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La Maison de glace

The Russian Gipsy; The Palace of Ice

roman/novel, pub:1860, action:1739-1743




From Reviews (ADR) by Arthur D. Rypinski:
     Alexandre Dumas returned from his trip to Russia in 1859 with an admiration for Russian literature, and, apparently, a bundle of manuscripts. On his return, he published several translations short stories by Pushkin and other Russian authors, and he translated or adapted several short novels, including Sultanetta, Boule de Neige, and Jane. One of these works was Maison de Glace, an interesting work set in St. Petersburg in 1739.
     The Tsarina Anna Ivanova (1693-1740) was the absolute ruler of Russia. In ill-health and uninterested in politics, Anna relied on her lover, Ernst Biron (1690-1772), a German adventurer to govern her realm. Biron and a group of fellow Germans ruled through terror and intimidation, and were particularly hated by the displaced Russian nobility. The Russian noble, Artemy Wolensky, nominally Prime Minister, is the head of a conspiracy to unseat Biron. Wolensky is expecting an emissary from the Ukraine, bearing a petition recounting Biron's abuses to lay before the Tsarina. But the courier is captured by Biron and tortured to death by having cold water poured over him in the midst of the Russian winter.
     The Tsarina charges Wolensky with building, as part of winter carnival, an imitation Palace, constructed entirely from ice. The married Wolensky also falls in love with one Anna's ladies in waiting, the Princess Mariolizza, who, unbeknownst to anyone, is actually of humble birth, the daughter of a gypsy. Mariolizza's gypsy mother arrives in St. Petersburg, and, when her resemblance to Mariolizza is noted, disfigures herself to protect her daughter's identity.
     Wolensky's conspiracy triumphs momentarily when the frozen corpse of the courier is spirited into the Maison de Glace, along with his petition, for the Tsarina to discover. But Wolensky is betrayed, his liaison with Mariolizza is used to destroy him. Mariolizza dies in the Maison de Glace, and Wolensky is executed for treason.
     This book is one of a number of hybrid works in the Dumas canon. It appears to be a Russian original, translated into French, and extensively re-written by Dumas. In chapter one and in several other places in the book, one can observe a crude and literal translation from the Russian, with immense indigestible sentences and paragraphs that preserve the original Russian syntax. However, beginning with about Chapter 2, Dumas' inimitable authorial voice and characterization take over. Wolensky in particular is transformed into Dumas' notion of pre-revolutionary French aristocrat, and Mariolizza becomes a typical Dumasian heroine.
     However, there is also ample evidence of a deeply Russian and decidedly non-Dumasian authorial sensibility at work. The book is profoundly pessimistic about Russia and bursts with arresting visual images, such as the Maison de Glace, used as a metaphor for the Russian monarchy. The frozen body of the courier becomes a character in itself, and turns up repeatedly to mutely reproach the cruelty of Biron and the incapacity of Anna. It seems most likely that Dumas admired the work, but saw that the translation in his possession was inadequate. One can imagine that he began by trying to render the translation into better French and finished by re-writing large sections of the book.

From A Bibliography of Alexandre Dumas père by Frank Wild Reed:
     A Russian story adapted from Lazhechinkoff, as Dumas says in his journal "Le Monte-Cristo." Period 1739-1743.
     First appeared serially in "Le Monte-Cristo."
     Original edition : Paris, Michel Lévy Frères, 2 vols., 18mo., 1860.
     It still forms two volumes in the standard Calmann-Lévy series, and one in their "Musée Littéraire."
     In Le Vasseur's "Alexandre Dumas Illustré" it is in Vol. XII.

         References :—
     Parran: "Bibliographie d'Alex. Dumas," page 66.
     Glinel: "Alex. Dumas et Bon Œuvre," page 449.

         English Translations :—
     "The Russian Gipsy;" London, Lea, 1860.
     "The Russian Gipsy; or, the Palace of Ice;" London, Clarke, 1861.
     "The Russian Gipsy;" London, Routledge, 12mo., 187—.
     Several times reprinted.


From A Bibliography of Alexandre Dumas père by Frank Wild Reed:
     (CCLXX.) Chapter XXXIII., ten lines translated from the Russian, but which Dumas has not rhymed.

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