- Le Roman d'Alexandre Dumas père ou la réinvention du merveilleux
From the wonder evoked by the fairies and magical transformations so prevalent in seventeenth-century fairy tales, to the uncanny blurring of dreams and reality in nineteenth-century contes such as Charles Nodier's La Fée aux miettes and Théophile Gautier's La Morte amoureuse and Le Pied de momie, one generally associates the fantastic with the term merveilleux. Julie Anselmini, however, carefully differentiates the two. In her creative work, she redefines the post-revolutionary approach to the merveilleux, exploring in particular the way Dumas père so successfully satisfies the public's taste for the "insolite, mystérieux et le surnaturel" in his popular novels (35). The "merveilleux moderne," as Anselmini defines it, has been modernized to satisfy the tastes of readers accustomed to both the awe-inspiring innovations forged since the 1789 revolution and the worries and social upheaval that rock the century. She states: "Aussi les anciens dieux doivent-ils être remplacés, de même que la magie traditionnelle ou le Vieil Au-dèla" (26). Dumas's ability to tap into the reader's wonder and insecurity while promoting his personal political belief in democracy secured him literary success and fame. Through his novels, Anselmini argues, Dumas also reinvents nineteenth-century definition of the merveilleux.
In part one of Anselmini's work, she devotes five chapters to the various elements of Dumas's "Merveilleux moderne": the "surhomme dumasien," and the roles science, money and materialism, exotic locals, and psychology play in shaping this literary approach. As for Dumas's supermen, the author likely modeled them after his father, the General Dumas, "cet 'étincelant officier,' qui fut, pour son fils, 'l'archétype de ce que ce fils adorait', par la légende napoléonienne, par une auto-projection idéale de l'auteur et par différent mythes (le chevalier, l'aristocrate, le justicier . . .) de nombreux personnages sont surhumains en cela qu'ils sont une amplification de l'homme supérieur" (72). In this chapter, she devotes much discussion to the Count of Monte Cristo, the superman par excellence whom Dumas portrays as nearly godlike in his individualism, wealth, discipline, and self-reinvention, and therefore never ceases to amaze the reader. Just as the "surhomme" represents the ideal of the perfectibility of man inherited from the Enlightenment, science embodies glorious and remarkable promises and is thus elevated to a new religion. Science, then, becomes part of Dumas's merveilleux moderne that never ceases to marvel readers with its potential to master nature and tame death (72).
Along with the surhomme, the author explores the way the valorization of money and materialism throughout the nineteenth century also serve as another source of astonishment. The fantastic treasure Dantès finds is "la clef du merveilleux, la baguette magique qui métamorphose Monte-Cristo en 'héros des Mille et Une Nuits'" (114). In addition to the staggering fortunes of the era, she links the merveilleux to two other popular subjects: exotic voyages and a fascination with psychic states. These include the dreams and madness explored by pioneers of psychiatry or hashish-induced stupors evoked by writers and artists of the nineteenth century. To sum up the [End Page 182] first part of her tome, Anselmini asserts that Dumas "'a transposé la féerie en termes modernes': le surhomme remplace efficacement génies, fées et magiciens; l'argent, la science, l'amour ou le haschisch sont les baguettes magiques de l'ère moderne; les contrées étrangères sont aussi dépaysantes que l'Au-delà" (216). Overall, Anselmini aptly defines the "merveilleux moderne" and outlines the way Dumas reinvents it according to the contemporary myths of a post-revolutionary society thirsting for new sources of enchantment.
The second part, "Merveilleux et poétique romanesque," treats Dumas's aesthetic in three chapters. She explores Dumas's embracement of the strange and the supernatural, examines the rhetorical devices he employs in his...