Ever since I first read this series, as a child, I've thought two things: that their main subject is Friendship, and that TYA is better than TTM. I think it's easy to see why: the forty-year-old D'Artagnan, disillusioned, rather poor, and solitary, is much more interesting than his twenty-year self. Far from being a successful and rich ladies' man, he is a forgotten (especially by the Queen) hero.
True, TYA is more political than TTM: here Dumas deepens his political reflections. Richelieu was perhaps the bad guy in TTM, but he was a magnificent enemy, a cunning, brave and magnanimous foe, even more so when compared to the social-climbing, timorous, corrupt and greedy Cardinal Mazarin (a cardinal without being a priest!). The Italian is unpopular for these characteristics, as well as for the draconian fiscal measures introduced. He is confronted with the people, the Parliament, the bourgeoisie and a part of the nobility (led by Beaufort, which explains the interest Dumas takes in him, in part, the other part being the sensational manner of his escape).
What about D'Artagnan's new friendship with his former foe Rochefort? I think the answer lies in this idea that the book is about friendship: how often does it happen that you find yourself a friend of a former schoolmate whom you used to hate or despise back in childhood? Friendships change throughout one's life: witness the transformation within the musketeers' group. I think it is in this subject that Dumas finds a more profound literature, when he depicts in detail the feelings of nostalgia for "the good old times", mixed with the longing for lost illusions and the pain about lost opportunities. Dumas analyzes the effects of time over friendship, fully aware that the good old times never ever come back and that we grieve for it.
The English episode kindles a renewal of those feelings of community, of deep friendship, which reach their climax in Mazarin's kidnap and the escape from prison. In the end, the four former musketeers get ALL they want, except the one thing some of them crave the most: the recovery of the lost paradise of true, juvenile, disinterested friendship. I think we all can relate to that feeling.
: Okay. I finally finished it! I must have
: averaged only about 20 pages per day. It's
: hard to explain why I moved SO slowly
: through it. It's not that I wasn't
: interested or didn't enjoy it, but on the
: other hand, I wasn't compelled to keep
: reading. Perhaps it was because so little
: seemed to be at stake. I doubted that any
: of the musketeers would get killed, since
: there is another volume (or three), although
: I confess that when Athos disappeared under
: the water with Mordaunt, it did give me a
: bit of a turn. The most gripping part of
: the plot is probably when they are in
: England, but since I knew that they
: obviously were not going to be able to save
: Charles I, there was little suspense.
: Anyway, I have a number of questions.
: First, what in the world were Dumas'
: politics? He seems to be an enthusiast for
: monarchy and the divine right of kings. And
: yet, the only monarch who is awarded a noble
: portrait by Dumas is the doomed Charles I.
: Louis XIII is a weak, shadowy figure in The
: Three Musketeers, easily dominated by
: Richelieu and even secondary to Anne of
: Austria, his queen. Louis XIV is a child in
: Twenty Years After. And yet, the musketeers
: are willing to risk their lives for the
: And what's with the queen's diamonds,
: anyway? If the queen is carrying on an
: affair with the Duke of Buckingham, is that
: not only adultery but basically treason?
: (The paternity of any offspring is in doubt
: if the queen is unfaithful.) And yet,
: D'Artagnan and the musketeers mightily risk
: life and limb to retrieve the diamonds and
: protect the queen's "honor."
: Before the king. To whom she is unfaithful.
: The, there is the whole question of
: Richelieu himself? He employs Milady and
: for most of the novel, we believe that the
: Man from Meung is a major antagonist. Yet,
: it is apparently a happy ending when
: D'Artagnan become a lieutenant in the
: musketeers on Richelieu's orders. And
: throughout Twenty Years After, they refer to
: him as the "great" cardinal,
: constantly drawing an unfavorable comparison
: between Richelieu and Mazarin. I get that
: the fighting between the King's musketeers
: and the Cardinal's guards may be somewhat
: similar to the legendary hostility in the
: U.S. military between the Navy's sailors and
: Marines. But still, what are we to make of
: The characterizations seem to shift some in
: Twenty Years After as well. D'Artagnan
: seems to be pretty much himself twenty years
: older and frustrated at remaining a
: lieutenant. Although it is interesting that
: he is now clearly the leader who has all the
: clever plans. Aramis, who was, I thought,
: the most memorably drawn of the three in TTM
: (poet, ladies' man, would-be priest) becomes
: shadowy and ill-defined in TYA. Athos, who
: was the most mature but deeply scarred with
: guilt over having hanged Milady, has become
: the most rigidly moral, always upright and
: self-sacrificing one in TYA. Maybe
: fatherhood did this for him. Porthos seemed
: under-characterized in TTM, but he comes
: into his own as a (relatively) slow-witted,
: affable giant who can fell a man with a
: single blow. I certainly don't recall him
: being so formidable in TTM.
: As i said previously, my French history is
: not all that good, so I had never heard of
: the Fronde. But as Dumas paints this French
: civil "war," it seems to be mostly
: about hatred for Mazarin. In marked
: contrast to the English who execute their
: king, the French in revolt appear to revere
: their king and even their queen. I feel
: certain that in reality they didn't riot in
: the streets over Mazarin. At least they
: wouldn't if he was no more cruel than he's
: presented in the novel. It's interesting
: that Athos and Aramis are on the side of the
: Fronde, even though they immediately take up
: the request of Queen Henrietta to go and
: defend Charles I, while D'Artagnan and
: Porthos, who, for their own gain (and a
: sense of duty for D'Artagnan) readily work
: for Mazarin, but they are sent to England
: with Mordaunt, essentially on the Puritan's
: And what's with so much time spent
: engineering the Duc de Beaufort's escape
: from prison when he otherwise plays
: virtually no part in the novel?
: Both novels are oddly structured. The
: Queen's Diamonds are easily the most
: suspenseful, thrilling, and exciting part of
: TTM. That story is over long before the
: novel. As I said when writing about the
: earlier novel, I was somewhat unhappy with
: the way that Milady hijacks the last quarter
: of the novel, when, for me at least,
: D'Artagnan and the musketeers are much more
: interesting. Similarly, the English plot
: and Mordaunt are the most interesting parts
: of TYA, but he is dead and that plot
: resolved about two hundred pages before the
: novel ends. (Although I did enjoy the
: escape of the musketeers from prison and the
: kidnapping of the cardinal.)
: And, oh yes, I'm stunned that it was
: possible to become a cardinal without even
: being a priest!
: Anyway, I'm not sorry that I read them. I
: got a great deal of enjoyment out of them.
: Lots of questions, though.
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