Thursday, 16 July 1998

Alexandre Dumas: Twenty Years On (1845)

Edition: Blackie & Son
Also translated as: Twenty Years After
Review number: 89

Twenty Years On is the less well-known sequel to the immensely popular Three Musketeers. This particular edition is an old one, from a time when the translator would either wish to remain anonymous - after all, Twenty Years On is not written in Greek or Latin and is translated into simple prose - or would not be considered important enough by the publisher to receive a credit. This is why no credit is given above for the translation, which is a good one.

Twenty years after their adventures recovering the queen's diamond from the English Duke of Buckingham, the four companions (d'Artagnan, Athos, Porthos and Aramis) have separated. Political events have moved on; the old king, Louis XIII has died, and so has the powerful Cardinal de Richelieu. The queen, Anne of Austria, is ruling the country as regent for her son Louis XIV, with her favourite, the unpopular Cardinal Mazarin. Civil war rages in England, and looks to be about to break out in France as well. It is impossible to avoid taking sides either for Mazarin and the queen, or for the party opposed to them, known as the Frondeurs (from which historians named these disturbances the "Frondes"). Porthos and d'Artagnan end up on the side of Mazarin, Athos and Aramis on the other. Both pairs return to England, the former to negotiate with Cromwell and the latter to aid king Charles I.

The complicated plot also involves the son of "Milady", the duplicity and avarice of Mazarin, smuggling the young king and his mother from a hostile Paris, and many other historical incidents into which the fictional characters are skilfully woven. But Dumas manages to prevent the historical detail from interfering with the sense of the period he creates and from the interest and amusement derived from the characters of the musketeers and their servants. (The portrayal of the relationships between single gentlemen and their servants, which must have been a close one for many such pairs, is something which comes across very strongly.) Dumas is helped by the fact that this is a sequel, using characters already established for the readers in the first book and needing only a reminder to renew the acquaintanceship. That fact doesn't prevent admiration for the success he has made of this aspect of the novel.

The reason it is less well-known, I feel, is to do with the comparative lack of action rather than any change in the quality of the writing.

No comments: