The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana
by Jess Nevins
The Adrets Inn (1823)
copyright © Jess Nevins 2022
The Adrets Inn (original: L’Auberge des Adrets) was written by “Monsieur Benjamin,” “Monsieur Saint-Amant,” and “Monsieur Polyanthe.” “Monsieur Benjamin” was the pseudonym of Benjamin Antier (1787-1870), a French playwright. “Monsieur Saint-Amant” was the pseudonym of Jean Amand Lacoste (1797-1856), and “Monsieur Polyanthe” was the pseudonym of Alexandre Chapponier (1793-1852). Lacoste and Chapponier were French playwrights who often collaborated together.
There may have been a real Robert Macaire, the co-lead of The Adrets Inn. The Count de Foix’s Livre de Chasse (1387-1389) tells the story of a knight, Aubrey de Montdidier, who was murdered in the forest of Bondy in 1371. De Montdidier’s dog, Dragon, singled out one man, Robert Macaire, for such virulent hatred that suspicion fell on Macaire for De Montdidier’s murder. It was decreed that Macaire and Dragon should fight, so that God could reveal who was in the wrong. Dragon won, and before Macaire died he confessed his guilt. The name “Robert Macaire” entered common usage as a synonym for a villain, and there were several Robert Macaires in French plays in the eighteenth century.
The Adrets Inn begins in a town in provincial France. Charles Dumont, the son of a local innkeeper, is about to marry Clementine Germeuil, the daughter of a wealthy farmer, and preparations for their wedding are underway. But there is a problem, which M. Dumont eventually confesses to M. Germeuil, his old friend. Charles is not Dumont’s biological son; he was found eighteen years ago at the inn. The mother had been imprisoned but escaped, left the child at the inn, and fled, and Dumont adopted the boy. To M. Germeuil this does not affect how he views the son of his old friend, and Germeuil is happy to have Charles marry his daughter. While everyone in Dumont’s inn is preparing for the wedding, two strangers arrive in town. Robert Macaire and Jacques Strop. The pair are thieves, newly escaped from prison and on their way over the border to Piedmont. Macaire is a confident, accomplished thief, but Strop is a “timid, unpolished artist,” a “thief in the rough” who is nervous about being recaptured. Macaire and Strop stop at the inn, posing as “Redmond” and “Bertrand.” They pretend to be members of high society, and fool the waiters into letting the pair eat the inn, which is otherwise closed for the wedding. Macaire mentions to Strop that he likes weddings. He was married eighteen or nineteen years ago, but his wife was a good person who preferred working to theft, so the marriage didn’t work out.
As Macaire and Strop are eating, Marie, a starving, homeless woman falls in the road outside the inn. Clementine and her father sees Marie in the road and take her in to the inn out of charity. Macaire, seeing her, is startled, as he recognizes her face from somewhere. Macaire is distracted when he hears M. Germeuil discussing his wedding gift to Charles Dumont: 12,000 francs, all in bank notes and all in one pocket book. When Marie revives she thanks M. Germeuil for his kindness but refuses to accept any charity from him or to tell him where she has come from. He insists on giving her some money, as “a pledge of the sincere interest I take in your welfare.” She gives in, takes the money, and tells him that she will tell him her story tomorrow. Macaire decides to steal the bank notes that night and lifts the inn’s master key out of the pocket of their waiter. Macaire attends the wedding, which comes off nicely, and dances and sings well, entertaining everyone.
The following morning a group of gendarmes arrive at the inn and order breakfast. Macaire and Strop have the bank notes, but escaping without paying their bill would cause them to be suspected, so they decide to wait until the gendarmes are gone before ducking out of the inn. Marie wants to leave before Germeuil awakens so as to spare herself the shame of telling him her story. But a waiter sees her trying to sneak out, sees that she has a purse full of gold, and insists that she stay. Macaire strikes up a conversation with Marie and realizes that she is his wife. He asks her if she knows Robert Macaire, and she says, “Silence, sir! Repeat not the name of a monster who has embittered my days, and brought me to shame—to misery and ruin.” Macaire laughs at this, and they go down to breakfast. Macaire coolly talks with one of the gendarmes, who admits that they are looking for two notorious thieves who recently escaped from jail. Strop is panicky and keeps making nervous mistakes in front of the gendarmes, and Macaire is repeatedly forced to cover for him and even threatens to cut his throat if he continues to act so frightened. The gendarme pays his bill, and Macaire and Strop are ready to leave, but Clementine discovers her father, dead in his bedroom, and raises the alarm. The waiter points out that he saw Marie trying to leave the inn with a purse of gold, and suspicion falls upon her, but Macaire and Strop are also suspected. Macaire presents his forged passport with a cool aplomb, and since his papers are in order Marie is arrested. She tells Charles Dumont about her shameful past as Macaire’s wife, and Charles recognizes her as his mother. Seeing this, Macaire is touched and realizes that Charles is his son, though he cannot admit this and only shakes Charles’ hand. Charles explains to the gendarmes where Marie got the purse of money from, and when Macaire is searched the bank notes are discovered. Macaire breaks free of the gendarmes but is shot while trying to escape. Marie embraces him and forgives him; he admits that he killed M. Germeuil and asks forgiveness of Charles before he dies.
The Adrets Inn is an excellent example of the distance between script and performance. The written play is melodramatic and full of clichés. In 1825 Frederick Lemaître, hired to play Robert Macaire, thought the play dull, the stage direction worse, and the characterization of Macaire—a stereotypically crude bully—tedious, and conspired with the actor playing Jacques Strop to change the play. Lemaître did not follow convention and pose melodramatically. Lemaître did not take the play seriously at all, and instead he played to the audience for laughs, ad-libbed, and mocked the clichés of the plot. Lemaître also invested Macaire with both charm and menace, elements which the written Macaire lacked. Although Lemaître’s run as Macaire ended after eighty-five performances due to the efforts of the angry wife of the local prefect of police, Lemaître’s Macaire was remembered long afterwards. Lemaître’s Macaire was insouciant, threatening, charismatic, and witty, and this type of character was new and attractive to French theatergoers. Lemaître, thanks to his performance, “all but invented the nineteenth century form of [improvisational and parodic] melodrama.”1
Lemaître tried to pursue an independent career, but it was as Macaire that Lemaître continued to be remembered, so in 1832 Lemaître revived The Adrets Inn, adding an epilogue featuring Macaire waiting for his own execution. In 1834 Lemaître wrote Robert Macaire, a sequel to The Adrets Inn, set before Macaire and Strop were imprisoned. In Robert Macaire Macaire and Strop pretend to establish a company which ensures businesses against theft. Macaire meets the Baron de Wormspire, a speculator, and marries his daughter, Eloa. But Wormspire is a con man, like Macaire, and after a series of scams and swindles it is revealed that Eloa is Strop’s daughter and Macaire is Wormspire’s son. Macaire and Strop escape in a balloon.
The Adrets Inn was popular and was performed in England in 1834. But Robert Macaire was far more successful. Numerous sequels were written, and other writers used the Macaire which Lemaître established in works of their own; George W.M. Reynolds (author of Wagner the Wehr-Wolf) wrote Robert Macaire in England (1840), Robert Louis Stevenson (author of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hyde) wrote a play, Robert Macaire (1885), and Georges Le Faure (author of The Extraordinary Adventures of a Russian Scientist) wrote a series of novels about Macaire at the end of the century. In France the figure of Macaire was adopted by the caricaturist and painter Honoré Daumier for a series of satirical cartoons savaging greedy bourgeois and King Louis-Philippe himself.
Macaire is always brazen and carries himself with confidence and even a swagger: “What’s the use of being a thief if you haven’t the impudence of the devil, and the manners and appearance of a gentleman?”2 He is a precursor to the later Gentleman Thief characters—and was influential on them—in his emphasis on carrying his crimes off with style and in conducting himself with a certain élan.
Print: L’Auberge des Adrets (Grenoble: Roissard, 1966); Charles Selby, Hermann Croll, Robert Macaire, or: The Two Murderers. A melodrama, in two acts. Stuttgart: Hallberger’s Library, 1842.
For Further Research
John McCormick, Popular Theatres of Nineteenth-Century France (Abingdon: Routledge, 1993).
1 Edward Forman, Historical Dictionary of French Theater (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2010), 137.
2 Charles Selby, Hermann Croll, Robert Macaire, or: The Two Murderers. A melodrama, in two acts (Stuttgart: Hallberger’s Library, 1842), 13-14.