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A "New" Classic by Dumas

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Alexandre Dumas Alexandre Dumas

“Something poisonous was brewing in the royal chambers, those few narrow rooms that caused him more toil and trouble than the whole rest of the wide world.”

 

This line from fairly early in The Red Sphinx encapsulates the motive force that propels this swashbuckling story of 17th century France. The 'him' of this line is none other than Louis XIII, King of France but the poisonous plots apply equally to his chief minister of state, Cardinal Richelieu. It is Richelieu who was the inspiration for the title of this long-lost masterpiece by one of France's greatest authors, Alexandre Dumas. This is in fact the book that all lovers of The Three Musketeers have been waiting for their whole lives.

 

It begins shortly after the time when the Musketeers book ends. The text was actually published in France in 1865 and 1866 in a weekly magazine, but not published as a book since Dumas never finished the tale. An awful English translation was published in 1868 but quickly sank from view. It was not until 1945 that the original manuscript miraculously was discovered in a Paris garret. This was published in French the following year but it was not until 2017 that this superb English translation appeared. It is true to the words of Dumas, so now the whole world can enjoy his brilliance. A suitable ending has been added here in the form of an 84-page novella The Dove, first published in 1850.

 

Does The Dove really do the job of wrapping up the story of the Comte de Moret and Isabella Lautrec? asks translator Lawrence Ellsworth (the pen name of L. Schick of Maryland). “I would argue that it does – and in spades,” he replies to his question. While it leaves many loose ends, it does at least resolve the fate of these two central characters in the novel, and as an emotional gripper it doesn't get any better.

 

Dumas uses the real-life figure Comte de Moret, and his fictional love, Isabella, to weave a tale of derring-do including heroic rescues, swordfights (including duels), secret communications and undercover recon missions worthy of a James Bond movie.

 

This is a massive novel, weighing in at 800 pages. Fortunately for the reader, it is a page-turner. Dumas maintains a brisk pace throughout most of the book, although some may find his historical digressions to be nothing but padding. Others will welcome it as offering context for the complex international intrigues that permeate the book as various kings and emperors connive and fight for power in Europe.

 

Minor characters populate the text; their delightful delineation at the hands of such a master novelist are tiny gems in their own right. Chief amongst these are the King's fool l'Angely, who gets to say the most outrageous things to his royal master; Etienne Latil, the ultimate royal supporter and man of the sword; and the Duke of Savoy, against whom war is waged even as he conspires with King Louis' mother Marie de Medici.

 

While it may not rise to the iconic heights of The Count of Monte Cristo, Dumas has bequeathed us a truly excellent novel (with 64 evocative illustrations) which we can all regard as an amazing gift, delivered 150 years late.

 

 

The Red Sphinx (807 pages) is $26.95 by Pegasus Books.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clifford Cunningham

Dr. Clifford Cunningham is a planetary scientist. He earned his PhD in the history of astronomy at the University of Southern Queensland, and has undergraduate degrees in science and ancient history from the University of Waterloo. In 2014 he was named a contributor to Encyclopedia Britannica. He is the author of 14 books on asteroids and the history of science. In 1999 he appeared on the TV show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Asteroid 4276 was named in his honor in 1990 by the International Astronomical Union based on the recommendation of its bureau located at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

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