The Journal of Madame Callegari – 2nd Edition

The second (2022) edition of the Journal of Madame Callegari contains new details of Marie Callegari’s life that have come to light since publication of the first edition in 2015. These include details of her arrest by Belgian authorities in 1840 before she fled to London, and details of her search for her daughter when she returned to Paris in 1854. In addition, numerous aspects of Marie Callegari’s life and activities have been revised and expanded to provide a more nuanced account of those activities, and the historical and geographical contexts in which they occurred.

Purchase the 478 page full-colour book here. A PDF eBook is also available and is readable on all eBook readers: The Journal of Madame Callegari” (2nd Edn 2022) ISBN: 9798210521347

An economy version of the book, identical in content but printed with black and white images, is available through online bookstores. Search for ISBN: 9798210550682

Who was Madame Callegari?

Early in 1855, a thirty-six-year-old French woman approached Alexandre Dumas in Paris, and asked him to edit, and publish, her account of ten years spent travelling in Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands, California and Mexico. Dumas agreed to her request, because her story was one of adventure and romance, and took this young lady, and her husband, to places seldom visited by young women. However, she insisted that, in publishing her story, her true identity should not be revealed. To achieve this they chose the pseudonym Madame Giovanni, and changed, or omitted, certain parts of the narrative which could have identified her.

The story began to appear in the Paris journal, Le Siècle, on 31 March 1855, under the title Impressions de voyage: journal de madame Giovanni, with the opening chapters being republished in Dumas’s own newspaper, Le Mousequetaire, in April. It was well-received, and there were numerous book editions, with an 1855 German translation including several chapters describing Madame Giovanni’s adventures in Mexico, that were omitted from the French editions.

Despite its popularity in Europe, the journalwas not translated into English until 1944, when Marguerite Wilbur combined the French and German editions. During the research for this book, it was my good fortune to purchase an almost unopened 1855 Belgian edition of the journal. A comparison of this version with the Wilbur translation reveals numerous instances where either the translation can be questioned, or significant sections have been severely abbreviated or even omitted.[i]

Since first publication, the true identity of Madame Giovanni was cause for speculation, and many thought the name was the pseudonym of a close friend of Dumas, Gabrielle Anne Cisterne, la vicomtesse Poilloüe de Saint-Mars.[ii] Others thought Saint-Mars may have compiled the story for Dumas from a variety of other sources.[iii] Many readers and literary scholars could not decide whether the story was true at all, or whether it was a mixture of fact and fiction. The confusion was summed up by one reviewer of the 1944 translation, Bradford A Booth, who observed:

Whether the work should be catalogued as history, travel, or fiction is a point not easily determined, for Dumas compounds a sometimes ingenious, sometimes crude amalgam of the three. It seems clear that he worked from an eyewitness’s manuscript; source books could not alone supply such a wealth of intimately realistic descriptive detail. But the fine hand of the practiced romancer is evident in a succession of dramatic and melodramatic moments. At any rate, ‘Dumas & Co.,’ as the novelist’s organization of research and ghost-writers was named by jealous contemporaries, is often at its collective best in this travel narrative of observation and adventure.[iv]

Despite the uncertainty, Booth noted that, ‘The last section of the book is more factual and political, but it has considerable bibliographical, if less narrative, interest.’[v]  Indeed, there were good reasons why the tone changed towards the end of the book, especially in the final Mexican chapters.

It was in those ‘more factual and political’ Mexican chapters, omitted from the original French edition, that there were clues that enabled the French scholar, Jacqueline Covo, to discover Madame Giovanni’s real name from the archives of the French ambassador to Mexico. In a 1979 essay on Alexandre Dumas and Mexico, Covo identified Madame Giovanni as a woman named Madame Callegari, but, despite this identification, she concluded ‘Nous ignorons qui était Madame Callégari’—‘We do not know who Madame Callegari was’—and observed that a search of French archives suggested that Madame Callegari had not married in Paris. Nevertheless, Covo asked, if the Mexican chapters seemed accurate, then why should the other chapters not also be accurate?[vi] Indeed, why not?

The initial research for this book, extending over four years, and delving into the archives of at least eight countries, has revealed that Madame Marie Giovanni certainly was Madame Marie Callegari, and that she was a real woman, who did most of the things, and visited most of the places, described in the Dumas journal. The research has also confirmed that some parts of the journal deliberately avoided giving an accurate description of Madame Callegari’s experiences, adding to the previous confusion about who she was. Importantly, the research has revealed the reasons why this is so, and why Madame Callegari chose to publish under a pseudonym. Those reasons are sometimes hinted at in the journal and are to be found in the life of the person Madame Giovanni was before she became Madame Callegari—a young woman known as Marie Louisa la Grange. In addition to these revelations, the research has uncovered a missing chapter from the sequel to her journal that Madame Callegari unsuccessfully tried to publish in the late 1880s.

I have mentioned many people who assisted me with the initial years of research into this story in the Acknowledgements section at the end of this book. However, what prompted me to return to the story and write this revised edition was an email I received in 2021, from French researcher, Olivier Cabiro, a former Librarian with the city of Paris, who was investigating the lives of French and English swindlers operating during the 1840s, and found online references to my research into Madame Callegari, otherwise known as Marie Louise la Grange, among her many other aliases, and her accomplice, Eugene Rossiet Lennon, otherwise Eugene Ladent.

Having access to French Archives, Olivier discovered several letters that had not been digitized and had therefore not been found by me when researching the original story. These letters related to the activities of Louisa La Grange and Eugene Ladent in France and Belgium during 1840, and to enquiries made by Madame Callegari regarding the whereabouts of her daughter in 1853. I am grateful to Olivier for sharing his discoveries with me and enabling me to add more to the story of this remarkable woman.

For those who wonder what scholarly disciplines this book might embrace, what has emerged from the research is an inter-disciplinary investigation that takes in transnational historiography, feminist and gender historiography, literary criticism, and more. For those who wonder about the historical accuracy of the narrative, there are extensive notes on the sources—and for those who puzzle as to how Madame Callegari is able to tell her own story, in the first person, so long after her death, there is an essay on the voice of Madame Callegari—at the very end of this book.

Douglas Wilkie, 2022

[i] Marguerite Wilbur, (translator), Alexandre Dumas, The journal of Madame Giovanni, New York, Liveright, 1944. Hereafter Journal (1944).

[ii] David W. Forbes, Hawaiian National Bibliography 1751-1900 : 1851-1880, Honolulu, 2011, 160; Patrick O’Reilly and Édouard Reitman, Bibliographie de Tahiti et de la Polynésie francaise, Paris, 1967, 140.

[iii] Honoré Forster, ‘Voyaging Through Strange Seas: Four Women Travellers in the Pacific’,National Library of Australia News, January 2000, 4-5.

[iv] ‘The Journal of Madame Giovanni by Alexandre Dumas, Marguerite Eyer Wilbur.’ Review by: Bradford A. Booth. Pacific Historical Review vol. 13, Jun., 1944, 205 – 206.

[v] Bradford A. Booth, 205 – 206.

[vi] Jacqueline Covo, Introduction to Alejandro Dumas, Diario de Marie Giovanni,México, Banco di Mexico, 1981, 31-32; Jacqueline Covo, ‘Alexandre Dumas, le Mexique et les Negres,’ in Travaux de l’Institut d’Études Hispaniques et Portugaises de l’Univesité de Tours, Publications de l’Université de Tours, 1979, 47-58.

Reviews of the First Edition 2015

 ‘The Governor of London’s Coldbath Fields House of Correction remembered his young French prisoner as ‘a treacherous, bad woman’. Though ‘by no means handsome’, she possessed a ‘very high talent, remarkable for eloquence and tears’. Three decades later the same woman, now with an Italian name, introduced herself by letter to the American president Ulysses S. Grant, saying she was returning to Europe as a ‘traveler who certainly will be believed’. When Alexandre Dumas published in Paris the journal of her earlier travels, he may or may not have ‘believed’ her, but as one of the most famous writers of his day, he had an eye for a good story and hers was a dramatic tale of adventure and romance across continents and overseas.

Douglas Wilkie has followed the paper trail left behind by this shape-changing adventurer with a flair for language and a sense of herself as the heroine in her own romance. Having tracked the stylish swindler through the archives of eight countries, he weaves together a meticulously researched account of an unexpected and utterly fascinating woman.’

Emeritus Professor Lucy Frost, The University of Tasmania

‘After four years of meticulous research … Douglas Wilkie has chosen to tell this fascinating story in the first voice, that of Madame Callegari herself, so we find her writing posthumously, telling why she chose to publish under a pseudonym and introducing us to her former self, the young woman known as Louisa La Grange …

… intriguing and well-told, from the wretchedness of prison and transportation followed by a pardon in Australia and then marriage to fellow-convict, the Venetian merchant Pietro Callegari, to their remarkable travels and sojourns in parts of the world rarely visited by a nineteenth century woman.

The original Dumas journal is written in the first person but here we find the voice enhanced with detailed facts and insights, drawn from Wilkie’s meticulous research. This remarkable attention to detail successfully draws the reader deeper into Madame Giovanni’s story, thus dissipating any initial unease; the end-notes are crucial as evidence of Madame Callegari’s claims. Wilkie writes ‘The Journal of Madame Callegari is what I believe Madame Callegari would have told us if she had the opportunity.’ He is to be congratulated on his achievement.’

Elaine Lewis, Author Left Bank Waltz, (Vintage 2006); Co-editor The French Australian Review.

‘Douglas Wilkie has solved a literary puzzle that has stumped readers on and off for more than 150 years: Who is the author of The Journal of Madame Giovanni? The travel book was published in 1855 by Alexander Dumas and generated immediate curiosity about the author, who admits to using a pen name. Some critics deemed the work to be fiction, whereas others recognized that the circumstantial detail and observations offered by the author spoke to a genuine account rather than a cut-and-paste job by an armchair traveler. Some thought the author might be Dumas’s friend, the Countess Poilloue de Saint-Mars (whose own pen name was ‘Countess Dash’), a writer from the Dumas literary stable, or perhaps Dumas himself. Although she had legitimate reasons for using a pseudonym, in later life Mrs. Pietro Callegari acknowledged she had written the popular account of her travels in the Antipodes, Hawaii, California during the Gold Rush, and in Mexico, and the United States.

But tracing the steps of this educated and musically talented lady proved difficult. Wilkie attempted to verify events described in the Journal, pouring through court records, ships’ manifests, newspaper reports, and correspondence. His success in confirming or refuting elements in the Journal is borne out by seventy pages of footnotes. It would seem Mrs. Callegari was born Marie Louise Mirabello in Paris, Auitel, or Bordeaux–take your pick. Details of her early life are somewhat vague. Wilkie’s task is not made easier by the casual spelling of her name in English language records, and the many aliases she used. There are more than a dozen variations by this reader’s count, some of them appropriating titles of nobility.

Why does an apparently well-bred woman use an alias? Led astray, when a young woman by a married and larcenous lover, Marie, under the name Louise Mirabello, is convicted of theft in London and transported in a convict ship to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) in 1844. There she meets and marries a fellow-convict, Venetian merchant Pietro Giovanni Callegari who is serving time for a similar offence. It is after they have served their sentences that her travel journal truly begins.

Marie and Pietro were sufficiently accomplished linguists and musicians to advertise their services as teachers of these subjects in newspapers in various cities where they temporarily resided. They were also entrepreneurs. Time and again their mercantile efforts earn them impressive profits which are then lost through natural disasters and other misfortunes. Always alert to making the most of acquaintances and business contacts, Marie seems to be a champion networker. For example, while in New York she meets and gets along well with reporters from the New York Herald. This results in a favorable article referring to her as Madame Giovanni in the 23 June 1857 issue, and Marie delights in the free publicity and being compared with travel writer Ida Pfeiffer.

This book is unusual in that Wilkie presents his new research using the first person, as if Callegari were commenting from beyond the grave on the original publication, her later work, and his own additions. This device allows Marie to point out discrepancies between editions and the factual record as due to either creative editing by Dumas, lapses of memory on her part, or allowing for natural gaps in the record due to careless record-keepers.

Wilkie addresses the pros and cons of using the first-person narrative, citing other examples such as Colm Toibin’s biography of Henry James (The Master) or in Carolly Erickson’s Bloody Mary (Queen Mary I) and shares many other scholarly opinions on the subject. He argues his book conforms to what ‘Marie Callegari would have told us if she had the opportunity’ (p. 335) and he has convinced this reader, for one.’

Mary McMichael Ritzlin, (George Ritzlin Antique Maps & Prints), Terrae Incognitae, vol 49, no 1, 2017.

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