Alexandre Dumas, Twenty Years After (conclusion)

The previous month I posted a note mentioning the current classic I was enganged in. I’d like to finish the note with its conclusion and some after thoughts for you to chew on:

Swashbuckling!

Swashbuckling!

What is there to say about these cavaliers of Dumas’ sweeping romance, Twenty Years After? Perhaps too much. All I can manage of honest sincerity after closing the last chapter is a deep sigh of contentment. I put the book to my lap and rested my palm on it like a faithful companion. I looked to the wall and past it, my head was swimming in these latest extraordinary adventures. I had found myself in a Dumas induced stupor.

To think that just a month ago,(During my reading of the previous and first installment, The Three Musketeers) these gang of heroes were all just around 20 years of age, excluding Athos of course. In Twenty Years After, they are middle aged men. Upon learning this my first feeling towards this novel was dismay. The quick passing of so many years between the last novel and this novel made me feel nostalgia saddened by want; In my sentiment I perceived that I had missed out on the grandest adventures of their charming youths; My newly acquired dear friends grew up too soon.

But I had the book in my hand and was thumbing through the introduction and that is were I was planted; This reality where our heroes are all men and seasoned veterans of their trade. I pressed on with a slight reluctance but I simply had to see what news the years have brought my French comrades. This expanse of time had a great effect on my mindset too that Dumas was quick to take advantage of. He sew the books together grandly and he knew too, that the reader would be anticipating the reunion of the musketeers, including me. This is where I believed the book would start and take off for they all had parted ways at the closing of the previous. But pardieu, it was not so!

“’Ah, My friend,” said D’Artagnan, “’it is not civil wars which disunite us; it is that we are all twenty years older. The loyal outburst of youth have gone, and given place to the din of interests, the breath of ambition, and the counsels of egotism.’” The twisting intrigue found within made me truly grasp the popular phrase, “The plot thickens.” I heartened to plumb the depths of their adventures as soon as I began the first several pages.

(Warning: The following is not a plot spoiler but it illuminates some facts that you may wish to discover on your own)

Here we are brought: Athos as it turns out, has not become a tragic drunk as believed by our Heroes but a noble heart-of-gold with a new responsibility at his hands; a young man name Raoul. Athos lives quietly as an authentic gentleman living in a country manor that is dotted with hills, flowers and a babbling stream.

D’Artagnan, poor gentleman of supreme Gascon wit, he lay forgotten in the mind of Queen Anne of Austria whom he had saved. D’Artagnan, still scrapes by as a lieutenant under a new Cardinal, Mazarin. His heroism and daring passed and faded by way of years in the service as a soldier-automaton. He has since relieved Planchet, his quick, sturdy lackey who, in this installment, has taken fortune and became a pseudo sergeant-confectioner.

Porthos, the giant, who’s fists still can fell an ox, had the most fortune of the lot in most respects, he acquired the properties of a royal family from his deceased wife. With all his excess and vanity, he is crushed by his own blood-it is the respect of his neighbors he seeks and no money can win royal prestige and the distinction that comes with it. He is at loss with so much and we find that it is a barony he seeks so as to establish himself among the landed gentry. His tender and loyal lackey, muskatoon has grown fat and supremely content with his masters new wealth- and a bit disturbed at the new adventures that lay ahead!

Aramis, the beloved of the ladies, the sensual and determined sought a higher religious ground and in his quest, he had found it. He achieved what he was searching for 20 years previous, he has become an abbot. But alas, in his religious devotedness and new garments of devotion he has become restless; In his position he has grown, ironically, more swashbuckling and more implacable than ever. His lackey, Basin, is of the opposite feeling and has, on the contrary, grown pious. As Aramis has said himself among a royal crowd, “’My cassock only holds by one button, and I am quite ready to become a Musketeer again.” Athos may have the been the best to put it thus, “There is an abbe who is giving a blow to a man and a bow to a woman. That’s Aramis.”

Now, I am not aiming to give a synopsis but a feel and a taste for this fitting and honorable sequel. Here are some snippets I’ve collected throughout my journey in Alexandre Dumas’, Twenty Years After, in no particular order except that of preference.(Oxford World’s Classic 2008 edition, Translated by David Coward):

P.375 line 27 , Athos to Aramis: What is offered nobly ought to be accepted nobly”

p. 489 line 36-39, Sound Advice from D’Artagnan: “Learn, M. Olivian, that people such as we are don’t allow themselves to be served by cowards. Rob your master, eat his sweetmeats, and drink his wine, but cap de Diou! Don’t be a coward, or I will cut off your ears.

P.579 line 38-39, A Disguised Aramis to a detained King Charles I: Meanwhile, do not close your eyes tonight; don’t be astonished at anything and await everything.

P.359 line 12-13, “Athos was happy; happy as he had never been.”

P.271 line 15-28, Athos’ s speech to D’Artagnan and Porthos: “Never, I swear before god, who sees and hears us in the solemnity of this night, shall my sword touch yours never shall my eye have for you a look of anger never shall my heart have a pulsation of hatred. We have lived together, hated and loved together, have spilt blood, and perhaps, I will add also, there is between us a tie more powerful than that of friendship-the compact of crime; for we have condemned, judged and executed a human being whom we had not perhaps the right of sending out of the world, although she seemed to belong to hell rather than this world. D’Artagan, I have always loved you as my son. Porthos we have slept ten years side by side; Aramis is your brother as he is mine-for Aramis has loved you as I love you still, As I shall love you always.”

P. 605 line 7-9, An image of London after the execution of Charles I: The gloom had grown deeper; the snow continued falling and looked like a vast winding-sheet stretched out over the regicide city.

P. 533 line 32-33, Porthos to the company of Musketeers: “It seems to me that in the most critical of situations in our life we have always dined.”  

P. 611 line 16-18, Oliver Cromwell to his adviser Mordaunt: There is no idea sublime in politics except one which bears its fruits. Every abortive idea is foolish and barren.

P. 726 line 31-39, D’artagnan explaining to Athos a chef’s life:

D’artagnan: My dear fellow, do you know why master cooks never work with their own hands? Porthos: No; but I should be glad to know. D’artagnan: Because they would be afraid of making, before their pupils, tarts to much baked or creams that have turned. Porthos: Well? D’Artagnan: Well, they get laughed at, and master cooks must not allow themselves to be laughed at. Porthos: and why are master cooks at all like us? D’Artagnan:Because, we ought, in our adventures, never to suffer any check, nor give occasion for people to laugh at us.

P. 353 lines 25-27, Princess Henrietta to Lord de Winter regarding her father, Charles I: Tell my father that whether he is a king or a fugitive, conquerer or conquered, powerful or poor, he has in me me a most obedient and affectionate daughter.”

P. 357 lines 8-13, Mordaunt to his Uncle, Lord de Winter: Listen to these words, and let them sink into your memory, so that you may never forget them: this murder, which has deprived me of everything, and taken away my name, has made me corrupt , wicked and implacable; I demand expiation for it, from you first, and then from your accomplices when I know them.”

P. 776 line 36-38, Athos to the Duchess Chevreuse: “Alas! Excuse my weakness, Madame; there comes a moment when a man lives and grows young again in his children.”

(FIN)

…Stay tuned for more greatness in the next romp, “The Vicomte de Bragelonne”

A Dashing Vicomte!

A Dashing Vicomte!

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A Response: Steinbeck, East of Eden

Steinbeck 1940's

John Steinbeck was dedicated to the human spirit; in all of our sadness, remorse, cruelty, all of our joys, longings and indeed our mortal futility and earthly resignations. I’m afraid to think how John came upon this knowledge, this depth and equally a bleak hopelessness that can too be found. I can surmise that in his old age he had accumulated these things as divers of warm waters gather pearls. This is evident in the expansive novel which accounts for the lives and trials of 3 or 4 generations of two Californian families living around the turn of the 20th century; The Hamilton family and the Trask family.

“Thou Mayest.” -What of it? It is that within us, the child, the adolescent youth, the man, and the wizened and equally the doddard have the capacity for greatness and depravity. This is what I’d  like to examine in these golden pages. How does one hold greatness and likewise how does one sink into a cold darkness; can the mold be broken? The human characteristics one is born with-can they be overcome?

The map of the heart for some is paved with good intentions that does its best to circumvent the chasm of hate, the pitfalls of bitterness and vengeance. But such is that roads wear and are exposed to elements and extremes. The crushing loss that is death greats all of us. The betrayal of a friend, a brother, creeps in our hearts like a storm. Our world so bright, crushed like paper under the coldness of a women gone without a reason. These things can dim the path to utter obscurity; We are beset by things stronger than high wind, floods, drought and the like. And it so happens that even those without a map and given a wilderness to cut through can find it flashing by in chances. East of Eden, tell us to look, and look well.

The human at every age and reason wages battles and becomes entrenched in battles that echo forward for sometime as stones cast into a pond. The choice in war is ultimately the strategy for how a victory is best achieved. It seems though that a disaster, like an encroaching enemy strikes without warning, upturning all that stands in its wake. How can one surf a Tsunami, how can one aim to shoot when a bayonet is jammed in your gut? Can one prepare for this unknown? I think not but we do have a choice of how we survive these ravages. Are we caught up in a hurricane and left closed on a scorched island or desolate and resigned to death as we lay bleeding out on the field? It seems that these lessons of the heart and mind are always learned in retrospect after the damage has been achieved and hell wreaked.

Perhaps, Steinbeck is trying to tell us something. Perhaps he, is trying to speak from his character Lee as he repeatedly can be heard saying, “Timshel.” This is what is called, Thou mayest in Hebrew as described in an afterthought. You have the option, be damned or rise above yourself to greatness. The venom of bitterness, vengeance and doubt are poisons that complicate; yourself crippled lays in its wake.

I believe that this book would be great if it only encompassed the aforementioned moral standpoint, Don’t hate and live as peaceable neighbors. Ye, it smashes greatness and hangs at lofty peaks, peering down. What of resignation? What of ignorance of reality?

East of Eden, calls us to look again-look what else we have here in these golden pages. In all that is found in greatness, including generosity and all the positive attributes of humanity it is observed that there is an ability or perhaps a tendency to loose the very essence that make these attributes great; perhaps it is found playing craps among inflated self worth, a head that floats in the billowing cumulus clouds, or blinded love built of air and fantasy. In the romance of love and the passions of ardor it is greatness but oh, how pretentiousness can come like a thief-And how we use noble pursuits to ignore another facet in us; using a crutch to shoot the stars-is it still greatness? It is shown how such over-love and generosity can get oneself shot. It is shown how such piety and righteous can be a sham; an illusory coat of arms to guard against an inability to cope with harsh, unyielding truth. Is Samuel Hamilton right, “The weight of knowledge is too great for one mind to absorb.”?

Icarus compensated for his ineptitude by flying so high as to disregard natural laws then only in burning horror did he end up crashing down. What Steinbeck is trying to tell us is that there is a tact to life. There are hells above and below us. Perhaps, East of Eden, is asking us to be real, to be honest, to be forthcoming. Thou mayest fly above reality or thou mayest wallow in wretchedness but what thou aught is to find that imperceptible balance between the two-but there it is and here we are left: Would we be anything but human if we could just manage that?

“Maybe it’s true that we all are descended from the restless, the nervous, the criminals, the arguers, the brawlers, but also the brave, independent and generous.” I think it is the mastery of Steinbeck to show us something we have always known in a way that is shocking, gripping and lasting, that is East of Eden. “His whispered word seemed to hang in the air:”

“Timshel.”