“When awake, he thought only of the great black tulip; when asleep, he dreamed of nothing else.”
– Alexandre Dumas, The Black Tulip
Dumas is one of the earliest authors to write page-turning adventure novels. He is respectable because his novels are very old, but reading them is more entertaining than enlightening… they are almost too readable to be real literature. They contain no great nuggets of wisdom, but they are fun to read two centuries after they were written, and that is a huge accomplishment. They are dramatic, tense, funny, and have interesting half-imaginary historical backdrops. Like Walter Scott, who I have also been reading lately, Dumas wrote the bestsellers of his era, and they still hold much of their original appeal. In addition to my fondness for Dumas’ work, I have always been interested in the tulip mania of the 1600s, the first speculative bubble of recorded history. I kind of thought this book would be set in that era. It was not, but touched on the attitudes of the time, that saw tulips like modern people see diamonds, a form of nature so superior and pure it is almost a currency in and of itself.
The Black Tulip is the story of a young tulip grower, an affluent, naive, and peaceful man, who happens to be related to the wrong people, and thereby gets caught up in the political intrigues of Holland the 1670s. He is trying to produce a solid black tulip, a masterpiece of his art form, but he is countered at every turn by a suspicious populace, a wildly jealous neighbor, a sweet and gorgeous love interest, and a somewhat bipolar monarch. I love how nerdy the central character is, when so many of Dumas’ heroes are adventurers—poor Cornelius just wants to grow tulips and be left in peace. It’s difficult to write a story with such a gentle hero, and Dumas pulls it off beautifully.
There are two great prison breaks that will take your breath away. Lots of historical tidbits, most of which are accurate. Read in Holland, in the spring.