Even before Alexandre Dumas died in 1870, the titan’s shadow provided shelter to a variety of devout aficionados of the historical romance in the Dumasian mold. Today, we would call them fan-fiction writers, but in a time of looser copyright laws, the line between Dumas, his collaborators, and his imitators wasn’t always clear. In 1854, for instance, it was entirely possible for a reader in any number of countries, both in Europe and the New World, to happily pick up the surprising sequel to “The Count of Monte Cristo,” titled “The Dead Man’s Hand.” That reader might perhaps have concluded that the novel was fine, or that it was way too short to match the epic reach of part one, or that it was unusually moralistic for its author, or that “it just wasn’t the same.” What they could not have concluded- unless they were unusually skeptic- is that they were reading an unauthorized pastiche by Portuguese writer Alfredo Hogan.
Dumas, referring to this editorial imposture, wrote (sarcasm alert):
“Since this sequel is repulsive, I have a lot of friends all over the world who insist it is mine.” And, “I don’t mind when other people take credit for my good books- that’s the way the world goes. But when they give me credit for THEIR bad books, that’s where I draw the line.”
There were at least two Pauls competing for the title of “Greatest Dumas Continuator” (according to spellcheck, I may have coined something). One of them was Paul Feval fils, who pitted D’Artagnan against Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac in a long series of best-sellers (as well as writing sequels to his more famous father’s “Le Bossu,” a title I can’t see myself translating into “The Hunchback” because you will just think of Victor Hugo.)
The other Paul is Paul Mahalin, who, confusingly enough, ALSO wrote sequels to Paul Feval’s “Le Bossu.” Want to get more confused? Paul Mahalin’s real name was Emile Blondet, and he wrote the popular NOVEL “The Son of Porthos”, which is not to be confused with the popular PLAY “The Son of Porthos,” which was written by Emile BLAVET.
Whereas people like Feval and Michel Zevaco wrote in happy imitation of Dumas, Mahalin / Blondet was one of the first who thought to simply push the stories of the characters farther, (although Albert Blanquet’s “The Loves of D’Artagnan” may chronologically be the first full-length Musketeer sequel). Mahalin wrote “The Son of Porthos”, “The Godson of Aramis,” and “D’Artagnan,” (which covered the missing 20 years between “The Three Musketeers” and “Twenty Years After”). He also wrote “Mademoiselle Montecristo,” and some novels that followed up with the Valois trilogy: “The King of the League,” “The Barricades,” “The Last Valois,” and “The End of Chicot.” These novels exist, they interest me, but I am not likely to find them anywhere outside of some French library of antiquities, so I may never know what happens to Chicot “in the end.”
However, I WAS happily able to find Mahalin’s dyptich of “Le Reine des Gueux” and “Le Duc Rouge,” (“The Queen of Beggars” and “The Red Duke”) a very fun tale of “Musketeer Times.” It concerns Anne of Austria’s conflict with Cardinal Richelieu during the Conspiracy of Chalais. Most of the story takes place in picturesque parts of Italy, among gypsies.
Beautiful, fortune-telling Diamante is the recently ascended Queen of the Gypsies, but she’s causing grumbles among the old-school because she’s forcing the zingaros, the gitanos, the tziganos, call them what you will, to do horrible things like paying for their food and cutting back on the baby-stealing. Note: if you’re of proud Roma heritage, you may not be amused by this novel’s humor, which is predicated on the idea that gypsies get seriously disappointed in themselves and become borderline depressed if they happen to accidentally do something that isn’t of a criminal nature.
Anyway, Diamante, as attractive as Esmeralda as you can guess by the name, grabs the attention of Yanoz, a macho douchey gypsy whom she wisely rejects again and again; of Jacques Callot, a painter from Loraine who has wandered into the camp looking for la vie Boheme; of the volatile Charles de Vadeaumont, soon to be Charles IV of Lorraine; and of Charles’ right-hand man, Christian of Sierk, a calculating, red-mustachioed assassin who knows more about the origins of Diamante than he lets on. (Oh did you imagine Diamante was actually a gypsy/tramp/thief? Noooo, our heroine is a blue-blooded blondie princess!)
Jacques Callot, the novel’s hero, and an actual print-maker of renown, left a series of remarkable depictions of the 1600s, and Mahalin uses them as settings for the novel’s. For instance, our characters collide during the Fair at Impruneta in the 1620s, and the author charmingly makes us see what Callot chronicled:
Two very funny Italian matamoros enter the picture at this point: the comedia dell’arte characters of Francatrippa and Fritellino (my limited Italian suggests the etymology there is Honest Guts and… Little Brother/ Small Fry? It fits them well). In part two, “The Red Duke,” they’ve become the Chevaliers of Mirassou and Caudebec, and function as the Cardinal Richelieu’s ineffective spies, but their hilarious cussing remains unchanged.
Once we get to Court, the rapid succession of formerly famous court names (over two dozen in the first 3 chapters of “The Red Duke”) might be overwhelming to the modern reader who skipped on his Dumas and may not be able to tell the Duc D’Anjou from the Duc D’Angouleme, Bassompierre from Buckingham, Mademe de Chevreuse from Madame de Montpensier, or Monsieur de Treville from Monsieur de Merceur. Of importance is that Diamante and Jacques meet once, and that Anne of Austria conspires against Richelieu as he prepares for the Siege of the Huguenots at La Rochelle.
Mahalin concedes there are only two portraits of Richelieu of any relevance: the one is by Phillip de Champaigne and hangs at the Louvre, the other is by Alexandre Dumas and can be found in “The Three Musketeers.” (In a fun cameo from that novel, Rochefort meets with Richelieu!) A speedy conclusion ensures that “The Queen of Beggars” and “The Red Duke” are a beautiful Dumasian romance, making Paul Mahalin an unfairly forgotten writer of the popular novel, which saddens me.