Friday, 31 July 2015

Review: Louise de La Vallière by Alexandre Dumas

I've been slowly reading through Alexandre Dumas' d’Artagnan Romances that consist of three novels: The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After and The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later. The last of these has been published in several different editions that divide the novel into separate books in different ways. I am reading the Project Gutenberg version, which separates the novel into four parts. You can find the reviews of the first and second parts here and here.

Louise de La Vallière covers the chapters 141 to 208 of the full novel and is set in 1661. It is perhaps the most difficult part of the book to read, competing with the previous instalment, mainly because it focuses almost solely on Louise de La Vallière and her relationship with the king. The 'action' mainly consist of them trying to be together when Madame (the king's previous lover and his brother's wife) conspires to stop them at any cost. Numerous shenanigans ensue, but it is only after a few hundred pages that Vicomte de Bragelonne (Louise's fiancé) finally returns to France and shakes things up a bit. We also see Aramis in a couple of short chapters, continuing his plotting that leads to the events of the final part, The Man in the Iron Mask. D'Artagnan, Porthos and Athos also pop in quickly, but are not really given much to do.

I must repeat my main complaints about the story-telling style that Dumas uses. He was clearly writing for a newspaper style medium and paid by the words and consequently many of the chapters consist of meandering, repetitive dialogue. While some of it is certainly amusing, it also drags the plot and achieves little. There was one bit of dialogue that went on and on and then the characters actually said "let's summarise" and then complimented each other for this brilliant idea and continued to repeat what had been said thus far and corrected each others' understanding of what had been said.

A smaller complaint is the word "foil" that the Gutenberg translation uses. The foil was actually invented in France as a training weapon in the middle of the 18th century in order to practise fast and elegant thrust fencing. At the time Dumas' stories take place, the swords in use were mainly still rapiers.

Overall, the instalment was pretty much as I expected when reading its title. Most of it is a retelling of historical facts about the king's relationships and have little to do with the four heroes that you might expect to read about. I look forward to the last instalment now, as I expect that Aramis' plotting will finally bear fruit and we will get at least some action to the story (although it seems that at least one fête for the king is yet to be organised). And perhaps see more of d'Artagnan, Athos and Porthos as well.