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The Vicomte de Bragelonne: The End and Beginning of an Era, by John Bursey
by John Bursey



The Vicomte de Bragelonne is a different sort of novel from the preceding
volumes in the D'Artagnan Romances. In The Three Musketeers and Twenty
Years After, we find our four heroes battling against evil forces with a
combination of stunning swordplay, unmatched bravado, unbelievable
ingenuity, and several strokes of great fortune. Their famous cry, "All
for one and one for all!" has echoed throughout the imagination for 150
years. Movies are still being made from the stories, they still appear in
television commercials, they have their own candy bar, and some current
authors have even lent their talents to filling in the gaps between the
novels. The swashbuckling exploits of the "four invincibles," as they
are referred to in the novels, have made them sell consistently for a
century and a half, a feat not achieved by many authors. The popularity
of the stories, first as magazine serials and then as novels, made Dumas
the most famous Frenchman of the age. The heroes and villains are
clearly defined, and it is never difficult for the readers to know who to
cheer for as the drama unfolds in the theater of the mind.

Dumas himself resembled, as much as one could in the 19th Century, his
swashbuckling heroes. Before he embarked on the series, he was already
considered one of, if not the, greatest dramatists in France. He had
fought in one of the many revolutions in France at that time, and would
later run guns in an Italian revolution. His unerring sense of drama had
brought him theatrical acclaim the world over, and when he switched to
novels, that same sense never steered him wrong. For the entirety of the
D'Artagnan Romances, he had a collaborator, named Maquet, who did much of
the historical research. But the many charges leveled against Dumas that
he ran a literature "factory" are blatantly false. Once he got his
historical framework, Dumas injected the story with his own energy and
breathed life into it, many times ignoring the strict dictates of
historical fact for the necessity of crafting the drama as he saw fit.
Indeed, The Three Musketeers and Twenty Years After bear many structural
similarities. There are clear villains (Milady, De Wardes, Richelieu,
Mordaunt, Mazarin) and clear heroes and heroines, great men destined for
demise, despite our heroes' efforts (Buckingham, Charles I), and yet our
four heroes must triumph against all odds, united until the end.

But the clearest difference in this third volume is that our heroes are
no longer united. Though inseparable in their youth, now Aramis, with
the unwitting Porthos in tow, is plotting against the king, who
D'Artagnan has sworn with his life to defend. Athos, once the most
upright defender of nobility, is now forced to break his sword before his
monarch, and renounce the sacred vow he pledged with his son in Twenty
Years After to respect royalty in all its forms. Never, even, do the
four come face to face in the course of the entire novel. Time has sent
them in different directions, and managed to separate them when constant
villains in the course of forty years have failed.

Dumas uses this division of his heroes to skillfully insert his own
opinions on that phase of French history, which in many ways paralleled
the time he lived in himself. Although Dumas's distinct storytelling
talents are as evident as in the former novels, Dumas sets the twilight
of his characters in the dawn of a new age, exploiting the contrast as a
form of social commentary. The four former musketeers are now drawn to
each represent a virtue. D'Artagnan is Loyalty, Athos is Nobility,
Porthos is Strength, and Aramis is Cunning. When Louis XIV dishonors
Raoul and casts off Athos, he sheds the ideal of Nobility as he in
reality broke the power of the French nobles and brought the entire
country under his control. When he tames D'Artagnan, as Aramis and
Porthos are fighting for their lives at Belle-Isle, he symbolically gains
the Loyalty of his servants, which he would keep during his long reign.
When Porthos meets his demise at Belle-Isle, Strength is no longer a
virtue prized in France, as Industry (in the form of Colbert) and Cunning
(in Aramis) now become the hallmarks of the time. When Fouquet falls, so
does Generosity. When Louis takes Louise as his mistress, condemning
Raoul to his death, Fidelity dies with the poor young cavalier as
Innocence is corrupted. As D'Artagnan, Raoul, Athos, and Porthos meet
their ends, and only Aramis is left alive, Dumas indicates the death of
these noble virtues in France, virtues that he urged his contemporaries
to assume again in his own time.

This new generation that comes with the ascension of Louis XIV is,
indeed, pale in comparison to the times in which the four musketeers had
their great exploits. D'Artagnan and Athos are endlessly commenting on
these youngsters, always unfavorably, and they are generally accurate.
Raoul, the true son of Athos, and the symbolic son of the four, is never
as quick to draw his sword as D'Artagnan would have been at that age,
though he is equally as skillful in its use. Although he loses his one
true love, Louise, as D'Artagnan did forty years ago, Constance, this
loss kills the younger hero. He is more thoughtful, more sensitive, and
thereby weaker. The villains, too, are watered down. De Wardes,
certainly the most "evil" character in the novel, pales in comparison
with the great villains D'Artagnan and his friends had to face. Colbert,
though ugly, ill-humored, and set to ruin the kind, generous, affable
Fouquet, is actually a blessing in disguise, and it is through his "great
works" that France is ready to rise to ever-greater glory in the coming
reign. The Chevalier de Lorraine, always a disruptive influence, is
checked not through confrontation or daring intrigue, but by artful court
maneuvering. De Guiche, Raoul's loyal friend, and as consummate a
nobleman of the new reign as one might expect to find, is more concerned
with his love affairs and his own happiness than his role in safeguarding
Raoul's honor. Though he does fight De Wardes in the only illegal duel
in the novel, he loses, and does nothing to help Raoul when the king's
treachery is discovered. And age has affected the four heroes, too.
D'Artagnan pulls off his masterstroke in England not with his four
friends by his side and sword drawn, as he did in the former novels, but
with stealth and cunning. He defeats De Wardes not by a duel, which
would be his ordinary mode of operation, but by outwitting him. The only
scenes that are reminiscent of the times of former glory are the riot at
the execution, where D'Artagnan, with Raoul by his side, defeats a whole
mob, and Aramis and Porthos's desperate final stand in the grotto. But
even these are tainted; D'Artagnan's action ends up going against the
values he would have prized, had he known the truth, and the events in
the grotto cost Porthos his life.

But these differences in the times and the changes in our heroes as they
age do not detract from the work, but rather enrich it. It is a more
mature novel than its predecessors, richer in detail due to the slower
pacing. The mood, too, is much darker, especially towards the end, when
we know that impending doom is approaching for Raoul, as his love affair
unravels, and for Aramis and Porthos as their plot is detected. And, of
course, the mystery of the man in the iron mask, around which the latter
portions of the book are based, is one of the most dark and sinister
mysteries in all history. The characters, though they each defend
an abstract ideal, are as rich and vivid as they ever were, if not more
so, and the depth of emotion that Dumas explores is much wider than in
the two earlier books. Porthos was modeled on Dumas's own father, and
legend has it that the author wept for three days as he was writing the
death of that gentle giant. Many readers experience the same, no matter
how many times they may have read that passage. Even Aramis, according
to Dumas, was moved to shed his first and only tears. Anyone who has
ever loved and lost can feel Raoul's pain, and any parent can understand
Athos's anguish as he sees his son off to certain death. No longer are
characters simply good or simply evil, they are their own entities,
sometimes good, sometimes evil. The Duchesse de Chevreuse, once Aramis's
close friend and contact at court, the mother of Raoul, now schemes
against Aramis, hoping to bring about his downfall. Queen Anne of
Austria, once the beautiful, helpless heroine, is now the ailing,
sometimes imperial, matriarch of the royal household, tortured by the son
she was forced to forsake. In other words, they are human. The
refinement of the four principles, as age steals upon them, adds an element
that is somehow lacking from the former books. They now hail from
different spheres, which lends richness to their portrayal. Aramis is
the man of God, with a scheme always in the works. Athos is the
dignified, retired nobleman, whose only concerns are debts left unpaid
and the launching of his son into the world. Porthos is a great baron,
ever ready to help, ever seeking another title, ever seeking the noble
airs that were not his birthright, but to which he came upon his wife's
death. And D'Artagnan is a hardened soldier, casting a cynical eye
everywhere, still loyal, but somewhat embittered, trading in his
customary "mordioux!" for the "bah!" more common to old men.

The character of D'Artagnan is, of course, the focus of the Romances.
Dumas frequently admitted that D'Artagnan was the man he could never be.
In The Vicomte de Bragelonne, the character expands even further.
Although his primary symbolic representation is that of the virtue of
Loyalty, he is not devoid of other virtues. He has his share of
Cunning, Nobility, and Strength, as well as the virtues of the other
characters. He's a sort of Everyman, superior in every respect, and the
only man that can tame him is Louis, the greatest French monarch of them
all. The scene in which D'Artagnan goes to the scene of the duel between
De Wardes and De Guiche, and from the forensic evidence manages to piece
together the details exactly, predates the classic detective fiction that
was becoming popular in the States with Edgar Allen Poe's murders in the
Rue Morgue. He has learned to maneuver in royal circles with infinite
grace and delicacy, and until the end he boasts that he can always make
the king do what he wants. Even outside the D'Artagnan Romances, he has
gotten around. He's found his way onto the big screen countless times,
most recently in two major films in the 1990s. He's found his way onto
the stage, not only in Dumas's own adaptations of the Musketeers saga,
but as a walk-on character in Cyrano de Bergerac by Rostand, for
example. Many talented authors, in many different ages, have lent their
pens to continuations to the saga. Paul Feval and a M. Lassez wrote a
series of eight novels based on the adventures of D'Artagnan with a young
Cyrano de Bergerac. These are supposedly tales of Grimaud's, Athos's
servant, related to Athos, and Aramis even makes an appearance. Roger
Nimier's last book was D'Artagnan amoureux, set shortly after The Three
Musketeers. He had planned more in the series, but unfortunately died in
1956. The 1993 winner of le Prix Interallie was a novel entitled Le
dernier amour d'Aramis by Jean-Pierre Dufreigne, which focuses on Aramis,
the most mysterious of the four and the one whose past remains the
greatest mystery. Although Dumas's portrayal of the character of
D'Artagnan is the most famous, it was not the first. Dumas got much of
his initial material from a book written by a soldier, Courtilz de
Sandras, who supplemented his income by writing historical fictions. He
published his fictional Memoirs of M. d'Artagnan in 1700, and Dumas,
after reading the first volume, used much of the material as his basis
for the first part of The Three Musketeers. The real D'Artagnan,
although he was Captain-Lieutenant of the musketeers, and he did arrest
Fouquet and escort him to prison, was far from the dashing hero Dumas
made him. As for the other characters, particularly Athos, Porthos, and
Aramis, they also appeared in this fictional memoir, and lacking even the
scant details about them that subsequent historians have managed to bring
to the light of day, Dumas's ever-fertile imagination made them three of
the most famous men in history.

As a closing, instead of more of my thoughts on the novels, I instead
quote what Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about The Vicomte de Bragelonne:
"My acquaintance with the VICOMTE began, somewhat indirectly, in the year
of grace 1863, when I had the advantage of studying certain illustrated
dessert plates in a hotel at Nice. The name of d'Artagnan in the legends
I already saluted like an old friend, for I had met it the year before in
a work of Miss Yonge's. My first perusal was in one of those pirated
editions that swarmed at that time out of Brussels, and ran to such a
troop of neat and dwarfish volumes. I understood but little of the
merits of the book; my strongest memory is of the execution of d'Eymeric
and Lyodot - a strange testimony to the dulness of a boy, who could enjoy
the rough-and-tumble in the Place de Greve, and forget d'Artagnan's
visits to the two financiers. My next reading was in winter-time, when I
lived alone upon the Pentlands. I would return in the early night from
one of my patrols with the shepherd; a friendly face would meet me in the
door, a friendly retriever scurry upstairs to fetch my slippers; and I
would sit down with the VICOMTE for a long, silent, solitary lamp-light
evening by the fire. And yet I know not why I call it silent, when it
was enlivened with such a clatter of horse-shoes, and such a rattle of
musketry, and such a stir of talk; or why I call those evenings solitary
in which I gained so many friends. I would rise from my book and pull
the blind aside, and see the snow and the glittering hollies chequer a
Scotch garden, and the winter moonlight brighten the white hills. Thence
I would turn again to that crowded and sunny field of life in which it
was so easy to forget myself, my cares, and my surroundings: a place busy
as a city, bright as a theatre, thronged with memorable faces, and
sounding with delightful speech. I carried the thread of that epic into
my slumbers, I woke with it unbroken, I rejoiced to plunge into the book
again at breakfast, it was with a pang that I must lay it down and turn
to my own labours; for no part of the world has ever seemed to me so
charming as these pages, and not even my friends are quite so real,
perhaps quite so dear, as d'Artagnan.

"Since then I have been going to and fro at very brief intervals in my
favourite book; and I have now just risen from my last (let me call it my
fifth) perusal, having liked it better and admired it more seriously than
ever. Perhaps I have a sense of ownership, being so well known in these
six volumes. Perhaps I think that d'Artagnan delights to have me read of
him, and Louis Quatorze is gratified, and Fouquet throws me a look, and
Aramis, although he knows I do not love him, yet plays to me with his
best graces, as to an old patron of the show. Perhaps, if I am not
careful, something may befall me like what befell George IV. about the
battle of Waterloo, and I may come to fancy the VICOMTE one of the first,
and Heaven knows the best, of my own works. "

So many readers have thought the same over the last century and a half,
and many more will in the times to come. Like Dumas itself, the work has
many flaws. There are errors in history, chronology, and in some places
Dumas even writes the wrong year or gets confused about a character's
age. Dumas always cared more about the drama, the suspense, the history
he was creating, rather than the sometimes boring facts of actual
history. He took his historical sketch and filled it out from his own
imagination, creating characters whose actions changed history within the
novels, and who have enlivened history ever since.

***

There has been much confusion over the years as to which books form the
"Musketeers Series" or the D'Artagnan Romances, as they are referred to
by scholars. The greatest confusion lies in the manner in which editors
split the lengthy third volume of the series. The title of the whole
work is The Vicomte de Bragelonne, however, its subtitle is Ten Years
Later, and so some older editions use that as the title. Also, the novel
is split into three, four, or five volumes, depending on the edition.
When split into three volumes, the titles are: The Vicomte de Bragelonne,
Louise de la Valliere, and The Man in the Iron Mask. In four volumes the
titles are: The Vicomte de Bragelonne, Ten Years Later, Louise de la
Valliere, and The Man in the Iron Mask. The copies of The Man in the
Iron Mask that are sold in bookstores today correspond to the last volume
of the four-volume edition. The five-volume editions rarely give
separate titles to the volumes. Also adding to the confusion is the
fact that Dumas considered The Three Musketeers to be two books: The
Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers. The split occurs, naturally,
shortly after D'Artagnan is made a musketeer. Some older editions split
this book in this fashion. Also, there are two other books that feature
the characters of the D'Artagnan Romances that are, however, falsely
attributed to Dumas. These two titles are D'Artagnan and the King-Maker
and The Son of Porthos. Not only do these novels outright contradict
the earlier books in the series, but they were clearly not written by
Alexandre Dumas. Many catalogues, however, list them among Dumas's
works. Most commonly, though, the entire D'Artagnan Romances are
found in five books, with The Vicomte de Bragelonne being split into
three volumes. Here is a listing of them in chronological order, with
possible subdivisions listed in parenthesis:

The Three Musketeers - serialized 1844
(The Four Musketeers)
Twenty Years After - serialized 1845
The Vicomte de Bragelonne - serialized 1847-1850
(Ten Years Later)
Louise de la Valliere
The Man in the Iron Mask
acknowledge that Twenty Years After comes between The Three Musketeers
and that etext. This etext also, like some novel editions, uses the
title Ten Years Later to refer to The Vicomte de Bragelonne as a whole,
and it covers portions of the etexts The Vicomte de Bragelonne and the
newer Ten Years Later.

***

What follows are some short biographical details about the real
personages behind the characters created by Dumas. Although some of them
do not appear in The Vicomte de Bragelonne, they are referred to
frequently, and so they were included.

Anne of Austria: (1601-66) Anne was the daughter of Phillip III of
Spain. She married Louis XIII in 1615, and after his death, ruled as
Regent from 1643-61 with Mazarin as her prime minister. Modern
historians reckon that she was almost certainly Mazarin's lover, but no
evidence beyond rumor exists of a secret marriage between the two, as
Dumas suggests. She died of breast cancer in 1666, though symptoms of
her disease did not appear until 1664. She was supposedly in love with
the elder Buckingham in around 1646, but nothing suggests that she was
actually his mistress, though many thought so. She was, though, in her
youth, one of the greatest beauties of all Europe.

Aramis: Aramis's real name was Henri d'Aramitz. Like his fictional
counterpart, he was a clergyman, a Bernais, and like D'Artagnan, he was a
Gascon. He joined the musketeers in 1640, married in 1654, had four
children, and died around 1674. He was a nephew to M. de Treville,
captain of the musketeers from 1634-1642. He was never, so far as
history can tell, involved with the Jesuits. A German named Nickel
was Vicar-General from 1652-1664 and from 1664-1681 an Italian named
Jean-Paul Oliva headed the order.

Athos: Athos was, in real life, Armand de Sillegue d'Athos d'Auteville.
He was born around 1615, joined the musketeers at the age of twenty-five,
and died in Paris in 1643. He was probably a nobleman, as Athos was, and
was a Gascon, as D'Artagnan was, and was also a cousin to M. de Treville,
captain of the musketeers from 1634-1642. Dumas claimed, in the preface
to The Three Musketeers, to be nothing more than the editor of the
memoirs of the Comte de la Fere, presumably the same memoirs Athos is
seen working on during the course of The Vicomte de Bragelonne.

Baisemeaux: (1613?-97) Francois de Montlezun joined the musketeers in
1634 where he served with our four heroes' historical counterparts. He
purchased the post of governor of the Bastile in 1658 for forty thousand
livres, not one hundred and fifty thousand as Dumas claims, and held the
post until his death. He left a fortune of two million livres.

Beaufort: (1616-69) Francois de Vendome, the Duc de Beaufort, was a
grandson of Henry IV. and Gabrielle d'Estrees. He was jailed in
Vincennes in 1643 for plotting against Mazarin, and he escaped in 1648
(with the aid of Athos and Grimaud according to Twenty Years After).
After fighting against the king in the Fronde, he reconciled with the
throne in 1653. He died at the siege of Candia.

Belliere: (1608-1705) Suzanne de Bruc, Marquis de Plessis-Belliere, called
Elise by Dumas, was widowed in 1654. She was very close to Fouquet, and
it was she who organized his social engagements, not Madame Fouquet.
When Fouquet was arrested in 1661, she was kept under house arrest until
1665.

Bragelonne: Dumas's source for the character Raoul de Bragelonne comes
from a slight mention of a suitor of Louise de Valliere's while she was
still at Blois. The most likely candidate is Jean de Bragelonne, who
was an obscure councilor at the parliament at Rennes. However, there
were several other Bragelonnes who were also in the area: Jerome, his son
Francois, both soldiers, and Jacques, Gaston d'Orleans's chief steward.
Jean was more than likely related to one of these other Bragelonnes, but
historians are not certain as to which.

Buckingham: (1627-87) George Villiers, the second Duke of Buckingham, was
the son of the George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, who figured so
prominently in The Three Musketeers, and Katherine Manners, then the
richest heiress in England. After his father's assassination, he was
raised alongside the children of Charles I. He was one of the rakes of
Charles II's court - hot-tempered, unpredictable, and bisexual. Though
he had great influence over the king, his disputes with the monarch
landed him in the Tower on four separate occasions. His love for
Henrietta-Anne Stuart was well-attested, and often drove him to
extremities of behavior.

Charles II: (1630-85) Charles Stuart fled to France in 1646, returned
briefly to Scotland in 1651, where he was crowned, was routed by Cromwell
in September, and returned to France until Mazarin signed a treaty with
Cromwell in 1655 declaring the deposed monarch persona non grata in
France. With Monk's support, he finally returned to London as a king in
1661. During his reign there were two wars with the Dutch, the great
plague occurred, the Habeas Corpus Act was passed, and the Great Fire
swept London. The visit to Mazarin depicted at the beginning of The
Vicomte de Bragelonne has its basis in an actual visit paid by the
deposed monarch to the Cardinal in Spain in 1659. It was only one of
many attempts to gain French support.

Chevreuse: (1600-79) Marie-Aime de Rohan Bazon married the Duc de
Chevreuse in 1622. She was a close friend of Anne of Austria, and used
many lovers in her plots against Richelieu. Although regularly exiled by
Louis XIII, she constantly snuck back to court. She was imprisoned in
1628, escaped in 1637, and fled to Spain, and then England, where she was
again briefly imprisoned on the Isle of Wight. She moved to Belgium, and
was allowed to return to France by Mazarin in 1643. She was quickly
exiled again, but allowed to return under the Amnesty of Reuil in 1649.
She continued her intrigues during the Fronde and was named as Raoul de
Bragelonne's mother in Twenty Years After.

Colbert: (1619-83) Jean-Baptiste Colbert was born in Reins, the son of a
minor official and an agent of Richelieu's. He was employed first by the
Secretary of State for War, in 1640, and later became Mazarin's intendant


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Online LibraryJohn BurseyProject Gutenberg Dumas Commentary → online text (page 1 of 2)