The Man in the Iron Mask, Alexandre Dumas (Part 1)

I hate to do this, to my reader and myself and I ask to be forgiven but due to an Amazon based blunder, I’m forced (by curiousity and severe listlesness) to read the last of the d’Artagnan Romances before its due time! This delivery error has postponed my copy of Louise De Valliere and since the chain of post and letters don’t cease from day to day (except, perhaps sundays and observed government holidays.)-I recieved my copy of The Man in the Iron Mask on its date. I couldn’t bring myself to let it sit on the shelf while I waited empty handed for the other. I began, reluctantly, page after book-closing page, cringing at my own impatience but filled with excitment like a child whose torn open his long awaited christmas gifts on the eve. And thus I begin to devoure this grand finale…

Who is this man in the mask?

Who is this man in the mask?

At the halfway mark, the most publicized of Dumas’s work shines as bright as it has been extolled. The plot has been juiced and there is enough intrigue, fated love, treason, valour and shame to still the rest of previous serious with a bated and heavy breath!

Aramis has never aimed higher in his intentions and designs-so high in fact, anything else would be fit only for god itself to deign. The inner-machinations of this phantom-shadow titled the Bishope of Vannes are found everywhere, entangling all in woven nets and casting lines including the Surintendant of Finances, Focquet, M. Baisemeaux, the Governer of the Bastille to the scrambling and coniving bushy-browed Colbert who trails the heels of the King like a dog for a carress. Porthos, the gentle, amiable giant has been relagated to follow Aramis about as a funny, diverting departure between the dramas that surround.

D’Artagnan has never been more firm with a king-in his dotage he presses the young Louis XIV to hold his integrity; to keep his hat pressed firm and to wear his nobility as proudly and as righteously as the  the most illustrious in a trying and scandalous time. Our man d’Artagnan is oft sought for advice as he posses, “incarnate wisdom.” and knows the gossip of the royal court like his sword arm.

Athos is summoned to challenge the integrity of Louis XIV, risking the Bastille and life-blood to brand a chivalarous code of ideals on the walls of the palace with his passionate and supremely rational sermon. On behalf of his son, The Vicomte, Raoul and the royal blood of his ancestors, his name, he stands against the king in the chapter title, King and Nobility. The king is brought to face, by Athos, his cowardly underhanded and usurping deeds against the sacredness that is the engangment of marriage that lay between Raoul and his cast-away, ex-bride to be, Louise De Valliere. Raoul reflects darkly, “The King has betrayed me, the women disdained me. Miserable, unhappy wretch that I am!” At the climax of the dialogue between Athos and Louis the XIV regarding the trampled state of affairs, he unwaveringly seeks ammends: “The King’s honour, sire, is made up of the honour of his whole nobility. Whenever the King offends one of his gentlemen, that is, whenever he deprives him of the smallest particle of his honour, it is from him, from the King himself, that that portion of honour is stolen.”

P. 130, “‘Poor Raoul!” had said Athos. “Poor Raoul!” had said d’Artagnan; and, in point of fact, to be pitied by both these men, Raoul indeed must have been most unhappy.”

It goes on and on- A secret prisoner escapes from the Bastille and is alligned to throw chaos into the mix, a bankrupting fête takes place at Vaux palace for the Kings pleasure, Amorous and royal love boils over, seething with jealousy…! Alas, I will have to tell you more in the second part of this discourse. For now, either read the book yourself, content yourself with a few snippets I have selected below, and or wait for my concluding remarks on Alexandre Dumas’s, The Man in the Iron Mask. (This edition is an Oxford Worlds Classics, translated by David Coward, published 91′)

P.175, Conversation between the Bishop of Vannes and the mysterious prisoner: “”What do you call liberty, Monsieur?” asked the prisoner with the tone of a man preparing for a struggle. “I call liberty, the flowers, the air, light, the stars, the happiness of whithersoever the nervous limbs of twenty years of age may wish to carry you.”” 

P.247, Aramis to the Prisoner, “It is useless to flash bright visions before the eyes of one who seeks and loves darkness; useless, too, is it to let the magnificence of the cannon’s roar be heard in the ears of one who loves repose and the quiet of the country.”

P. 231, Aramis to M. Baisemeaux, “With my friends I reckon neither bottles of wine nor years.”

P. 92, Porthos To Raoul regarding money an Raouls refusal thereof: “So much the worse , then. I have always heard it said that that is the rarest service, but the easiest to redner. The remark struck me; I like to cite remarks that strike me.

P. 71, “After having talked reason with older heads, one loves to talk nonsense with youth.” 

P. 246, Aramis to the Prisoner, “There is conscience, which cries aloud; remorse, which never dies.”

P.176, “Aramis looked steadily at this singular youth who possesed the resignation of a martyr with the smile of an athiest. “Is not Heaven in everything?”

 

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Dumas, The Vicomte De Bragelonne (Conclusion)

Well, it begun quite sharp and lulled-off near the end- That is to say, that this first book in the cluster of installments in the Vicomte De Bragelonne. It is the longest segment in the Dumas’ D’Artagnan series and it encompasses 3 to 4 books. (Depending on the publisher.) The Oxford World’s Classics editions are split into 3; The Vicomte De Bragelonne, which is the one I have finished is then followed by Louise De Vallière and lastly, dramatically, the official D’Artagnan romances closes with the most recognizable, The Man in the Iron Mask. Let me count them all out for you in case my words have tempted you to follow along in this literary quest: Three Musketeers, Twenty-Years After, The Vicomte de Bragelonne, Louise De Vallière, and The Man in the Iron Mask. (The adventure does not have to stop there; you may also wish to pick up Paul Mahalin’s, D’Artagnan King Maker, and The Son of Porthos; no promises on how they match up with the actual writtings of Dumas.)

Let me continue my thoughts previously about the sharpness and equally the lull of, The Vicomte de Bragelonne. Surprisingly, the main actor which the title attributes is seldom seen in the first half; if our dear Raoul does appear it is usually in tears flying about Athos in some sensitive angst or in level-headed noble debate with his peers.  But what makes the first half remarkable is that the action presents itself to you immediately. D’Artagnan is fed-up with the empty promises of royalty. (His Captaincy, “the flower of chivalry”, has been his aim since the very first pages of, The Three Musketeers and has been unjustly denied or ignored outright.) At the ripe age of 50 or so, D’Artagnan asserts his resignation from the ranks of the Musketeers to Louis XIV and thus begins plotting as a soldier of fortune in his usual Gascony manner. Athos on the other hand is to begin a quest for another; the exiled king of England, Charles II and his fortune. Athos is honor bound to restore this fledgling monarch at the behest of his father, the executed Charles I. “Remember!” It is a dashing race against General Monk and Lambert- the figure heads of England whom are vying for the vacant throne of the king. Between the two adventures running in parallel with each other, the pages simply melt away. But then almost too suddenly, their two adventures are complete.

We are then introduced, more intimately to a new host of characters, (Surely to play apart in the next chapters and books) Manicamp, Malicorne, Montalais, Louise De Vallière and the affluent son of M. De Buckingham. Between these characters the second half of the book picks up. They are the courtiers of Phillip, Duc de Orléans (With the exception of Buckingham) and are all wrapped up and equally entangled in Monsieur’s marriage to Charles I sister, the jewel, Princess Henrietta.* Here we find the youths caught up in the intrigue of a royal court and its politics; the main focus here being the love interests of M. De Buckingham and Raoul, The Vicomte. And this is where the book ends.

It’s not mixed feelings about this book that I began with the words sharp and lull but simply to explain the contrasting plots found therein. I enjoyed this book, certainly, for its written well and follows well with the others. What it is missing, that I have found in each D’Artagnan book previous is that distinctive flavor that each contributes to the whole. For me, Twenty-Years After had the same flavor of the first half of, The Vicomte De Bragelonne, that is the romp and intrigue that follows a good mission. However, As I moved along in the pages, I felt some sort of reluctance to meet these new rather foppish, unseasoned characters and a slight dismay at the drop in excitment and the second half of the book’s journey into drama. I have faith, however, that Dumas will affect some grand purpose for these youngsters in the upcoming adventure:

Louise De Valliere

*The Charm of Princess Henrietta, a royal Stuart: “…and from her well-stored arsenal issued glances, kindly recognitions, and a thousand other little charming attentions which were intended to strike at long range the gentlemen who formed the escort, the townspeople, the officers…it was wholesale slaughter…By the time she had reached Paris, she had reduced to slavery about a hundred thousand lovers…”

Dumas, The Vicomte de Bragelonne

Now, I am led, most willingly, to the 3rd installment of the epic D’Artagnan romance series, written by the masterful hand of Alexandre Dumas; to think that just a few months ago, I was relatively oblivious to the bold swordplay and fearless bravery of the, Three Musketeers! Pardieu! And to think that I was even more ignorant of the daring heroe’s continued grandeur across the countries of France and England(Twenty Years After and The Vicomte de Bragelonne), with missions and plots that scandalized, restored and sabotaged  the largest political figure heads of their time. Mordieux!

vicomte

Oxford Word Classic, Translator, David Coward; One of the best translators of Dumas’ works.

In this staggering Dumas frenzy I’ve plunged myself into, I think I have inadvertently become a Dumasophile; such is his power of wit, mirth and adventure that I too have been in the heat of the chase with all these legendary men, Athos, Porthos, D’Artagnan and Aramis.

Again, I’m not one for giving a synopsis instead, I’d like to highlight a few parts, that made me either laugh out loud (like in the middle of public transit) or made gaze up from an engrossing page and into my mug of beer in reflective solemnity.

Here are some quotes and advice I’ve gleaned from my highly esteemed French friends that I’d love to share with you, dear readers and friends alike:

P.80, A miserly Cardinal Mazarin to the Young Louis XIV: “Rejoice at being poor when your neighbor is poor likewise.”

P.286, “Planchet, suffocated with joy, had lost his senses. D’Artagnan threw a glass of white wine in his face, which immediatly, recalled him to life.” Dumas describing the craze of Planchet upon seeing the heaps of gold: “At this time, as they do now, grocers wore a cavalier moustache and full beard but money baths, already rare in those days, have become almost unkown now.”

P. 91 D’artagnan to Louis XIV: “Sire, an order is given by a sign, by a gesture, by a glance, as intelligibly, as freely, and as clearly as by word of mouth. A servant who has nothing but ears is not half a servant.”

P. 255 D’Artagnan to Athos: “My friend, pleasures to which we are not accustomed oppress us more than the griefs we are familiar.”

P.276 D’Artagnan’s Reflection: “Now, in times past all went wrong with me, and every month found a fresh hole in my cloak and in my skin, a gold crown less in my poor purse: of that execrable time of small beer and ups and downs, i regret absolutely nothing, nothing, nothing, save our friendship; for within me I have a heart, and it is a miracle that heart has not been dried up by the wind of poverty which pssed through the holes of my cloak or pierced by the swords of all shapes which passed through the holes in my poor flesh.

P. 136, Mousqueton to D’Artagnan, recounting the leisure of the week he and his master Porthos engage in: “Monsieur, on monday we see society; we pay and receive visits, we play on the lute, we dance, we make verses, and burn a little incense in honour of the ladies.” “Hell’s teeth! that is the height of gallantry,’ said the musketeer,…”

P.281 Athos to D’Artagnan, a paradise: “You are free, you are rich, I shall purchase for you, if you like, a handsome estate in the vicinity of Cheverny or of Bracieux. On the one side you will have the finest woods in the world, which join those of Chambord; on the other, admirable marshes. You who love sporting, and who, whether you admit it or not, are a poet, my dear friend, you will find enough pheasants, rail and teal, not to mention the sunsets and ample opportunities for excursions on the water, to make you think you are Nimrod and Apollo rolled into one.

three-musketeers