Race, Revolution, and Robespierre
A review of The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo.
December 8, 2012 - 7:00 am
Although he eventually succeeded against all odds, Alex was called back to Paris to face the Committee, generally the first step before losing one’s head. But before he could make his obligatory appearance, Robespierre was overthrown in a counter-revolution, and Dumas was spared… for the moment.
The fall of the Jacobins at first seemed to fulfill the promise of the Revolution, but it soon gave rise to Napoleon Bonaparte, who would combine revolutionary and patriotic rhetoric with a cult of personality that would serve as model for Hitler, Lenin, Mao, and other totalitarian dictators of the 20th century.
Dumas fell in and out of favor with the general, who appreciated his military skill but sometimes resented his charisma and the loyalty shown him by his troops. Napoleon wrote glowingly of one of Dumas’s most extraordinary feats, however, an act of heroism that led to a statue being erected in Paris of the only non-white general in France’s history.
Napoleon dubbed Dumas the Horatius of France after he single-handedly defeated a squadron of Austrian troops crossing a vital bridge over a river.
The general made Dumas the commander of his cavalry in the Army of Egypt, but Alex’s sharp tongue (often in the pursuit of good sense) caused him to fall out of favor again with the egomaniacal dictator. Napoleon abruptly abandoned the ill-fated Egyptian mission after a few years of occupation, when Admiral Nelson’s victory in the Nile made the French position untenable.
Dumas was forced to find his own way back to France, but the unseaworthy craft he and his men chartered forced them to land in the Kingdom of Naples, which they believed to be a friendly haven. Instead, Dumas was thrown into prison and left to languish while his health deteriorated, and Napoleon mysteriously made no effort to rescue him.
Interestingly, Naples felt safe from French retaliation largely because Lord Nelson’s torrid affair with the wife of a prominent citizen kept the Royal Navy close at hand, a distraction from duty that makes General Petraeus look pretty tame.