Among the employees at the Palais-Royal in Paris, working for the Duke of Orléans, the future King Louis-Philippe, was a young, petty accountant, supposedly in charge of adding up various monthly expenses. In fact, he spent his time writing poetry in secret, which he hoped to one day transform into a stage play.
One day, when he should have been in his office, the young man was exploring the attic of the Palais-Royal. He came across a plaster bas-relief depicting a lady in 17th century clothing pointing at a number of hired thugs who were plunging their swords into a man writhing on the ground.
At the base of the sculpture was a single word, written in large letters: Christine.
The accountant immediately went to see the Palais-Royal librarian, a friendly fellow who often lent him books to read. He asked him what the bas-relief represented. The librarian explained that it told the story of Queen Christina of Sweden.
The accountant knew nothing of Queen Christina, and so the librarian told him all about her. After her abdication, the Queen had stayed at the Chateau de Fontainebleau. One day, she learnt that her lover, Gian Rinaldo Monaldeschi, had betrayed her. She had him killed, by some hired assassins, in the Galerie des Cerfs. A romantic, but not very gifted sculptor had been inspired by the tragic incident to create the bas-relief.
The librarian lent the accountant a biography of Queen Christina, which he read that very night in a single sitting. He then wrote a play, in verse, that he quite simply entitled Christine. It was the dramatic tale of the Swedish sovereign’s love life.
In secret, he presented the play to the main Parisian theatres, but none of them would accept it. Finally, a tiny theatre in the suburbs agreed to put it on.
Opening day was approaching and the accountant knew that his play had little chance of being seen and appreciated, unless… He decided to ask for an audience with the King.
Louis-Philippe received him with his customary good humour. The accountant presented his confession: instead of doing the King’s accounts, he had, in reality, been spending his time writing a play. The King therefore had two choices: either dismiss an employee for not doing his job, or attend the opening of his play and, by doing so, guarantee that it would be a success. Louis-Philippe burst out laughing at the accountant’s audacity: he appreciated courage and initiative.
And so the King not only agreed to attend the play himself, but to invite the queen, and all the princes and princesses. The news soon spread and journalists, critics and the cream of Parisian society flocked to the little suburban theatre to see the première of Christine.
The play was a triumph, and so began the illustrious stage career of an incompetent accountant called Alexandre Dumas.