The Women’s War

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Less well known than The Three Musketeers or The Count of Monte Cristo, The Women’s War has all Dumas’ hallmarks. It is full of swash and swagger, gallant heroes, full-blooded villains and ladies who are not quite as disingenuous as they would have you believe. The plot twists and turns with more guile than the serpent in Eden. The dialogue is witty, the wines plentiful and the cards are marked.

The novel is set in the early years of Louis XIV’s reign, during the regency of Anne of Austria, and gives an account of that curious aristocratic power struggle masquerading as a popular uprising known as the Fronde. The Baron de Canolles finds himself caught up in the troubles because of his love for two women on opposing sides – Nanon de Lartigues, who supports Queen Anne, and the Viscountess de Cambes, who is allied with the Princess de Conde. Although the women take centre stage, it would be a mistake to read the novel as a pro-feminist text. Canolles is clearly its hero, and Dumas is at pains to show how his warring women can only maintain their position by adopting decidedly masculine traits.

Robin Buss’ translation is the first in English for over 100 years. His prose is lucid yet loses none of Dumas’ panache. A comprehensive introduction and notes will help those new to the period to understand both the historical context and the many contemporary and classical references. A terrific read.

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