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Le Maître d'armes

The Fencing Master

roman/novel, pub:1840, action:1824-1826




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    Le Maître d'armes


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    At the same time I held the point of my sabre at the Czar vitche's breast.
    He crumples up the Act of Abdication, and throwing it at his feet: "Never," said he, "death rather."
    I saw the infuriated animal above me, his jaws a mass of blood.
    She could only fall on her knees with her hands clasped.
    The Fencing Master (frontispiece)
    …just when David was drawing his knife I put a pistol shot through his antagonist's head.


From Notes (JMG) by Jean-Marc Guerin:
E.O. "Le Maître d'Armes", Paris Dumont 1840-1841 3 vol. 8vo. de 320, 332, 336 pp. Le troisième volume porte la date de 1841 mais un article (Le Voleur n°32 du 10 décembre 1840) décrit sous le titre : "Souvenirs de Moscou, Incendie de 1812, Les Bohémiens", le chapitre XXII de ce dernier volume. Particularité du tome 2 : à la page 160, la première ligne du texte se trouve à la fin de la page.

From Reviews (ADR) by Arthur D. Rypinski:
     A thinly fictionalized Russian travelogue in the style of Madame Giovanni or Gil Blas en Californie. In one of his (highly unreliable) introductions, Dumas writes that at a moment when he was desperate for a manuscript, the fencing master Grisier handed him a memoir of a three years' stay in Russia during 1824-1826.
     The book is a first person narration of Grisier's travels. Grisier hears that fencing masters are well recompensed in Russia, so he sets off for St. Petersburg in 1824. He describes the city, including a disastrous flood in the winter of 1824-1825, uses the occasion to describe how Russian nobles went bear hunting armed only with a knife. While in St. Petersburg, Grisier meets and befriends the expatriate Frenchwoman Louise, and her lover Count Alexis, an enervated Russian nobleman who becomes involved in the Decembrist conspiracy.
     In 1825, the Tsar Alexander died, and the Tsar's eldest son, Constantine having renounced the throne, which then devolved upon the Tsar's younger son, the Grand Duke Nicholas. The Decembrists subverted several military units in Moscow by telling them that Constantine's renunciation was fraudulent, and then Nicholas was an usurper. However, most of the army remained loyal to Nicholas, and, after several tense confrontations, in which a number of people were killed, the coup was put down and the conspirators arrested. Count Alexis was arrested for his role in the conspiracy and sentenced to death, later commuted to exile in Siberia on the plea of Louise.
     Louise decides to follow her lover into exile, and Grisier escorts her across the Ural mountains and into Siberia, which is the occasion for more travelogue and the opportunity fight off a marauding wolf pack. Louise is reunited with Alexis in Siberia, they marry, and Grisier returns to France.
     Curiously, the Decembrists are known to history as Russia's first liberals and democrats, the Russian children of the French revolution, who sought a constitutional monarchy for Russia. Dumas, a staunch republican, might have been expected to feel sympathy for the Decembrists, but he does not, painting them as a sinister combination of power-hungry manipulators and fools. The Tsars are portrayed relatively sympathetically, though Dumas does note the mental illnesses of Tsar Alexander, his father, and his eldest son. None the less, Le Maitre d'Armes was banned in Russia, which immediately assured it a wide readership.
     When Dumas himself visited Russia for the first time, eighteen years later (in 1859) he met the actual hero and heroine of his story in living in Kazan (Louise's real name was Pauline), and discovered a thriving trade in handkerchiefs and other kitsch bearing scenes from his story, as he described in En Russie.

From A Bibliography of Alexandre Dumas père by Frank Wild Reed:
     Grisier, the famous fencing-master, related to Dumas the narrative of his entanglement in the Conspiracy of Pestel (1824-1826). From this the romancer made an interesting story, half romance, half description of actual happenings and of life and travel in Russia. Eighteen years later, when travelling in that empire, Dumas met the hero and heroine of his story, which romance, it may be mentioned, was very popular in the land of the Czars, and perhaps the more so that it was an interdicted book.
     First published serially in the "Revue de Paris" during 1840.
     Original edition : Paris, Dumont, 3 vols., 8vo., pp. 320, 332, 336, 1840-1841.
     Two pirated editions appeared in Brussels during the same year, 1840. Both were in 3 vols., 18mo., one being published by Méline Cans et Cie. (so Quérard).
     It fills one volume in the standard Calmann-Lévy edition, and may also be read in that firm's "Musée Littéraire" In Le Vasseur's "Alexandre Dumas Illustré" it forms part of Vol. XVIII.

         References :—
     Dumas: "Impressions de Voyage : en Russie," Chapter LXI.
     Quérard: "Supercheries Littéraires Dévoilées," Vol. I., Column 1100.
     Parran: "Bibliographie d'Alexandre Dumas," page 44.
     Glinel: "Alexandre Dumas et Son Œuvre," page 369.

         English Translations :—
     "The Fencing-Master; or, Eighteen Months in Saint Petersburg," translated by Jer. Griswold ; Cincinnatti, Stretton and Burnard, 1850.
     "Memoirs of a Maître d'Armes; or, Eighteen Months at Saint Petersburg," translated by the Marquis of Ormonde; London, Longmans, 1854, 1 vol., pp. 254. ("Traveller's Library"). Several times reprinted, in one volume or in two.
     "The Fencing-Master: Life in Russia"; London, Methuen. 1904, sewed.
     Reprinted, same firm, 18mo., 1921.

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