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from Reviews (ADR)
concerning Ingénue

    Ingénue is an entertaining hybrid, part historical romance, part novel of character, part melodrama, and perhaps partly a prank. It is explicitly billed as a retelling of a perhaps autobiographical novel by the prolific 18th century writer, Nicolas-Edme Restif, (1734-1806) who used the pen name Restif de la Bretonne. Dumas' contemporaries, however, viewed Restif as a pornographer: his works had been removed from French libraries in the 1820s, and most remained out of print (officially) until the Twentieth Century.
    Indiana University Library has posted an illustrated version of Restif's Les Contemporaines ou Aventures des plus jolies femmes de l'âge présent along with a short biographical sketch, which may help give a sense of what the Dumas' readers might have had in mind when they thought of an adaption of a book by Restif.
    Restif's 1789 novel, Ingénue Saxancour, ou la Femme Séparée, dealt with the marriage of Restif's oldest daughter to a scoundrel. Dumas was clearly aware of Restif's reputation, and it is the source of a great deal of sly humour in the book. The biggest joke of all is on the reader who buys every installment of the feuilleton looking for the spicy bits, which, of course, never appear.
    The novel opens in Paris in 1788, as two future revolutionaries, "the repulsive dwarf," Jean-Paul Marat (1743-1793), surgeon to the household of the Comte d'Artois, and the lawyer Georges-Jacques Danton (1759-1794), become acquainted in a park. They eat a lovingly-described gourmet dinner together (attended by Camille Desmoulins, Jacques-Louis David, Andre Chenier, J. F. Talma, and Dr. Guillotin), go to two meetings (on abolishing the slave trade and on the rights of man), Marat tells Danton a long story about his sojourn in Poland, and....
    Fourteen chapters later, the novel truly begins, with the introduction of the widower Restif, making a living by journalism and novels, and his beautiful and virtuous daughter, Ingénue. Restif is a republican, and swears that his daughter will only marry an honest workman. However, the daughter loves Christian, who, as we later learn, is a Polish aristocrat and page to the libertine Comte d'Artois (1757-1836). (The Count would later became Charles X, King of France 1824-1830). Restif rejects Christian's suit, and Christian is subsequently desperately wounded in a riot. Christian is treated by Marat, but is kept incommunicado by the severity of his wound.
    Ingénue is caught up in the same riot, but is rescued by the Comte d'Artois, who lusts after Ingénue, and directs his staff procurer, Auger, to bring Ingénue to him. Auger visits Restif and proposes a financial arrangement, which Restif indignantly rejects. Restif then attempts kidnapping, is badly beaten, and subsequently sacked by the Count for incompetence.
    Auger then visits Restif's parish priest, confesses his sins, and asks the priest to beg Restif and Ingénue's forgiveness. Over a period of a month, Auger builds a reputation as a repentant sinner and industrious workman. Having won Restif's friendship, he asks for Ingénue's hand in marriage, to which Ingénue consents, since she is in despair over the mysterious disappearance of Christian. Auger then contacts the Comte d'Artois, and offers the Count the opportunity to substitute for Auger on the wedding night.
    Auger and Ingénue are married, but the plot goes awry when Ingénue recognizes the Count and throws him out, and the convalescent Christian shows up in time to see the Count go up the stairs and down again. After innumerable plot twists, Auger is hung for attempting to murder Ingénue, and the widowed Ingénue and Christian (who turns out to be Marat's illegitimate son) escape to Poland and live happily ever after.
    Despite its discursive nature and ridiculously complicated and implausible plot, this book has many charms: the writing, unmistakably that of Dumas, is filled with snappy dialogue, great set piece scenes, and suffused with Dumas' trademark good humour and wit.
    The principal male characters are despicable: Marat is a monster, the Comte d'Artois an accomplished liar and immoral conniving scoundrel, Auger a murderer and thief, Restif a libertine and fool. Even the hero, Christian, lies to Ingénue about his background. In Ingénue, Charlotte Corday (who makes a cameo appearance), and Christian's mother, however, Dumas creates three strong woman characters who are brave, virtuous, and steadfast even in the wreck of all their hopes.
    Dumas' closely observed, affectionate, but unblinking portraits of Restif and his friends are reminiscent of Dumas' later pastoral novels, while the French revolution seems to have occurred primarily for the purpose of getting Christian out of the way so that Ingénue can marry Auger. Thus, despite the extensive use of historical characters, and setting the book in the midst of great historical events, it is only nominally a historical romance.


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