Paris: Dumont, 1842. First Edition. 1/2 calf. 4 vols. 1st edition following a daily serialization in the newspaper Le Siècle (The Age, or The Century, depending on who is translating). Reed’s bibliography (A Bibliography of Alexandre Dumas Père, 1933, 1974) based on his gigantic collection now at Auckland (NZ), lists Dumont’s 1843 Paris edition of this title as the 1st edition, so he didn’t have, or see, or hear about this one dated 1842. Munro (Alexandre Dumas Pere. A Bibliography of Works Published in French) quaintly scrambles the Paris and Brussels editions but gets all the dates right, having Dumont’s Paris edition and the 3 Brussels editions he saw all dated 1842. Rare. ABPC says no sets sold at auction in 40 years. OCLC lists only 2 sets in institutions worldwide (at Indiana and Yale), and a half set, vols. I and II only (at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris), and we found a defective and imperfect set for sale in France that was only suitable for falling out of a piñata. And even if that misses a set or 2 buried in the backwoods, it’s still an item of indubitable rarity. Contemporary half French speckled roan, rubbing to sides, else a very good set with nice margins (4 5/8” X 7 1/4"), complete with half–titles, ads and contents leaves. A noble copy (Royal Bavarian), ex–Prince Carl Von Bayern Guter, from the castle library of Tegernsee, with his oval armorial stamp to each title page. Very good. Item #22
Le Chevalier d’Harmental unleashed Dumaspalooza, his towering and best–selling historical romances (romans d’or), and it was the first of Dumas’ novels researched by Maquet (you can talk about the miracle, but you never talk about the angel). Here’s the history. In 1838 Dumas serialized, and then published, his first novel, Le Capitaine Paul, to temperate notice, followed later that year by Acté, which was much better written, but mistakenly set in ancient Rome, during the Continental reader’s apathy for the ancients after the Roman revival. For 3 years he pressed on, sharpened his skills, perfected his craft, surmised the intricacies of historical romance, and intuited the preferences of his audience, then unified all 4 into a new ritual of high art, exploding on the scene with this first coupling of an historical novel with a cloak and dagger thriller. It’s set (1718), in the midst of The Cellamare Conspiracy, a critical pivot in European history, following the 1715 death of Louis XIV and the French throne’s passing to his 5–year old great–grandson, Louis XV. It’s more sinister, sophisticated, malicious, and grimmer than any historical novel that preceded it, and it’s grittier than most of those that succeeded it. The regent (the Duc d’Orléans) and the regency council (led by the Duc d’Maine) quarreled, plotted, and tried to murder each other in factions. The Spanish ambassador (Cellamare) got involved, and forged a seditious intrigue, but lost his gamble to play one clique against the other and install the Spanish King as the new regent. “The history of ideas is the history of the grudges of solitary men.” –Cioran This is an unquestionably important book in the chronicles of literature, no less than the modern historical novel’s genotype, a descendant of ideas first conceived in Langland’s Longsword, 1762, formularized in Scott’s Waverly, 1814, and refined in Hugo’s Notre Dame, 1831, but Dumas leaves none of their ideas undeveloped. He interrogates their assumptions more deeply and traces their implications more exhaustively, and where (earlier) others insisted in general terms, he undertakes a famously comprehensive, exacting, and sustained reconnaissance, scrutiny, disassembly and reassembly of the subject. Where they had cautiously compared, he expounds a bold, amplified, highly matured conception of writing as a science, a systematically reflexive mode of engaging the reader and knowing the world. This is where the light went on, the first of Dumas’ best–selling triumphs, and it led him to what he has become today, the most widely read of all French authors. Don’t let anybody tell you differently, Le Chevalier d’Harmental is the middle novel in a trilogy beginning with Sylvandire and concluding with Une Fille du Régent, though Le Chevalier D’Harmental was the first one of the 3 that he published. Dumas didn’t plan it as a trilogy, nor did he publish them in order, or give them an overriding title, but those are not the sole means of defining a trilogy. All 3 novels are set between 1708 and 1719, and they run smoothly in sequence, so they are a cycle of the times, and if they are not a cycle of the fictional characters, they are a trilogy of the place (Paris), the historical figures, and the courts of Louis XIV, until his death in 1715, and Louis XV, 5 years old when he assumed the throne.