A conversation on Twitter a couple of weeks ago reminded me how much I love Alexandre Dumas novels. He’s such good fun to read. His books are full of swashbuckling heroes fighting chivalrously to save the honour, and often life, of those to whom they have pledged themselves. They are historical novels, set against backdrops of turmoil and terror. So, prompted by twittering I picked up one I hadn’t read before but was sitting on the shelf awaiting my attention.
The Knight of Maison-Rouge is set during the French Revolution. Louis XVI has already been beheaded (220 years ago today) but, for now, Marie Antoinette lives. She is confined, separated from her son, and subject to callous indifference and deliberate cruelty. The Knight of Maison-Rouge is a semi-mythical figure, who is rumoured to be back in Paris plotting a daring rescue of his queen. The city is on high alert for this menace. All good citizens know their duty, and it isn’t to that infamous woman.
Maurice Lindey, hero of the revolution, is swept up by events. His chivalry is undiminished by his republicanism, and he cannot resist a damsel in distress. Especially when she is as mysterious and alluring as the citizeness he rescues from the volunteer guard. They would take her to the station for presuming to walk abroad at night without her papers. Maurice’s heart is swayed by her protestations; after a swift sword fight he walks her home. She implores him to forget her, but leaves him with a kiss to remember her by. A Dumas hero could never forget such an enigmatic woman. Maurice must find her or perish of lovesickness.
Nobody is quite what they seem in this story. Sympathies get muddled and sides are not so clear. Lindey is blinded by passion, unable to see the plot taking place under his nose. His best friend Lorin seems incapable of taking anything seriously; talking in verse, having flamboyant love affairs. Both belong in the National Guard, their loyalty to the new state absolute, but they both demand the royal prisoners are treated with dignity and humanity. Their decency makes them suspect, and before long they are dragged into the denunciations that made the Terror so terrifying.
I think it’s fair to say this is one of Dumas’ less well-known stories, but I thought it was a good one. It is very romantic, both in the true love and idealised world-view sense, as well as action packed. The hidden identities and cover stories are puzzling and fun. It is also heroically tragic; we know Marie Antoinette’s fate, her rescuers are doomed to failure. ending is a masterclass in self-sacrifice, principles and friendship. The Knight of Maison-Rouge would be an excellent choice for a film adaptation, until someone sees the wisdom of my insight I recommend reading the book instead.