Below are three quotes from this Dumas novel that let the reader know what they’re in for:
“Readers who already know these historical facts may complain that these are unnecessary details that just get in the way of the picturesque and the novel. Such readers are welcome to pass over these details, but we included them for those unfamiliar with history or for those who, attracted by the ambitious title of this historical romance, hope to learn something from it.”
“Our readers may find this chapter a bit long and dry, but our respect for history leads us to reproduce every detail of this great meeting in the Luxembourg that decided on the war in Italy, including all the speeches of the two cardinals. Our claim is that a historical novel should entertain both those readers who know the history it’s based upon, and those who are learning about it from what we write.”
“The gravity of the historical events we recount sometimes distracts us from the joys or sorrows they bring to the hearts of our characters.”
The first two quotes allude to the wealth of historical detail in these book. I think Dumas has a point here, and one of the reasons I enjoy historical novels is indeed to learn something from them. The third quote – where Dumas admit that sometimes he lets those historical details distract him from the emotional drama of the fictional story – is unfortunately true, and it is a weakness in the book, more so than in other Dumas novels I’ve read. There are, as one should expect, scenes of swashbuckling action, surprising lustiness and scandal, and laugh-out-loud humor; but the plot as a whole is rather meandering and unfocused. It did not move quickly. You can tell that Dumas is extremely enthused by the period in history where he sets his tales, and it’s clear as well that he feels passionately about the figure of Cardinal Richelieu, around whom the book is woven. But still, the story isn’t really going anywhere, although it contains quite a few engaging scenes along the way. Honestly, I think this is why Dumas left the novel unfinished. The seventy-five existing chapters were originally published in serial format before the tale sputtered out, and were not collected for publication until decades later, in 1946. This is the first English translation to become available.
However, included here as an ‘ending’, or possibly a coda to “The Red Sphinx” (or, “The Comte de Moret,”) is a separate novella, “The Dove,” which is also a previously untranslated work. This dramatically sentimental tale of tragically separated lovers who languish alone could not be more different in tone and writing style, although the setting (and characters) may be the same. It’s tightly plotted, concise, emotional (possibly to a fault) and poetic. It’s a tale to read while languidly picnicking in the gardens of a folly, or reclining on a bench outside a romantic grotto. I loved it.
Overall, I would say, if you are a Dumas fan, of course, the publication of this book is a major event, and you should definitely read it. If you are not yet familiar with Dumas, however, don’t start here. Go for one of the more well-known classics. However, even in that case, this volume is STILL worth getting for ‘The Dove,’ which is a quick read.
I leave you with two more quotes.
“In every society throughout history, there has always been a conservative party that opposes all new ideas as violations of tradition. This party prefers the known routine to an unknown future: that is to say, progress. The adherents of the status quo, favoring stagnation over movement, death versus life, saw in Richelieu a revolutionary whose efforts to reform society would just cause unrest. And Richelieu was not just the enemy of conservatives, but of the entire Catholic world. Without him, Europe would have been at peace.”
And one simply clever:
“Wine tended to bring out the religion in him, as it put him in a state of grace.”
Many thanks to Pegasus Books and NetGalley for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are solely my own.