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!”

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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.

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(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…

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…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.”

OUCH.

 

 

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PRESENTING: THE SUPER REMIXED COUNT OF MONTECRISTO!!!

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Dear Imaginary Reader:

SO, I am a complete failure at self-advertising (my idea of pushing my stuff is close to: “I have a book. It’s terrible, I’m sure….You don’t have to read this… I mean… I wish you would… But I understand… You’re busy… Reading is for nerds… Oh Gosh I’m so sorry for Having Wasted Your Time… This is so embarrassing…“)  That said, my new book,

THE SUPER REMIXED COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO 

is now available for sale at Amazon!!! I’m kind of excited to share it with y’all, and I hope it’s the beginning of a longer journey for us. I say “new book” with some hesitation because, as some of you may know, the project took a few years to complete. (Time-Traveling Memo to Self About Seven Years Ago: Maybe Don’t Tackle a 1,350 Page Novel as an Inexperienced Young Fool!)

Anyway. There it is. I hope you buy it, rent it, check it out, steal it, I don’t care, as long as you read it and it makes you smile. If it doesn’t make you smile, then my revenge shall be slow, methodical, and implacable. You have been warned.

Below, is the Prologue, in case you haven’t read along with some of my earlier, less polished experiments like The Super Remixed Marie Antoinette Saga (now in the process of being renovated from the ground up, so as to make it actually presentable to human eyes):

PROLOGUES AND EXPLANATIONS

Q: What the heck is “THE SUPER REMIXED ™ COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO”?

A: It’s Alexandre Dumas’ “The Count of Monte Cristo,” the famed and perpetually popular epic saga of revenge, intrigue, and redemption! Except now it has been SUPER REMIXED ™ by me, Hans. That’s self—explanatory, peeps!

Q: Ok. So is this Fanfiction?

A: ALL OF LITERATURE IS FANFICTION. No book ever issued unsullied out of some artsy abyss. Writers do what they do because at some point in their susceptible youths they read SOMETHING and their reaction was: “Well, I want to write THAT…but MY WAY. And I want X to have sex with Y instead of with Z.”

The rest is just a magician’s act of misdirection, usually accomplished by merging two or maybe three of the writer’s favorite obsessions. If something ever strikes you as truly “original,” it might be that it’s merging FOUR of the writer’s obsessions into some unholy “original” mix. Say, a novel that simultaneously honors James Joyce, Star Trek (and specifically DS9), Rumiko Takahashi’s “Inuyasha”, and the Ramayana. Go ahead and give that mix a try! You’re bound to win a National Book Award and / or  puzzle people with your dazzling originality!

There is no shame in fanfiction. Go back as far as you can, to “Genesis”— and that’s already Sumerian fanfiction. John Milton’s ”Paradise Lost”? “Genesis” fanfiction. Dante’s “Divine Comedy”? Basically a feverish mash—up of the “Book of Revelations” and Virgil’s “The Aeneid.” “The Aeneid,” of course, it’s Homer fanfiction. There’s hardly a Shakespeare play that didn’t start as someone else’s characters and situations. Willy just contributed his iambic pentameter, his incredibly filthy jokes, and…you know… his unrivaled poetic genius.

Miguel de Cervantes’ “Don Quixote” often gets shouted out as the “First Western Novel”— and it’s already a loving parody of “Amadis de Gaula.” Which borrowed its best bits from the “Matter of Britain.”

(As an aside, do yourself a favor and check out DQ’s wondrous Chapter 6, in which we get a glimpse of the many works of fanfiction “Amadis” inspired: “Son of Amadis” “Amadis of Greece!” “The Return of the Son of Amadis!”)

So to reiterate,  it’s fanfiction turtles all the way down.

Except this. This is not fanfiction.

Q: But you just said…

A: Next question.

Q: So fine, if it’s not fanfiction, what is it? A parody?

A: Nope. A parody attempts to imitate certain exaggerated features of a writer’s style, usually for the purposes of mockery. There are MOMENTS of parody within, but this is not, overall, parodic of Dumas’ style. There’s plenty of other places for that.

Q: Ugh. Is it an abridgment, then?

A: Good question! You would think so, right? But not exactly. The main purpose of an abridgment is to make things shorter, and the main purpose of this enterprise was to make things… weirder, I guess? I may actually have EXPANDED upon some sections. Also, I hate abridgments and find them sacrilegious. It’s a SUPER REMIX ™, I told ya!

Q: Can you further discuss what you consider to be the similarities and differences between SUPER REMIXES ™, fanfiction, homages, pastiches, remakes, sequels, parodies, retellings, up—datings, and reboots?

A: I *CAN* but then my Portobello and Pesto Panini would go uneaten, and that would make me hostile. It’s almost lunchtime, you know.

Q: What would you say to your Dear Imaginary Readers who wonder why they should read something so familiar? I mean, SPOILER, the COUNT ESCAPES PRISON AND GETS HIS REVENGE!

A: I say there are FOUR Great Reasons:

  1. If you’ve never read “The Count of Monte Cristo,” and don’t know what awaits, then you’re just a lucky critter, because you’re about to jump into one of the most timeless, powerful, thrilling, immersive novels of all time, except now it has 27% more baguette jokes. I wish I could be you!!!
  2. If you HAVE read it, then here’s your chance to experience it entirely anew in a SUPER REMIXED ™ version that nonetheless hopes to retain everything that made you fall in love the first time.
  3. If you started to read it at some point and somehow your eyes glazed over when you saw the cast of characters was 10 pages long… I getcha! The times have a—changed! This is speedy, accessible and with 1/3rd the literary calories.
  4. If you started to read it and somehow your eyes glazed over and you were like: “Forget it, I’ll Netflix the movie” and now you think you know the plot…YOU KNOW NOTHING, JEAN NEIGE. No wimpy 2—hour movie can do justice to the tangled web the Count weaves. None of the versions even try: they keep the premise, a couple of early scenes, and then abandon the plot altogether. Except that anime where the Count was a psychedelically inspired alien-elf. That one was exactly what Dumas envisioned, obviously.

Q: Who’s Auguste Maquet, aka Auggy Mack?

          A: Dumas’ main homey. Maquet collaborated with Dumas during the intensely prolific period that saw “Monte Cristo”, “The Three Musketeers Epic,” “The Valois Trilogy,” “The Marie Antoinette Saga,” and a handful of other gems like “The Black Tulip,” “Olympe de Cleves,” and “The Bastard of Mauleon.” Maquet was far from Dumas’ only collaborator. His collaborators number the dozen, and of note are Gerard Nerval, the Countess Dash, and not one but three Pauls: Paul Bocage, Paul Lacroix, Paul Meurice. Think of it like a television show. Very rarely does the creator actually write every single episode by themselves- they have a writer’s room!- and Dumas was very much a showrunner. It is safe to say, though, that Dumas’ biggest novelistic hits were with Maquet. The Mack kept Alex on schedule with tight outlines and historical research, on top of which Dumas added his wit and flair. Also, you can bet Maquet was the one in charge of keeping the coffee hot on the pot.

Q: How many volumes will there be?

A: I love the concept of the serial, the “roman feuilleton.” In classic Dumasian tradition, there will be 5 volumes: “The Fall,” “The Rise,” “Patience and Faith,” “Deaths,” and “Resurrections.” They will be released every three months for your reading delectation. I’m hungry, let’s wrap this up.

Q: No one reads prologues anyway. Why is this one so long?

A: It’s a long project, it deserves a long prologue. I have a lot more to say, but you may be right, I’ll save the rest for an equally long epilogue.

Q: Speaking of long: what possessed you to tackle one of the longest novels of all time? Ambition? Hubris?

A: I may have bit off more than I can chew.

Q: Yeah! What were you thinking, you fool?!?

A: I was talking about my Portobello and Pesto Panini! This Prologue is over!

 

Tulip Fever : Alexandre Dumas – “The Black Tulip”

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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.

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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!”

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

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


P. S.:

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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.

 

No One Fights Like Gascons : Alexandre Dumas – “The 45 Guardsmen”

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ABOVE: The Three Musketeers have really let themselves go.

It’s easy to get attached to three or four musketeers; when we’re talking 45 of them, things get a little more challenging, which is why Alexandre Dumas’ “The 45” (often published in English as “The Forty-Five Guardsmen”) is by far the less popular entry in the Valois trilogy, even though it contains all the winning elements of the previous novels, ( “Queen Margot” and “La Dame de Monsoreau”.) Realistically, it’s a steep learning curve for the unconvinced or uninitiated: not counting all the returning royals and nobles from the saga (the Three Henrys, as well as Catherine de Medici and dear Queen Margot) we’re also introduced to over 20 principal characters in the first couple of chapters… and that’s before the 45 titular swashbucklers even show up! (Dumas himself points out that each of them have fascinating stories to tell, but ain’t nobody got time for THAT.)

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ABOVE: “FORTY-FIVE GUARDS?! In one night?! Well, I’m afraid the engagement is off, Monsieur.”

The 45 guardsmen were largely Gascons hired to protect Henry III, and so Dumas gets ample room to praise the bravado and braggadocio that he identifies as a trademarks of the natives of the Gascony, the French region that extends from below Bordeaux almost to Basque Country. It would almost be ethnic stereotyping, but he’s fond of Gascons, it’s clear, since he gave the place what’s easily its most famous fictional son: D’Artagnan.

Unfortunately, there’s no D’Artagnan here, since this all happens some 40 years before “Musketeer Times”, in the 1580s, toward the end of those Wars of Religion that saw the three Henrys, (Henry III, Henry of Lorraine, and Henry of Navarre) fight each other, presumably propelled by the creed that “there can be only one.” Meanwhile, in case one wasn’t confused enough, a FOURTH Henry, Henry de Joyeuse, starts stalking demonstrating his love for Diane de Meridor, the Lady of Monsoreau.

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ABOVE: Guess which of the Henrys this is!

 

Toward the second half of the narrative, both Diane and the returning Chicot the Jester try to elbow their way to the foreground of the narrative, but this is hard to do with so many other characters blocking their way.  The novel itself fails to push its way to the forefront of Dumas’ oeuvre. “The 45” is not recommendable as any kind of entry-point to the world of Dumas: it’s too busy with plot and intrigue (there’s at least four main storylines in here). It also feels unfinished; it’s reputed to be a bridge between “Monsoreau” and a never-written fourth book that would string together all the narrative strands of the Valois trilogy. For something like a satisfying wrap, you’ll have to follow Chicot to his cameo in Auguste Maquet’s “la Belle Gabrielle.”

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ABOVE: “Hmmm, I appreciate the rescue and all, but there’s no need to squeeze my boob that hard.”

RATING : GOOD ENOUGH forthe fans; a confused SHRUG for newcomers to the Valois books.

The Three Dumases : Alexandre Dumas – “The Two Dianas”

Much is made of Auguste Maquet’s collaborations with Alexandre Dumas.

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ABOVE: Auguste Maquet, the unsung musketeer.

Hard-core fans know Maquet was essential to Dumas’ astoundingly prolific period of the late 1840s. Some have gone on a pro-Maquet campaign that reminds me of the “Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare” fanatics. The “anti-Shakespeare” gang has apparently decided  everybody alive in the 1500s wrote Shakespeare’s plays EXCEPT Shakespeare, and has produced overheated conspiracy pamphlets like “Anonymous”. By comparison, the moderate pro-Maquet camp admits that Dumas was the genius, but claims Maquet gave Dumas’ work solid structures he lacked elsewhere. (I agree). A nice, little speculative movie was made of the fractious friendship between the two a few years back. “The Other Dumas” is an overdue if fantastical homage to the forgotten Maquet. (The movie stars Gerard Depardieu as Dumas, as if you even had to wonder.)

ABOVE: “It’s not pronounced Dumb-ass, I keep telling you! You’re fired!”

To its credit, the movie doesn’t try to detract from Dumas’ work. The general consensus is that Maquet did the research, outlines and grunt work; Dumas provided the plot, the wit and panache. Maquet’s own novels are noticeably less engaging – although, and it does bear stressing, hardly terrible. I’ve read a couple and while the uninterested have no need to laboriously seek them out, (they’re only available in French as far as I know), they do have charms. I also strongly believe Maquet is authorially responsible for the character of Chicot in the Valois trilogy: when Maquet went solo after their parting, he took Chicot with him into the novel “The Belle Gabrielle,” under symbolic incognito. (Notice he didn’t try any of that with D’Artagnan or Montecristo, both of which had solid basis in Dumas’ theatrical work and early novels of the ’30s.)

Understandably most of the reviews of “The Other Dumas” lacked familiarity with any of Dumas’ work beyond “The Count of Montecristo” and “The Three Musketeers.” Take this typical article prompted by “The Other Dumas”:

https://flcenterlitarts.wordpress.com/2010/02/11/who-wrote-the-novels-of-alexandre-dumas

The article mentions little of Dumas’ work beyond the two perennials. It says that “for nearly 20 years the two worked closely together.” Not quite.  It’s true that the date of the first meeting between Dumas and Maquet (1839, when Gerard de Nerval introduced them and Maquet showed Dumas the play that would become “Harmental”) and the date of Maquet’s lawsuit against Dumas (1858) would signal “nearly twenty years of closely working together.” But the real partnership between Dumas and Maquet went from 1842 (starting with the publication of “The Chevalier d’Harmental”) until 1850 (the ending of “The Vicomte de Bragelonne.”) That’s eight years, not nearly twenty. Moreover, the “closely together” part of that partnership actually involved the astoundingly prolific FOUR years period between 1844 and 1848 that produced the Count, the Musketeers Trilogy, the Valois Trilogy and the first three Marie Antoinette novels, among others.

Later that same article claims that after the two parted ways, “Dumas wrote nothing else of worth, while Maquet went on to write a lot.” Huh? Dumas went on to write a lot as well and plenty of worth. There were, after all, 22 years after their break, which included newspapers / plays / histories / essays / an epic multi-volume memoir / his classic “Dictionary of Cuisine”  AND at least one (more typically two or three) novels a year, including some big hits like “The Companions of Jehu,” “Emma Lyonna” and “The Mohicans of Paris.” What the writer means to say is that Dumas was ruined after throwing away several fortunes in his lavish lifestyle, while the wiser Maquet saved his pennies and died rich.

ABOVE: Paul Meurice, the other OTHER Dumas?

Anyway, the Dumas- Maquet partnership can only be fully understood in the context of   Dumas’ writer-factory process, which went back to his years as a young theater lion, when plays were co-scripted and passed around. Think of Dumas as the show runner, (the Joss Whedon or Vince Gilligan of his time.) Among Dumas’ other collaborators and ghost-writers were De Nerval, the Countess Dash, and the three Pauls: Paul Bocage, Paul Lacroix, and Paul Meurice. Meurice is more known for his close friendship with Victor Hugo, but he collaborated with Dumas in “Ascanio”

And “The Two Dianas,” which is the book prompting these thoughts.

ABOVE: Wow, someone decided that a drawing of a guy opening a book was an exciting cover for a historical romance!

Quick: It takes place in 1557 and picks up historically more or less directly after “Ascanio”. Gabriel de Montogomery has a problem. He’s in love with Diana de Castro, the illegitimate daughter of Diane de Poitiers and… either Jacques de Montgomery (Gabe’s father) or King Henry II. To complicate maters, Henry II put Jacques away to an indeterminate fate. So Diana de Castro is either Gabriel’s sister … or the daughter of the man who destroyed his father’s life. Dealbreakers everywhere Gabriel turns, so he runs off to sort things out at the Siege of St. Quentin. Nostradamus, Mary Stuart and Ambroise Pare are among the historical figures that parade through the pages.

Some scholarship suggests “The Two Dianas” may very well be entirely of Paul Meurice’s making. There exits a letter in which Dumas seems to give Meurice full authorship of the novel after Meurice asked for permission to prepare a stage version, but the phrasing is ambiguous enough that scholars are still uncertain. The letter could merely be an official business gesture and blessing (as in, “the novel is now yours to do with it as you will”). It’s a great “Dumas” anyway, and fits seamlessly into the canon. Furthermore, some fictional characters from here reappear on “The Page of the Duke of Savoy,” which works as a sequel.

ABOVE: A scene from “Martin Guerre.” They were very musical in 1500s France.

Talking about doubles and twos, “The Two Dianas” features Martin Guerre as Gabriel’s doubled Sancho Panza. Martin Guerre is one of the most famous cases of imposture in the historical record. Guerre was a French peasant who abruptly abandoned his home town in 1548, was thought dead, and reappeared eight years later, in 1556, to return to his wife and family. Except, PLOT TWIST, then the REAL Martin Guerre returned, and the man who had been passing as him for a while was revealed to be a stranger named Arnaud Du Thil. Du Thil was hanged for the fraud, but the oddities of the case – the wife who never said anything! – made a mark. Dumas popularized the Martin Guerre case before, in his massive “The Celebrated Crimes,” but here he uses it to great theatrical effect, (happily shouting out Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors” and Plautus’ “The Menaechmi”.) Mild-mannered Martin Guerre is puzzled by the more daring double of himself who creates mischief everywhere he goes. Dostoevsky’s “The Double”– WITH THE EXACT SAME CONCEIT – was published the same year as “The Two Dianas,” by the way.

COINCIDENCE?!?

Yes, totally. I just like saying “COINCIDENCE?” and raising my eyebrows significantly as I do it. Also I’m reading “The Double” as well so it casts its magic and makes you see doppelgangers everywhere. The “Martin Guerre” case inspired “Sommersby”, a Civil War-set drama starring Richard Gere and Jodie Foster, as well as a not-too-successful musical adaptation by Boublil and Schomberg, the makers of “Les Miserables” and “Miss Saigon.” I am a fan of that show in its several attempted incarnations, but I fully accept its flaws, which include some laughably inane English-language lyrics.

RATING : COOL!