Review: Celebrated Crimes by Alexandre Dumas

Celebrated Crimes (The Complete Collection) - Alexandre Dumas,  Burnham I.G.



This book is still stubbornly placed on my Currently Reading shelf because, dammit, I will finish it! Why is this a struggle? Well, this is a "Complete Edition" meaning that it's all the text of 8 volumes. I'm not entirely sure how many pages this adds up to, but it's definitely slow going at times. (This is also a review I'll be slowly adding to, as I read more. Past updates will always be behind the pagebreak.) (Another reason this gets set aside: it's an ebook, and I'm packing to move. I have to rush and read the paper books before they go into storage. Ebooks travel with me, so no rush.)


When last I left the story I was on the exciting chapter Massacres of the South, where a lot of political fighting dealing with religious groups is going on.


15% in:

"Persecution and proselytism kept pace with each other, but the blood that was shed produced the usual effect: it rendered the soil on which it fell fruitful, and after two or three years of struggle, during which two or three hundred Huguenots had been burnt or hanged, Nimes awoke one morning with a Protestant majority."




Meanwhile if anyone comes up with a way to post/format/arrage the old Reading Progress from GR reviews, let me know. I'll have to cut and paste mine anyway, as it sums up the Borgia and Cenci stories.





Gutenberg link to the text here.


This book is Alexandre Dumas' retelling of historical and (in)famous crimes. Think of this as True Crime History, because the love for tabloidy crime stories isn't new - and like the tabloids much of this probably shouldn't be thought of as fact or unbiased. This was originally an eight volume work, but here is combined into a single book (and much easier to manage that way!). Specifically, here are the various topics in order that the book covers them (with wikipedia links for those who want some immediate history gratification):


[will be filling in some links as I read, some of these may be my guesses before reading til I correct them]


The Borgias (mainly the family of Pope Alexander VI)

The Cenci - 1598 (Beatrice Cenci)

Massacres Of The South - 1551-1815 (French Wars of Religion)

Mary Stuart - 1587 (Mary Queen of Scots)

Karl Ludwig Sand - 1819 (wikipedia)

Urbain Grandier - 1634 (wikipedia)

Nisida - 1825 (wikipedia?)


La Constantin - 1660

Joan Of Naples - 1343-1382 (Joanna I of Naples?)

The Man In The Iron Mask [An Essay] (wikipedia)

Martin Guerre (wikipedia)

Ali Pacha

The Countess De Saint-Geran - 1639

Murat - 1815

The Marquise De Brinvilliers (Madame de Brinvilliers)


The Marquise De Ganges - 1657


Note: if you're only interested in a part of this, check out the names of the individual volumes and then search for ebooks that way. Many are available as separate books.




Chapter 1, The Borgias (Via my Current Reading Updates, GR, italics used for my commentary vs quote)

1% - "The whole day passed thus; for in Rome nobody works. You are either a cardinal or a lacquey, and you live, nobody knows how."
3% - "Lucrezia [Borgia] was wanton in imagination, godless by nature, ambitious and designing: she had a craving for pleasure, admiration, honours, money, jewels, gorgeous stuffs, and magnificent mansions. A true Spaniard beneath her golden tresses, a courtesan beneath her frank looks, she carried the head of a Raphael Madonna, and concealed the heart of a Messalina." - Dumas doesn't tiptoe around laying blame, huh.
3% - "She was dear to Roderigo [her father] both as daughter and as mistress" - and has been more than hinted that Lucrezia has similar relationship with her brother. Those seeking a different (such as one that's possibly innocent, whatever that might mean in this era in Italy) Lucrezia be warned.

3% - Although I'd not rely on Dumas for everything factual, I am learning some geography. I'd not heard of Squillace before.

5% - "When he was leaving, at the farewell banquet, Alexander [Borgia, pope] had tried on his guest the poison he intended to use so often later on upon his cardinals, and whose effects he was destined to feel himself - such is poetical justice." - this is the famous slow acting poison, which did work and kill the designated guest - four days after the dinner.
7% - "...two [14 or 15 yr old pages were dressed] in gold cloth; so elegantly dressed were these two children, who were also the best looking of the little band, that the sight of them gave rise to strange suspicions as to the reason for this preference, if one may believe what Brantome says." - and of course Dumas does not tell us WHAT the suspicions WERE. Of course, you can guess.
9% - Everyone hires Swiss infantry: "From being models of honour and good faith they had become a kind of marketable ware, always ready for sale to the highest bidder."
13% - "... Gian Giordano Orsino, who had once gone with him to France, and who was the only member of the family who had not declared against him, offered him an asylum in the name of Cardinal dumbest..." - ok I'm thinking we MUST have a translation problem here or I would have heard of Cardinal Dumbest. It's also not the first time this Cardinal has popped up. Note to self, find out more.


Chapter 2, The Cenci (Via my Current Reading Updates, GR)

14% - "Crimes for the moment disappeared, to give place to vices; but to charming vices, vices in good taste, such as those indulged in by Alcibiades and sung by Catullus." - and this sort of 'go research me' sentences are another thing that makes for slow reading progress.
14% - Francesco Cenci is current villain, who was apparently good at bribing himself out of jail when charged with "abominable crimes" - still haven't gotten to what the crimes are...
14% - Francesco invites his 13 yr old daughter Beatrice to an orgy. And has her share the same bed with her stepmother (whom she'd rarely seen before). And convinces her that saints were offspring of fathers and daughters - since she's been secluded all her life she has no idea what reality is. Stepmother threatened with death if she tells daughter there's anything wrong with this.
15% - So no one should be surprised that various family members murder Francesco. Its annoying - after all that Francesco got away with - that his killers are caught."
15% - And after a grim description of the torture of poor Beatrice, Franceso's daughter, setting this aside - while I'm at jury duty anyway. Was way too grim/gross to read and be able to sit still. (I'm kind of a wimp in reading that sort of thing, if its too detailed.)"
15%  - When last I left this Beatrice was being tortured. Let's see if that's going to last much longer... (I was last reading this at jury duty, and it was not the place to fidget over and make faces at my kindle.)
15% - (Ex. of torture)"...tied her hands behind her back, fastened them to a rope passed over a pulley bolted into the ceiling ...we had her hoisted in the air by the wrists to the height of about two feet from the ground, while we recited a Pater Noster; and then again questioned her as to the facts and circumstances of the aforesaid parricide..."My God! I am dead! You are killing me!" - that pretty well sums it up.
15% - Meanwhile a lot of Romans felt that Beatrice (Cenci) had been given a hard life due to how her father treated her (the incest was apparently common knowledge?! ugh) - though the Pope wants her and co-conspirators killed by dragging by wild horses. Pope is indignant that people are pleading for mercy." [For the outcome: Beatrice Cenci]

Chapter 3, Massacres Of The South

It seems a problem that many of the people Dumas cites as historical figures in this chapter/book are ones I can't seem to find any further information on: Maurice Secenat (missionary from Cevennes, burned at stake), Pierre de Lavau (hanged), Dominique Deyron (doctor of theology, converted by de Lavau, escaped hanging). This may be due to spellings of the names, or the lack of French history documents being easily googlable in English? Maybe? Add these names to the list: Captain Bouillargues, Guillaume Moget, Bishop Bernard d'Elbene, Guillaume Calviere, etc. At this point I gave up making notes. Try googling any of those and you'll just find links to Dumas' book.


There was a reference to St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre (1572):

"He [King Charles IX] then left for Paris, where a short time after he concluded a treaty with the Calvinists, which the people with its gift of prophecy called "The halting peace of unsure seat," and which in the end led to the massacre of St. Bartholomew."




Quotes to ponder:



Borgia section, Chapter 8:

"...The Archbishop of Cosenza knew the men he was dealing with; he knew that to save their own ends they would hesitate at nothing; he knew they had a poison like sugar to the taste and to the smell, impossible to discover in food—a poison that would kill slowly or quickly as the poisoner willed and would leave no trace behind; he knew the secret of the poisoned key that lay always on the pope's mantelpiece, so that when His Holiness wished to destroy some one of his intimates, he bade him open a certain cupboard: on the handle of the key there was a little spike, and as the lock of the cupboard turned stiffly the hand would naturally press, the lock would yield, and nothing would have come of it but a trifling scratch: the scratch was mortal. He knew, too, that Caesar wore a ring made like two lions' heads, and that he would turn the stone on the inside when he was shaking hands with a friend. Then the lions' teeth became the teeth of a viper, and the friend died cursing Borgia."


10% in, still with the Borgias - So Caesar (Pope Borgia's son) has his soldiers kidnap a young woman who'd caught his eye, and who just happens to be the fiance of Gian Carracciuola, general of the Venetians. And although there's a huge resulting kerfuffle over her kidnapping no one can find her, and even the house that witnesses said she was taken to disappears. As in, the entire house is gone. (Not just the household, the entire structure!!!) And the girl isn't found for months. That's the set up - here's the conclusion:

"...The conditions were faithfully kept so far as the inhabitants were concerned; but Caesar, when he had seen Astor, whom he did not know before, was seized by a strange passion for this beautiful youth, who was like a woman: he kept him by his side in his own army, showing him honours befitting a young prince, and evincing before the eyes of all the strongest affection for him: one day Astor disappeared, just as Caracciuolo's bride had disappeared, and no one knew what had become of him; Caesar himself appeared very uneasy, saying that he had no doubt made his escape somewhere, and in order to give credence to this story, he sent out couriers to seek him in all directions.A year after this double disappearance, there was picked up in the Tiber, a little below the Castle Sant' Angelo, the body of a beautiful young woman, her hands bound together behind her back, and also the corpse of a handsome youth with the bowstring he had been strangled with tied round his neck. The girl was Caracciuolo's bride, the young man was Astor. During the last year both had been the slaves of Caesar's pleasures; now, tired of them, he had had them thrown into the Tiber."