Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

Les Contes Du Monte-Cristo: Alexandre Dumas and His "Tales for Old and Young Children"

Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

Les Contes Du Monte-Cristo: Alexandre Dumas and His "Tales for Old and Young Children"

Article excerpt

Alexandre Dumas may be one of France's most popular novelists, but part of his work remains unknown to most. The success of such texts as The Count of Monte-Cristo (Le comte de Monte-Cristo, 1844-1845) or The Three Musketeers (Les trois mousquetaires, 1844), which mix historical events with adventures, eclipses the fact that Dumas also wrote numerous plays, travel books, cookbooks, journal articles, and even fairy tales. Indeed, although the last genre is usually not associated with Dumas's name, he in fact wrote a number of tales over a period of twenty years.1 These tales form an integral part of his literary legacy and inform both the study of Dumas's work and that of the fairy-tale genre in nineteenth-century France.

Dumas's first two tales were published in Pierre-Jules Hetzel's Le Nouveau Magasin des Enfants (New Children's Magazine) in 1844 and reprinted the next year in volumes: The Story of a Nutcracker (Histoire d'un casse-noisette), adapted from E. T. A. Hoffmann's tale; and The Honey Stew of the Countess Bertha (La Bouillie de la comtesse Berthe), inspired by a German legend. Hetzel's journal was of great importance for the development of children's literature in France. It published stories by such famous writers as Charles Nodier and George Sand and was illustrated by great artists, such as Bertall (Charles A. d'Amoux's pen name) and later Gustave Doré.

Dumas's main fairy-tale production, however, was published between 1857 and 1860 in a journal called Le Monte-Cristo-after his novel-before being reedited in book form. Most of these texts were inspired by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen and have a peculiar position somewhere between translation and rewriting. I look more closely at the origin of these tales and their inscription in the journal and discuss Dumas's conception of the fairy-tale genre. Through a comparison with Hans Christian Andersen's work, I also highlight the special characteristics of Dumas's tales.

A "Causerie" for Children

Le Monte-Cristo was ajournai in which Dumas issued his earlier works in serial form, translations of foreign novels, and a "causerie," that is, a column where he informally discussed day-to-day events.2 The journal was created to finance Dumas's travels-he had left France in 1851 as a result of financial problems- and came to represent both a logbook and a letter to his known and unknown friends (Schopp, Alexandre Dumas, 492). The link between travels and literature is an important one, because Dumas endeavored to present the foreign cultures that he encountered to his French readers. In this light, his fairy-tale production should be associated with Germanic culture. However, the inclusion of fairy tales in Le Monte-Cristo was not initially planned, as indicated by the journal's subtitle: "Weekly Journal of Novels, History, Travels and Poetry. Published and Written by Alexandre Dumas Alone."3

The first tale of the series was inserted in the correspondence of the eleventh issue (July 1857), in which Dumas responded to a letter from a boy complaining that the journal contained only adult causeries. The boy explained that he had received two books as New Year's gifts but now knew them by heart and wanted to read new stories. The letter was a good advertisement for Dumas, because the boy's books were the two tales published by Hetzel mentioned earlier. This circumstance may indicate that the correspondence was staged-a procedure that Dumas was partial to, as I show later. What is more significant at this point, however, is Dumas's answer to the boy: "I will give you a tale, a fairy tale for children, as you ask for. Only, while it will entertain the young readers, I will at the same time strive not to bore the older ones too much."4

This exchange introduced the section called "Causerie in the Form of a Tale or Tale in the Form of a Causerie" ("Causerie en manière de conte ou conte en manière de causerie"), which opened with "The Tin Soldier and the Paper Dancer" ("Le soldat de plomb et la danseuse de papier"), a tale we recognize as adapted from Andersen's work. …

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