“You don’t know, sir, what I suffer. You don’t know the struggle going on in my heart and mind.” – The Black Tulip, Alexandre Dumas
Tulips are a BIG deal in the Netherlands. I discovered that when I visited a few months ago. So when I started reading this book, I felt like I’d been in some of these places before.
The story within the pages are more succinctly crafted than some of the author’s more well known works (The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers). But don’t for one moment be fooled into thinking it doesn’t contain the requisite historical backdrop, suspense, love and of course, jealousy.
The Black Tulip is set in the Netherlands surrounding the 1672 lynching of John DeWitt and his brother Cornelius. I felt carried along in the mobs uproar, not fully understanding why these two men lost their lives. But the stage is set for another story to be cultivated, take root and blossom, eventually coinciding with the opening scenes.
Cornelius Van Baerle, dedicated tulip-fancier, is determined to grow a black tulip, to win a monetary prize for a competition in Haarlem. The prospect of creating such an unusual tulip is foremost in Cornelius’ mind, but more importantly, to have a tulip named after him. Unbeknownst to Van Baerle, his rival and neighbor, Boxtel, plots and schemes to steal the tulip bulbs, even laying false accusations against Van Baerle leading to imprisonment. The opening scenes of the book begin to make more sense as the story continues and Dumas leaves us in suspense.
While in jail and waiting for his pending execution, Cornelius encounters the lovely and compassionate daughter of the jailers, Rosa. He wills his tulip bulbs to Rosa and gives her instructions for the bulbs, bulbs that can change her life for the better with that prize money she can win. What happens next is a story worth reading. Will the hero of this story, the black tulip triumph?
As I look back on my time with this short book from Dumas, my only regret is that I didn’t take my book with me on my summer trip to the Netherlands. I regret the missed photo opportunity in the Hague but enjoyed being transported back in time to a place I recently visited.
But I can still reflect on the wonderful time I enjoyed there.