ALEXANDRE DUMAS: Genius of Life by Claude Schopp


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It should have been a swashbuckler, but Dumas-scholar Schopp, aided and abetted by a literal, lumpen translation, has made a turgid mess of the life of the original Musketeer. Born in 1802 to a famous mulatto general of Napoleon's who slipped into disfavour and penniless retirement, Dumas was propelled from an early age by the need for glory and success. The night his father died, the tiny boy heard a loud knock on the door; and despite the terror of his provincial baby-sitters, he calmly announced that his heroic father had come to say goodbye. His father's greatness was a touchstone all his life. His keepers thought he was too wild to educate for a clerkship, a hopeless case, but he saw himself as a tiny Count of Monte Cristo. When Dumas ran off to Paris as a young man, he assured his mother that he would vindicate their great name. He became a minor clerk for the duc d'Orleans, scribbling romantic historical dramas in his spare time (and indulging in the love affair that would produce Alexander fils). Thanks to his iron persistence, the plays were produced and Dumas skyrocketed to fame. Part of a glittering set that included Hugo and Balzac, revelling in the excess that celebrity bought, Dumas nonetheless had another unquenchable need: He took to the streets during the revolution of 1830, and again in 1848--literary fame would never match the taste of standing in the front lines in a great battle for liberation. As he aged, the great debts and the great Herculean collaborative novels came. In the end, no Count of Monte Cristo, no Three Musketeers could assuage his feeling that real glory had somehow slipped through his fingers. An almost unreadable hash, Schopp's scholarly intimacy serves to obscure rather than illuminate as he strings together details and loses the great and infuriating man.

Pub Date: Nov. 8th, 1988
Publisher: Watts