Wednesday, March 27, 2013
The Corsican Brothers by Alexandre Dumas
Not quite a swashbuckler, but still a good read
The Corsican Brothers, a short novel by Alexandre Dumas, was originally published in 1844. The narrator of the story is Dumas himself, or at least a famous Parisian author named Alexandre. Visiting the island of Corsica as a tourist in the Spring of 1841, the writer seeks to experience the rustic local color of France’s most remote province. In the small mountain village of Sullacaro, he decides to take advantage of some of the famous Corsican hospitality and requests lodging in the home of a local family. He is welcomed with open arms by the owner of the house, the widow Madame de Franchi, and her son Lucien, a dashing young example of a Corsican country gentleman. The author soon learns that Lucien has a twin brother, Louis, who is a lawyer in Paris. Though the de Franchi brothers are almost identical in appearance, they could not be more different in their lifestyles, habits, and dispositions. The two were in fact born conjoined twins, separated surgically in infancy, and they share an uncommon bond with one another despite the physical distance which separates them.
The first half of the book is spent with Lucien in Corsica, where the author witnesses the unique Corsican custom of the vendetta—a blood feud between families which can be declared over matters as trifling as a dispute over a chicken, yet may result in dozens of murders being committed between the families in question over the course of many generations. The second half of the book is spent with Louis in Paris. Here the author becomes involved in the more civilized pursuits of operas, salons, mistresses, and duels. The latter pastime is explored in great depth, as the reader becomes involved in the complete process of a duel, from the choosing of the seconds to the selection of weapons to the delivery of the fatal bullet.
Those expecting the swashbuckling fare of The Three Musketeers may be disappointed by The Corsican Brothers. Though several movie adaptations have been made from this story, often featuring the clashing of swords, this is hardly an adventure novel. Atypical of Dumas’s work, its leisurely pace and first-person conversational tone remind one of the writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. As is often the case in Conan Doyle’s novels, secrets are revealed slowly over time, action scenes are few and far between, and there is a hint of the supernatural in the proceedings. In this case the reader can see the ending coming a mile away, yet it’s not so much predictable as it is simply inevitable.
Though it may not offer up all the thrills that Dumas is famous for, The Corsican Brothers nevertheless does not fail to satisfy. It may be short on physical action, but it contains enough romance and intrigue to insure there’s no lack of psychological suspense. The well-crafted story, inviting atmosphere, and camaraderie among the characters provides for a pleasant and amusing read. It is a brief work, composed of twenty short chapters, five or six of which can be easily read in one sitting. Due to some of its dark undertones, I wouldn’t call it light reading, but Dumas didn’t attempt to make it particularly deep or meaningful either. It may not be a monumental classic along the lines of The Count of Monte Cristo, but The Corsican Brothers is definitely an entertaining read and a few fun hours well spent.
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