By John Hertz: (reprinted from Vanamonde 1424)
The man to whom one half … credited everything good in the country and to whom the other half attributed all the bad.
Alexandre Dumas, Le Chevalier de Sainte-Hermine ch. 31 (1870,
unfinished at the author’s death 1870; C. Schopp ed. 2005;
p. 219 in L. Yoder tr. The Last Cavalier 2007; of Napoleon in 1801)
The history of this book is itself like a Dumas novel.
Dumas (1802-1870), after its predecessors The Companions of Jehu (1857) and The Whites and the Blues (1867), seems to have rushed Le Chevalier into newspaper serialization; a short section at the end never appeared, presumably because the author had died. After that the book seemed lost.
The great Dumas scholar Claude Schopp (1943- ) recovered it hunting through archives a hundred thirty years later, as he tells in a seventy-page preface of which every word gladdens the hearts of researchers.
To say Dumas was huge in his lifetime is both figuratively and literally true – see his Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine (posth. 1873).
Today some of us know The Three Musketeers (1844) – I joke it’s so entitled because there are four of them, who fight with swords – maybe also The Count of Monte Cristo (1845).
But Musketeers has sequels Twenty Years After (1845) and The Viscount of Bragelonne (1847). And Dumas published 100,000 pages, including history and historical fiction; fantasy; essays; plays, which made him famous; travel; and the still excellent cookbook-encyclopedia.
His father was a great general (T. Dumas, 1762-1806; T. Reiss, The Black Count, 2012; Van 1413).
A son (1824-1895) was also a leading man of letters (author of e.g. The Lady of the Camellias 1848, adapted into Verdi’s opera La Traviata 1853) and thus known as Dumas fils (“the son”).
Dumas père (“the father”) is – literary present tense – a master of romance, both affaires du coeur (“of the heart”) and d’honneur; of story; of suspense; of characterization; of the telling detail.
We can learn from him – and we have; Monte Cristo inspired one of our finest novels, The Stars My Destination (A. Bester, 1956).
In Van 1422, I quoted Arrian’s Campaigns of Alexander (130; Sélincourt tr. 1958, Hamilton rev. 1971; of Alexander the Great 500 years earlier).