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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Queen of Atlantis

Pierre Benoît

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To purchase Queen of Atlantis

Title: Queen of Atlantis
Author: Pierre Benoît
Genre: Novel
Written: 1919 (Eng. 1920)
Length: 306 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Queen of Atlantis - US
Queen of Atlantis - UK
Queen of Atlantis - Canada
L'Atlantide - Canada
L'Atlantide - France
Die Königin von Atlantis - Deutschland
  • French title: L'Atlantide
  • Translated by Arthur Chambers
  • With an Afterword by Hugo Frey
  • Also published in English as Atlantida, in a translation by Mary C. Tongue and Mary Ross, also in 1920
  • L'Atlantide has been filmed numerous times, including by G.W.Pabst (1932) and Edgar G. Ulmer (1961)

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Our Assessment:

B : decent exotic melodrama

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 1/8/1920 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "But though its defects are not few, Atlantida is a romance which does not lack either for color or for excitement." - The New York Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Queen of Atlantis is set at the turn of the 19th to 20th century, mainly in the Sahara. It is a multi-layered text, presented as a document written by Lieutenant Oliver Ferrières, the bulk of which is an account by Ferrières' one-time schoolmate and fellow military man (and now superior), Captain André de Saint-Avit.
       In 1903, news comes to the outpost Ferrières is temporarily in charge of that a new officer is taking over. The name is a familiar one: Captain de Saint-Avit -- but it's familiar not only to Ferrières. In fact, it's notorious: Saint-Avit, they say, murdered a Captain Morhange.
       Saint-Avit takes charge at the outpost, but soon spends an extraordinary amounbt of time riding off into the desert. Ferrières is baffled by his behaviour and demeanour: "What drug can this fellow take ?" he wonders. But it's not drugs or alcohol that Saint-Avit is beholden too: something more powerful has him in its grip.
       Soon enough Saint-Avit admits to Ferrières: "it's true that I killed Captain Morhange", and then he tells him the whole story, an account that makes up the bulk of the novel.
       Saint-Avit had already made a name for himself with some of his African expeditions before he met Morhange. When he plans to head into the Hoggar region Morhange hears of it and uses his connexions to join in.
       It's an inhospitable area they traverse, and after a detour or two -- plus a sudden Saharan rain (one of the spectacular adventure scenes in the narrative) -- they find themselves in a most unexpected but fantastic place: yes, Atlantis itself. It's a civilised but odd place, grand but not very populated, with a completed copy of Plato's Critias -- and some eerily realistic human statues.
       Ruling this secluded site is the ultimate femme fatale, Antinea. How fatale ? Well, those statues are the metallically embalmed bodies of the men that have strayed this way, each commemorated with a small plaque ("No. 50 - Marquis Alonze d'Oliveira", etc.). What did they die of ? As a rare still-living current resident explains:

"What did they die of, sir ? They died of love."
       (Cue the dramatic music .....)
       Antinea is a stunner (and amazingly up-to-date on what's going on in the world), but Saint-Avit isn't her first choice of plaything. Morhange, however, thinks he's up to the challenge, sure that he won't be seduced:
"You see, man has an incontestable advantage over woman in this matter. Naturally he has it inhis power to offer complete resistance. This is not the case with woman.
       Morhange's self-control notwithstanding, Antinea is not a woman to be trifled with. Eventually he gets his comeuppance -- not quite what Antinea wanted, but at least proof of her power -- at the hands of Saint-Avit, who doesn't have quite the same willpower.
       Saint-Avit does, however, manage the almost-impossible: he escapes. But even as he does he's told: "you will come back". Indeed, Antinea's hold is strong and lasting, and when Saint-Avit has finished his story, guess who is ready for a little expedition to Hoggar ?
       Queen of Atlantis is a decent romantic adventure story, a bit cumbersomely boxed in in its narratives (Saint-Avit's own account includes accounts of others who were also in this Atlantis, side-stories that aren't especially well integrated into the larger whole). There are some fine ideas and scenes -- the rain storm, Sanit-Avit's escape, the statues, and Antinea's pet cheetah among them -- but Benoit doesn't always ideally use them. The Platonic connexion, asides into metallurgy and etymology (really !), and the lurching narrative make it less consistently gripping than an adventure story should be.
       The sex-aspect is fairly interesting, especially since these military men stuck in Africa obviously are desperately woman-deprived: it's no coincidence that Ferrières actually begins his story by quoting at far greater length than need be a letter from his far-away love-interest. Antinea, then, is that ultimate arousing creature, driving the men not mad with passion (well, Saint-Avit maybe) but actually killing them with it. But Benoit's often odd focus -- Antinea's awarenes of when trains are arriving at what station in France is among the asides that really take the wind out of the story -- detracts from what should be the overwhelming central conceit.
       All in an all Queen of Atlantis is still good fun, with a few memorable scenes and some very good ideas. Not quite a first-rate adventure tale, there's still enough here that it is of interest.

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Queen of Atlantis: Reviews: L'Atlantide - the film versions (IMDb pages): Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature
  • See Index of books from and about Africa
  • See Index of Travel-related books

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About the Author:

       French author Pierre Benoît (1886-1962) wrote many popular works of fiction and won numerous literary prize for his work, including the prix Goncourt. He was also a member of the Académie française.

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