lavernie,” one of Auguste “Auggy Mack” Maquet’s unjustly forgotten post-Dumas novels.


(Truly, Maquet’s solo work of any interest are this Count, its sequel “The Fall of Satan”; “La Belle Gabrielle” and its sort of sequel “The Maison de Baigneurs”; and I am curious about “L’Envers and L’Endroit.” These works are all decent. In the way Paul Mahalin’s Dumasian novels are decent.

“The Count of Lavernie” is a typically lengthy saga, set at the end of Louis XIV’s reign (post “Vicomte de Bragelonne” and pre-“Chevalier of Harmental,”) “The Count of Lavernie” follows the love affair between brave, militarily-inclined Gerard of Lavernie and orphaned Antoinette de Savieres. She’s on her way to the nunnery in Saint-Ghislain, he’s on the way to the army, but after they collide, love does its first-sight thing. Are there any number of secrets relating to both Gerard and Antoinette’s births? You betcha! Will Gerard rescue Antoinette from celibacy before she says her vows? Maybe, but that’s merely the beginning of a grand tale involving the villainous Monsieur Louvois, the Minister of War, and his intrigues against the King’s mistress / secret wife, Madame de Maintenon. In the bigger world theatre, Louis XIV and William of Orange, King of England,  face each other. Due to the vagaries of monarchic nomenclature, William of Orange has the distinction of being both William III (of England) and William II (of Scotland.)

The novel sticks to the standard Dumas (or should I say Dumas / Maquet) tactic of letting the actions of fictional characters reverberate all the way up to the real life game of thrones. While Gerard and Antoinette are typical handsome knight / beautiful maiden material, the secondary characters shine: Jaspin the shy abbot; Belair the horny guitar player and his girlfriend, the sassy Violette. Playwright Jean Racine has a cameo.

Portrait presumed to be Jean Racine (1638-99) (oil on canvas)

And then there is the comedy relief villain “Desbuttes.” I can not substantiate this, but Desbuttes, a “thief” of no talents who rises to grand aspirations, totally sounds like Maquet is throwing shade at Dumas. This is some John Lennnon / Paul McCartney post-Beatles acrimony. This passage REALLY sticks out tonally in the novel. Maybe “Desbuttes” ISN’T “Dumas”, but I can GUARANTEE that Maquet felt like this about Alexandre at some point. After a physical depiction that fits this Marzio Mariani caricature to a T…


…Maquet says:

He always jammed himself into expensive clothes, smiled at his friends as long as they played along, talked about them behind their backs. He always acted like a bon vivant, but he came from a long line of bankrupt, bragging lackeys. He was greedy, but he appeared to people as if he was generous with money- because the money he played with wasn’t his. He spent fortunes prodigiously, but on his passions and vices. He always lied, to others and to himself. Even though he was accidentally rich, he preferred to be a debtor, and he took it up as a profession. He owed money to his best friends, his mistresses, and his servants, and he never paid them back.”





Tulip Fever : Alexandre Dumas – “The Black Tulip”


Above: Naturaleza Muerta

(Re-read) “The Black Tulip” is an odd, yet oddly successful, offspring from the Dumas / Maquet era. The action doesn’t take place in France, but in Holland, 1672, during the Tulip Craze that kinda parallels the Pokemon  “gotta catch’em all” mentality.  The rarest of Pokemon  Tulips was the Black Tulip. After a brutal 3-chapter intro that tells us how William of Orange participated in the graphic lynching and skinning of brothers Cornelius and Johann de Witt, who had been been accused of “collusion” with Louis XIV, we switch to the gentle tale of Cornelius de Baerle, a godson to the De Witts. Cornelius is a horticulturist, does not care about politics. The problem with politics is that they tend to screw up the lives of good people who don’t care about politics. (By contrast, no such blame can be placed on literature.) Cornelius has figured out how to get a Black Tulip. A jealous competitor snitches on Cornelius, accuses him of being related to the De Witts, and sends Corny to prison, where he meets the lovely Rosa, daughter to the abusive jailer Gryphus.


ABOVE: Pass the Dutch, already!

What follows is pure romance. They really don’t write them like that anymore. Every time Cornelius and Rosa meet, a guilty, coy hour of daily sexual tension follows. Cornelius’ lips come closer and closer to grazing Rosa’s flushing cheeks, and you hold your breath waiting for the miracle, when she allows a kiss to happen. Then you think: “Today’s version would be “4:00 o’clock! It’s Fuck time at the Sex Flower Dungeon!”


ABOVE: “Go into the Dungeon, Boy! You Gonna Be Spanked!”

RATING: MASTERPIECE! This really is just a beautifully perfect Dumas romance.

P. S.:


ABOVE: I Never Promised You a Tulip Garden

Also of relevance: Justin Chatwick’s “Tulip Fever” “Tulip Fever,” or “when that movie you taught was fine has a shockingly low 9% on Rotten Tomatoes.” This is a lush romance set in 1600s Holland, with great production design; wonderful, subtle acting by Alicia Vikander; a less subtle but very funny Christophe Waltz; and a twisty, witty script by Tom Stoppard (“Shakespeare in Love”). So why the negative reviews? Curious, I read a bunch of them. What I didn’t know is that this movie had been held from release for three years, that it was one of Harvey Weinstein’s last pet projects, and that in-the-know showbiz critics went to it KNOWING it had a negative pre-release buzz. Review after review was: “This is that HARVEY WEINSTEIN TULIP THING that was supposed to be terrible! It’s obviously not THAT terrible, but I heard it was supposed to be, so let me figure out why.” People weren’t reacting to the story IN the movie, but to the story AROUND the movie.

Criticism went from the fair (“too many soapy plot twists!” Well yeah, but some people like those) to the wildly subjective (“Alicia Vikander’s nude scenes weren’t sexy!” I sure beg to differ!) to the absurd: “There is nothing in the zeitgeist to peg this movie to” I guess “Tulip Fever” doesn’t sufficiently address #metoo or #blacklivesmatter BUT DOES IT HAVE TO? The idea that a movie’s existence is only justified when it is tagged to a trending hashtag should be repulsive. Sometimes the whole point of a movie is to help us ESCAPE from trending hasthags.

This isn’t a defense of TF, which won’t change your life but l do recommend to lovers of historical romances. Just a comment on how preconception alters perception. Had I KNOWN this movie had a bad contextual buzz, I might also have been looking for its flaws as desperately as any other critic. I didn’t know, and so I enjoyed it a lot.


Kilty Pleasures : Diana Gabaldon – “Outlander”

ABOVE: Clock Out

“Outlander” is the first in an imposingly lengthy series of romantic adventures by Diana Gabaldon, (and soon to enter TV-land in an obvious bid to become “Game of Thrones-for-Girls”). The novel deals with time-traveling Claire and her taming of the Scotsman Jamie Fraser, in the days prior to Bonnie Prince Charlie’s rebellion.

“Outlander” was originally titled “Cross Stitch,” perhaps to appeal to the knitting crowd, (“a stitch in time”?) But I imagine someone pointed out that this not about quilts, but kilts. A “kilt-ripper,” I believe is the official denomination. Gabaldon finds every conceivable reason for depriving Jamie of his clothes, and invents a few inconceivable ones, because “Outlander,” make no mistake, is “erotica.” (“Erotica” means “porn that made it to the best-seller lists.”)

There’s many pages here but the plot is straight-forward enough: It’s just after World War II, and Claire Randall is a sassy Mary-Sue. During a holiday with her cumbersome bore of a husband, she magically stumbles through time into 1744 Scotland. The time travel element is of no importance whatsoever; Claire is just falling down a conveniently placed rabbit hole into the arms of a hunky Highlander, name of Jamie Fraser.

Claire does quite well in the past, never mind that her modern jive should be as incomprehensibly to the Scots as 18th century Scottish slang should be to her. Ever tried to read Walter Scott? THIS is what would be flying at her ears:

“Your ain parlour burn the blither! Ye have riven the thack off seven cottars—look if your ain roof-tree  graw faster. Ye may stable your shirks in the shealings at Derncleugh—see ye do not couch on the hearthstane at Ellangowan, that wad hae wanted bread ere ye had wanted sunkets. Yea, ye have turned out o’ their bits o’bields, to sleep with the tod and the blackcock in the muirs! Look that your braw cradle at hame be the fairer spread up; this be the last reise in the bonny woods.”

Got all that?

Claire happily adjusts, and in an unlikely contrivance, is “forced” to marry the handsome-but-secretly-sad Jamie. Jaime is the Pieta-Jesus/Stud to satisfy Claire’s Madonna/Whore instincts. Between jumping Jaime’s bones and tending to the same bones when they break, our heroine realizes she’s deeply and mystically connected to Jamie (‘s penis). Then he brutally belts her nearly to death to “put her in her place,” which makes her realize what a shit he is love him even more!

Together the honeymooners go adventuring. Jamie is always getting into “adventures,” see, what with the sinister high-ranking British homosexuals who are continuously trying to rape him. ( YES! You would think ONE gay rapist going after Jamie’s ass would be enough, but the book has TWO!)

ABOVE: “They may take our lives, but they will never take our SHIRTS! Oh, wait, I guess they just did.”

Oh BTW, “Outlander” is a very rapey book. Somehow people let it slide, because it’s obviously a woman’s “empowering fantasies!”), and because the worst of it happens to the dude (by contrast, Claire only gets assaulted and groped four or five times.) But I mean, there’s a LOT of repetitive rape attempts here. I suspect if a guy had been responsible for the authorship of “Outlander,” it would land him on some sort of watch list. Were the Highlands like that? Is it some attempt at historical accuracy? It seems even the Vikings would have been completely appalled: “Maybe you guys should pillage a little more, rape a little less? Life is about balance!”

ABOVE: “Seriously, those damned Brits need to give my shirt back ASAP. Winter is coming.”

BUT, guilty literary demurrals aside, I highly enjoyed this. There’s no denying that this is an involving entertainment, Scottish escapism at its very best. The steamy and/or icky scenes are thankfully spaced out, with plenty of action and intrigue in between; life in the Highlands is beautifully envisioned; the plot trots along; the supporting cast is far more rounded than the main characters; and the writing style has an extra layer of respectable sheen that lacks in, say, a Karen Marie Moning copycat novel, (sample Moning titles: “To Tame a Highland Warrior”! “Kiss of the Highlander”!)

THAT nonsense is strictly for the Harlequin crowd. But “Outlander”? A lad could carry a copy in his sporran and not feel TOO embarrassed.

RATING : MASTERPIECE!!! (if you’re a romance-reading lassie) COOL! ( for the rest of us) DOUBLE MASTERPIECE!!! (if you’re Groundskeeper Willie. It’s his favorite novel!)

ABOVE: “Ah’ll show ye twallies erotica!”