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Twenty Years After (1845) resumes the adventures of Alexandre Dumas' fabulous four begun in The Three Musketeers. “The inseparables”—Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and the irrepressible Gascon, d'Artagnan—are once again called upon to save France from itself. This time, the paragons of honor, chivalry, and justice find themselves embroiled not only in court intrigue and royal affairs (including the Queen's illicit liaison with her first minister, Cardinal Mazarin), but also popular revolution. Set during the minority of...
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Twenty Years After (1845) resumes the adventures of Alexandre Dumas' fabulous four begun in The Three Musketeers. “The inseparables”—Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and the irrepressible Gascon, d'Artagnan—are once again called upon to save France from itself. This time, the paragons of honor, chivalry, and justice find themselves embroiled not only in court intrigue and royal affairs (including the Queen's illicit liaison with her first minister, Cardinal Mazarin), but also popular revolution. Set during the minority of King Louis XIV, the English Revolution is about to reach its climax in the execution of Charles I and the revolt against the French crown known as the first Fronde is coming to a head. If the politics are more complex, the personalities are as well. Twenty years have wrought their changes on the impetuous young musketeers. They are older, grayer, and wiser, and each has more to lose.
From the introduction by Bruce F. Murphy
Twenty Years After (1845) resumes the adventures of Alexandre Dumas' fabulous four begun in The Three Musketeers. “The inseparables”—Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and the irrepressible Gascon, d'Artagnan—are once again called upon to save France from itself. This time, the paragons of honor, chivalry, and justice find themselves embroiled not only in court intrigue and royal affairs (including the Queen's illicit liaison with her first minister, Cardinal Mazarin), but also popular revolution. Set during the minority of king Louis XIV, the story is woven into some of the most unquiet years of the seventeenth century. The English Revolution is about to reach its climax in the execution of Charles I, and the revolt against the French crown known as the first Fronde is coming to a head. If the politics are more complex, the personalities are as well. Twenty years have wrought their changes on the impetuous young musketeers. They are older, grayer, and wiser, and each has more to lose. Often disparaged because of his vast popular success, Dumas was a subtle enough artist not to simply reprise his previous performance—Twenty Years After is not Three Musketeers II. Freely adapting history for his own purposes, Dumas pits the heroes not only against the forces of infamy, but sometimes even against each other. Told with Dumas' flair and drama, the tale ranges from the scaffold at Whitehall to the battlefield of Lens to the barricades of Paris.
Alexandre Dumas (1802–1870) was a volcanic producer of plays, novels, journalism, and other writings, and one of the dominant figures of the Romantic period. His heroes—the three musketeers, the man in the iron mask, the count of Monte Cristo—became even more famous than Dumas himself. The son of a half-Haitian general in Napoleon's army and a provincial innkeeper's daughter, Dumas came to Paris in 1823 and worked as a clerk in the household of the future king Louis-Phillipe while immersing himself in the theatre. He had his first literary success with the historical play Henry III and his Court (1829), an innovative work that broke with the conventions of French neoclassicism. But among his more than three hundred books, it is his historical novels that have lasted longest and best. Jules Michelet called Dumas a “force of nature,” and indeed his fame during his lifetime rested not only on his works but his celebrated love affairs, court cases, and boom-and-bust fortunes. He showed the way for later historical novelists, traveling widely in search of material and background and employing a series of collaborators and researchers. Not simply an armchair adventurer, Dumas participated in the revolutions of 1830 and 1848, and later ran guns for Giuseppe Garibaldi. It was a career nothing short of heroic.
Dumas is a figure peculiarly suited to our own age. A writer through and through, the first character he created was himself, and this aspect of “self-invention” seems especially modern. After working for some years in a lawyer’s office, Dumas landed a job as a writer—literally. He became a copyist at the Palais-Royal, thanks to a connection with one of his father's old friends. In his spare time Dumas attended the theatre and produced several apprentice plays that were never produced. In 1827, he saw a Shakespearean production in Paris featuring some of the most famous English actors of the day, including Edmund Kean and William Charles McCready. He quickly grasped the possibilities of using action, “low” characters, and comic counterpoint, so unlike the lapidary classicism of Racine and French dramatists. Dumas was so impressed he later wrote a play, Kean, about the great actor. It was not the only time when art imitated life and vice versa; during his palmy days after the publication of the musketeers saga and The Count of Monte Cristo, Dumas spent a fortune building the huge Chateau Monte Cristo (later sold when he fell into bankruptcy).
Although it can be read alone, as a sequel Twenty Years After is best understood in relation to its predecessor. The very title indicates this—a brooding sense of the passage of time hangs over it. The Three Musketeers is a youthful work, as restless and fresh and full of yearning as the hopes of the young provincial d'Artagnan, who is still in his teens when the saga begins. For him, literally half a lifetime has passed between the rollicking adventures of The Three Musketeers and the opening of Twenty Years After. It is now 1648, and France is still engaged in the Thirty Years' War, of which d'Artagnan appears to have had his share. In the early pages of the sequel, we see him battle-hardened, middle-aged, and somewhat bitter that he has been two decades in the royal service and has not risen above the rank of lieutenant. He who once saved a queen's reputation and her crown is now virtually invisible, a part of the furniture of the court. And far from being inseparable, it seems that d'Artagnan has seen little of his companions during the intervening years.
Other things have changed too: instead of Cardinal Richelieu, their grand enemy in The Three Musketeers, they now have to do with the conniving, cowardly, and avaricious Cardinal Mazarin, the secret (or not-so-secret) lover of the queen, widow of Louis XIII. Worse, as the only one of the inseparables still in uniform, d'Artagnan is obligated to carry out Mazarin's orders. Neither the queen (Anne of Austria, a Spaniard and a Habsburg) nor Mazarin (the Italian-born Giulio Mazarini) is French. The king, Louis XIV, is only ten years old. While the Parisian masses revolt against the high taxes imposed by the foreign queen and her counsellor, the nobility is split between those loyal to the crown and others who see the Fronde as an opportunity to curb the power of the monarchy. Meanwhile, the Spanish hope to profit from unrest in France and are about to launch an attack. D'Artagnan is at this moment summoned by Mazarin for some mysterious duty, and is ordered to round up his old brothers in arms. It takes him several journeys to do so, and when he does the results are sometimes unexpected.
Porthos, the amiable giant of The Three Musketeers, has become enormously rich, though his displays of wealth are not always in good taste. He joins the adventure in search of an aristocratic title (a barony) to cap his good fortune. D'Artagnan, ever poor, hopes for money and a promotion, but both Aramis and Athos demur. The former is still involved in his own complicated contradictions, only more so—now an abbé, he is irreverent as ever, and just as prone to vanity, intrigue, and affairs with noble ladies. Athos, who embodies Dumas's ideal of the aristocrat by nature and by birth, seems more remote from ordinary mortals than ever.
The difference in tone between the earlier novel and the sequel is all the more curious when one recalls that they were written in consecutive years. In 1845, Dumas was himself forty-three years old, and perhaps was closer to the emotional center of this novel than to its predecessor. Dumas lost his father at the age of four, which considerably diminished the family’s horizons. He worked in a lawyer’s office before moving to Paris, an ambitious provincial much like d'Artagnan. Relationships between fathers and sons are prominent in this book—as is that between Mordaunt, the evil offspring of their earlier enemy, Milady de Winter, and the dead mother he has sworn to avenge. But as the book progresses, it becomes more and more evident that the central relationship is that between Athos and d'Artagnan.
Already in The Three Musketeers, Dumas had dwelt for pages on Athos's character: his “rare sang-froid,” the “inalterable evenness of humor,” and the dark cloud of tragedy that hangs over him (the fact that Milady was formerly his wife is one of the sensational disclosures of the first book). Perfect in all the arts of the gentleman—not just riding and the practice of arms, but courtesy and classical learning—he had yet one failing: drink, which he used to blot out memories of past sorrows. But in Twenty Years After this flaw has been erased, and now sober, Athos is truly a “demigod,” particularly for d'Artagnan, who had always idolized him. The reason for the change is that Athos has been the “guardian” of his own natural son, the Vicomte de Bragelonne, who still does not know that Athos is actually his father. (The Vicomte de Bragelonne is the general name for the three-volume work that completes the Musketeers saga.) Athos also calls d'Artagnan “son,” and their relationship at times takes on quasi-religious overtones. It is not an accident that the final struggle is between Mordaunt, the embodiment of evil, and Athos, who is nearly brought down by his own Christian charity. Of the four companions, he is most troubled by the memory of the night that they condemned Milady to death (retold by the executioner of Béthune in chapter 34).
Like many Romantics, Dumas had nostalgia for the old aristocratic ideal and a belief in the natural nobility of simple, common people (like d'Artagnan's tough and loyal servant, Planchet). His contempt was reserved for the bourgeoisie, notwithstanding that they were also the foundation of his commercial success. Dumas has obvious sympathy with the Parisian masses, but Oliver Cromwell and his men are portrayed as boorish, fanatical, and cruel. As for Charles I of England, as Aramis says, “the king can do no wrong.” In line with the concept of divine right, the king is seen as the representative of God on earth, wrongly and unnaturally condemned by his subjects. There could be no more appropriate symbol of the upsetting of natural order than the picture of Athos beneath the scaffold after Charles' execution, a drop of blood falling on his forehead like a brutal parody of benediction.
It would be a mistake, however, to overemphasize the subtextual aspects of the novel. In the manner of the day, Twenty Years After was first serialized in Le Siècle and was directed at a popular audience hungry for romance and suspense. The serialized novel was then published as a book, and as was his practice, Dumas later adapted it for the stage. Producing for such a market was demanding; like Balzac, with whom he was often compared, Dumas sometimes wrote for more than twelve hours at a stretch, even turning out several novels at once. Nor was he always careful; he confused dates and times, and made use of coincidence more often than a modern author would dare. As in the theater, when props are needed they are found, be they horses or weapons or a sympathizer, or even a set of clothes (when d'Artagnan and Porthos overpower two Swiss guards and steal their uniforms, one of them, of course, turns out to be enormous). But there are also passages of fine writing where he is at the height of his powers; the gallows scene and the deadly game of cat-and-mouse played aboard the felucca Lightning are among the most gripping scenes Dumas wrote.
In his time referred to as the French version of Sir Walter Scott, today Dumas is perhaps more readable for the English speaker than Scott himself, who spawned such a vast number of imitators in the genre of rousing, adventurous historical fiction. To the modern ear, Scott is often difficult to take seriously. This is still truer of another Scott imitator, James Fenimore Cooper (about whom Mark Twain wrote the essay, “Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses”). It is not simply a matter of the choice of subject matter or period. Perhaps because of his own experiences, Dumas has, behind all the romantic pageantry, an unflattering and even cynical view of politics. The trial of Charles I is a show trial, a judicial murder; such grotesque parodies of justice are part of the “terrible logic of revolutions,” in which people initiate events that they are then powerless to control. Ulterior motives are the exception rather than the rule. No wonder that Athos' aristocratic detachment is portrayed as not of this world. The novel, like the saga as a whole, remains unabashedly romantic, politically ambivalent, and full of verve.
Bruce F. Murphy is the author of The Encyclopedia of Murder and Mystery (2001) and the editor of the fourth edition of Benét's Reader's Encyclopedia (1996). His poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared in Critical Inquiry, Paris Review, Poetry, TriQuarterly, and other journals.
Posted November 2, 2001
In Twenty Years After by Dumas, many similarities can be found connecting it to its prequel, The Three Musketeers. To replace the evil Milady is her son Mordaunt; to replace Richelieu is the penurious Mazarin; to replace Louis XIII is Louis XIV, his son. This novel is still quite swashbuckling, and this is incorporated in the doomed struggle of the four friends for the abandoned Charles I and his family. Divided politically yet united socially, Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and D'artagnan resolve to once again revive their loyalty to each other in the amazing fight they put up for the hands of fate, rather Cromwell and Mordaunt. This book can be very slow in places, but has a good ending and continuing storyline, so I would recommend you read it. If you didn't know, it is part TWO in a FIVE part series. The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After, Vicomte d'Bragelonne, Louis d'Laviellere, and finaly The Man in the Iron Mask.
5 out of 9 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 30, 2006
My first thought on completing this book was how unfortunate it is that few people seem to know about it. I felt it to be a fantastic follow-up to 'The Three Musketeers' and enjoyed it just as much as I enjoyed the first book. The characters are enjoyable and Dumas' writing style is as fantastic as ever. I'm just sorry more people haven't discovered this excellent book.
4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 8, 2011
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Posted June 24, 2013
Do not get this version! It's been abridged! I started reading this version, but couldn't stand it. I then purchased the Oxford version and found that there were chapters missing from Barnes and Noble version. It's disappointing to think that Barnes and Noble has decided to use this version.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 23, 2013
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Posted April 5, 2013
Twenty Years After by Alexandre Dumas is the second book in what is now knows as the d’Artagnan Romances (the first being The Three Musketeers and the third being The Vicomte de Bragelonne). As in the previous book, the novel was serialized in 1845 before being published in book format.
The novel’s plot is complicated and would take more than a few lines to sum up. The son of “Milady”, the two-faced Mazarin smuggle the young king and his mother from Paris which is becoming hostile to the crown.
I found Twenty Years After by Alexandre Dumas to be as exciting and adventurous as its predecessor, but with cooler heads prevailing. Maybe because I’m at the age of d’Artagnan in the story which I thought was a delightful coincidence.
The novel is well written, well paced and character driven. Dumas did a great job redefining the relationship of the four friends (d’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos and Aramis) as they are older but also connected emotionally, rather than physically, to one another. The old friends have grown and changed yet I still felt an emotional connection to them much like one does with an old high-school friend who is no longer the same person you took classes with.
Much like The Three Musketeers, this novel also follows a complicated plot, where our heroes are trying to save the French and the monarchy from themselves. Dumas also incorporates many historical characters into his fictional story, interacting skillfully with characters of his imagination.
This is a courageous book, not because of daring deeds but because in a time like ours where no action hero ever ages, it is refreshing to read about foolish-types getting older and wiser. Dumas had courage in writing a novel about his popular heroes who have aged and the outcome is stimulating and exciting.
Posted October 15, 2012
This book does not work well on my 1st Ed. Nook. Pages either don't turn, or take 20-30 seconds to turn. It frequently freezes up.
A good book, a good read, but I'm 90% through it and can't get it to work well enough to finish.
Posted September 18, 2012
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Posted January 27, 2012
Well this book was as much fun to read as the first it really had me going throughout the whole book. The characters are more developed and i find that the progress made really added to the reading and interest in these characters. I would really suggest reading this book, especialy if you are planning on reading man in the iron mask. I give this bok a thumbs up really it so mych fun ans has a lot on action in it still alond with adventure.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 3, 2010
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Posted March 19, 2011
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