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All for a crown
or, the only love of King Henry the Eighth (Catherine Howard)

Henry L. Williams

276 pages
1902 - États-Unis
Roman

Intérêt: *

 

 

Toujours occupé à exploiter le filon, Henry Llewellyn Williams livre ici encore une fois un roman écrit à partir d'une pièce de théâtre de Dumas, comme il l'a fait avec The regal box (tiré de Kean), D’Artagnan forward (La jeunesse de Louis XIV), The Tower of Nesle (La tour de Nesle) ou The king’s gallant (Henri III et sa cour). Comme d'habitude, l'œuvre est publiée sous le nom de Dumas, Williams figurant au titre de la «traduction» et de l’«adaptation».

Cette fois, celui-ci s'inspire de la pièce Catherine Howard écrite par Dumas en 1834. Ce drame romantique par excellence met en scène Catherine Howard, jeune fille d'une suprême beauté élevée dans l'isolement, qui ne rêve que de richesses et de position sociale. Le favori du roi Henry VIII d'Angleterre, Ethelwood, tombé fou amoureux, l'épouse en secret.

Par malheur, Henry VIII l'aperçoit et décide sur le champ d'en faire sa cinquième épouse (il en fait une grande consommation...). Ignorant le lien entre les deux jeunes gens, il charge Ethelwood de lui ramener Catherine. Pour que son épouse échappe au roi, Ethelwood lui fait boire un puissant narcotique qui simule sa mort, avant de la réveiller en cachette.

Mais Catherine a appris la passion du roi pour elle et rêve d'assouvir ainsi son ambition. L'occasion se présente bientôt. Henry VIII veut qu'Ethelwood épouse sa sœur Marguerite mais le jeune seigneur refuse (puisqu'il est déjà marié). Pour échapper à la vengeance du roi, fou furieux de ce refus, il prend à son tour du narcotique pour simuler un suicide, et charge Catherine de venir ensuite le délivrer du tombeau. Celle-ci s'abstient, réapparaît devant le roi et se fait épouser par lui: la voici enfin reine.

Mais Ethelwood a été délivré par Marguerite et entreprend de se venger. Il fait comprendre à Henry VIII que Catherine n'est pas la pure jeune fille qu'elle prétendait mais bien une femme adultère. Le roi la fait condamner à la décapitation (comme il en a l'habitude). C'est Ethelwood lui-même qui prend la place du bourreau avant de se livrer à Henry VIII comme complice (et premier mari) de Catherine.

Dans son adaptation romanesque, Williams suit de très près la trame de la pièce. Il n'entreprend même pas de décrire les événements qui interviennent entre deux actes d'une pièce de théâtre et sont résumés en quelques phrases par les protagonistes. En revanche, il ajoute descriptions touffues et conversations verbeuses pour arriver à la longueur d'un roman.

Au total, une adaptation bien médiocre d'un drame plutôt réussi - et qui, pour l'anecdote, est à l'origine de la fameuse phrase tant citée de Dumas sur l'Histoire, clou auquel il accroche ses romans: dans sa préface à la pièce, il écrit en effet que cette dernière est "une œuvre d'imagination procréée par ma fantaisie; Henri VIII n'a été pour moi qu'un clou auquel j'ai attaché mon tableau".

 

Extrait du chapitre 18 Live and love me!

To distract himself after the mournful departure from the court and the world of his favorite, which loss threw a gloom over Whitehall, King Henry plunged into the business of the preparations for war on land and sea.

One afternoon, as he was resting his brain, no longer capable of such continuous drafts, he was annoyed by an usher entering, who begged pardon, but said that a peasant maid, showing his own signet, had pestered everybody into letting her have admission. His lord had forbidden that for everybody, yet she had so insisted that he took the daring to venture in with the odd news.

“This is not Mayday, for me to be capped to by Maid Marian!" he said, severely.

“But your signet, sire!”

“Oh, yes - you are justified. She may have found this jewel! I will see the lass!”

He mused, without thinking seriously on this odd presentment of his token, not a common or oft-duplicated gift.

Dereham had such a favor, Cranmer another, and — he had placed the last he wore on the finger of the dead woman in Dereham chapel.

“Where does she hail from?” he asked the usher, who was going out.

“Dereham Manor!"

“Ah, send her in!" said he, quickly. “Some goosegirl whom Dereham — bah! She — ?”

A woman in peasant dress, with her hood over her head, entered humbly enough to suit the attire.

She stood by the door, which the usher closed.

“What is the child’s wish?” asked he, not unpleasantly.

Coming slowly forward, kneeling without disclosing her face, the visitor extended with white hand, which had never done harder work than knitting, a ring — his ring!

“Eh! Who are you to be bearer of that, here?”

As she hesitated to move, he plucked off the hood with the cape, and disclosed — Catherine! He drew himself up on his feet, and held back, as if he saw on her fair face the death-spot.

“Catherine! What does this distortion of nature's laws portend?" he gasped. “Do the dead walk, or can spirits be so palpable?" Mustering up his courage, he thrust out his hand, seized her arm, found it far from cold at the contraction, which he then tightened, and, in a changed voice of relief, as he raised her, said:

“It is flesh and blood—elegant and rich as Cyprus grape juice! But I believed you lying under the monumental stone, wrapped in scented linen, pale, freezing as an alabaster image! How is it you are permitted to quit the mortuary couch? Speak, and quickly, or I shall still fail to believe!” Say any words that mortals use, and in a voice too womanly — too human to keep my heart so congealed!”

Convinced by the tone that her steps had led her to the goal of her desires, she smiled a little, but enough to inflame a statue, answering in a very womanly voice:

“Sire, am I the very first creature taken under the earth but, being in a swoon, waking in the cerements?"

“It has been — but it is called a miracle when happening to a woman beautiful and pure and loveable as you! But it is Catherine! Speak on, and in a livelier strain! Say pleasant things! Keep the roses on your cheeks far above the earth! Keep the light in your eyes down on us men! That blush, that gleam - but for them, I should yet disbelieve. That wiseacre, the Fleming, was not crazed when he babbled of resuscitations! By my faith! I shall love this recreated and recreative woman!”

“I was told that you told me that you loved me!”

“That's roundabout, but it is the truth! But if you know that, and that I —”

“You came to that dead-house, and into the cold cavern —”

“Into the cave of despair, true! Then, this ring —”

“Was slipped upon a senseless finger. I was told whence it came, and, as I am honest, I brought it back!"

“They may well say luck comes to the slumbering! Then, your slumber was profound?”

“So profound!” and she shuddered and lost her high color.

“You do not remember what happened?”

“Nothing, and what went before is not a past worth harboring, or recalling!” She snapped her fingers scornfully. “I had no life before that death. It began in the grave. I came forth out of the cheerless into the radiant!"

Henry listened, as in a dream; no peasant ever spoke like this, and with such a voice. He stammered a wish to know about her release.

She showed the key of Dereham chapel. Suddenly, tears came to his eyes. He who had ridden over a battlefield strewn with untold horrors, and never winced, quailed at the thought of what a girl like this must have undergone in the dead-house, threading her way in the gloom, the only living one amid the lifeless, while none without knew that she was there.

“To wait,” mused he, “in death's antechamber for the relief to come, and to shudder at the approach of his brother-ghoul, more awful than himself, hunger!"

Catherine shivered at the atrocious image called up.

“Ha, if the king had known that!” cried Henry, pacing the room, and beating the wall with his fist each time he met it, and had to turn; “why, here was I in my palace, lolling on the cushions, trifling with my wine and giving to my dogs the tidbits renounced by a sated palate — and this fair, young, desirable woman was wasting away in the dark! This half of my hope! This whole of my existence! I complained of the warmth — she froze to her granite bed! I shut my eyes to the tender beams of the tapers, while she opened hers, trying to discern one little spark of the blessed sun! I tossed and yearned for sleep - she prayed for a break before that eternal rest!”

At the revived thoughts, she screamed and hid her face in her hands, succumbing on the settle.

 

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