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David Coward: Alexandre Dumas, 17 April 2003

Viva Garibaldi! Une Odyssée en 1860 
by Alexandre Dumas.
Fayard, 610 pp., €23, February 2002, 2 213 61230 7
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... Alexandre Dumas was a force of nature. The 650 or so books he published might not seem an extraordinary tally for such as Barbara Cartland, who could dictate six thousand words between lunch and tea, or Georges Simenon, who rarely spent more than a fortnight on a novel. But Dumas was not merely a novelist: he also wrote plays, travel books, memoirs, histories, accounts of great crimes plus a mass of ‘occasional’ writings which include his vast Grand Dictionnaire de cuisine ...


Margaret Visser: Mega-Fish, 16 April 1998

Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World 
by Mark Kurlansky.
Cape, 294 pp., £12.99, March 1998, 0 224 05104 0
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... scooping with baskets. Admittedly, that was no longer true in the 19th century, but, according to Alexandre Dumas in 1873, ‘calculations’ proved that ‘if no accident prevented the hatching of the eggs, and if each cod grew to its full size, it would take only three years for the sea to be full of cod, so that one could walk dry-shod across the ...


Harry Mathews, 2 November 1995

‘Maldoror’ and the Complete Works of the Comte de Lautréamont 
translated by Alexis Lykiard.
Exact Change, 352 pp., £11.99, January 1995, 9781878972125
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... teacher...[who] tells himself “I should not wish to have written novels like those of Balzac and Alexandre Dumas,” for that alone is more intelligent than Alexandre Dumas and Balzac’; or ‘the masterpieces of the French language are school prize-giving speeches and academic writings’; or ‘judgment is ...


Theodore Zeldin, 13 June 1991

Dead Certainties 
by Simon Schama.
Granta, 334 pp., £15.99, May 1991, 0 14 014230 4
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... When the poet Lamartine introduced imaginary dialogue into his History of the Girondins (1844-7), Alexandre Dumas applauded, saying: ‘He has raised history to the level of the novel.’ However, both literary critics and professional historians condemned him: why, they asked, did he not stick to what he was good at? He resented being for ever labelled ...

The Limits of Chivalry

Caroline Weber: Courtly Love, 23 January 2014

Queens and Mistresses of Renaissance France 
by Kathleen Wellman.
Yale, 433 pp., £30, July 2013, 978 0 300 17885 2
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... unnoticed.’ The daughter of Henri II and Catherine, Marguerite de Valois, known to readers of Alexandre Dumas as Queen Margot, passed unnoticed for an even more dramatic reason: she was exiled from the court for 19 years. It was not her husband, Henri IV, but his immediate predecessor, Marguerite’s brother Henri III, who originally banished ...

Migne and Moody

Graham Robb, 4 August 1994

God’s Plagiarist: Being an Account of the Fabulous Industry and Irregular Commerce of the Abbé Migne 
by R. Howard Bloch.
Chicago, 162 pp., £19.95, June 1994, 0 226 05970 7
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... property itself were still in a fluid state. This is the age whose most popular writer – Alexandre Dumas – ran a novel ‘factory’ and sauntered through the garden of world literature, secateurs in hand. The play which is usually described as the first blow struck for Romantic drama in France – Dumas’s ...

Powerful People

D.A.N. Jones, 15 October 1987

Anthills of the Savannah 
by Chinua Achebe.
Heinemann, 233 pp., £10.95, September 1987, 0 434 00604 1
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Familiar Wars 
by Julietta Harvey.
Joseph, 251 pp., £10.95, August 1987, 0 7181 2823 0
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Lenin: The Novel 
by Alan Brien.
Secker, 703 pp., £11.95, October 1987, 0 436 06840 0
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... aria is followed by a few notes, like those of a discursive essayist, about Sherlock Holmes and Alexandre Dumas. Next day a friend advises Lenin to avoid the lake: ‘Peasants have told me that it is famous as the haunt of a giant water-worm that has been known to drag down dogs, even deer.’ Lenin laughs at this ‘hayseed yarn’, although he knows ...

Read, rattle and roll

Malcolm Deas, 6 February 1986

Holy Smoke 
by G. Cabrera Infante.
Faber, 329 pp., £9.95, October 1985, 0 571 13518 8
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Tobacco on the Periphery. A Case Study in Cuban Labour History: 1860-1958 
by Jean Stubbs.
Cambridge, 203 pp., £25, April 1985, 9780521254236
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... days were Hugo (‘His Notre Dame is an all-time favourite with romantic rollers’), Eugène Sue, Alexandre Dumas (hence Montecristo), Galdos and Zola. Hugo, the greatest European influence in Latin America in the 19th century, wrote when he heard of the practice ‘a letter of thanksgiving to Partagas’: ‘This was read aloud to the torcedores ...

Wanting and Not Getting, Getting and Not Wanting

Rosemary Dinnage, 21 February 1980

My Life 
by George Sand, translated and adapted by Dan Hofstadter.
Gollancz, 246 pp., £7.95, September 1980, 0 575 02682 0
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George Sand in her Own Words 
edited and translated by Joseph Barry.
Quartet, 475 pp., £7.50, November 1980, 0 7043 2235 8
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... at an exhibition hands you back your umbrella in return for a check,’ says James. When Alexandre Dumas asked her in her old age what she thought of Lélia, she said she could not even manage to read through the first volume. ‘All the same, when I wrote that book, I was sincere.’ Her letters, as she ages, express more and more ...

Who mended Pierre’s leg?

David A. Bell: Lourdes, 11 November 1999

Lourdes: Body and Spirit in the Secular Age 
by Ruth Harris.
Allen Lane, 473 pp., £25, April 1999, 0 7139 9186 0
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... water. His Notre-Dame de Lourdes sold over a million copies: more than Victor Hugo, Jules Verne or Alexandre Dumas; more probably than any other book published in France in the 19th century. It ran to 142 editions in just seven years; was translated into 80 languages and remained in print until the Sixties. It did so well because it was highly ...

Selfie with ‘Sunflowers’

Julian Barnes, 30 July 2015

Ever Yours: The Essential Letters 
by Vincent van Gogh, edited by Leo Jansen, Hans Luijten and Nienke Bakker.
Yale, 777 pp., £30, December 2014, 978 0 300 20947 1
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Van Gogh: A Power Seething 
by Julian Bell.
Amazon, 171 pp., £6.99, January 2015, 978 1 4778 0129 1
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... to pay for your treasured work. The most valuable painter of Van Gogh’s day was Meissonier, that Alexandre Dumas of 19th-century painting, whose fame, subject matter (typically, Napoleon’s triumphs and disasters) and traditional technique we might plausibly expect to have repelled the younger painter. Van Gogh disdained what he called ‘studio ...

The Slap

Michael Wilding, 17 April 1986

The Image, and Other Stories 
by Isaac Bashevis Singer.
Cape, 310 pp., £9.95, February 1986, 0 224 02357 8
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... for some of the suspense found in the works of Balzac, Victor Hugo, Tolstoi, Dostoevski, Flaubert, Alexandre Dumas and Strindberg. Yiddish and Hebrew literature both suffered from a lack of suspense. Everything in them centred around some yeshivah student who had gone astray, sought worldly knowledge, then suffered the consequences at the yeshivah or at ...

Sit like an Apple

Ruth Bernard Yeazell: Artists’ Wives, 23 October 2008

Hidden in the Shadow of the Master: The Model-Wives of Cézanne, Monet and Rodin 
by Ruth Butler.
Yale, 354 pp., £18.99, July 2008, 978 0 300 12624 2
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... a crazy person’, as Butler has it, than ‘like a dumb animal’. (Butler earlier quotes Alexandre Dumas on the ‘trainloads of young people’ arriving from the provinces: ‘especially girls from the lowest classes who, being so close to natural savagery, retain their animal appetites for sensual indulgence’.) By the time Rodin was ...

The Same Old Solotaire

Peter Wollen, 4 July 1996

‘Salome’ and ‘Under the Hill’ 
by Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley.
Creation, 123 pp., £7.95, April 1996, 1 871592 12 7
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Aubrey Beardsley: Dandy of the Grotesque 
by Chris Snodgrass.
Oxford, 338 pp., £35, August 1995, 0 19 509062 4
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... and Catholicism. He was buried with his signed copy of La Dame aux camélias, given to him by Alexandre Dumas fils, beside him in the grave. The story is that of a famous prostitute, doomed by TB, redeemed by self-sacrifice, repentant of her sins, converted to the Catholic Church on her death-bed. It runs parallel in many ways with the story of ...

From Progress to Catastrophe

Perry Anderson: The Historical Novel, 28 July 2011

... something Scott was on the whole reluctant to do. In War and Peace we are closer to the spirit of Alexandre Dumas’s maxim: ‘On peut violer l’histoire à condition de lui faire de beaux enfants.’ The question, of course, is whether Tolstoy’s fictional portrait of Kutuzov qualifies as such a handsome offspring – that is, a persuasive work of ...

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