Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Quick Review

My MemoirsMy Memoirs by Alexandre Dumas

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The only version in English that I've been able to locate.  One of a treasured series of Dumas' nonfiction published in English the early Sixties, it took me ages to find it.  I was disappointed to discover that this translation was  a heavily edited text of what was, after all, an unfinished work, admittedly running to multiple volumes in the original.  As with any such selection, there is always the nagging knowledge that for all there is here, there's roughly three times as much of the original that isn't.  (The only alternative to this edition is English would seem to be an arbitrary selection of stray volumes from 1907 available for reprint from Google books.  Very frustrating.)

That said, what is here is still Dumas.  What's more, ironically, this is Dumas at his most voluble; nothing like the straight-forward autobiography his American editors have tried to make of him here.  He tells stories, remembers friends, laments his father's untimely death, his mother's poverty, his own.  This is Dumas over a cognac.  This is Dumas in his slippers.  The fear I suppose was that he might bore; describing unfamiliar events, reminiscing about forgotten names, now mystifying feuds, lost triumphs.  All true, even here.  What the editor seems to have missed was the point.  That may all be true, but what of it?  There was no one in the history of fine lettres better suited to such digressions, better with a pointless anecdote, with a better memory for the arcane nonsense of publishing squabbles, backstage gossip, lazy conversations, jokes, youthful bravado, gaucheries, adventure.  Yes, even here he talks too much, but such talk!

Even here, we get the exquisite comedy of the young playwright selecting an appropriate hunting costume and sidearm in which to join the Revolution of 1830.  After a skirmish or two, and a delightful afternoon spent leading a small band of fair-weather warriors down the wrong streets, the author retires for a nap.  Think of what opera Hugo might have made of the same memories!  Think of how Balzac might have slowly recoiled in dignified horror from the chaos, the crowds, the dirt, page after page after page!  Only Dumas would think to report his desire that day for a proper dinner.

The only reason the common reader could have for even picking up such a book is for the chance at spending as much time as might be had in the company of this great and ridiculous man, this supreme and forgiving artist of the the noble and foolhardy gesture!  (How does one remember Dumas but in exclamations?!) 

Take then what there is to be had.  Dumas himself left the book unfinished.  The stories end well before he's even written the first of his great romances.  Such a pity!  Still, I'm glad of even the life he, and his American editor -- blast and damn man -- left us. 

And there's always Monte Cristo to come back to.  There will always be that, bless him.

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