Category Archives: writers

My Library: Musketeers meet Bohemians

Sometimes in my reading, unscheduled juxtapositions result in the sparking of questions.

That happened this year when I finally read the original version (English translation) of Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers and then, a month later the 1888 English translation of Henry Murger’s La Vie de Boheme.

I’d come to the Musketeers after a year of falling in love with, first Tansy Rayner Roberts’ splendid genderswapped Musketeer Space and then, on her recommendation, the fabulous BBC Musketeers series. I’d of course seen lots of other interpretations, including the one with Gene Kelly as D’Artagnan, so I thought it high time I returned to the source.

It’s easy to see why Dumas’s swashbuckler lives on in the popular imagination. It’s only partly for the four lead characters who, frankly, are as irresponsible and irritating a collection of feckless dudebros you would ever care to avoid. They’re brave and brilliant swordsmen, of course, and outstanding as a band of men dedicated to their timeless bromance, but such a bunch of yahoos. 

Give me BBC and Rayner Roberts – who have granted the characters greater depth and more agency without losing any of the original’s swashbuckling, conspiring, dangerous, duplicitous delights – any time.

I think the real appeal of The Three Musketeers is the engagingly grey backdrop, where allegiances may be split between the King, the Queen and Cardinal Richelieu but ultimately everyone is for France. The enmities between those three and the Musketeers aren’t as straightforward as you’d think, and while Milady is a delicious villain, her angelic counterpart Constance has enough depth that you wonder what Dumas was thinking to fail to use her better in the latter half of the novel.

(Thank you BBC Musketeers for not only getting all these female characters so right, but also giving them longer, better, stronger lives than they had in their origin story.)

But what has all this to do with Henry Murger?

I have this book on my Kindle as a reference, because Dr Watson mentions reading La Vie de Boheme  (I assume in French, since he uses the French title) during A Study in Scarlet.  (I have one or two other books that Holmes and Watson talk about in that book, still waiting to be read.)

Extract from A Study in Scarlet showing Watson reading Murger.
John Watson reads Henri Murger while waiting for Holmes to return. He’s skipping over the pages so perhaps he didn’t like it very much.

I’d somehow developed the impression this was a serious book all full of drama and poetry about art and consumption, but it’s actually quite a lively comedy, frequently reminding me of how PG Wodehouse writes about his American poets and playwrights living impoverished, ink-spotted lives in Greenwich village. 

I discovered other things when I finally stuck my nose into the book – published in English in this edition as The Bohemians of the Latin Quarter. Reading it only a month after Dumas, I was immediately struck at how the lives of musician Schaunard, philosopher Colline, artist Marcel and poet Rodolphe echoed so strongly the behaviours of those famous Musketeers. 

The English translation.

All four Bohemians live in the moment, spending money freely and collectively when they have it, conspiring to borrow or make do when they don’t, all with a cheerful will and devil-may-care attitude. They approach women, landlords and publicans all with the same dash of cavalier bonhomie and are as fickle with women as the most dashing King’s Musketeer. Athos, Porthos, Aramis and D’Artagnan would, if they’d for just one second stop stabbing every person who insulted them or looked at them funny, would fit in very well in the Latin Quarter. Both Bohemians and Musketeers suffer tragedies in love (though for very different reasons).

Were the Musketeers, I wondered, secretly Bohemians?

I honestly don’t know at this point. I found nothing in my immediate Google searches that provided essays by scholars on the issue.

What I did find is that Dumas and Murger both lived in Paris in around the 1840s, when Murger first wrote his contemporaneous short stories (later collected in 1851) and Dumas began serialising his 17th century Musketeers.

Both books have characters based on real people, some of whose names have been disguised. Both writers had works adapted for the theatre – Dumas helped to establish the Theatre Historique while Murger’s works were staged at the Theatre des Varietes.

The mid 1800s were a time ripe with social upheaval, revolutions and the flauting of convention. In fact, the 1848 February Revolution was hovering on the horizon when Dumas and Murger were writing, and their fortunes diverged afterwards, with Dumas leaving the country for Belgium in 1851 after falling out of favour with Napoleon III. In comparison, this same Napoleon sent money to help an ailing Murger (to no avail, alas, and he died at age 38 in 1861).

And Scenes de la Vie de Boheme in the original French

I’ve no doubt there’s giant blocks of political and social history I don’t know about Paris of the 1840s. What I do know is that Dumas and Murger may not have influenced each other, but were at least influenced by the times and city in which they lived – a Paris full of the energy and uncertainty of brewing revolution and the love of art and literature and experimenting with social convention. 

The Three Musketeers, set 200 years before the turmoils of Dumas and Murger’s lifetimes, may not have been deliberately Bohemian but those dashing swordsmen, like Schaunard and the rest of Murger’s scrappy artists, were born when Bohemian Paris flourished. 

Both books went on to inspire dozens of adaptations (La Vie de Boheme inspired two operas called La Boheme, and in time the musical Rent).

Whatever the connections or otherwise, I can recommend the value of going back to the source – finding the classics and discovering for yourself their virtues and failings, and maybe inspiring a side trip into historical research (or opera) while you’re at it.

Quintette of Questions: Jacqui Greaves

Today I ask five questions of  writer, Jacqui Greaves.

Jacqui Greaves

1. What’s the name of your latest book – and how did you choose the title?

Gods of Fire. It had a totally different title for the entire time I spent writing and editing it. In the end I wanted something dramatic that would also hint at the story within. I filled a sheet of A4 paper with handwritten lists of potential titles and Gods of Fire was the clear winner.

2. If you could choose anyone from any time period, who would you cast as the leads in your latest book?

Hands down, a young Sam Heughan (Jamie from Outlander) would be the main character. I had his picture pinned to the wall in front of me for the entire time.

3. What five words best describe your story?

Sexy, Dangerous, Fantasy, Historical, Aflame

4. Who is your favourite fictional couple or team?

At the moment (and bearing in mind I haven’t yet seen Avengers: Infinity War) my favourite team is the Guardians of the Galaxy. Thrown together in an uneasy alliance, this bunch of misfits become family.

5. What song reflects a theme, character, relationship or scene in your book?

It has to be “Light My Fire” by the Doors.

About Gods of Fire

Sentenced to death as an infant by his grandfather then abandoned by his mother, Guillaume grows up with no idea of who or what he is. All he understands is that he has a voracious sexual appetite and the power to render himself irresistible to any woman he desires.

His life is thrown into turmoil when his full powers are revealed in a violent display of fire and murder. Forced to leave the only home he has known, Guillaume sets forth to unravel the mystery of his heritage. His quest takes him through France and deep into Africa.

As his powers grow only his lifelong companion, Smoke, can help him control the depraved primal urges that threaten to overwhelm him. When Smoke loses her influence, it’s not only the lives of those close to him that are threatened. Can the world survive the ancient being that Guillaume becomes?

About Jacqui Greaves

Jacqui has lived an adventure-filled life, spanning a range of careers and countries. She’s wrangled kindergarten children, driven buses, researched humpback whales, spoken at the United Nations, visited Antarctica, farmed deer and, most recently, written strange and sexy fiction. When she’s not writing, reading, playing golf, or practicing Iaido, she can be found sampling her favourite wines or cocktails.

A New Zealander, currently living by the beach in Melbourne, Jacqui has two novella’s published in the PNRLust Anthologies and several short stories in online publications. Gods of Fire is her first full length novel.

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Review: All Our Secrets by Jennifer Lane

Clan Destine Press’s new release, All Our Secrets, is set in the fictional small town of Coongahoola in NSW.

Set in 1984, the town is steeped in the consequences of a wild party on the banks of the Bagooli River in 1975 and the rush of children born nine months later. The fathers of the River Children are not necessarily the men married to their mothers.

Nine years later, one of the River Children goes missing, his body turning up a few days later by the river. He is the first of a string of murders. One of the children who may be the next target is Elijah Barrett.

His 11 year old sister, Gracie, is our guide to Coongahoola. Through her eyes we meet her chaotic family, her town, the shock of the murders and her beloved brother.

Lane imbues Gracie with a realism that makes the young girl sympathetic and irritating in turns, though her innate kindness is her saving grace (as it were) even when she’s not always making the kindest decisions in her attempts to fit in to the town’s narrow social expectations. She is struggling with the estrangement of her parents, her sometimes embarrassingly religious grandmother, her crush on the boy next door and her anxiety from the usual array of schoolground bullying and snooty cliques.

Through this thoroughly believable child, Lane captures the personalities and quirks of the people of Coongahoola. As each child disappears, only to be found murdered, the net of suspicion is cast wide – from townspeople to the group of religious devotees who have recently set up camp by the river.  The parallels between the personal chaos of Gracie’s world and that of the whole town is clear: all the rivalries and jealousies, the in and out groups, the unfounded rumours and blame games.

All Our Secrets is a gripping and perfectly paced story, balanced splendidly between Gracie’s  distress and concern for her family ad the fear experienced by the wider community as their children become victims.

It’s no surprise to learn that All Our Secrets won the 2018 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best First Novel in New Zealand. Clan Destine Press has brought this fantastic book, with it’s unusual and powerful point of view, to a new audience. Get it now to read a fresh new voice in Australian crime.

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Review: A Study in Velvet and Leather by K. Caine

The second volume in Improbable Press’s 221b Series (the first was my own A Dream to Build A Kiss On) is the splended A Study in Velvet and Leather, due for release on 1 December 2018. An advance review copy was coaxed into my greedy little fingers, though, and promptly gobbled up.

K. Caine may have written a female Sherlock and male John in a canon-era setting, but  her tale departs wonderfully far from a traditional telling of thie enduring pair.

John Watson, invalided war doctor, is gay. It’s a surprise to find Stamford’s flat-hunting friend is a woman, but she’s an unusual one. Sherlock is a consulting detective, dressing most often in men’s attire and (we later learn) a reader of Sappho. They move into Baker Street together.

John narrates their life together: his increasing involvement in Sherlock’s cases and John recovers his health, along with his fascination for Sherlock’s methods and curiosity about so much that remains secret and unsaid about Sherlock’s life. John also records his bemused yet growing devotion to his astonishing flatmate, recording but not always understanding Sherlock’s response to him.

But as John develops his surprised and secret feelings for this remarkable woman, an undercurrent from Sherlock’s unspoken private life breaks the surface. The case involves “the well known adventuress” Irene Adler, a compromising photograph, and a private club. The meaning of velvet, leather and many of Sherlock’s mysteries will come to light.

One of the many glories of this book – which include engaging characters, the gorgeous flow of the writing and an exploration of the fluidity than can exist in gender and sexuality – is how seamlessly K. Caine uses the 221b ficlet format to tell a single story.

The 16 chapters of the book are subtly separated into 221-word sections, the last word of each section beginning with ‘b’.  This meets the rules of a 221b ficlet, yet is so smoothly done that the reader may not notice it, as the story’s rhythm moves so gracefully.

A Study in Velvet and Leather is one of those delicious books where you can’t decide whether to gulp it down in one go, or sip it slowly to make it last.

I’ve never been a sipper, though – and I was so involved in Sherlock and John’s adventures and feelings, so invested in them too – that I gulped that story down in a few hours one Saturday. The conclusion was both fantastically satisfying and left me yearning for more of these incarnations of Holmes and Watson.

A fabulous bonus to the whole story is the series of Appendices, in the form of notes between the two. I seriuosly can’t get enough of this fluid John and Sherlock. Additionally, the artwork by Avid Branks is sparing and elegant, and contains little clues of its own .

Which makes it doubly awesome that K. Caine is now writing another Improbable Press book with them, Conductivity.

I can’t wait.

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