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Reviews (ADR)

from Reviews (ADR)
concerning Fernande

     Fernande is a short comic novel with a contemporary theme set in 1835 in the town of Fontenay-aux-Roses. Fernande is a highly theatrical novel: it may have been originally conceived, and would probably have been more effective, as a play. It is also bears some resemblance to Dumas' novel Georges, written at about the same time, in that Dumas wanders close to a devastating critique of his contemporary society, but then lets readers off the hook with a conventional happy ending.
     As the book opens, young Maurice de Barthelme is dying of a grief of unknown cause,, and his doctor, mother, and young wife, Clothilde, are in despair. Through the agency of two of Maurice's more disreputable friends, they learn Maurice's grief is due to his rejection by the well-known Parisian prostitute Fernande.
     The wife and mother decide to invite Fernande to their country home, in the hope that Fernande will be able to cure Maurice' grief. Maurice's friends arrange a ruse, and Fernande arrives quite unaware of who she is visiting, and why. There follows a period of door-slamming farce, in which we learn that Maurice' mother's lover, Comte de Montgiroux, and one of Maurice's friends, Leon have also enjoyed Fernande's favors, while the other friend, Fabien, has decided to seduce Maurice's wife.
     Maurice is cured by a visit from Fernande, and we learn that Maurice and Fernande were lovers until Fernande learned that Maurice was married, whereupon she left him. After more farce, we learn that Fernande was a well-educated woman of good family, orphaned, then seduced and abandoned by her guardian.
     Fernande, learning that Maurice is really the Count's illegitimate son, tells him that resuming her affair with him would be incest. She promises, however, to withdraw from her profession, and to retire to a chaste life in the country. The innocent Clothilde, having been awakened to passion by the example of Fernande, becomes a more effective wife, and she and Maurice are reconciled. The Count finally marries Maurice's mother, Fabien and Leon are exposed as slimeballs, and packed off to Paris.
     Fernande is the real heroine of the book: Dumas' portrays her as kind and dignified, and a much more humane and honorable person than the aristocrats who both patronize and despise her. However, the book remains a light comedy, because Dumas mocks, but does not directly attack, the values of the society in which he lived.
     It is worth noting that Dumas himself later shared mistresses with his son, and married the actress Ida Ferrier only after King Louis Philippe's son remonstrated about being formally introduced to Dumas' mistress. (The reputation and social standing of actresses in Dumas' time was only modestly higher than that of prostitutes.)
     A new translation of Fernande by Dumas scholar A. Craig Bell, was published in 1988 by St. Martin's Press in New York and Robert Hale in London.

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