Brussels: Meline, 1849-1850. First Edition. Hardcover. 6 vols. in 3. 1st edition, following the 1849–50 serialization in La Presse (Paris’ first penny newspaper), but our edition precedes Cadot’s 11 vol. Paris edition, and is generally simultaneous with 5 other 1849–50 Brussels editions, 1 from Leipzig, 1 from Berlin, and 2 partial NY editions. The exact issue date of each volume of each edition is not clear and the guesses lack the facts to be credible, but here is what seems to be. Lebègue’s Brussels edition that Munro (Alexandre Dumas Pere. A Bibliography of Works Published in French) lists as the 6th edition, is almost certainly the 1st with only 29% of it dated 1850 (the data that usually forecasts earliest issue of the complete novel when publication occurs over 2 calendar years), with all other editions more (ours at 50%). And though the title page dates are not entirely dependable, that’s all we can lean on in lieu of firmer conflicting data. In a giddy fit, Munro, lists 2 NY editions in French as the 1st and 2nd, extrapolating his chronology from too rigid a count–up of the dates (the NY editions had no volumes dated 1850). But the reason was that both NY publishers quit publishing their failed editions before the book was finished. Munro does note that the NY editions were “certainly incomplete” but instead of ignoring them in favor of publishers that actually put out the whole book, he idly assigns prime order of issue to them as if they were complete, and as if their publishers finished printing first, rather than stopped printing first, an advantage always available to those who fold a sequential publication before the end of a book is written. Further, Meline (our book’s publisher) also issued a 7 vol. 1849–1850 edition, but Munro (if you have any faith left after what you’ve just read) says our 6 vol. edition precedes the one in 7 vols. and he’s likely right. Contemporary 1/4 calf, some rubs, but very good, unrepaired, and complete with all 6 half–titles. Gilt initials “B. P.” on each cover (definitely not Brad Pitt or the Black Prince). OCLC lists 10 sets in libraries, ABPC lists none sold at auction in a generation, but the OCLC stats better reflect reality. Very good. Item #453
The second of 4 separate but connected novels in Dumas’ stirring portrayal of the French Revolution, that beheading of hundreds of poor human beings in the name of some pitiless abstraction. It’s an historical romance, thus the reader knows how it ends, but Dumas is a literary magician, so the pages are filled with the kind of tension felt by fugitives when they hear bloodhounds in the distance. It slyly unmasks a conspiracy using diamonds as the bait, and propaganda as the aim, it’s written in the best Dumas style, so it moves fast, fascinates, and regales, and it has the virtuoso’s perfect voice and descriptive technique. Like many historical novels there isn’t much to analyze as to themes, motifs and symbols (though foreshadowing is a given in all historical novels, as plots follow known events). So, it isn’t a favorite in 19th Century Literature classes, where each nuance is picked apart in the belief that everything has meaning, and yet, because Dumas is the ultimate storyteller, it remains vitalizing entertainment.
Dumas’ novel taps history but the necklace’s cold facts are bizarre beyond any fiction. Here is a sketch of what really happened. In 1772, the grand diamond necklace was designed by the Parisian jewelers Boehmer and Bassenge in response to a request from King Louis XV that it exceed any necklace extant. Louis planned to gift it to his mistress, Madame du Barry, despite the price of 2 million livres (maybe $40 million today), but in May 1774, while the diamonds were being assembled, Louis XV died of smallpox and his heir, Louis XVI, banished du Barry from court. Boehmer and Bassenge tendered the necklace to the new king, and he offered it as a gift to his wife, Queen Marie Antoinette, who refused it, not wanting jewels designed for another woman, especially a concubine she disliked, and one who had usurped the previous Queen. The jewelers tried to place the necklace outside of France, but potential buyers were thinner than butter spread on toast, the effort failed, and fearing bankruptcy, Boehmer and Bassenge fell into a despondent anxiety. Enter Comtesse Jeanne de la Motte, a married grifter with a flamboyant scheme whispered to her in outline by Giuseppe (Joseph) Balsamo, who was residing in Paris, in disguise, under the alias Count Alessandro di Cagliostro. Balsamo was the founder of the Masonic mother lodge “The Triumphant Wisdom of the Egyptian Freemasonry” at Lyon, and the head of an unnamed, indecently financed, international secret society that was already plotting the French revolution as part of a larger intrigue to topple all the European monarchies. First Balsamo introduced De la Motte to Cardinal Louis de Rohan, a wealthy man but out of Royal favor and desperate to regain it. She immedistely seduced him. While still Rohan’s mistress, she wedged herself into the Versailles Royal circle as the concurrent mistress of Rétaux de Villette, an officer in the gendarmerie with a position at court. She then convinced Rohan that she had the Queen’s ear and that, through her, he could regain the Queen’s favor. With this lie firmly in place, she accelerated the conspiracy with her husband and de Villette, and launched an allegedly secret correspondence of genuine letters from the gullible Rohan and forged letters (written by de Villette) from the unknowing Queen, that convinced Rohan the Queen was in love with him. This led to a clandestine meeting, on a dark night, in a Versailles garden, between Rohan and a prostitute, hired by de la Motte, who happened to resemble the Queen. After a few kisses, and with Rohan fully deceived, de la Motte approached the jewelers and arranged a commission for herself if she could place the necklace. A counterfeit letter to Rohan, purportedly from the Queen, followed, asking Rohan to buy her the necklace for which she would repay him. Now Cardinal Rohan was rich, but he wasn’t that rich, so after emptying his bank for a substantial deposit, the necklace was given to de la Motte who said she would deliver it to Marie Antoinette. Instead she gave it to her husband who sailed to London, broke up the necklace, and began selling the diamonds individually. The affair came to light when Rohan missed his payment schedule, and the Cardinal, Comtesse de la Motte, Rétaux de Villette, and Nicole d’Oliva (the courtesan who resembled the Queen) were all arrested. Also arrested was Count Cagliostro (his alias unveiled), who had centered the affair as designer, plotter, and instigator. The King, unwisely, demanded a public trial to defend his uprightness, but even a king doesn’t own a crystal ball, and the trial had the opposite outcome as the French public, inflamed with disinformation spread by Cagliostro’s agents, came to believe the Queen to be both greedy and guilty. The Cardinal was acquitted as a stooge, but he was exiled. Nicole d’Oliva was acquitted as an unknowing hired entertainer. Rétaux de Villette was found guilty of forgery and also exiled. Cagliostro was acquitted but exiled anyway. As for Jeanne de la Motte, she was judged guilty and condemned to prison for life. She managed to escape disguised as a boy (to the joy of the public), and fled to London where she rejoined her husband, shared the profits from the diamonds’ sale, and wrote a book that justified her actions and cast the blame on her primary victim, Marie Antoinette. She wrote her book in French but the 1st edition was a translation from her manuscript into English and published in London. A French translation from the English 1st edition was quickly accomplished and was (not unexpectedly) a sensation in Paris. The French people believed her account, anger heated, rebellious conspirators plotted, rioters filled the streets, and it all boiled over 2 years later when the Bastille was stormed, and the French Revolution was lit. 2 years after that de la Motte was assassinated (probably by agents of Alexandre Gonsse de Rougeville and his Carnation Plot collaborators of La Maison Rouge), beaten to death in a London hotel and pushed from a high window so as to cloak the assault as an accidental fall or suicide. 2 years after that, Marie Antoinette was guillotined while someone sang La Marseillaise.