Welcome, readers-along! As we start reading on this fine (Canadian) long weekend, let’s ponder what should be a very simple question: who wrote The Count of Monte Cristo?
Here’s the evolution of my answer:
Had you asked me a year ago, I would have said: Alexandre Dumas, dead white dude.
Had you asked me six months ago, I would have said: Alexandre Dumas, dead, but not white, dude. I found Alex on this list of classics by authors of colour, which lead me to choose it for my read along this year.*
Had you asked me a month ago, I would have said: Alexandre Dumas, père, and probably have tried to make a “Big Poppa” joke. I learned that Alexandre Dumas has a son of the same name, also a writer. He’s known as fils. The père designation stuck, though I think there should be some sort of statute of limitations on that, because who’s reading fils theses days?
Ask me now? I have no idea!
Turns out, it’s pretty much universally acknowledged that Alexandre Dumas, père, wrote The Count of Monte Cristo in collaboration with August Maquet. Maquet was his long-time collaborator, and it’s on the record that he took care of small matters, like researching historical details, as well as large ones, like plot outlines and characters. But it’s also been speculated that Dumas was running a sort of “genius factory”, working with several or even dozens of ghostwriters and just slapping his name on the end result. You know, like a celebrity fashion line. Or a James Patterson book.
I do find it interesting that Google only lists Dumas as author (with Maquet relegated to the seventh “people also search for”) but Wikipedia lists “Alexandre Dumas in collaboration with Auguste Maquet”
Does it matter?
I’ve always been a separate-the-art-from-the-artist kind of girl. So, if August Maquet wrote some of the 1,200 pages here, or created the skeleton for Dumas to dress with flowery prose, does it really matter? I actually kind of love how it subverts the “lone genius writing in a darkened room” stereoype. And let’s remember, Dumas didn’t have the internet to look up historical details, nor a word processor to store plot outlines. Can you blame him for getting some help? As we’ve seen in previous read-alongs, it’s not that unusual for authors to get significant support while writing – it’s just usually from a wife. At least Auguste got paid.
For a much more detailed account of Dumas and Maquet’s work together, check out new-to-me book blog The Pageaholic (or, take your pick of several scholarly books, articles, and even a 2010 movie on the subject, if you have the time!) And tell me, did you know that Dumas worked with collaborators? Does it change your perception of his work?
*Eagled-eyed and/or obsessed readers of this blog might notice that my reading in 2018 is devoid of white authors writing in English. What can I say, I love a weirdly-specific reading goal!