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concerning La San-Felice et Emma Lyonna

     In 1861, Alexandre Dumas, having helped Giuseppe Garibaldi conquer the Kingdom of Naples (recounted in Les Garibaldiens,) found himself ensconced in a comfortable Neapolitan villa, and given access to the secret archives of the late Bourbon regime. From his historical research came a work of history, Les Bourbons des Naples, and a work of historical fiction, La San Felice.
     La San Felice is more history than fiction. According to translator R. S. Garnett, La San Felice was Dumas' personal favorite among his many works, and it is easy to see why. If the book lacks the witty dialogue of his earlier works, it also lacks the padding and digressions. Dumas breathes life into even his most unsympathetic characters, The mature Dumas, with recent personal experience of the savagery and personal betrayals inevitable in civil war, wrote an acutely perceptive psychological study within the framework of a historical romance.
     The book opens with the arrival of the British commander of the Mediterranean fleet, Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson (1758-1805), in Naples. Nelson has just crushed the French fleet in the Battle of the Nile, stranding Napoleon and his army in Egypt. Nelson is met by the Bourbon King and Queen of Naples, Ferdinand (1759-1825) and Maria Carolina (1752-1814). Ferdinand was a grandson of Louis XIV, and Maria Carolina, an Austrian, was the sister of Marie Antoinette, recently executed by the French Republic. With the King and Queen were Sir William Hamilton (1730-1803), for thirty years a resident of Italy and British ambassador to Naples, and his wife Emma, Nelson's mistress. In Dumas' fiction, the Hamiltons were under the influence of the Queen, and through Emma, Nelson and the British fleet were yoked to the Queen's dynastic objectives.
     France and Naples were nominally at peace, but the Queen and her expatriate British prime minister, Lord Acton (1736-1811) loathed the Republic on personal, religious, political, and ideological grounds, particularly since a small French army in Rome, commanded by the energetic General Jean-Etienne Championnet was conspiring with Neapolitan republicans to overthrow the Bourbon regime. General Championnet sends his aide-de-camp, (the fictional) Salvato Palmieri, to the Republicans with word to postpone their uprising, since the French army is too small and too ill equipped to support them Palmieri is attacked by a gang of thugs under the employ of Lord Acton, his message stolen, and left for dead on the street in front of the house of the elderly Chevalier de San Felice, royal librarian, and his young wife, Luisa San Felice. Luisa takes in the desperately wounded Salvato, hides him, and nurses him back to health, and, of course, they fall in love.
     Acton and the Queen dupe the King into declaring war on France and invading the Roman republic. Outnumbered 6-to-1, General Championnet turns and routs the Neapolitan army at Civita Castellana, north of Rome, and marches on Naples.
     His army shattered, Ferdinand is counseled to mobilize the people in a national resistance by the Commander of the Navy, Francesco Cariccolo (1752-1799), and by Fabrizio, Cardinal Ruffo (1744-1827). However, the Queen and Acton dissuade the King, and Ferdinand and his court flee to Palermo aboard Admiral Nelson's flagship. The court conveniently includes the Chevalier San Felice, while Luisa is left behind.
     With the royalists out of way, General Championnet and his army enter Naples and the Neapolitan Republicans establish a "Parthenopean Republic." Salvato and Luisa are reunited. Admiral Caricciolo, disgusted by the behavior of the King, tenders his resignation, and returns to Naples as a private citizen. General Championnet, having won a brilliant victory, is recalled to Paris to be court-martialed for protecting Naples against arbitrary exactions by the French Government.
     Cardinal Ruffo, however, is appointed Viceroy, and returns to Cortone, on the toe of the Italian boot, and raises a rag-tag royalist army composed of feudal retainers, brigands, and wannabe looters. The army marches North, defeating the Republican army in a series of engagements punctuated by appalling atrocities and looting, which the Cardinal struggles to control. By June 1799, Cardinal Ruffo is at the gates of Naples, and is joined by military contingents from Russia, Austria, and Turkey, allied against France.
     Meanwhile, Luisa is falsely credited with betraying a Royalist conspiracy in Naples led by Andrew and Simon Baker, expatriate British bankers to the King. The Bakers are arrested and sentenced to death, and Luisa becomes an unwilling Republican hero. Caricciolo is persuaded to command the Republican Navy.
     Ruffo gains control of much of Naples through popular uprisings, but the fortifications remain in Republican hands. Cardinal Ruffo makes a deal: the forts will surrender, but their occupants can leave Naples safely and embark ship for France. However, Admiral Nelson arrives from Palermo to advice that the King wants the rebels apprehended. As soon as the Republicans have embarked, Influenced by Lady Hamilton, Nelson seizes the ship, and turns the occupants over to the King, who promptly has them all hung, including Admiral Caricciolo. Dishonored and disgusted, Cardinal Ruffo, who has just replaced the crown on Ferdinand's unworthy head, resigns.
     Salvato and Luisa escape, but are betrayed. Luisa is captured, and sentenced to death, but her sentence is suspended when it is learned she is pregnant. Salvato launches a rescue attempt, but is killed in the attempt, Luisa gives birth to a still-born infant, and is hung the next day. In all, the King executes more than 4,000 people, and his dynasty reigns, punctuated by foreign invasion, civil unrest, and repression, for another sixty years.
     Dumas' story is largely historical. Dumas' principal improvements were to create the fictional Italian-French Salvato Palmieri as a romantic hero, and to improve the character of the historical Luisa San Felice, informer and adulteress, who, through Dumas' pen, becomes a martyr for love. Dumas gives an unblinking and decidedly unromantic account of the brigandage and atrocities of Fra Diavolo and others, and the numerous treasons and acts of betrayal on both sides. In Dumas' account, the courageous, competent, and honorable men on both sides, such as General Championnet, Cardinal Ruffo, and Admiral Caricciolo, fighting either for their country envisaged in the person of the King, or for their country envisioned as "the people" wind up persecuted or dead, while the inept, corrupt, and criminal survive and prosper.
     The principal English translation of this work was prepared by R. S. Garnett in 1916-1918, and published by Stanley Paul in London and David McKay in Philadelphia, in two volumes, under the titles The Neapolitan Lovers and Love and Liberty. The English title Love and Liberty has also been applied to two other works by Dumas, the unfinished novel Le Volontaire de '92, and also to a translation of La Comtesse de Charny.


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