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Category Archives: Alexandre Dumas

Thoughts: The Vicomte de Bragelonne

Vicomte de Bragelonne (The D'Artagnan Romances, #3)Vicomte de Bragelonne by Alexandre Dumas
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I finished it! It took me longer to complete this book than it did War and Peace! I should reconsider my obsessive compulsion toward unabridged literature and my inability to accept a blemish on my record of consecutive completed reads. This book just dragged on and on and on and on and…

As the third installment of the d’Artagnan Romances, this book serves as a transition from the notorious three musketeers and their Gascon friend to the lives of other French and English characters – youth usurping inevitable age and power subverting nobility. We get a mere glimpse of Porthos and Aramis, a small portion more of Athos in order to indulge his iron-clad honor and still only a bit more of d’Artagnan who reaches the age of retirement and moves his focus from reckless gallivanting and adventure for material comforts which compromise his character. Our friends simply serve to contrast the new kids on the block, to show the reader a transitioning world through politics and the integrity of a culture.

I did not find the story bad. I found the tedious nature of its telling nearly unbearable. As a serialized story bound together in, not one, but three novels, I have to scold the publishing world for trapping a novel-readers mind, habits and expectations in a story with no arc. It just keeps going! The novel form does not fully captivate this story. Would one staple all the scripts in one TV show season together and release it as a novel? It felt like sitting on a bench watching the people walk by. At first, you absorb yourself in the drama between the first passing couple. But then you try and care about the grimy homeless guy who followed while still thinking about the drama between the couple. Then the studious girl after him just frustrates you and you want to go home.

I liked the story. I found its telling nearly unbearable. I will wait a while before starting Louise de La Valliere which I will eventually read only because of my obsessive compulsion to finish the series and my general inability to leave a literary investment unsatisfied.

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Posted by on September 11, 2013 in Alexandre Dumas

 

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Thoughts: The Three Musketeers

The Three MusketeersThe Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Swashbuckling indeed.

Dumas’ tale of these honorable scoundrels merits its place in eternal literary glory. He musters all the typical facets of a Hollywood blockbuster but exploits the inherent themes developed by the characters.

Consider the title. Like The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the title misleads the reader from the real hero or center of the work. After giving some thought as to the reasoning behind this, I can only conclude that Athos, Porthos and Aramis somehow represent the pinnacle of incorruptible honor and steadfast duty to which d’Artagnan learns to aspire.

However, not one of these “good guys” exhibit a characterization without flaw. In fact, the reader will likely find some of their attitudes regarding self-glorification, women, reckless recreation, the value of life, etc. despicable. Athos drinks his past away, Porthos dives willingly into the snares of vanity and Aramis cowers into the open arms of the church when worldly threats overwhelm him. But these three never falter in their duty. Whatever their moral convictions, they never sway.

D’Artagnan, as an impressionable rookie with the gallant heart of Gascon gentry, develops like a student with unbound potential. In the service of a corrupt and spineless government, his chosen side owing only to fate, d’Artagnan must learn how to adjust and assimilate into the net of musketeers, cardinals’ guards, jealous king’s, power-abusing dukes and detestable women. The French government of King and Cardinal mirrors that of modern party-based governments with warring factions of musketeers and guards like Democrats and Republicans. Like The Illiad, government abuses power to serve their personal whims but, if you choose to read this book, are the heroes any less guilty of such an infraction?

But d’Artagnan’s education bleeds outside the realm of government service and symbolically onto the battlefield of good and evil. Milady de Winter, described as nothing short of the serpent in the Garden of Eden, battling in the arenas of convents and manipulating religious sentiments in those she seduces, ironically mirrors d’Artagnan’s own passions in vengeance, devotion and persistence in self-promotion and glorification. To distinguish between the two, the reader need only look to gender and alliance.

Yes, and I do not say that lightly.

The cardinal, to the confusion of many of his closest confidants, will not arrest the musketeers but rather thinks on how to employ them, as he had employed Milady de Winter’s passions and skills. D’Artagnan, again, joined the musketeers only because of the simple fated circumstance of his father’s childhood affiliations with M. de Treville. During the twisted Shakespearean tragedy when Milady and d’Artagnan developed a personal relationship, Dumas described d’Artagnan’s infatuation and dejection as entertainments to his self-love. As the story resolves, both characters lose something of themselves. And because of the palpable prejudices against women within the story, the reader must assume the responsibility of asking about Milady’s possible fate had she been a man. Perhaps our answer lies in d’Artagnan; as if his reckless pursuit and defense of honor and his propensity toward vengeance could be aimed at his own body.

Perhaps, after reading this book, one might take confidence in the idea that flawed but courageous men can rise to service and stand up for justice. But I would challenge the reader to defend that view after reading Dumas’ conclusion. Undoubtedly, The Three Musketeers entertains but the oftentimes satirical and hyperbolic episodes plant the idea that Dumas may consider these events silly yet terribly consequential and without hope of alteration; an interminable drama linked through the centuries.

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Posted by on April 25, 2012 in Alexandre Dumas

 

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Thoughts: The Count of Monte Cristo

The Count of Monte CristoThe Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What I progressively interpreted solely as a literary masterpiece with rich analytical prospects, I complete as if from an expeditious voyage into the human soul, bearing priceless specimens of discovery. The plot raced and circled, the characters breathed and resuscitated virtues and vices, the themes flared – all by language so fluid and elegant that the riches of Sinbad the Sailor would pale by photograph. I loved this book. In what is to follow, I carefully excluded any direct references to circumstances or events in the story which, as you well know, only the book can properly signify. Pick up the unabridged version (any publisher who would abridge this has lost my business for any work) and take your time. After all, is anything more intriguing than the human soul traipsing through the human condition?

‘Wait and hope!’

Injustice

The story begins with an injustice so gross it warrants fame even to those who haven’t read the book. Perhaps the most enraging aspect of this injustice is its base in political criminality. Dantes commits the “crime” during a historical period of political uncertainty rendering the inherent evil of the crime non-existent or valid only in the eye of the powerful. What one regime condemns as treason, another trumpets as heroism! It could be argued, by one more astute than myself, that Dumas may bestow his sympathies with Napoleon, that Dantes symbolizes the rage of the people abused by the sways of state, or that, being struck low and later glorified, he embodies the state’s inconstant stewardship.

From my limited exposure to French romantics, I have derived a common theme, namely that man-made laws organizing civilization stifle the potential fullness of human existence. Dumas’ characters experience great disillusionment at this realization but resurface within the fullness of an existence bound to nature’s rule and providence. Undoubtedly, Dumas bloats this particular case of judicial triviality in order to, perhaps, question whether all crimes against Man’s Law, designed for societal preservation, aren’t equally baseless and insignificant, therefore deserving of a far less severe punishment than is realized in many states. By representing the three focal pillars of social order – military, banking and courts – in Dantes enemies, he asserts the corruptibility and injustice of society, qualities germinated, cultivated and rooted in human ambition. It frightens one to think that social orders may be instituted to house such ambition rather than foster righteousness.

Justice

Abstain from nasty rumors purported in films that this is a story about revenge; if revenge exalts the offended as judge to an end only satisfying to himself. It is a tale about a justice which serves to balance circumstances according to a higher, moral judgement to which Dantes has devoted himself.

As a matter of fact, I pledge to having read the name “Edmond Dantes” perhaps ten times after the first quarter of the book. Dumas shrouded him in such effective anonymity, with language of “an avenging angel” and a title indicating ownership of the “Mountain of Christ” (a wasteland so desolate one would cry in anguish at the thought of living there), one finds himself acquainted not with a man out for blood and retribution, but for justice. Evolved morality, nature, Providence, God’s law – is impenetrable because, similarly to the Count, it boasts no social relation, no country of origin and no affiliation by which to attack or weaken it. The ultimate consequences for Dantes’ enemies stem publicly from other sins. They suffer not because of the afflictions cast on Dantes, but for other cunning routes of ambition. Dantes wields no sword, but places it gracefully in the hands of his aggressors that they may die by their own evil deeds. Dantes, like Providence, directs the circumstances pertaining to his enemies like a sovereign power. In this way, he simply holds the lantern which shines on all which needs rewarded.

Though these felons fall from aristocratic grace, an order supported by, as previously described, transient laws of man, it is not that aristocracy that would save them. The pillars into which they sacrificed love and integrity for riches and title rewarded them only with the power of false gods. Their riches and title could not save them from their sins against God’s law. If the crime is described in terms of a state in sway, the justice is executed according to a constant Providence, or natural law. It is that constance which immunizes Providence from the failures of social law infected with triviality. Where social law, by human writ, fails to build its house, Providence does – on the indestructible foundation of integrity, honesty and love.

Suffering and Happiness

Dantes, despite his seemingly flawless direction of “chance”, cannot shelter himself from the storm he sets in motion, or raise himself above the Providence he serves. Yet his existence, once stooped so low and raised so high, reaches an understanding of balance through the symbiotic relationship of the two extremes. Much like the horrible purging experienced by biblical prophets, Dantes suffers. The resolution of Dantes’ life affords him the ethereal pleasure, the deep affection for living, in understanding that because of extreme suffering, one can fully appreciate boundless happiness. After seeing this dichotomy, it is left to the will of the human soul to hope that such extremes can be met in a single lifetime.

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Posted by on April 25, 2012 in Alexandre Dumas

 

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Thoughts: Twenty Years After

Twenty Years AfterTwenty Years After by Alexandre Dumas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘Ah, my friend, it is not civil wars which disunite us; it is that we are all twenty years older. The loyal outbursts of youth have gone, and given place to the din of interests, the breath of ambition, and the counsels of egotism.’

By trusting in the appeal of history’s natural plot lines and openly disregarding any responsibility toward portraying them accurately, Dumas weaves his continuing tale of d’Artagnan and his three friends in this sequel to The Three Musketeers. Yet Dumas does not disrespect history or think himself wiser than the natural evolution of societies. He simply reshapes the tale, embellishing the themes and characteristics which serve his passions and insights – ultimately romanticizing it. And from the father of Romanticism, should we expect anything less?

I would not characterize this novel as swashbuckling but I would certainly say I like it more than its predecessor. If The Three Musketeers introduced us to four men of impeccable honor, though one-dimensional “good-guys”, Twenty Years After shows us how men of such unified character can fall on opposite lines of a conflict. Yet after aging and developing personal ambitions, they rediscover the bonds which tied them together – not any particular conviction, just the history and respect which solidify an undying friendship. Their friendship paves the road to personal adjustments which, in the end, prove to excite their personal morals and convictions and land them where they always hoped to find themselves.

As opposed to Musketeers, the four friends plant themselves on opposite sides of a historical revolution which took place in Paris during the 17th century. In this separation we discover new depths to each character, namely d’Artagnan and Athos. With age, they have embraced their individual ambitions which the reader will freely judge as respectable or otherwise. Unfortunately, Porthos, and perhaps Aramis, degenerated dimensionally when compared to their characters in the previous novel. But in conflict, we find ourselves. When tested, we lay bare the quality of our convictions. In the courage, wit, cunning and leadership of d’Artagnan and the wisdom, honor, dignity and morality of Athos we plainly see the spirit of men entrenched in this historical conflict.

As d’Artagnan sacrifices his moral judgement to uphold the prestige of unquestioning loyalty, devotion and even mercantilism, Athos defies his responsibility to men and adheres securely to his morals, his chivalric upbringing, and fights for the spirit of dignified civilization. Near the end, it seems that both men compromise a bit politically. But while d’Artagnan, as lieutenant of the Musketeers, served those who would ruin France because of his characteristic devotion to military orders rather than morality and lust for promotion and fortune, something le Comte de la Fere (Athos) never had to concern himself with, Athos defended the institution of monarchy. He distinguishes between the spirit of God on earth, in the monarchy, and the kings, queens, cardinals, etc who stand as its representative. Despite great peril to himself and friends, he refuses to abandon the defense of monarchy against those who would abuse it and represent it poorly – even away from France! In England, a country foreign to our heroes, Athos ruthlessly defends the monarchy. Ideals have no political boundaries!

In this installment, Dumas develops his particular insights into human nature by pitting them against each other. He develops his own political tastes through Athos, the great romantic and root of then-modern chivalry. But despite these differences, friendship prevents them from removing each other as obstacles to their goals. They make their respective stances but draw the line at harming each other. They continue along their respective paths unknowingly allowing friendship to guide them in a different direction than they imagined – a direction which benefits them better than they could have dreamed for themselves. D’Artagnan’s action, combined with Athos’ convictions, bring these four together to the center of the conflict, after they began on the fringes, and shapes the resolution to the revolution.

Yet history has not let go its pen and we will see if friendship can hold back the tide of the civilization it has challenged.

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Posted by on April 17, 2012 in Alexandre Dumas

 

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