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In The Hague, a mob of townsmen and militia stirred up by lies and agitators stands outside the city’s prison baying for the blood of the de Witt brothers; disgraced statesmen unjustly accused of a plot against William of Orange. Meanwhile, in the quiet country town of Dordrecht, de Witt’s godson Cornelius devotes himself to his tulips – most especially to the cultivation of a true black flower, considered impossible, but for which the Haarlem Tulip Society has offered a magnificent prize. The naïve Cornelius cares only for flowers, but he has stirred up a deadly rivalry and rage in the heart of his neighbour, who will stop at nothing to get his hands on the precious tulip bulb.
Weaving together two strands of Dutch history – the brutal, political murder that brought William of Orange to power and the phenomenon of tulipomania – Alexandre Dumas creates a portrait of ambition, from the coldly Machiavellian manoeuvres of William of Orange to the idées fixes that can obsess even a good man. Most perfectly and unforgettably drawn of all is the novel’s heroine. Rosa, the gaoler’s lovely daughter, falls in love with Cornelius and brings all her resourcefulness, shrewd intelligence and courage to bear to save him. Dumas, already famous for such romances as The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, published The Black Tulip in 1850. It would be the last of his great works. A year later, political upheaval and his own debts forced him to flee France. He took refuge in Belgium and later Italy, pursuing the kind of political and idealistic adventuring he had previously written about – travelling in Russia and joining the struggle for a united, independent Italy. In 2002, Dumas’s special place in French literature was recognised when he was reinterred in the Pantheon alongside his contemporary and friend Victor Hugo. In his introduction, writer and academic Peter Conrad explores how Dumas relishes the god-like power of the author to make the impossible happen and allow good to triumph against all the odds.
Read more about the life and work of Alexandre Dumas
Review by tomhumphreys on 24th Jan 2013
"A neglected classic by Dumas. It does not belong in quite the same class as the Count of Monte Cristo, or the Musketeer Trilogy, but is a fine example of why Dumas is one of literature's best and most..." [read more]