The Last Cavalier: Being the Adventures of Count Sainte-Hermine in the Age of Napoleon Hardcover – May 27 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. This first English translation of the last, previously unknown novel by Dumas (1802–1870) offers a stunning completion to his fictional mapping of French history. The plot centers on Compte Hector de Sainte Hermine, a royalist captured and imprisoned by Bonaparte. Part one finds him caught in the political intrigue of 1801–1804, as Napoleon moves from first consul to emperor. In part two, Hector, now known as René, is released from jail; he signs onto a French corsair as a common seaman, but his noble birth, superb education and martial abilities soon elevate him in rank. The next 300 pages slosh with swashbuckling sea adventure, casting heroic romance against the background of Napoleon's ultimate fall. It's Dumas at his best, but alloyed: asides; minibiographies; commentaries on fashion, manners, geography and history; and flashbacks pile up unendingly, leavened with farcical humor and witty punditry. Although it lacks the polish of The Three Musketeers and the concision of The Count of Monte Cristo, this capacious, rambling, unfinished account of the Napoleonic era represents vintage Dumas and an intensely personal vision of the time. (Nov.)
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About the Author
One of the most famous French writers of the nineteenth century, Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870) first achieved success in the literary world a playwright, before turning his hand to writing novels. In two years from 1844 to 1855, he published two enormous books, The Count of Monte-Cristo and The Three Muskateers. Both novels have sold millions of copies worldwide.
Top Customer Reviews
Hector signs on as a Corsair instead of the regular Navy and the adventure begins. Bereft of his lost love and his family fallen before him, Hector's only wish is to live life to the fullest and if he must, to die as nobly as his father and brothers did. Problem is, no matter how hard he tries, he never succeeds. Thus begins battles at sea, a fight to the death at sea with a shark, hunting tigers and crocodiles and a close call with a python, as Hector carries off every situation with dignity, charm and élan. If this book hadn't been unknown until two years ago, I'd swear that Hector was the model for our present day super heroes. Swooning female? Out come the smelling salts and more from his bat-belt! It was so over the top and campy at times, but jolly good fun.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This book does have its good points. The history of the Count's family is very good. The wedding scene is also very good. The fencing parts of the stories are good. The history of the times is good but it takes a long time to get through. The part of the story in Burma is also a long part that has nothing to do with Nepolean. It was a little slow during these times. The other problem with the book is that it was not finished at the time of Dumas' death. However, that did not take too much away from the book. I also found that there was nothing that the Court could not do. He tries to get himself killed on many occasions so he can die an honorable death but only comes out smelling like a rose. It is as if he is super-human - which is fine for a little bit but not the whole story.
Overall, I was glad that I read it but I would rather have taken the time to read his other works first. If you have not read Dumas then you are really missing out on a great writer. If you have not read him and want to start, begin with his other works. I would suggest the unabridged version of the Count of Monte Cristo. It is long but well worth the read. When you have read many of his other works, then pick this one up. It is a good read but not as good as his other major works.
Given the above review, I can still say that Dumas does not disappoint.
It could have been much better if it were written as two separate volumes: one, the general history of the Napoleonic era which is presented in the book, and the other, the history of the Comte de Sainte-Hermine. So much of this very large book has nothing at all to do with the titular character. In fact we are well into the book before the man ever shows up. Then in a chaperoned tete-a-tete with the woman he loves, he divulges the entire history of the Sainte-Hermine family to date. (So we don't learn about his previous history as it's happening, as with Edmond Dantes in "The Count of Monte Cristo"; we're simply given several pages of Sainte-Hermine hitting the highlights for his intended. They become engaged, and at the betrothal dinner he mysteriously vanishes before signing the wedding contract.
Then we have another huge section about Napoleon, the Royalist rebels, etc. A very long section! It was a very GOOD section but I'd totally forgotten about Sainte-Hermine when suddenly we learn he is in prison and begging Fouche to execute him rather than keep him a prisoner. This brief scene takes a few pages...then it's back to a whole big, big section about Napoleon and his troubles. It made me wonder why this book was titled after Sainte-Hermine, since up to about the midpoint of the book, he's a completely minor character...almost a glorified extra.
At the approximate middle of the book, however, the Comte gets out of prison (legally) and the narrative switches to actually being about his life as he is living it. From here to the end it's mostly a very entertaining story of Sainte-Hermine and what's happening in his life, with a few sprinkles of the regular history in the background. This is how I expected the book to be from the start. So it sort of evened out in the middle and got better as it went along.
This also suffers from comparisons to the similar Monte Cristo. In the latter, we know that Edmond has spent his jail time learning from the Abbe Faria and then that he spent the next X years undercover, learning things to create his Monte Cristo persona. Sainte-Hermine, by comparison, spends three years in prison, during which we are told that his hobby is reading. Afterwards, though, he comes directly out of prison and into the narrative, where he shows himself to be an expert at just about everything, including (!) chugging three bottles of champagne that have been poured into a big bowl, and showing no ill effects. Don't you thimk a man just out of a 3-year prison stint would have some difficulty holding his liquor?
So, as a Dumas fanatic I'm glad I read this, but I'd have to rank it absolute last on the Dumas list. If he had stuck to a plain historical novel of the time of Napoleon, then, well, it would probably still be last on the list, but not by as wide a margin.
As a finished unfinished novel, "The Last Cavalier" is fair and worth three "stars." It was originally published as a newspaper serial and Dumas never had the chance to re-edit/rewrite it for book publication as he did his other works. Dumas was paid by the word, and there are thousands here that would surely have been cut. The titular hero, Hector (René, Comte Leo) de Sainte-Hermine, is over the top invincible and incomparable. He has no flaws (in a Doc Savage, pulp fiction, sort of way), so it's hard to identify with him; and Dumas interrupts Hector's story too often with what's happening elsewhere in history. Did I mention he was paid by the word? Still, Hector's panache and romp through Napoleonic history is a tour de force worth reading. Characters like George Cadoudal, the corsair (privateer) Surcouf, Napoleon, Nelson at Trafalgar, and Minister of Police Fouché come alive with idiosyncrasies and feats of personal codes of honor to delight any swashbuckling fan.
For me, as a writer, what was even more fascinating was the book's preface by Claude Schopp, who found and reconstructed the novel. In it, Dumas is quoted as saying that he is "more a novelizing historian than a historical novelist." In this light, I look at the book as more of a history than a novel and am interested in re-exploring Dumas' other books from that perspective. Also, in the preface is a letter from Dumas outlining his complete plan for the novel. It is as complete a synopsis of the whole story as any editor could wish for. So it was great to be able to refer to that and see where and how Dumas added and changed the story line (Hector's entire time as a seaman and in India are not in the outline). This alone was worth the extra "star."
I highly recommend this book to any reader, Dumas fan or not.
The Last Cavalier reads almost like 2 separate works that have been pasted together. The first half focuses on Napoleon and on George Cadoudal. This half of the book is peppered with a number of very interesting historical facts (many of which I was ignorant of), but it is a bit slow at times. The first half also introduces our hero, Hector de Saint-Hermine and his family, but the focus is not yet on him. The second half is the story of Hector (aka Rene), and reads more like a novel.
To me, the most glaring flaw of The Last Cavalier is that the various plotlines are not tied together into a cohesive story. It is a long book, and unlike Dumas' other works it reads like a LONG book! The Count of Monte Cristo was itself over 1,200 pages long, but it was such a page-turner that it didn't at any point feel cumbersome or too wordy. Not the case with The Last Cavalier - a number of the wordy digressions are, in fact, nothing more than wordy digressions that don't add to the story. You really do get the feeling that Dumas is being paid by the word (which he often was). It took me a long time (about 2 months!) to finish the thing simply because it just didn't have the draw to keep me reading for very long periods at any one time, I kept putting it down and even contemplated giving up on it a few times.
The character of Rene is not particularly believable and despite the fact that he has faced great hardship, he's not that easy to sympathize with. He's invincible and is able to perform feats of daring, strength, skill, and even gluttony to the point that it's absurd. He also lacks a worthy antagonist - early on (and in fact it's stated in the book jacket) Napoleon is the long-time nemesis of Hector's family, but ultimately nothing ever comes of that. Hector does face a number of minor antagonists throughout the book, but none stick around long enough for their characters to get fully flushed out.
While this is a flawed work in my opinion, there are a few redeeming qualities. For one, the writing is excellent. For another, while the overall story isn't tied together very well, there certainly are brief periods of brilliance (when George Cadoudal reveals himself in a farmhouse; the wedding scene; some of the tales regarding the Companions of Jehu). These periodic flashes of greatness kept me from giving up on the story, as I would tell myself "ah, this is where the story really starts to get good!" ... alas, that never really happened. Finally, as I mentioned before the novel is peppered with a number of very interesting historical tidbits, particularly relating to George Cadoudal, Napoleon, and Lord Nelson. I'm not 100% certain to the general historical accurary, but some of the things I quickly checked on Wikipedia (which I realize isn't the most reliable source itself, but hey it's quick and generally is accurate) indicate that the history is pretty accurate.
In summary - if you are a huge fan of Alexandre Dumas and want to read everything he's ever written (or get as close as you can), then you certainly should read this. If, however, that is not the case or you are new to Dumas, do yourself a favor and read an unabridged copy of either The Count of Monte Cristo or The Three Musketeers, as his genius really shines through in both of those works.
If Dumas had time to actually finish The Last Cavalier (and by complete it I don't just mean write the ending, I mean go back through it and edit and delete or change things, as he often did before publishing a novel), it's entirely possible that this could ultimately have been a great work as well. But as it stands, it reads as a flawed and incomplete story.
Let me admit right up front that I am not a Dumas scholar and I haven't read all of his works. Like many I've restricted myself to The Three Muskateers and The Count of Monte Cristo, probably to my misfortune. But now I can chalk up another Dumas novel, and a fair one at that. Who knows, maybe I'll read them all.
The Last Cavalier is the story of Compte Hector de Sainte Hermine, a royalist who is put off by the young blade Napoleon. Imprisoned and then released, Hector heads to sea where the real drama of this story rests. However, in the end I never felt that sympathetic to the main character or his plight, and I'm not really sure he's that likable. I also had a hard time getting through the book. I stopped on several occasions to read other books. I always knew I'd return, but it did take a commitment to finish. It's not the page turner The Three Muskateers is, nor does it have the drama of The Count of Monte Cristo. In the end it is probably unfair to compare The Last Cavalier to these earlier works since The Last Cavalier wasn't finished. I suspect Dumas might have edited and perhaps rewritten parts of this work.
If you're a Dumas fan then I recommend The Last Cavalier.
Peace to all