Who wrote the novels of 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.
Maquet was a struggling writer with an unpublished manuscript in the 1840s when a mutual acquaintance introduced him to Dumas, already a highly popular playwright and novelist.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.”