A hit from the vaults: Dumas père’s final work, reconstructed from 140-year-old newspapers.
Dumas is renowned, of course, for swashbuckling tales such as The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, studded with cliffhangers and moral lessons lightly delivered. This title is of a piece, the wrinkle being that Dumas wrote it, à la Dickens, as a newspaper serial and was far from finishing the story when he died. Dumas scholar Claude Schopp, whose literary detective work is responsible for this book, published in France in 2005, hazards missing links and provides the closing chapters, working from Dumas’s notes; it’s a neat bit of literary sleight-of-hand. While telling a grand tale of adventure, Dumas reminds his readers that the glorious France of the Napoleonic era had plenty of inglorious moments. His Napoleon is smart and power-hungry, as he announces in the opening sentence: “Now that we are in the Tuileries…we must try to stay.” Easier said than done, for Napoleon is surrounded by enemies, mostly of the scheming-politician variety, and distracted from his duties by his wife’s lavish spending; there are wars to fight, too, and much else to be done. Enter the noble Saint-Hermine, stripped of his title, who, chapter by chapter, hacks his way across land and sea to redeem himself at places such as Trafalgar, where Dumas movingly depicts the death of Lord Nelson and breaks the fourth wall in the bargain (“It seems to me that one of the greatest warriors the world has ever known should be accompanied all the way to death’s door, if not by a historian, at least by a novelist”). Hermine has his enemies, too, and even a few friends, and sometimes both at once, among them the only man whom Napoleon fears—ah, and therein hangs a tale.
A big book, and a pleasure for anyone who thrills at the likes of D’Artagnan and company.