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concerning Cécile; La Robe de Noces

     Cécile is a short novel in the style of a three-handkerchief weepie, set in France and England during the period 1792-1802. It bears a certain family resemblance to two other of Dumas' romantic novels, Amaury and Fernande, written at about the same time, but Cécile is written as a tragedy, and lacks the optimism and good humour (and the happy ending) of these other works.
     Dumas opens his story in 1802: the actress Fernande is receiving a visit from Napoleon's adopted son, Eugène de Beauharnais (1781-1824) when they are interrupted by a young woman who is seeking to sell her beautifully embroidered gown, the product of nearly a year's steady labor. The young woman, Cécile de Marsilly, tells them that the gown was intended to be her wedding gown. Dumas then tells the story of how Cécile came to sell her gown.
     In 1792, the child Cécile, her mother, the Baroness de Marsilly, and her grandmother, the Marquise de la Roche-Berthoud, escape from Paris disguised as peasants. The Baroness is a widow, her husband having been killed defending Louis XIV, and aristocrats are being hunted down and executed. With the help of a sympathetic ex-servant, Louis Duval, they manage to escape to England, and settle in a little house in Hendon. The three women live by periodically selling their dwindling stock of jewelry. Duval eventually emigrates to England, becomes a successful merchant, and takes an interest in the family. He suggests to the Baroness that his son, Edward, would make a good match for Cécile, now 16, but the Marquise refuses to consider a match with the son of an ex-servant. The Baroness dies of consumption, and Cécile returns to Napoleon's France (momentarily at peace with England) with her grandmother.
     Cécile meets Henri de Sennones, another impoverished French aristocrat, and they fall in love. Henri undertakes to establish his fortune by undertaking a trading voyage to Guadeloupe, bankrolled by the kindly Louis Duval. Henri sails for the West Indies, while Cecile begins embroidering her wedding gown, and the Marquise sells her last piece of jewelry. Dumas lets us peek over Cécile's shoulder at Henri's touching love letters. Henri makes his fortune, but dies of yellow fever on the return journey, and is buried at sea near the Azores.
     Facing a grim future, the Marquise promptly dies, leaving Cécile alone. She sells her wedding gown, books a passage to Guadeloupe, and having ascertained the exact location where Henri died, cries "I am coming, Henri!" and drowns herself.

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