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concerning Le Volontaire de '92; René d'Argonne, René Besson : un témoin de la Révolution

     Un Voluntier de '92 is a historical romance, set in France at the time of the revolution, in which the romance vanished beneath the historical narrative. As F. W. Reed notes, Dumas first researched and imagined this work in the 1850's, but may not have actually begun writing it until 1862.
     In one of his entertaining but characteristically unreliable prefaces, Dumas recounts how, while researching his history La Route de Varennes in 1856, he encountered a veteran of Napoleon's army, Colonel Rene Bresson, who gave to Dumas a memoir of his experiences in the revolution. The book purports to be Rene's memoir.
     Rene grew up an orphan in the Argonne forest, and frequently acted as a hunting guide to members of the Court and royal family. In 1788, influenced by reading Rousseau, he adopts Republican sentiments and apprentices himself as a carpenter in the town of Varennes. He also met and fell in love with Sophie, the daughter of his master, who, in turn, loves a local aristocrat, the Viscount de Malmy.
     In July 1790, Rene travels to Paris to celebrate the revolution, and attends meetings of the Jacobin and Cordelier clubs, which gives Dumas an opportunity to introduce Mirabeau, Robespierre, Marat, Camile Desmoulins, and other revolutionary figures.
     Rene returns to Varennes, and, of course, just happens to be around when Louis XVI and his family flee Paris in 1791 and attempt to escape over the frontier, only to be stopped by the municipal authorities in--Varennes. This give Dumas an opportunity to give a step-by-step account of the flight and Louis' arrest, about which he had previously written. Rene, as a member of the National Guard, forms part of Louis' escort back to Paris, and remains in Paris to witness the massacre at the Champ de Mars. That evening, Rene is shot and wounded, and spends the next several months recovering. With his hero out of action, Dumas is freed from the constraints of historical romance, and the last third of the book (chapters 47 through 63) is a narrative of the history of the revolution, encompassing the execution of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, through to the death of Robespierre in 1793, concluding "France fell into the hands of Napoleon."
     On the very last page, Rene returns to confess that he never regretted helping Sophie and the Viscount de Malmy escape, an action never described in the novel. Rene concludes: "The revolution was terrible, but it did the world more good in the long run than the world has yet found out."
     F. W. Reed characterizes this book as unfinished, and describes the French text as comprising 43 chapters, published in Dumas' journal Le Monte-Cristo, ending abruptly when the journal failed in 1862. However, the principal English translation of this work, Love and Liberty, published by T. B. Peterson & Brothers of Philadelphia in 1869 (i.e., during Dumas' lifetime) comprises 63 chapters. The extra chapters are largely a highly opinionated historical narrative, written in Dumas' inimitable style. They do provide an imperfect conclusion to the book. When he could, Dumas simultaneously sold his literary output to publishers in different countries. The failure of his journal in France would not necessarily halt publication in other countries. It is probable that something of the sort occurred in this case, either in 1862 or (more likely) in 1866. It would appear that the last third of this work has never been published in French.

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