Alexandre Dumas, Le Chevalier de Maison-Rouge (1845)

I have had this book in my Kindle since… forever. When my son was discouraged to progress into The Three Musketeers, I switched to this one in May to read a classics while waiting for his energy to return (i.e. the school holidays). Really, it’s a bit of a historical love story set during the Terror. Which is to say, it doesn’t bear well for the characters.

The weirdest thing about this book is that the Knight of Maison-Rouge is far from the main character in this story. We have the courageous and chivalrous Maurice, who sides with the Republicans (for liberties and against the monarchy). As his path crosses with a mysterious young woman who has ventured outside after curfew and who needs a savior, his passion for the Republic pales in favor of… love. He neglects his duties and searches everywhere for the beautiful stranger. We have Genevieve, the young woman, who happens to be married, and to harbor more secrets than would be safe in that period. We have the Queen Marie-Antoinette, who waits in prison with her children for her fate to be sealed. The novel takes place after the beheading of King Louis 16th, so it doesn’t look good. But the knight himself? Parisians have heard of him as one of the most daring Royalists who will try everything to free the bereaved queen, but noone knows what he looks like. He’s very much a character in the background.

How can Maurice be so naive that he doesn’t understand that he has been embroiled in a Royalist plot? That’s a bit of a stretch… Genevieve is a bit of a cardboard heroine who cries a lot. But much can be excused in the name of love. Really, I staid because of the twists and the suspense. I don’t think that Dumas could have managed an alternate version of history where Marie-Antoinette would have managed to escape, but I must say that I still hoped. It’s very much melodramatic, especially the ending (you’ll need tissues). I loved Maurice’s best friend Lorin. That said, it doesn’t reach the level of the Three Musketeers (which we have now returned to).

It was interesting to see Paris alive under the Terror. This historical period is so complex and troubled that most history manuals focus on the struggles at the top of the government and at the frontiers, but what did it mean to live and love during this period? It made me want to read some new mystery with Victor Dauterive also set during the Revolution.

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