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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... Continue reading book >>

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