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The Gadfly

Ethel Lillian Voynich

374 pages
1897 - Royaume-Uni
Roman

Intérêt: **

 

Inconnu en France, ce roman britannique est célèbre dans les pays anglo-saxons et, surtout, en Russie, en raison notamment des liens de l’auteur avec ce pays (voir la notice sur E. L. Voynich). Considéré par la critique russe comme un exemple classique de «remake» du Comte de Monte-Cristo, The Gadfly a incontestablement été influencé par le roman de Dumas, mais de façon assez inhabituelle.

L’histoire se situe dans l’Italie du XIXème siècle, sous domination autrichienne. Un jeune Anglais orphelin, Arthur Burton, appartenant à une riche famille, y vit avec ses demi-frères. Catholique exalté, il est très lié au père Montanelli, son confesseur. Par ailleurs, il s’enthousiasme pour la cause de la libération de l’Italie et milite en ce sens dans une association clandestine, en compagnie de la fille qu’il aime, Gemma. Montanelli s’étant absenté plusieurs mois, Arthur parle, sous le secret de la confession, de son organisation révolutionnaire au prêtre qui le remplace. Mais ce dernier est à la solde des Autrichiens: tout le groupe d’étudiants militants est arrêté.

Après un bref séjour en prison, Arthur est relâché, en tant que citoyen britannique. Mais ses amis et Gemma le considèrent comme un traître, ne sachant pas qu’il a en fait lui-même été trahi par le prêtre renégat. Et sa famille le rejette, lui apprenant la vérité sur ses origines: il est le fils illégitime d’une aventure de sa mère avec un jeune prêtre – Montanelli… Se sentant rejeté ou trahi par tous ses proches, Arthur simule une noyade et s’embarque pour l’Amérique du Sud.

Treize ans plus tard, en 1846, les militants de l’indépendance italienne cherchent la collaboration d’un homme étonnant, le journaliste Felice Rivarez, surnommé le «Gadfly», c’est-à-dire la Mouche du coche ou le Taon. Ce Sud-américain dont on ne sait rien est estropié: il boîte, il lui manque des doigts, il est défiguré par un coup de sabre… Mais c’est un redoutable polémiste, totalement dévoué à la cause républicaine (voir extrait ci-dessous).

Une chose frappe tout le monde: l’intensité de la haine qu’il porte à l’Eglise, et, tout particulièrement, à Monseigneur Montanelli – alors même que ce prélat est universellement aimé pour sa bonté et son désintéressement.

Le «Gadfly» n’est autre, bien sûr, qu’Arthur. Ce qui lui est arrivé pendant ses treize années d’absence, on l’apprend petit à petit à travers les récits qu’il en fait. Arrivé en Amérique latine sans un sou, son séjour a été une longue descente aux enfers: il a survécu avec des emplois de plus en plus misérables, jusqu’à ce qu’une bagarre avec une brute épaisse ne le laisse invalide. Il est alors devenu phénomène de foire dans un cirque de dernière catégorie, souffre-douleur offert chaque soir à des publics sordides et sadiques…

A son retour en Italie, Arthur, méconnaissable, s’engage donc aux côtés de ses anciens amis. Il renoue des relations mi-agressives, mi-amicales avec Gemma, qui a deviné qui il est. Il lance des attaques de plus en plus violentes contre Montanelli – son père qui l’a trahi en lui mentant sur ses origines – qu’il provoque, tout en cherchant sans cesse à le rencontrer.

De plus en plus actif dans la lutte contre l’occupant, il prépare l’insurrection armée. Mais il finit par être arrêté. Lors d’une confrontation tragique avec Montanelli, dont il se fait reconnaître, il somme celui-ci de choisir entre son Dieu et lui, son fils. Choix impossible pour l’évêque, qui refuse et le laisse condamner à mort. Il est exécuté. Son père, fou de douleur, renie Dieu en pleine cathédrale et meurt.


Les similitudes du roman avec Le comte de Monte-Cristo sont évidentes: la trahison et l’injustice, la disparition, la transformation, le retour, le besoin de vengeance. Sans oublier le thème de l’indépendance de l’Italie, chère à l’abbé Faria. Mais des différences très profondes font de ce livre tout autre chose qu’un «remake» de Monte-Cristo.

La période d’absence d’Arthur est radicalement différente de celle d’Edmond Dantès: il n’y trouve ni l’éducation, ni la fortune, ni la toute puissance. Il revient de son exil physiquement diminué, moralement très éprouvé, et sans aucun moyen particulier à sa disposition.

Son approche de la vengeance est également très différente de celle de Monte-Cristo. Si ses relations compliquées avec Gemma peuvent rappeler celles du comte avec Mercédès, comtesse de Morcerf, il ne cherche nullement, par exemple, à se venger du vrai traître, le prêtre qui a vendu aux Autrichiens le secret de sa confession.

Au-delà de son engagement féroce contre l’Eglise en général, le véritable objet de ses attaques est son père caché, Monseigneur Montanelli. Et dans cette «vengeance» là, Arthur est évidemment totalement partagé: il veut à la fois châtier le père qui l’a trompé et s’en faire aimer. Ce qui apparaît clairement dans un épisode hautement symbolique: lorsque, sous la signature du «Gadfly», il lance des attaques sanglantes contre Montanelli dans la presse républicaine, un catholique anonyme prend brillamment la défense de l’évêque dans d’autres journaux: l’auteur inconnu de tous n’est autre qu’Arthur lui-même…

Quant à la fin du livre, la mort misérable d’Arthur contraste elle aussi avec le destin de Monte-Cristo. Même s’il est vrai que, ayant échoué à renouer le contact avec Montanelli, Arthur réussit sa vengeance de façon posthume, puisque son père en est détruit.

A bien des égards, le «Gadfly» apparaît donc comme un anti-Monte-Cristo. Il semblerait en fait que E. L. Voynich ait combiné diverses sources d’inspiration: le Comte de Monte-Cristo, expressément, ainsi d’ailleurs que Mathias Sandorf, le «remake» de Monte-Cristo écrit par Jules Verne; la vie de son premier amour, Sidney Reilly, Russe devenu espion anglais; celle de son mari, le Polonais comte Voynich, lui-même échappé d’un exil en Sibérie; sans oublier ses propres convictions révolutionnaires.

Il en résulte un livre attachant, qui «retourne» le personnage de Monte-Cristo avec beaucoup d’originalité.

Merci à Gennady Ulman pour ses informations sur The Gadfly et son auteur.


Extrait de la deuxième partie Thirteeen years later, chapitre 1

Riccardo struck his hand upon the table. "Why, we never thought of the Gadfly! The very man!"

"Who is that?"

"The Gadfly - Felice Rivarez. Don't you remember him? One of Muratori's band that came down from the Apennines three years ago?"

"Oh, you knew that set, didn't you? I remember your travelling with them when they went on to Paris."

"Yes; I went as far as Leghorn to see Rivarez off for Marseilles. He wouldn't stop in Tuscany; he said there was nothing left to do but laugh, once the insurrection had failed, and so he had better go to Paris. No doubt he agreed with Signor Grassini that Tuscany is the wrong place to laugh in. But I am nearly sure he would come back if we asked him, now that there is a chance of doing something in Italy."

"What name did you say?"

"Rivarez. He’s a Brazilian, I think. At any rate, I know he has lived out there. He is one of the wittiest men I ever came across. Heaven knows we had nothing to be merry over, that week in Leghorn; it was enough to break one's heart to look at poor Lambertini; but there was no keeping one's countenance when Rivarez was in the room; it was one perpetual fire of absurdities. He had a nasty sabre-cut across the face, too; I remember sewing it up. He's an odd creature; but I believe he and his nonsense kept some of those poor lads from breaking down altogether."

"Is that the man who writes political skits in the French papers under the name of 'Le Taon'?"

"Yes; short paragraphs mostly, and comic feuilletons. The smugglers up in the Apennines called him 'the Gadfly' because of his tongue; and he took the nickname to sign his work with."

"I know something about this gentleman," said Grassini, breaking in upon the conversation in his slow and stately manner; " and I cannot say that what I have heard is much to his credit. He undoubtedly possesses a certain showy, superficial cleverness, though I think his abilities have been exaggerated; and possibly he is not lacking in physical courage; but his reputation in Paris and Vienna is, I believe, very far from spotless. He appears to be a gentleman of—a—a—many adventures and unknown antecedents. It is said that he was picked up out of charity by Duprez's expedition somewhere in the wilds of tropical South America, in a state of inconceivable savagery and degradation. I believe he has never satisfactorily explained how he came to be in such a condition. As for the rising in the Apennines, I fear it is no secret that persons of all characters took part in that unfortunate affair. The men who were executed in Bologna are known to have been nothing but common malefactors; and the character of many who escaped will hardly bear description. Without doubt, some of the participators were men of high character-"

"Some of them were the intimate friends of several persons in this room!" Riccardo interrupted, with an angry ring in his voice. "It's all very well to be particular and exclusive, Grassini; but these 'common malefactors' died for their belief, which is more than you or I have done as yet."

"And another time when people tell you the stale gossip of Paris," added Galli, "you can tell them from me that they are mistaken about the Duprez expedition. I know Duprez's adjutant, Martel, personally, and have heard the whole story from him. It's true that they found Rivarez stranded out there. He had been taken prisoner in the war, fighting for the Argentine Republic, and had escaped. He was wandering about the country in various disguises, trying to get back to Buenos Ayres. But the story of their taking him on out of charity is a pure fabrication. Their interpreter had fallen ill and been obliged to turn back; and not one of the Frenchmen could speak the native languages; so they offered him the post, and he spent the whole three years with them exploring the tributaries of the Amazon. Martel told me he believed they never would have got through the expedition at all if it had not been for Rivarez."

"Whatever he may he," said Fabrizi; " there must be something remarkable about a man who could lay his 'come hither' on two old campaigners like Martel and Duprez as he seems to have done. What do you think, signora?"

"I know nothing about the matter; I was in England when the fugitives passed through Tuscany. But I should think that if the companions who were with a man on a three years' expedition in savage countries, and the comrades who were with him through an insurrection, think well of him, that is recommendation enough to counterbalance a good deal of boulevard gossip."

"There is no question about the opinion his comrades had of him," said Riccardo. "From Muratori and Zambeccari down to the roughest mountaineers they were all devoted to him. Moreover, he is a personal friend of Orsini. It's quite true, on the other hand, that there are endless cock-and-bull stories of a not very pleasant kind going about concerning him in Paris; but if a man doesn't want to make enemies he shouldn't become a political satirist."

"I'm not quite sure," interposed Lega; "but it seems to me that I saw him once when the refugees were here. Was he not hunchbacked, or crooked, or something of that kind?"

The professor had opened a drawer in his writing-table and was turning over a heap of papers. "I think I have his police description somewhere here," he said. "You remember when they escaped and hid in the mountain passes their personal appearance was posted up everywhere, and that Cardinal—what's the scoundrel's name?— Spinola, offered a reward for their heads."

"There was a splendid story about Rivarez and that police paper, by the way. He put on a soldier's old uniform and tramped across country as a carabineer wounded in the discharge of his duty and trying to find his company. He actually got Spinola's search-party to give him a lift, and rode the whole day in one of their waggons, telling them harrowing stories of how he had been taken captive by the rebels and dragged off into their haunts in the mountains, and of the fearful tortures that he had suffered at their hands. They showed him the description paper, and he told them all the rubbish he could think of about 'the fiend they call the Gadfly.' Then at night, when they were asleep, he poured a bucketful of water into their powder and decamped, with his pockets full of provisions and ammunition-"

"Ah, here’s the paper," Fabrizi broke in: "'Felice Rivarez, called: The Gadfly. Age, about 30; birthplace and parentage, unknown, probably South American; profession, journalist. Short; black hair; black beard; dark skin; eyes, blue; forehead, broad and square; nose, mouth, chin-' Yes, here it is: 'Special marks: right foot lame; left arm twisted; two fingers missing on left hand; recent sabre-cut across face; stammers.' Then there’s a note put: 'Very expert shot; care should be taken in arresting.'"


 

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