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 “Inu-yasha”, 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!

 

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

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

Auguste-Maquet

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!

#Yesallwomeninthe1600s : Theophile Gautier – “Captain Fracasse”

The Internet may have discovered sexual harassment last month, (and may abandon itself to some new wave of outrage next month) but women have been subject to pretty odious, relentless persecution throughout the sad, sexist annals of human history. Theophile Gautier’s “Captain Fracasse” is set in the France of Louis XIII (1601-1643, a. k. a. “Musketeer time”) and yet it works hard to answer a question that has plagued the female of the species from times immemorial: What are you supposed to do when some deluded dude just won’t take “no” for an answer?

According to Gautier, you get ANOTHER big, strong guy to stab the perv in the lung. It’s not the best feminist answer, but who can argue with results?

ABOVE: No means no!

In the 1820s, most of the literary luminaries of French Romanticism managed to cram themselves into Victor Hugo’s drawing room, in what was known as the Cenacle: Dumas, Musset, Balzac, Sainte-Beuve, Prosper Merimee…  Theophile Gautier was there, but he was wild enough to spin off the circle into his own satellite. The Petit Cenacle was termed thusly half in affection, half in acknowledgment that its irreverent, borderline Bohemian members (Nerval, Petrus Borel)  would not achieve quite the same level of glory as the parent congregation. Gautier had many achievements as poet and critic, though, including his popularization of the “Art for Art Sake’s” doctrine; he wrote an early vampire story in “La Morte Amoureuse,” and what may be the first big tale about mummies, “Le Roman de la Momie.”

ABOVE: With a pretty mustache like that? Of course Gautier knew about sexual harassment!

But Gautier’s most lasting success has been “Captain Fracasse,” a cloak-and-dagger romance that had several film adaptations last century, (one directed by Abel Gance in much the same style as “The Tower of Nesle.”)

ABOVE: I will defend the honor of this golden vagina!

The young Baron de Sigognac is living on reduced means in his dilapidated mansion when a band of traveling players shows up looking for shelter. It takes little more than a pleasant dinner to convince Sigognac to join the colorful thespians in their journey, and soon he adopts the stage name of Captain Fracasse. That’s a pun worth explaining: “fracasser” means to smash things, to break down ; a “fracasse” would be a fray, a big mess of a fight; it also implies a debacle, a failure. Captain Disaster would be an appropriate translation.

Sigognac has fallen in love, (a proper, respectful, requited love), with Isabelle, the ingenue of the crew. Isabelle is modest, sweet, perfect and boring in every way, and it takes only the briefest mention of her absent parents to suggest to us that she must have noble blood and may well turn out to be Louis XIII’s hidden daughter by the novel’s conclusion. She has eyes for no one but Sigognac, but has attracted the unwanted attention of the Duke of Vallombreuse. Vallombreuse is a despicable cad who one imagines carrying a pouch of roofies under his cloak, getting pumped up for his date rape by listening to whatever was the 1600s version of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” ( probably Bach’s “Tocatta in A Minor – Molto Molestoso.” )

ABOVE: “I know you want it… Must wanna get nasty… But you’re a good girl…. heyheyhey!”

Vallombreuse can’t quite believe Isabelle isn’t giving it up, even after he’s basically hurled diamonds at her face, so he does what any sensible gentleman in the 17th century would do: he contracts brigands to murder Captain Fracasse, and then abducts Isabelle. I know what you’re thinking: Surely Isabelle is seduced by this earnest display of affection? After all, few suitors are willing to go that extra-mile that involves killing and kidnapping!

But the unappreciative Isabelle is inexplicably angered by Vallombreuse’s maneuvers. Vallombreuse is of course too noble to actually reduce himself to the role of rapist, (or else Gautier is too shy to go there). The duke simply locks the actress in a room and waits for her mood to be more favorable.

This isn’t “Clarissa,” not entirely, but the situation will be familiar to readers of Samuel Richardson. It’s something to reflect on that, at one point in time, being abducted and brow-beaten into sex wasn’t a freak criminal situation but a relatable trope, something to contend with and prepare for: since women were more or less sequestered in the patriarchal home waiting for marriages in which they had limited say, both unwanted abductions and desirable elopements functioned through similar mechanisms.

Meanwhile, Captain Fracasse shows his would-be killers his fancy fencing moves, wins the fight, and goes to the rescue of Isabelle. The modern reader may dismiss Isabelle as a damsel in distress, in that she doesn’t save herself from the situation – but isn’t that yet another form of victim blaming? (“Why wasn’t she strong and empowered? It’s like she was asking for it!”) It doesn’t matter if she isn’t strong and empowered; most PEOPLE, men or women, aren’t particularly strong or empowered outside of our psycho-therapeutic parlance. It’s irrelevant: weakness doesn’t justify abuse.

So what matters is that Fracasse arrives and puts his sword through the Duke of Vallombreuse’s left lung.

Up to this point, “Captain Fracasse” has been a fine romance. The characters are stock, (literally, in the case of the theater troupe.) The history is non-existent, (notice I can’t tell you where exactly in the 40 years of Louis XIII’s reign it takes place, and I doubt Gautier could either.) It lacks the wit or drama of a Dumas, the mad over-plotting of a Zevaco, or the relatively fleshed out personalities of a Feval, but  it has charm and heart, specially whenever Gautier details the family life of the theater people.

ABOVE: Fracasse and the troupe

… But after the sword fight between Vallombreuse and Fracasse the whole set-up crumbles. It’s the worst sort of crumbling, the slow-motion, brick-by-brick un-mantling of the facade that has you looking at your watch wondering how long it can possibly take for a building to collapse. It’s not even crumbling, really; it’s deterioration.

SPOILER TIME:

Most stories wrap-up after the villain is eliminated and the lovers reunited. “Captain Fracasse” does too, but the wrapping is done very, very slowly by arthritic hands. After Vallombreuse is defeated, his father shows up, to reveal that Isabelle is actually Vallombreuse’s sister and therefore the near rape was 100 times creepier. That means Isabel and Captain Fracasse can marry, since she’s now nobility and no longer a paint-faced, hell-bound theater leper. Then we’re forced to watch with a profound lack of interest while Vallombreuse struggles between life and death (with Isabelle and Fracasse watching tenderly over him!) It’s not exactly Little Nell’s death, let me tell you; the reader will more likely feel alarmed by the possibility that the mustache-twirling douche might LIVE.

Which he does, and what follows is beyond absurd. Let me condense:

VALLOMBREUSE: “Oooh, that sword in the lung has changed my outlook in life. I woke up from my coma respecting women and their right to sexual autonomy!”

FRACASSE: “And also my right to not be murdered?”

VALLOMBREUSE: “Of course, you big lug! You’re family now!”

ISABELLE: “OOOH! I love you, brother! You are the best brother a sister could ever have! Give me a big hug!”

*they hug*

ISABELLE: “Oooh. That’s a tight hug. Ok, brother, you can stop hugging now. Let go. Stop. Stop now. STOP!!!”

VALLOMBREUSE: “Pardon moi, sister! Garcons will be garcons!”

FRACASSE: “Ay ay ay. Thanksgivings are gonna be awkward!”

*The three of men chortle merrily.*

LE FIN

ABOVE: DUDE. She ain’t even conscious. That ain’t right.

RATING : COOL! for the early sections, SHRUG for the denouement.