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concerning La Terreur prussienne

     "The Prussian Terror," one of Dumas' last novels, was originally written as a serial in the journal "The Situation" circa 1867. Contemporary readers with a taste for hyperbole might have described it as "ripped from today's headlines" because Dumas took, as his subject, the just-concluded Austro-Prussian War of 1866.
     During the 1860's, Prussia, guided by the Kaiser Wilhelm I and the Iron Chancellor, the Graf von Bismark, created a unified Germany by the sword. German-speaking middle Europe was, at that time divided into a host of statelets, Duchies, and free cities, over which the Prussians, Austrians, and Danes contended for control. Prussia had the best army and first crushed the Danes (in 1863), and the Austrians in 1866.
     Dumas' novel opens in Berlin, where his hero, a peripatetic multi-lingual Frenchman of independent means, Benedict Turpin, defies an angry mob by shouting "Vive la France" in the middle of a patriotic demonstration. Benedict infuriates several Prussian officers, including the Count Frederic von Bulow. Von Bulow, a favorite of the Kaiser, is part of a Prussian contingent stationed in the free city of Frankfurt, and is married to a Frankfurt girl. Frederic and Benedict fight a duel, in which Benedict wounds von Bulow, and they become friends.
     Meanwhile, Frederic's wife's sister, Helen, falls in love with Frederic's best friend, the Austrian Count Karl von Freyburg, a member of an Austrian unit also stationed in Frankfurt.
     The Prussians provoke a war, and the two officers retire to their respective camps, leaving behind, in neutral Frankfurt, the two women who love them. In a foreshadowing of thousand NATO war games, a Prussian army crashes through the Fulda Gap and encounters an Austrian army in the Battle of Sadowa, which ends with the rout of the Austrians, and with Count Karl left lying on the battlefield.
     The Prussians then seize independent, neutral Frankfurt without resistance ("might is right," says Bismark) and proceed to commit various atrocities. Frederic's commanding officer, General Sturm, asks Frederic and the mayor to list the names of the wealthiest citizens in Frankfurt so that they may plundered. Frederic refuses the order, tears off his epaulettes, and is horsewhipped by the General. Dishonored, Frederic commits suicide, and leaves a note asking Benedict to revenge him. The mayor hangs himself rather than comply with the General's order. The book concludes a year after the war with Benedict meeting General Sturm for a duel in Paris.
     By the grim standards of the Twentieth Century, the atrocities chronicled by Dumas are rather mild. Dumas seems particularly appalled that the various outrages were ordered by the Prussian commanders. However, the journey which began at Frankfurt ended eighty years and three wars later in the ruins of Berlin.
     Of course, France was next. Four years later, the Prussian armies rolled into France. Dumas's son removed his ailing father to Dieppe, and Dumas died just as the first Prussian troops entered Dieppe.

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