Monday, April 19, 2010

Will the Real Ghost Please Rise Up

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?

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 6 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 30 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit

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  1. An excellent and timely post - Just yesterday, I picked up The Count of Monte Cristo from my tr pile.

    Thanks for sharing, Kim :)

  2. Wow! I never heard this story - it will be interesting to see if they ever figure it out. I too fe3ll in love with The Count of Monte Cristo in high school. A apperback copy was taken away a number of times because I kept reading it in class.
    And what interesting angles the movie will bring out, true or not. I love Depardieu and am so glad you shared this. As a ghost writer do you ever wish you cvould receive the recognition for your work? I don't think I'd be good ghost writer. I couldn't keep mum.

  3. Thanks for the post. I love hearing about the behind-the-scenes details.

  4. I agree that the fact the stories live on is the most important point here. But literary puzzles and controversies are fun and interesting... and the speculation can make for great dinner conversation!

  5. Fun post. I enjoyed finding out about Dumas and Maquet.

    Hope you'll write more about ghost writing in the future!

    Straight From Hel

  6. I love to learn new things. I had no idea of this controversy. Thanks for an informative post.

  7. Thanks for this great post. It's nice to have you aboard, Kim!

  8. A treasured author posing as well ... a writer ... has his tales of a fictitious count ... a poseur, a fake ... penned by another. Irony, indeed. Cheers!

  9. I haven't heard of this dispute, but think it's fascinating. I hope to learn more. Now I'd also like to see the movie.

  10. I had not heard about this debate either. It's an interesting question. I suspect many celebrity authors who make the big bucks have ghost writers (or editors who do a lot more than just edit). I wonder how they feel.

  11. Well not to get political, but I'll bet Sarah Palin feels pretty good - and so does her ghostwriter who makes a pretty penny on all her political ghostwriting. ;)

    Great post and great ghost! Thanks, Kim.


  12. Thanks for the kind words. I too am eager to see the movie, even if I have to put up with subtitles. Or maybe my college French will magically reappear in my head.

    Yes, I'm human so I sometimes would like recognition of my ghostwritten works. But my anonymity is more than made up for by the joy of the work, the beauty of the stories I hear, and the ability to make a living by writing.

    Plus I ghostwrote a book for my dog Goody, and she's okay with me having all the recognition. So I do get some.

  13. Interesting post. Like so many here, I had not known about this controversy. I think since I have accustomed myself to the idea that I will never get rich with my writing, I think I will hold out for fame. LOL

  14. Money or fame... Money or fame... what a question!

  15. I suppose if you're allowed to tell people "I (ghost)wrote this book" then it's not so bad, but if your contract states you have to keep it top secret... I think I would bust! And are you allowed to list your ghostwritten credits when approaching other publishers?

    Blood-Red Pencil

  16. Elle, I haven't busted yet, it sounds painful.

    Whether I can share my ghostwriting credits with other clients or publishers depends on my agreement with my client. My standard Agreement states that I won't divulge my contribution without permission from the client. Many times I can get the necessary permission, depending on who I want to share the information with. Sometimes I negotiate this upfront, but usually I ask when the need arises. I always respect the confidentiality clause.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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