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Bastillens Fald : Ange Pitou : 1-2 (1851)

af Alexandre Dumas

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1623127,306 (3.69)3
Alexandre Dumas (also known as Dumas pere) (1802-1870) was one of the most famous French writers of the 19th century. Dumas is best known for the historical novels The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, both written within the space of two years, 1844-45, and which belong to the foundation works of popular culture. He was among the first, along with Honore de Balzac and Eugene Sue, who fully used the possibilities of roman feuilleton, the serial novel. Dumas is credited with revitalizing the historical novel in France, although his abilities as a writer were under dispute from the beginning. Dumas' works are fast-paced adventure tales that blend history and fiction, but on the other hand, they are entangled, melodramatic, and actually not faithful to the historical facts. Alexandre Dumas was born in Villes-Cotterets. His grandfather was a French nobleman, who had settled in Santo Domingo; his paternal grandmother, Marie-Cessette, was an Afro-Caribbean, who had been a black slave in the then French colony of Haiti. Dumas's father was a general in Napoleon's army, who had fallen out of favor. After his death in 1806 the family lived in poverty. Dumas worked as a notary's clerk and went in 1823 to Paris to find work. Due to his elegant handwriting he secured a position with the Duc d'Orleans - later King Louis Philippe. He also found his place in theater and as a publisher of some obscure magazines. An illegitimate son called Alexandre Dumas fils, whose mother, Marie-Catherine Labay, was a dressmaker, was born in 1824. Dumas fils gained fame with his novel The Lady of the Camillas, in which a fallen girl, the heroine, gives up her lover rather than see him become a social outcast.… (mere)

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"I have no longer a horror of others - I fear I may resemble them".
And -- "There are moments when the destiny of a whole nation is being weighed in the scales of Fate. One of them weighs down the other. Everyone already thinks he has attained the proposed end. Suddenly some invisible hand lets fall into the other scale the blade of a poniard or a pistol-ball. Then all changes, and one only cry is heard, Woe to the vanquished!"

Wow. It was paragraphs like that that just knocked my socks off. I always knew Dumas was brilliant, but he really outdoes himself in this book. Taking the Bastile is the fourth in Dumas' six book series retelling the French Revolution and begins several years after the close of The Queen's Necklace (1902). The first third of the book retells the events leading up to and including the storming of the Bastile through the POV of Ange Pitou a young orphan from the countryside and his comrade in arms the farmer Billot. Agents of the French government remove papers from Billot's farm that he is storing for Dr. Gilbert, which sends he and Pitou to Paris to advise the doctor of the theft. They find Gilbert (yes, our young Gilbert from the first two books) imprisoned in the Bastile and are swept up with the rest of the city on that fateful day when all Paris attacks and destroys that symbol of tyranny.

Gilbert is rescued and discovers that the person who ordered his imprisonment is the Countess de Charny, a name he does not recognize and goes to Versailles in search of answers. Presented to Louis XVI as a doctor of renown (being a pupil of Balsamo in the mystic arts), Gilbert discovers that the countess is the beauteous Andrée whom he loved as a young boy. Andrée denies any knowledge of Gilbert or his imprisonment until Gilbert uses his magnetic powers and hypnotizes her (very creepy) to gain the truth -- there was an incident in the second book where Andrée had been compromised by Balsamo and Gilbert and she feared exposure and scandal.

As Andrée recovers from Gilbert's ministrations we see that she is in love with her husband the Count de Charny, who loves the Queen (who returns his love), to Andrée's great sorrow. The story then switches back and forth between the actions at the court of Louis XVI and the growing violence and restlessness of the Paris mobs as Dumas recounts the events leading up to the Women's March on Versailles demanding bread and the subsequent mob storming the palace sending the royal family on a mad dash for safety (unputdownable!). The final 100 or so pages of the book detail Ange Pitou's return to his country village and the logistics of how the villagers were converted from the mindset of being simple farmers working for a living to the rationale of the revolutionary and setting up a local national guard.

That's about as much of the plot as I'm going to try and detail, the bulk of the book is known history as Dumas recounts the terror of the revolution from all walks of life in late 18C France, the countryman, the farmer, the Church, the Paris citizens and the royal court of Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette. Some readers may find a slow spot here and there at the beginning and end of the book, but other than that I found it quite unputdownable. Next up in the series, The Countess de Charny.

Side note, there are several newly published versions of these books and some are poorly translated -- one of those being The Queen's Necklace (published by Wildside) which I had purchased prior to realizing this was a series, and I found the quality of the story sorely lacked from that bad translation. Dumas with a mediocre story and boring dialogue? Not on your life. The other three I obtained very old copies published by PF Collier and Sons in the early 1900's and I strongly urge you to seek those out either via library or used (around $7), and I'll be sticking with that for the last two books in the series. ( )
1 stem Misfit | May 10, 2009 |
Voltaire's Candide meets Wilkie Collins in Dickens' 'A Tale of Two Cities' - bizarre! I am not a fan of Dumas, and have previously only managed to read 'The Three Musketeers', but the French Revolution is one of my favourite literary subjects, so I persevered.

Ange Pitou, or 'The Taking of the Bastille', is one of a series written about Marie-Antoinette. The eponymous protagonist is a Rousseau-esque student of life who escapes his caricature of a mercenary aunt to live with the family of his sweetheart, before being forced to flee to Paris by the convoluted connections of his guardian. Perhaps reading the books in order would have made everything clearer, but it's doubtful. After Pitou and his 'worthy' paternal figure initiate the storming of the prison, and become the heroes of the hour, the scene shifts to Versailles and the sinking ship of Louis XVI's court. The two proletarian protagonists are then replaced by Doctor Gilbert, the smug and rather disturbing protector of young Pitou, who holds the Dark Secret of a lady-in-waiting to Marie Antoinette. A student of Cagliostro (who features in the first novel of this sequence), Gilbert is able to 'mesmerise', in the orginal sense, both the Comtesse into divulging her nefarious doings, and King Louis by the force of his personality and the power of his mysticism. The King is weak and easily distracted ('Bring me my supper!'), but good at heart, whereas the Queen is the power behind the throne, cold and vindictive.

The first half of the book belongs to Pitou's childhood and youth, surviving personal hardships by returning to nature; honest and accepting, he is a pleasant character, and his adventures are presented with humour and wry observation. However, Dumas tends to use his characters to eulogise the Revolution, having them deliver diatribes on the good of the people instead of speaking naturally, and when his puppets fail to drill home his opinion, the author resorts to pontificating directly to the reader. This retrospective summary of history is relevant and all very educational, but only on the side of the People; the same lecture from the Baroness Orczy, for example, in 'The Scarlet Pimpernel' is today shot down in flames because she identified with the aristocracy. Modern readers tend to view history with rose-coloured reading glasses, yet Dumas is rated higher than Orczy, despite their similar melodramatic styles and florid language, because of his ability to combine romantic dialogue with dramatic action. ( )
  AdonisGuilfoyle | Jan 9, 2009 |
Illustrated with a frontispiece in photogravure, each illustration has tissue guard printed with caption. Very attractive binding in black cloth with floral decoration on covers and spines in light green and orange. Spine titles are gold, most very bright, a few slightly rubbed.
  Fantamas | Dec 10, 2008 |
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Alexandre Dumas (also known as Dumas pere) (1802-1870) was one of the most famous French writers of the 19th century. Dumas is best known for the historical novels The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, both written within the space of two years, 1844-45, and which belong to the foundation works of popular culture. He was among the first, along with Honore de Balzac and Eugene Sue, who fully used the possibilities of roman feuilleton, the serial novel. Dumas is credited with revitalizing the historical novel in France, although his abilities as a writer were under dispute from the beginning. Dumas' works are fast-paced adventure tales that blend history and fiction, but on the other hand, they are entangled, melodramatic, and actually not faithful to the historical facts. Alexandre Dumas was born in Villes-Cotterets. His grandfather was a French nobleman, who had settled in Santo Domingo; his paternal grandmother, Marie-Cessette, was an Afro-Caribbean, who had been a black slave in the then French colony of Haiti. Dumas's father was a general in Napoleon's army, who had fallen out of favor. After his death in 1806 the family lived in poverty. Dumas worked as a notary's clerk and went in 1823 to Paris to find work. Due to his elegant handwriting he secured a position with the Duc d'Orleans - later King Louis Philippe. He also found his place in theater and as a publisher of some obscure magazines. An illegitimate son called Alexandre Dumas fils, whose mother, Marie-Catherine Labay, was a dressmaker, was born in 1824. Dumas fils gained fame with his novel The Lady of the Camillas, in which a fallen girl, the heroine, gives up her lover rather than see him become a social outcast.

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