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concerning Jacquot sans Oreilles

     Jacquot is a very interesting horror novella set in Russia during the first quarter of the Nineteenth Century. In 1858-1859, Alexandre Dumas traveled to Russia and the Caucasus, and brought back with him sufficient inspiration to produce a spate of fiction set in Russia. Jacquot is a horror novella with gothic touches, strongly reminiscent of (but superior to) Dumas' earlier work, Chateau d'Eppstein, written in 1843 and set in Germany.
     As in Chateau d'Eppstein, Dumas employs the device of layered narration. He recounts that while traveling down the Volga en route to Kazan, he stopped at the ruined castle of the Groubenski family, abandoned some 30 years previously. There, Dumas viewed a painting of a beautiful woman with the face covered with a smear of black paint. He heard a rumour of some atrocity associated with a razed pavilion in the garden, and asked his guide to make inquiries of the local ancients and mail him the story. Dumas continues that, on his return to Paris, he received a manuscript which purported to be a memoir written (in 1828) by a friend of Prince Danilo, the last surviving scion of the Groubenski family, describing Danilo's return to the castle.
     Danilo meets an old family retainer, Jacquot, chief huntsman to his grandfather, Prince Alexis Groubenski, (d. 1825), who confides to him a terrible secret. Danilo and his friend repair to a pavilion in the garden, break open a wall, and find sealed within the remains of Danilo's mother, the Princess Varvara, who, judging from a farewell message inscribed on the wall, had been entombed alive.
     The friend then listens to Jacquot's story, which is an entertaining, vivid, and typically Dumasian portrait of Price Alexis, the last of the medieval Russian nobility, a man whom great wealth and absolute power corrupted absolutely. The story is given piquancy by Jacquot's unqualified admiration for his barbaric master, who would beat or kill his serfs, rape their wives, hunt bears with knife and spear, give vast entertainments, and ensure that his guests drank themselves into a stupor.
     Jacquot earned his name when Prince Alexis ordered him to wrestle a bear. The bear chewed off one ear, and Prince Alexis cut off the other one as punishment for stabbing his pet.
     When Prince Alexis' son brings his young wife to live at the castle, and then departs (1806) for the wars, trouble brews...
     There is one other curious feature about this work, the name of the protagonist, Jacquot, which is not a Russian name. Jacquot is, however, the real name of one Eugene de Mirecourt, who wrote a book in the 1840's accusing Dumas of plagiarism, and citing Chateau d'Eppstein as being plagiarized from an unnamed German work. It is not clear (to me) exactly what Dumas was implying by giving the earless, morally obtuse narrator of Jacquot the name of his old tormentor. However, Jacquot may be thought of as a reworking by Dumas of the Chateau d'Eppstein material, just as Le Page du Duc de Savoy is a reworking by Dumas of the material originally published years before in Les Deux Diane under Dumas' name, but actually written by Paul Meurice.

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