Lately I have been reading about a literary flap going on in France, about a new film starring Gerard Depardieu as – guess! – a ghostwriter! It’s called L’Autre Dumas (The Other Dumas), and explores the 150-year old theory that Alexandre Dumas, the author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, used a ghostwriter named Auguste Maquet to write his famous stories for him.
Despite my degree in Literature, I had never heard about this controversy that has not yet been resolved. I still don’t know what the truth is, although I’m pretty sure it’s less dramatic than the movie portrays. Some scholars claim Maquet was simply a researcher, nothing more. Others claim Maquet was the unsung genius behind a flamboyant bon vivant who was too busy spending money to actually work.
The facts that no one seems to dispute are:
Dumas was a writer who loved high drama in fiction – and also in life. He had a hedonistic lifestyle and enormous flair for living large – and little or no money sense. He was plagued with chronic debt.
Maquet was a talented writer who couldn’t get published because he didn’t have a “name.” His collaboration with Dumas, in which he provided plot structure and historical context (many of Dumas’ novels depend heavily on historical facts), allowed him an excellent income. In return he gave up the rights to the novels that bore Dumas’ name. (Although later on they did have some disputes over money and recognition. Dumas won the recognition; Maquet won the money.)
Here’s the bottom line: Dumas died broke. Maquet died rich.
And here’s another bottom line: Dumas is still famous. His grave in Paris, where he was reinterred with great ceremony in 2002, is still visited today by literature lovers. Maquet’s grave – not so much. Even with this new movie, it is doubtful that Maquet will ever be given the recognition that Dumas enjoys.
So who is still alive long after he died? Obviously, Dumas. Kind of raises the question: who is the real ghost here?
Whatever the truth, a ghostwriter getting some fame at last, even 150 years later – as a ghostwriter myself, this makes me sneakily happy.
When I was in high school, I discovered The Count of Monte Cristo and fell in love with Edmond Dantes, the hero of the story. I’m still very fond of him. As for the three musketeers, they were a bit macho for my taste, but they had some exciting adventures that ensured I kept turning the pages.
I don’t really care if Dumas or Maquet wrote those books. Both of them are dead now, but the stories he (or they) wrote are still alive. And that’s the important thing, isn’t it?