ALEXANDRE DUMAS: The King of Romance by F. W. J. Hemmings
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ALEXANDRE DUMAS: The King of Romance

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A warm, spirited, fluently-written biography of an erstwhile literary colossus. Professor Hemmings (University of Leicester), the author of well-regarded books on Stendhal, Balzac, and Zola, compromises nicely here between scholarship and readability. He keeps his comments on Dumas' plays, novels, journalism, and travel books to a rational minimum, and emphasizes the handful of his works still read today: The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, of course, along with such sensational melodramas as La Tour de Nesle. These, moreover, he treats more as revealing social-cultural events than as pure texts. This was a natural choice to make, given the gigantic proportions of Dumas' oeuvre--301 volumes in the incomplete Calmann-Levy edition--and the fact that probably no one in the world has read all this very uneven stuff (not even Dumas himself, since many things published under his name were actually written, in whole or in part, by his various assistants). Still, the reader can be grateful to be spared a long tour through forests of dead wood. On the other hand, while not a full-dress, ""definitive"" study of Dumas' life and works, this is a solidly documented, richly textured, sophisticated work. It weaves together all the diverse strands of Dumas' incredibly active life--his prodigious verbal output (he once wrote the first volume of a triple-decker novel in 66 hours), his insatiable sexual appetites (one of the last of his innumerable mistresses, Adah Menken, the ""Naked Lady"" from New Orleans, dubbed him the ""King of Romance""), his political adventures (a ""natural communist,"" free with his own money and others', he also risked his life in the Revolution of 1830 and later supplied Garibaldi with contraband guns and ammunition), his Negro blood (grandson of a Haitian slave girl), his exotic travels, his fortunes made and lost, etc., etc.--and does full justice to its irrepressible, irresponsible, but deeply human subject. First-rate.

Pub Date: March 12th, 1980
Publisher: Scribners