Friday, 28 August 2015

Review: The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas

The long journey is now over. I had planned to save the last part of Alexandre Dumas' d’Artagnan Romances until later in the year, but somehow, after reading the previous part, I decided to finish off the series. The Romances consist of three works: 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 was reading the Project Gutenberg version, which separates the novel into four parts. You can find the reviews of the first, second and third part here, here and here.

The Man in the Iron Mask covers the chapters 209 to 269 of the full novel and is set in 1661-1673. After the slow plod of the two middle instalments, the last part is surprisingly full of action. Aramis' plot is finally put in motion and Porthos stands by his side. D'Artagnan attempts to find out what the plan is and then deal with the repercussions, while Athos tries to console his son, Vicomte de Bragelonne, after his disappointment in his love affairs. I cannot really say much more than that without spoiling the plot, but I must comment on how saddened I was that the musketeers never seemed to see eye-to-eye in their older age. Their youth - described in The Three Musketeers - is like a dream from long ago.

Not only is this last part of the story filled with action, it also has far fewer of the kind of "filler" scenes that the previous parts suffered from. Certainly Dumas still takes more time to describe and get through his scenes than a modern writer would, but it was nowhere near as slow as his previous writing. This, I think, also allowed Dumas' amusing descriptions to shine and I, for the first time, really paid attention to how d'Artagnan is often described as chewing his moustache when he tries to figure something out. And, in the same vein, here's a short bit of how Dumas describes another character: "The King had no mustache to gnaw, and therefore kept biting the handle of his whip instead, with ill-concealed impatience."

Overall, the last part of the The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later was the strongest and also the saddest. I haven't shed a tear for anything I've read for many, many years, but reading certain parts of this finale really upset me for a long while. As a whole, the novel is very uneven and it is perhaps not the kind of story that a fan of the first novel is searching for: the musketeers are no longer together and many times they are not even taking part in the plot, they plot against each other and are generally close to the ends of their lives. Still, I am happy that I have now finally read (and sometimes plodded) through the entire series.