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concerning Le Capitaine Paul

     In 1838, Dumas found himself in need of a promised manuscript, and he decided to adapt his play, Paul Jones, into a novel. The principal character of both book and novel is the American naval hero, John Paul Jones (1747-1792). However, Dumas' John Paul Jones bears little resemblance to the historical Paul Jones, as Dumas' Jones is of French origin, most of the action takes place in France, and reflects Dumas' novelistic concerns. The novel betrays its theatrical origin, with a small cast, with the action advanced largely through dialogue and tightly compressed into a series of set piece scenes taking place in rapid succession, leading to a dramatic climax.
     The novel opens in Port Louis, Brittany, where the young French aristocrat, Count Emmanuel d'Auray, encounters the mysterious captain of an an unknown warship, anchored in the harbor. Count Emmanuel asks Captain Paul, by order of the King, to transport a prisoner (M. Lusignan) into exile in the West Indies. Captain Paul agrees, and promptly falls in with a British warship. During the ensuing battle, the Lusignan acquits himself so bravely that Captain Paul frees him.
     Lusignan, we learn, is commoner who has fallen in love with Count Emmanuel's sister, Marguerite, and Count Emmanuel has used his influence with the King to unjustly exile Lusignan. Jones and Lusignan return to France, and Jones, having first been received by King Louis XVI, pays a call on Count Emmanuel. Jones demands compensation on behalf of the unfortunate Lusignan, but when he learns that Marguerite still loves Lusignan, he demands her hand for Lusignan. Emmanuel refuses, both because Lusignan is not an aristocrat, and also because he has arranged an advantageous marriage-of-convenience for Marguerite, to the decadent Baron de Lectoure. Emmanuel challenges Paul to a duel, and Paul refuses.
     Marguerite tells the Baron that she can never marry him because she loves another. The Baron, astonished, points out that people of their class never marry for love, and that she is quite welcome to marry and to keep her lover, too, so long as she is discreet. Marguerite, astonished in turn, flees.
     However, after innumerable plot twists, Count Emmanuel learns to his horror that the commoner Paul Jones is actually the issue of his mother's adulterous affair. Paul is briefly reunited with his mother. Captain Paul has also prevailed upon the King to ennoble Lusignan and appoint him Governor of Guadeloupe, so that the couple may wed and decamp, and has procured the captaincy of a regiment for Count Emmanuel. Having righted various wrongs, Paul sails off to resume warfare against the British.
     Captain Paul can be seen as an early sketch for the Count of Monte Cristo: a mysterious, wealthy, powerful yet déclassé figure acting as the instrument of providence. While aristocratic pretensions are skewered, Dumas (as in his life) never quite goes so far as to renounce them.
     The standard biography of the historical John Paul Jones is Samuel Eliot Morison's John Paul Jones: A Sailor's Biography, (Little, Brown, & Co., 1959). The historical Jones (born in Scotland, the son of a gardener) had enough adventures to fill several romances. His body is interred in a tomb at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland. There is also a John Paul Jones website: http://www.seacoastnh.com/jpj/


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