Thursday, January 6, 2011

Dumas, La Dame de Monsoreau (1846(

Dumas wrote La Dame de Monsoreau as a quick sequel to the very popular La Reine Margot, continuing on with the story of the last of the Valois kings and the Wars of Religion. Dumas was setting up his novel “factory” at this point, with collaborators doing some of the heavy lifting, but what is clear is a master hand at the helm, particularly in terms of structure (plotting). While the style and some of characterization flags on occasion, the power of the narrative and the suspense about what will happen next, along with the juggling of plots, are always expertly done.

The book follows the story of a score of major characters and intersects with the number of historical events (including the concluding and bloody duel of the mignons of the court and the ambush death of the valiant Bussy d’Amboise). And every step seems logical, parallelisms abound, and no string in the tangle gets lost.

Structural mastery is much-ignored virtue on writers, but it is not that common in writers of sprawling books, especially in historical romances. The temptation is to have an episodic structure, with events crammed in with litany of “and this happens and this and this.” There’s lots going on, with four separate major plot threads, but they intersect constantly and the developments in one line forward on the events in the next.

One key ambiguity is the relation of the effeminate and weak-willed Henri III and his favorites, idle and vain young minor aristocrats. In real life, Henri was designated by his enemies as either homosexual or at least bisexual (though those are modern terms – the accusations were as hermaphrodites.) In the novel, Dumas skirts the issue, though in fact in the very first chapter Henri abducts one of his favorites form his wedding night and imprisons him in the Louvre to keep him company through the lonely night. Henri is shown disdaining his beautiful wife (he will die childless) while craving the constant company of the other mignons. The implication is clear, but never explicit.

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