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Reviews (ADR)

from Reviews (ADR)
concerning Maître Adam le Calabrais

     Mâitre Adam is one Alexandre Dumas' finest comic novels, unaccountably forgotten. Written in 1840, before Dumas achieved fame as a novelist, it borrows on Dumas' dramatic talents to produce a sparkling series of increasingly comic scenes. Set in the Calabrian hamlet of Nicotera, in the tip of the toe of the Italian boot, in 1817, Dumas pokes some good-natured fun at the peculiar combination of intense religiousity, credulity, and shrewd bargaining that characterizes the denizens of the Italian countryside.
     Mâitre Adam is an itinerant painter of religious scenes and statuary, paid though a share in the pious donations inspired by his work. Mâitre Adam (inevitably) has a marriagable daughter. His pleasant life is disrupted when when a Madonna he has painted begins to speak. The Madonna offers the villagers a proposition: if the villagers will chase away Neapolitan police searching for the notorious bandit Marco Brandi, Brandi will no longer operate in their neighborhood.
     The Neapolitan Government, suspecting (correctly) that this "miracle" was contrived, prevent Mâitre Adam from following his profession. The impoverished painter's life is further complicated when a wounded Marco Brandi appears at his door. Mâitre Adam hides Marco from the police, and Marco is nursed back to health by that marriagable daughter. Mâitre Adam adopts a series of increasingly clever (and funny) expedients to earn a living for his family, one of which backfires when Mâitre Adam is arrested as a bandit chief and sentenced to death. Will Marco turn himself in to save Mâitre Adam? But, if Marco turns himself in, who will save that marriagable daughter from a lifetime of sorrow?
     In an afterword, Dumas writes that, in 1835, he encountered one of Mâitre Adam's paintings (which Dumas admired) in the Calabrian town of Mugnano, and his guide told him Mâitre Adam's story.


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