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NAX23412 - DUMAS: Three Musketeers (The) / The Man in the Iron Mask
English 

Alexandre Dumas

 

The Three Musketeers

In The Three Musketeers we follow the heroic adventures of the handsome young Gascon D’Artagnan, whose life is changed irrevocably when he moves to Paris in 1626 and throws in his lot with the dauntless musketeers Athos, Aramis and Porthos.

Like D'Artagnan, we are soon drawn to the three heroes. We are amused by the gentle Aramis, a man of poetical mind but few words, whose mysterious romances are arranged by the exchange of embroidered handkerchiefs and perfumed letters, but whose avowed intention is to take holy orders. We laugh aloud at the vainglorious and comical Porthos, whose greatest pleasure is to parade his most exotic clothes in the streets of Paris, but who, for the means to afford such finery, depends on his wealthy mistress. We share D’Artagnan’s respect for the authority of his mentor, the aristocratic Athos, whose control only slips occasionally when a good glass of Spanish wine is to hand, and who is touched personally by some of the most dramatic twists to the plot.

Despite their idiosyncrasies these three are fearless soldiers, and are happy to adopt the brave young D’Artagnan as their comrade. He soon earns their respect as a swordsman and it is not long before he, too, is wearing the much-prized uniform of a Musketeer.

“The Four” become embroiled in the furious rivalry between King Louis XIII and the sly Cardinal Richelieu. Their swashbuckling interventions in the romantic affairs of the Royal household actually affect the outcome of the bloody struggle for supremacy between England and France, culminating in the Siege of La Rochelle. Only their quick thinking and skill with the sword save them time and again from the sinister schemes of Richelieu and his friend, the beautiful and dangerous Milady Clarik. The tale sweeps inexorably towards the final chapters of the book, when, in scenes as thrilling as they are horrifying, revenges are taken and justice is seen to be done.

“The Four” continue their valorous adventures in The Man in the Iron Mask.

Alexandre Dumas wrote or collaborated on nearly 100 plays and many novels, including The Three Musketeers, The Man in the Iron Mask and The Count of Monte Cristo. He was born in 1802, the son of a general in Napoleon’s army and the grandson of a French Marquis and a Saint Domingo negress. As a child he lived through the upheavals of the Napoleonic Revolution and the subsequent restoration of the monarchy of France. He received his private education from a priest (like Monte Cristo). He was politically active and, though he is thought to have rather embellished the actions in his Mémoires, was involved heroically in skirmishes during the 1830 revolution. He was the father of author Alexandre Dumas (fils), most famous for his The Lady of the Camellias. Alexandre Dumas (père) ran his career as an industry. It is thought that he would sketch the outline of a story to an assistant who would write it up; then Dumas himself would take the story by the throat and wrestle it into a masterpiece. He was a generous, idiosyncratic and fun-loving man who cooked brilliantly, gave a lot of money to cadgers and hangers-on, and spent prodigiously on his private life, most notoriously on various highly-publicised affairs and the construction of a monstrous folly of a house at Saint-Germain-en-Laye. He died, just solvent, in 1870.

 

The Man in the Iron Mask

This gripping tale of valour and honour in seventeenth-century France continues the adventures of the proud heroes of The Three Musketeers by the same author. We now know them as venerable leaders; their swashbuckling has become diplomacy—though the sword is never very far from the hand—and Dumas skilfully enhances their legendary status through the characters around them:

‘… “The musketeers! the musketeers!” repeated they. And among all these brave men, the idea that they were going to fight two of the oldest glories of the French army made a shiver, half enthusiasm, half terror, run through them. In fact, those four names—d’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos and Aramis—were venerated among all who wore a sword, as in antiquity the names of Hercules, Theseus, Castor and Pollux were revered…’

The musketeers, an elite royal corps, show unmatchable courage and quick thinking in the face of danger. They are specialists in the arts of killing, disguise and deceit, but we are drawn to them as romantic and attractive heroes—their actions always, of course, in a noble cause—imbued with the great French court traditions of politesse, flamboyant costume and honour. One of them bids his son, off to war: ‘…do not die without honour or advantage to France.’

Dumas writes with fun and dash, pushing the story on with repartee as fast as swordplay, earning the right, every now and then, to dwell on an especially important moment. For these lyrically written passages his unique skill is to spice his richly descriptive language with images of sense or taste, or with perfectly-timed details which underscore the mood of a scene or a character (‘…a bird of night uttered from the depths of the forest a prolonged and plaintive cry…’).

The book contains some of the funniest scenes Dumas wrote. Especially rich in comedy is the visit by Porthos to the King’s tailor, where Porthos is observed with fascination by Molière and, Dumas suggests, becomes the inspiration for the great writer’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. This is typical; Dumas adds to the ‘reality’ of his work with a painstakingly researched and beautifully-presented historical backdrop, and by the inclusion of actual people: noted artists of the Left Bank and ‘Le Roi Soleil’ himself (Louis XIV), among many others.

Alexandre Dumas wrote or collaborated on nearly 100 plays and many novels, including The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo. He was born in 1802, the son of a general in Napoleon’s army and the grandson of a French Marquis and a Saint Domingo negress. As a child he lived through the upheavals of the Napoleonic Revolution and the subsequent restoration of the monarchy of France. He received his private education from a priest (like Monte Cristo). He was politically active and, though he is thought to have rather embellished the actions in his Mémoires, was involved heroically in skirmishes during the 1830 revolution. He was the father of Alexandre Dumas (fils), most famous for his The Lady of the Camellias. Alexandre Dumas (père) ran his career as an industry. It is thought that he would sketch the outline of a story to an assistant who would write it up; then Dumas himself would take the story by the throat and wrestle it into a masterpiece. He was a generous, idiosyncratic and fun-loving man who cooked brilliantly, gave a lot of money to cadgers and hangers-on, and spent prodigiously on his private life, most notoriously on various highly-publicised affaires and the construction of a monstrous folly of a house at Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

He died, just solvent, in 1870.


Notes by Bill Homewood


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