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Who wrote the novels of Alexandre Dumas?

February 11, 2010

Alexandre Dumas

A forthcoming book by the world’s leading Dumas expert, plus a new movie, cast doubt on exactly how much classics like The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers were actually written by the flamboyant Alexandre Dumas, France’s most popular 19th century writer.

That Dumas used collaborators or ghostwriters to churn out his romantic swashbucklers is not news. Dumas scholar Claude Schoop, however, says the plot for the Musketeers trilogy — and most of the writing — are actually the work of a forgotten writer named Auguste Maquet, reports the London Telegraph.

The controversy throws a welcome new light on Dumas, one of the 19th century’s most colorful figures. He made millions but spent more on lavish living and an endless succession of mistresses. He acknowledged his illegitimate son, Alexandre Dumas fils (something like “jr.”), who also forged a long, successful career as a playwright and novelist.

Best of all, Dumas was also one-quarter black. His grandfather, a nobleman and army officer, met and married his grandmother, a former slave, while stationed in Haiti.

Schoop has studied Dumas for 40 years. He’s the author of a biography, Alexandre Dumas: Genius for Living, and he discovered a lost Dumas novel, published in 2007 as The Last Cavelier, in 2007. In his new book, Dictionary of Alexandre Dumas, Schoop suggests Maquet played a much greater role in the creation of Dumas’ most celebrated novels than previously believed.

This bit of obscure — and controversial — history is dramatized in a movie out this week, The Other Dumas, starring Gerard Depardieu as Dumas, and Benoit Poelvoorde as Maquet.

Auguste Maquet

Maquet was a struggling writer with an unpublished manuscript  in the 1840s when a mutual acquaintance introduced him to Dumas, already a highly popular playwright and novelist. For nearly 20 years the two worked closely together, with Maquet creating plots and doing most of the writing, according to the Telegraph, while Dumas embellished and expanded the stories and added his characteristic dash and flash.

Dumas payed Maquet well, but took the glory and most of the riches for himself.

In 1858 Maquet sued Dumas, who was perpetually in debt, for not paying his fee. As the breach deepened, Maquet not only sought money but also equal credit for authorship.

He had some notable support, including the editor of a newspaper that serialized Dumas’ novels. While the court awarded Maquet financial damages, it denied his suit to be recognized as co-author of Dumas’ books.

Maquet, a quite family man, went on to modest success writing novels under his own name. Dumas remained a French national treasure.

Despite new attention to the story, the consensus remains that however valuable Maquet may have been as ghostwriter and plot technician, Dumas deserves the lion’s share of credit.

Even Safy Nebbou, director of The Other Dumas, thinks so.

“Maquet did not have the genius of Dumas,” he tells the Guardian. “He could spend hours and hours writing but it didn’t change anything. You can’t learn genius.”

Bernard Fillaire, a novelist and author of an essay arguing in favor of Maquet, thinks the matter is more complicated.

“There was this extraordinary alchemy between them,” says Fillaire. “They needed each other. When Maquet left Dumas, neither did anything else that was really excellent. But Dumas did nothing more of any note, while Maquet went on to write a lot.”

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. Tommy permalink
    February 11, 2010 2:57 pm

    I am a big fan of Dumas’ work. Wait, I guess I am a big fan of Maquet’s work. No matter that until today I did not know the name, Maquet.

    From the Telegraph article: “In the 1830s, Maquet, a novelist and playwright, had tried to have his works published but was told: “You have written a masterpiece, but you’re not a name and we only want names.”

    What did Dumas add if Maquet had a masterpiece, other than his name? Why is Dumas having a bad hair day in all his likenesses? Did he not make enough money to purchase a comb? I think Dumas could get away with this because he was a celebrity and you know what they say about celebrities, they are like everybody else, only better.

    I would feel worse for Maquet if he not signed a paper waiving all ownership rights to their joint works. Maquet may have been a great writer while still being the ultimate fool.

    I still love the tales, now I just view them as collaborations.

    Shame I cannot find a showtime for L’Autre Dumas in my neck of the woods.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      February 11, 2010 4:20 pm

      Tommy,

      I hope I have not conveyed the impression I think Maquet the genius in this arrangment. Just because a publisher named his unpublished manuscript a masterpiece does not make it so. Publishers say stuff like that all the time to mollify unsuccessful authors and make them go away without fuss. Clearly Maquet had talent, but I side with the Dumas partisans who say Alexandre was the genius, Maquet the technicians.

      Dumas’s hair, of course, is the product of his being one-quarter black. I doubt he could have gotten it to lie down without Jheri curl, which I don’t think had been invented yet.

      • Tommy permalink
        February 11, 2010 4:44 pm

        No, you gave me no such impression. You are still Team Dumas.

        I’m glad to hear about this, it will give an additional dimension when I re-read the stories.

        About the hair, just figured I’d fire off a petulant remark across the centuries aimed at Dumas that I bet Maquet in his fastidiousness would make under his breathe.

  2. rachel permalink
    February 11, 2010 3:34 pm

    Very interesting drama. I love the photos. And Tommy, I love his hair.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      February 11, 2010 4:21 pm

      I thought readers would find this one of dramatic interest. I’m looking forward to the movie. From what I can tell by a quick Internet search, Schoop’s new book is not scheduled for American publication. I hope I’m wrong.

  3. Candice permalink
    February 11, 2010 3:41 pm

    Makes you wonder how much this has happened, and still happens. Like Rick Bragg…

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      February 11, 2010 4:23 pm

      It happens every day. James Patterson, possibly the most popular novelist on the planet, makes no secret to farming the actual writing of the novels he thinks up. He declares himself an idea man and sees nothing wrong with the practice. Neither do I, so long as deception of the public is not involved. And even in Dumas’ time, it was well known he worked with assistants, collaborators and ghostwriters.

  4. alexis permalink
    February 12, 2010 12:40 pm

    The Count of Monte Cristo is my all time favorite book! I had no idea that Dumas was such an interesting character himself.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      February 12, 2010 5:25 pm

      He’s a larger-than-life personality, could be a character from one of his own books.

  5. Suburbanbushbabe permalink
    April 20, 2010 7:38 pm

    Sounds like Dumas was the James Patterson or Robert Ludlum of his day.

  6. ddsharper permalink
    May 7, 2010 4:18 pm

    Dumas was the author of his own books. Maquet and other submitted stories and contributed to plots that Dumas built his works upon but it was Dumas’s genius that pulled it off more than 1200 times. His fortune was first made in plays and later in novel writing. Even Victor Hugo came to him for advice since Dumas was a popularizer, as he himself called it. This was settled in a court case or two during his own time. Finally, many of his stories came from historical documents, several embodied in Celebrated Crimes. Why this man is still controversial today is beyond me. No author before or since can touch him, save Shakespeare, to whom he gave the highest thanks and praise.

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