Alexandre Dumas, père World Literature Analysis
Dumas’s long novels are sometimes called, misleadingly, romances. They are not, first of all, like what are commonly called romance novels, which deal with a woman falling in love. Moreover, there is an important distinction to be made between a novel and a romance. The distinction has to do with the powers of the protagonist. Novels are about ordinary people and how they fare in their conflicts. The protagonist of a novel is treated realistically and is often given a detailed psychological portrait. On the other hand, the romance presents extraordinary persons whose powers are magical and border on the mythological. The protagonists of romances are not so much individual men and women as archetypes, dream images, or symbols. The romantic protagonist comes from an upper world, and the antagonist has attributes of an underworld. The conflict takes place in a realistic setting, but the laws of nature may be suspended. Shakespeare’s play The Tempest (pr. 1611, pb. 1623) is an example of such a romance in English literature, as is the film Star Wars (1977). Dumas’s novels are realistic, not romances.
Dumas wrote many historical novels. When reading history, one needs always to remember that what happened is being rendered by the person telling what happened. Even the most factual histories involve interpretation. Dumas’s historical novels do not make romances out of history. For example, rather than create a King Arthur, whose powers are those of a hero of a romance, Dumas creates characters who resemble, in their accomplishments, failings, and personalities, people the reader may know in life. Dumas usually succeeds in producing a convincing illusion of historical reality. His novels are often so compelling that many readers never question their historical accuracy.
The Three Musketeers
First published: Les Trois Mousquetaires, 1844 (English translation, 1846)
Type of work: Novel
Three of King Louis XIII’s musketeers and a cadet serve their king and queen with loyalty, bravery, and honor, their adventures taking place in a context of historical fact.
The Three Musketeers, a historical novel, is arranged in five parts. In the first, the introduction, the reader meets the heroes: the cadet, d’Artagnan, and the king’s musketeers Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. They become the Inseparables. In the second part, the reader discovers that there is considerable intrigue going on in the court of Louis XIII. There is rivalry between the king and Cardinal de Richelieu, which is reflected in a rivalry between the king’s guards and the cardinal’s guards. What is more, scandal follows the king’s consort, Queen Anne of Austria, and the duke of Buckingham, who are in a liaison. In the third part, there is a religious war between the Catholics and Protestants of France. There is a siege at La Rochelle (an actual event). In the fourth part, a beautiful femme fatale causes the assassination of the duke of Buckingham, tries without success to poison d’Artagnan, and successfully poisons another character. In the last part, she gets her retribution. Her executioner is the brother of a priest whom she seduced and ruined. D’Artagnan is rewarded with a promotion.
The principal characters have their prototypes in real people. The king, queen, cardinal, and other important members of the court all existed in fact. D’Artagnan is based on a real person.
The king’s guards, an elite force whose job was to protect the king, were gentlemen trained from an early age in horsemanship and the use of arms. They were armed with muskets and rapiers. When guarding the king, they rode horseback and used their rapiers, but in war they fought on foot, with their muskets. When Cardinal de Richelieu saw this impressive military unit, he formed his own guard of musketeers. Both corps wore scarlet uniforms. They were distinguished from each other by whether they rode gray or black horses. Not surprisingly, the two corps were rivals.
Dumas tells a simple yet stirring tale. Aside from the dashing swordplay, the novel relies upon, and...
(The entire section is 1699 words.)