A Heart Full of Love and Cloaks and Swords : Paul Feval fils – “Coeur D’Amour”

paul feval

ABOVE: Paul Feval, pere

Paul Feval is the classic creator of “Le Bossu” (“The Hunchback” that does not hail from Notre Dame) and other swashbucklers like  “The White Wolf” and “Captain Phantom”; arguably the originator of modern detective fiction with “Jean Diable” and “The Mysteries of London”; the masterful storyteller behind the multi-volume crime saga of “Les Habits Noirs”; the pioneer of vampire fictions several decades before that hack Bram Stoker…

….and yet borderline unknown in the U.S.

If Paul Feval is unknown, what to say of his SON, Paul Feval fils?

pula feval fils

ABOVE: Paul Feval, fils

Paul Feval fils is the very entertaining writer of sequels to his father’s Lagardere series, and more famously of the long D’Artagnan vs. Cyrano saga in which the two Gascons fight and make up and fight and make up and fight and make up.


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Enjoy some  swell covers of the convoluted Coeur D’Amour saga, with bad-ass titles like “the Diabolical Trinity,” The Man With the Stolen Face” and… I’m having a hard-time translating “L’Eborgnade”… “The One-Eyed Blinding”?

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Noble Efforts : Paul Mahalin – “The Queen of Beggars” and the “Red Duke”

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.

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ABOVE: Ah, the “James Patterson” method.

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.”


feval-fils-portraitThere 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.

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ABOVE: The author’s name is subtly hidden in the curtains!

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.”

gypsy

ABOVE: Carded.

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.

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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:

Jacques_Callot_-_La_foire_d'Impruneta,_1620

ABOVE: Fair Enough

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.

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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.

Richelieu,_por_Philippe_de_Champaigne_(detalle)

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.

RATINGS: COOL!

 

Lit Up : M. L. Stedman – “The Light Between Oceans”; Anthony Doerr – “All the Light We Cannot See”

ABOVE: “I’m going to show you my lighthouse. Yeah, that’s my name for it.”

A lighthouse in post-WW1 Australia provides the picturesque excuse for M. L. Stedman’s “The Light Between Oceans.” Now, this is a very pretty romance, for the most part; a Nicholas Sparks pot-boiler solemnized by history and setting. The premise is genuinely good: Lighthouse-keeper Tom and his wife, Isabel, are still mourning over her inability to bear a pregnancy to term. They stumble upon a dying man and a baby, presumable the dying man’s daughter. The couple then makes an ethically questionable choice that is justified by their grief and their location: they keep the baby and raise it as their own.

The baby, of course, belongs to a family that knows as much about grief and loss as the couple.

The first two thirds are absorbing: lyrical language, sympathetic characters, enough Aussie-ness to make the foreign reader feel like they’re getting their educational worth…That will do for most readers. But the resolution disappointed me.

SPOILERS:

A tear-jerker should accept its intentions. Even at their little-girl-killing worst, Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens had the courage of their convictions. But “The Light Between Oceans” half-asses its tear-jerking. We’re promised melodrama of nearly operatic power. Instead, we get a climax that is nearly undone by a triple set of flaws.

First: An element is introduced for cheap suspense- and it does not pay off. (It is hinted again and again that Australia’s wild life, in particular snakes-in-Eden and scorpions, will bring about a deadly denouement. They don’t, and it pisses off the Anton Chekhov in me.)

ABOVE: They even put the frikkin scorpion in the cover!

Second: The potentially horrifying climax is built upon the frustrating, clichéd, ridiculous contrivance of people refusing to tell a simple truth out of proud reticence EVEN IF IT MEANS KILLING SOMEONE THEY LOVE.

Third: Let’s say we accept the melodrama and we’re biting our fingernails over it. I half did! But THEN- it all comes to naught. Without further spoiling: imagine if a novel’s final act was about how a husband refused to give his wife an alibi because he was upset about a cold soup, so he puts her in a position to be given the death sentence- and then a judge was like: “Eh, let’s give her two months community service instead. Oh, and the couple should make up.” VERY DEFLATING.

RATING: GOOD ENOUGH


“It would not have been possible for us to take power or to use it in the ways we have without the radio.
—Joseph Goebbels”

ABOVE: All the poetry we cannot grasp

Anthony Doerr’s WWII novel, “All the Light We Cannot See,” ticks off any number of crowd-pleasing melodramatic tropes on its way to some eventual Oscar-bait cinematic adaptation two or three years down the line. Pulitzer prize winners have rarely been this mild and conservative, (“Did you know that Nazis suck?” might very well be its most provocative statement.) I’m a sucker for this stuff, (how can I resist the fact that Marie Laure, a blind French girl, is a Braille-reading fan of both Jules Verne and Alexandre Dumas?). But I’m hating on it because nearly universal praise should always be punctured a little.  Doerr can endure my insignificant hate. This IS a lovely novel, a delicate novel, but surely these are times when Pulitzer prizes should go to sturdier stuff, not to lovely and delicate novels about little blind French girls and sweet German boys forced into the horrors of war!  (The National Book Award did indeed go to “Redeployment” by Phil Klay, which caused an uproar among the very, very small circle of people who care about such things.) “All The Light we Cannot See” is a very conventional, respectable novel, is what I’m saying. But, I mean. WWII? Again? It’s kind of playing it  safe, isn’t it?

RATING: GOOD ENOUGH

 

 

 

 

Young Jules and the Pere : Jules Verne – “The Count of Chanteleine”

ABOVE: That’s a great cover

Poor Jules Verne: no American respect. No literary survey of the 19th century could truly be complete without him, and by any account he wrote wrote four or five of the most influential novels of all time, and yet, like Dumas, he’s considered a “genre” writer at best this side of the Atlantic, or worse, “for kids.” The “serious” reputation of both authors is ruined in headier circles by their shared lack of interest in “psychology,” (and mediocre bowdlerized translations, and limited availability of their large back catalogs- their respective fans insist.) True, no one would ever confuse either with Henry James, but Henry James features no lost worlds full of dinosaurs, no battles against giant octopi, and no sword-singing avengers in his bibliography. So really, who’s winning?

In 1848, a young Verne arrived at Paris to make literary connections, eager to reach out to the twin rulers of the era: Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas pere. His meeting with the patriarchal Dumas went particularly well: Dumas helped Verne stage his first play at the Lyric Theatre and hired him as a secretary. In turn, Verne ran by Dumas the plan for the “Extraordinary Voyages,” an on-going exploration of boundaries scientific and geographical that would eventually involve 50 + novels. Dumas must have been relieved that Verne’s interest in the past was cursory: the young man was looking to the future through a telescope of rarely-matched power.

ABOVE: Half Dumas, Half Verne

And yet Verne’s first serious novel, 1864’s “The Count of Chanteleine,” is very much a Dumas homage, (as if the title didn’t give that away!) and hints at what the father of science fiction might be like, had he dedicated himself to the historical feuilleton.

Dense in historical allusions, “The Count” is a revenge story set in the aftermath of the French Revolution, during the Vendee. The Whites and the Blues clash brutally, the nobility and the clergy are imperiled, and the property of the Count of Chanteleine falls under the hands of a dastardly former vassal who is now a powerful Republican “Citoyen.” So the Count, his daughter, and a self-sacrificing servant named Kernan escape – only to come back later under guises to get revenge.

ABOVE: That’s a Bretonne bonnet, btw.

But Dumas can usually look at history with a deity’s bemused remove, (say, pitting Papists against Huguenots in his novels about the Wars of Religion without expressing any particular partiality or undue contempt.) Verne is nothing like that. In “The Count of Chanteleine,” the political lines are clear: his nobles are, well, NOBLE and beyond reproach; the Republicans are dirty Godless bastards. Good royalist Catholics go to Heaven; the rest can go to Hell. (Dumas, Balzac, and Hugo are all much more nuanced about the topic of la Vendee in, respectively, “The Whites and the Blues,” “The Chouans,” and “Quatre-Vingt Treize.” Verne is much closer to the reactionary views expressed in Baroness Orczy’s “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” although this is not to be mistaken for some general political bent of his. It’s more of a story-telling need: Verne wants good guys and bad guys, and clearly the ones with the guillotines are the bad guys.)

And whereas Dumas lets his plots breathe, (sometimes inhaling the entirety of an era within their lungs) here Verne rushes breathlessly from event to event, wrapping everything up with a historical Deux Ex Machina (the 9th of Thermidor) that sadly solves all the character’s problems without making them agents of their own fate.

The problem is that he really wasn’t a romancer; he was a traveler. The romancer examines the heart, the traveler can’t stand still that long. Maybe the biggest hint of where the muse was calling Verne is in the way that he keeps digressing from the Dumasian aspects of his tale in order to enumerate landmarks and describe the flora of the Bretagne. Take the way Verne approaches the “falling-in-love” episode between “the boy” and “the girl.” Dumas would certainly have had the couple banter, first coyly, then wittily, and finally passionately. Verne avoids dialogue. Instead, HIS “boy” takes the “girl” out to give her a thorough geological tour of the northern French coastline – he can name every bay, cliff, promontory and boulder – and we’re meant to believe his knowledge of rocks leave her swooning!

Clearly (and luckily for science fiction), Dumas Pere and Verne were meant to diverge. Instead, Verne become life-long friends with Alexandre Dumas, fils.

RATING: GOOD ENOUGH for most; INTERESTING for fans of Verne’s bigger hits who would enjoy seeing a different side.

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!