French Sorrow

I’ve been reading a lot of Dumas, to go along with the great deal of H.G. Wells and personal development books into which I’ve been delving.

The reason for the self-help stuff is to remain focused, and thinking about purpose and joy and other such motivational human factors helps me do so, though I’ll admit a level of dissonance.  Self-help can push you forward, but it’s often written by those not interested in anything but their own grandeur, or makes you question all your life choices and thus succumb to guilt.  I try to temper that by focusing on the process.

Wells is  a guilty pleasure, a subversive (for the time) author who dabbled in speculative fiction.  It doesn’t indulge my swords and magics tickler, but the social commentary and impressive foresight is enough to stimulate new thought.  The only one I haven’t much cared for thus far is his Utopia.  Too many rules, too much bureaucracy.  Power structures inevitably corrupt and become both evil and incompetent, so I can’t endorse any such system that relies so heavily on rules and regulation.

Alexander Dumas provides most of the swords, though hardly in the traditional Tolkien/Martin frame.  He’s considered a classic author, and as such, I felt I should dive into him.  So far, I’m half and half.  I loved Georges, and thought Ascanio and The Conspirators decent, even though as is typical for him, everything kind of falls neatly together all the time.  In that way, he’s not much better than The A-Team.  Everything kind of works out, and nobody’s truly in any danger.

There’s a lot of fluff language with Dumas that takes me out of his novels, but when he gets past that and some of the inevitable navel-gazing that seems to define the eras he tends to write, he can be quite engrossing.  Action scenes like the last battles of Georges or Benvenuto Cellini’s more purpose and action based character tends to come across extremely well.

I think the thing that gets me the most is the concept of humour and sorrow as a sort of yin and yang of life’s essence.  Wells does this to an extent as well, but in that kind of smarmy British humour, rather than the subtle poignancy of the French style.  It’s this, I think, that preserves Dumas’ appeal to me, more so than any sense of grandeur or romance.  The customs of that era grate against my nature, due to its ridiculous conformity and hypocritical puritanism.  I much prefer crude but genuine to erudite, but dishonest self-portrayals.

No wonder the men and women of that era come across as such great drama kings and queens.  They’re so stifled in behavioural formalities that they’ve never experienced freedom.  Never thought for themselves.  The slightest bit of non-conformity sends society into a tailspin.  Adhering to such ridiculousness is inevitably crazy-making.

No wonder they hid their sorrow so well behind the smirking mask of humour.  Reality tore them to shreds.

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