Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Knight of Maison Rouge

I promised a review of Dumas' The Knight of Maison Rouge, so here we go.

As most of you might remember I am a big Count of Monte Cristo fan and read it again every couple years, but I've never read anything else by Dumas. The obvious next choice would be the Three Musketeers, but there are so many movie and cartoon versions of it that I just have never gotten interested in the real thing.

On the cover of my version, it reads "The Knight of Maison Rouge: A Novel of Marie Antoinette". It's set in 1793 as the Terror begins and the plot is driven by attempts to free Marie Antoinette. The former Queen, or Citizen Capet as the revolutionaries like to call her, is also a side character in the book with chapters focused solely upon her. I know that this sort of historical fiction is what Dumas was known for, and indeed the book is filled with both fictional and real people side-by-side, and the uninformed such as me often don't know where reality stops and fiction begins. (This reminds me of Clarke's Jonathan Strange where some of her world seemed so real that I went to look up various clubs and people that apparently never existed.)

The novel begins with a woman ducking through the shadows one Parisian night and being caught by a band of thugs/citizen patrol who catch her and are going to take her in. Our hero, Maurice, a Captain in the National Guard who was there at the storming of the Bastille and even marched on Versailles to take in Louis VXI, hears the calls of a woman in distress and comes to her rescue. After a brief struggle between our noble National Guard stud, his poetry spouting friend Lorin, and the citizen patrol, our shadow-darting woman who just happens to be stunningly beautiful talks Maurice into accompanying her back to her part of town. She refuses to tell him what she was doing out, what her name was, or where she lives, but she gets him to close his eyes for 60 seconds when near her home, gives him a lingering kiss, and vanishes. Maurice is smitten for the rest of the novel.

As all of you can probably already guess, our mystery woman is a royalist involved in plots to free Marie Antoinette. Moreover, she's married but does indeed fall in love with Maurice. What's more important? Their love or marriage? The Republic or personal honor? Unlike the Count of Monte Cristo which never has a sword fight, this one is packed with action. From fighting a mob along the path towards the guillotine to digging secret tunnels to madly searching a house for Genevieve, our mystery woman, while the house is burning down around him.

Now, many will likely find some of the characters rather frustrating. Maurice in particular is very dense and jealous in love at times. One would like a little more worldly wit to go with our noble passions and manly physique. Without giving it away, I will also say that the ending is very.... French. I don't think a contemporary American author would ever end a book like this.

One thing I haven't revealed however is who exactly is The Knight of Maison Rouge? Maurice? His friend Lorin? Genevieve in disguise? It's actually another man who is the leader of the plots to free Marie Antoinette. Maurice and Lorin all agree that the Knight is a most wonderful and honorable gentleman. Too bad he's on the wrong side. As Lorin says near the end of the book, "That's the thing about revolutions. Often your enemies are people you wish could be your friends."


radical royalist said...

I never read the book, but I know the TV series that's based on the book. I watched it as a child and I was VERY impressed by the courage of the Royalists who risk their live for their imprisoned Queen. The series was shown on the Franco-German TV channel "arte" and I could record it. Therefore I have it on DVD in living black & white. Should you be able to watch it, you will find out, who Le Chevalier de Maison Rouge is. The end is tragic. When I showed it to an Australian friend his comment was: "Hollywood would have found another end." Well, it is a French production and I love every minute of it.

Sammy Jankis said...

What is a "french" ending? Shakespearian a la Hamlet?

radical royalist said...

I can hardly tell you how the series/book end. That would ruin the plot. You have to read it yourself or watch the series.

Here's what imdb has to say:

pacatrue said...

Hey Sammy,

Well, I didn't want to say how it actually ends, but I will if you wish. I guess the ending struck me as something that very much expressed French culture and sensibilities with its sense of humor and, well, to explain means I have to give the ending.

Ello said...

I never read this one and will definitely go and check it out!