“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Arthurs and entertainers

Due to the frequent allusions of Le Colonel Chabert to Dumas, I have become curious enough to finally penetrate Dumas (and Co.)’s Comte de Monte Cristo. At the same time, I thought I’d read his biography. I was startled to see a parallel between Dumas’ financial difficulties and those of Michael Jackson, as they are outlined in the business section of the NYT.

Like Dumas, Michael Jackson’s life is as big as his income. This is rarely ever true of the wealthy. Extravagance can only bring you down so far when you are the beneficiary of some obscene stock option deal – the distant prospect of immiseration really only threatens when investments go bad. Supposedly Ken Lay is down to his last million (although that might just be a lawyerly smoke-screen), but Ken Lay is, of course, a rare idiot. The more usual fate assigned to criminal millionaires (or allegedly criminal) after the slammer is to face the cruel, cold world with merely forty, sixty, one hundred million tucked away. Milikan, whose jailtime still can cause the tears to fall at AEI meetings, was able to shift about, in his parole days, with close to the billion he had pilfered before his jail time. Iron bars do not make a cage, for such hearts.

But Michael Jackson’s lifestyle is a sort of investment, a tabloid amusement park. And delegations have been sent to Dubai from Sony to discuss his future. The tone of the story is such that I expect him to be moving into my apartment complex any day now. A small, all efficient complex, starting at 420 per month. Somehow, though, I think that the shrinking of his fortune will never be so bad that Michael will have to taste the vie de bohème which is the lot of all of us here:

"SEATED in a $9,000-a-night luxury suite in the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai, Michael Jackson played the role of a wealthy pop star as he met with two senior executives of the Sony Corporation last December. From the opulent setting to Mr. Jackson's retinue of advisers, there was little indication that Sony's troops were paying a visit because they were concerned that he was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy proceedings.

"Sony was worried because Mr. Jackson was the company's partner in a lucrative music publishing business that included songs by the Beatles and other musicians. If Mr. Jackson became insolvent, his 50 percent share of that $1 billion business would be up for grabs to the highest bidder, leaving Sony to confront the uncomfortable possibility that it would be forced into a new, unpredictable partnership not of its own choosing."

The upshot of which is, Jackson signed away a right. A paper. A little signing away paper. And so it begins...

Alexandre Dumas, like Michael Jackson, made his pile when he was very young. Dumas’s plays brought him in princely sums. Those sums went into a veritable directory of mistresses, apartments, trips, feasts, balls, and all of the rest of it – as well as maintaining a number of children. However, by 1839, Dumas was tapped out, even though he was, via various collaborators (including Gerald de Nerval) still turning out two or three plays a season. Plus he had begun a lucrative sideline in serial fiction for the newspapers. Not that the latter meant too much to him at the time.

Into his life wandered a character named Jacques Domanges. Domanges was a jeweler from Metz, but he ‘d come to Paris to make money in public works – notably sewers. The online biography of Dumas from the twenties gets the story wrong in some ways:
Domange was apparently a man who wasn’t picky about how he made money. So he decided that Dumas was still good for something – and he bought his debts.

To make his investment pay, however, he had to remove Dumas from the sybaritic existence he was leading in Paris. His instrument was one of Dumas’ old mistresses, Ida, who had also loaned Dumas money and – rumor had it – had given him a choice – debtor’s prison or marriage. Here’s the way J. Lucas Dubreton tells the story:
“The story goes that two reasons finally forced him to decide. Ida's guardian, a dung-farmer, it appears, who wished to assure his ward's future, bought up 200,000 francs worth of Dumas' debts for 40,000 francs, and, accompanied by the sheriff's officers, summoned the great man to marry or go to Clichy, the debtors' prison. One argument! An indiscretion was the second. Dumas took Ida to a ball given by the Duke of Orléans and presented her to the prince. "Of course it's quite understood, my dear Dumas," said the latter, "that you could present only your wife to me."

Because the money from his plays was going into Domange’s pockets, Dumas went in another direction: the serialized novel. In a sense, Dumas’ own existence is traced in one of those books he tossed off, Filles, lorettes et courtisanes , a physiognomy of Parisian prostitution. The difference between prostitute types is defined by the souteneur – whether it the pimp of the filles à cartes, or the wealthy man of the filles a numero, or the lorettes – who are supported by a male cartel, the Arthurs. (what are now called Johns)

Here’s Dumas:

Every animal species in this world has its masculine and feminine.
Love being a law of creation, reproduction is a necessity of nature.
Thus, the Arthur is the lover of the Lorette.
But, you say, what is an Arthur?
The Arthur is bipedal, what Diogenese called an animal with two feet and no feathers – Genus homo.
Only, the Arthur is only called Arthur between his eighteenth and thirtieth years. Up to eighteen, he is called by his baptismal name – Pierre, Paul, Francois, Philippe, Emmanuel, Justin, Adolphe, Horace or Felicien.
After thirty, he is called by his last name: M. .
M. Durand, M. Berton, M. Legrand, M. Lenoir, M. de Preuilly, M. Delaguerche, M. de Barou ou M. de Chemillé.

But, during those twelve years, he is invariably called Arthur.
Arthur is multiple. He is present under every form: the artist, the man of letters, the speculator, the son of the family. He has anywhere from 100,000 francs of debts up to 25,000 francs of rent. Only, it is very rare to pass from the 100,000 france of debts to the 25,000 francs of rent, while it is common to pass from the 25,000 francs of rent to the 100,000 francs of debt. And even more.
The Arthur is thus not rich enough, in our age of constitutional misery, to keep a Lorette a la mode by himself. But just as the poor girls of the street go by twos and fours and sometimes sixes to keep a pimp, the Arthurs go by sixs to eights to tens to even dozens to keep a Lorette. One furnishes the gloves, the other the hats, this one buys her threads, the other gets her knickknacks. An Arthur furnishes her dining room, another her salon, another her bedroom, and the latecomers sow the tables and cabinets with old Sevre and china chez Gansberg, and the Lorette is what one calls – at home.

This multiplication of the Arthur is great security for the Lorette. One does not break in one blow with a dozen lovers, as one breaks up with a single one; one can fight with one, two, even three, but this only signifies a little dip in the receipts, an embarrassment, and not ruin….”

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