Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1577
First published: Vingt ans apres, 1845 (English translation, 1846)
Type of work: Novel
Type of plot: Historical romance
Time of work: Mid-seventeenth century
Locale: France and England
Aramis, Musketeers of the Guard
Cardinal Mazarin, Minister of State
Mordaunt, Cromwell’s agent
When the powerful Richelieu had died and Cardinal Mazarin, whose name gossip coupled with that of Queen Anne, had seized control of the French government; and while Oliver Cromwell was overthrowing Charles I of England, D’Artagnan, a lieutenant in the Musketeers, pined for intrigue and adventure.
France was in political turmoil, with revolt impending. High taxes, coupled with the evident avarice and extravagance of the rulers who levied them, had aroused the people. Some of the powerful nobles were also stirred but were motivated by loyalty to the throne.
Queen Anne was under Mazarin’s thumb. She, in turn, acted as protector for her son, King Louis XIV, then only ten years old. The boy despised Mazarin.
Mazarin, beset on all sides by enemies and harassed by fears for his personal safety, summoned D’Artagnan, whose earlier fame with the King’s Musketeers had been obscured by time.
Twenty years had passed since D’Artagnan, the Gascon adventurer, and the other three musketeers, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, had performed doughty deeds for their country and their king. Now, separated by time and interests, they had lost touch with one another. Ordered by Mazarin to recruit the three musketeers, D’Artagnan found himself confronted by mystery in the conduct of his former comrades in arms.
First he found Aramis, the dandy, a monk who lived in luxury. The former musketeer declined D’Artagnan’s proposal on the pretense that such activity would interfere with his monastic vows. Porthos was a more willing adventurer. Living on a large estate with a sufficient income, Porthos was unhappy because of his lack of a title. He wished to be a baron. This D’Artagnan promised him. Athos, who had adopted a son, Raoul, lived on another luxurious estate. He also refused to ally himself with D’Artagnan. The adopted son of Athos was in reality his true son, begotten illegitimately, but Athos did not want to acknowledge the boy as his own and reveal the circumstances of his birth.
When the Duke de Beaufort, a political prisoner, escaped from his prison at Vincennes, Mazarin ordered the faithful adventurers, D’Artagnan and Porthos, to recapture the duke and the man who had helped him to escape. D’Artagnan and Porthos, attempting to overtake the fugitives, found themselves confronted by Aramis and Athos. The four comrades dropped their weapons, exchanged vows of eternal friendship and love, and then parted, both pairs to carry on according to their own alliances.
Athos and Aramis were members of the Fronde, a political force composed of two factions: the rebellious commoners of Paris, who hoped to overthrow the king, and the nobility, who wished to replace the king. D’Artagnan and Porthos had sworn allegiance to Mazarin, who represented the king.
The first outbreak of the revolt found Mazarin and the queen unprepared. After tearing up the streets of Paris, the mob surrounded the palace, and Mazarin called upon D’Artagnan to save him. No obstacle was too great for the clever Gascon. He smuggled Mazarin away from the palace and out of Paris. Then he returned and gave similar assistance to the queen and the young king.
During the early days of their exploits, the four musketeers and an Englishman named de Winter had executed a vicious woman referred to simply as Milady; she was de Winter’s...
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sister-in-law. Mordaunt, Milady’s son, a young man sworn to revenge his mother’s death and an agent in the service of Oliver Cromwell, returned to France in a dual role: to search for and to murder those who had caused his mother’s execution and to serve as an emissary for Cromwell, who hoped to learn the extent of French sympathy for deposed Charles I of England. Lord de Winter had also gone to France to assist Henrietta Maria, the wife of Charles, and to ask that the king be given sanctuary in France should he escape Cromwell’s forces.
The Fronde came to Henrietta Maria and Lord de Winter in the persons of Athos and Aramis. They departed secretly for England in de Winter’s company, but not before they had learned that Milady’s embittered son was on their trail.
When Mordaunt presented his case for Cromwell before Mazarin, the cardinal decided to send a message to the Puritan leader. His messengers were Porthos and D’Artagnan, who unwittingly placed themselves in the hands of their enemy when they set out for England with Mordaunt, whose identity was as yet unknown to them.
At a battle near Newcastle, King Charles was taken by Cromwell’s troops. When D’Artagnan and Porthos discovered Aramis and Athos in the defeated army, they tried to save their friends by taking them prisoners, with the feigned excuse of holding them for ransom. The cruelty of the Puritans, coupled with the personal courage of the fallen Charles I, so influenced D’Artagnan that he consented to do everything he could to help the king escape to France.
As the victorious army of Cromwell made its way back to London, D’Artagnan maneuvered himself into the good graces of the soldier who guarded Charles. As the four musketeers were about to kidnap the king, their plans were thwarted by an unlucky interruption instigated by Mordaunt. In London, D’Artagnan began to lay the groundwork for snatching Charles to safety. As the time for the execution approached, the plans of D’Artagnan one by one toppled under the vigilant efforts of Mordaunt. At last D’Artagnan kidnaped the executioner, sent his comrades in disguise as gallows builders, and awaited his chance to free the royal prisoner. His attempt failed, however, when Charles was beheaded by a volunteer executioner, who, it was later discovered, was the vicious Mordaunt.
Fearing for their own lives, the four comrades plotted to escape from England. Mordaunt followed them to the coast, mined their ship, and bought off the crew. Fortune, however, was with the heroes, who discovered the casks filled with gunpowder. When Mordaunt blew up the ship, they were waiting to seize him. Athos stabbed the Englishman as the two men struggled in the water.
Back in France, Mazarin was angry because they had attempted to aid King Charles. He arrested D’Artagnan and Porthos. Athos was arrested while trying to aid them. Using his great strength, Porthos overcame their guards, seized Mazarin in his country retreat, and forced him to release Athos. With Mazarin in their power, they compelled him to pardon them and grant their demands.
When the Frondist revolt was over and Paris was restored to order, the royal household returned to the palace. The musketeers, twenty years older but forever the same, were again in good standing. D’Artagnan was awarded a captaincy in the Musketeers, and Porthos was granted the title of baron. Athos went back to his estate and Aramis back to his amours. None of the four knew when they would ever meet again.
TWENTY YEARS AFTER was published in 1845 at the beginning of Alexandre Dumas, père’s most productive decade, when he had turned his back on successful play writing to exploit the rich, romantic possibilities of the French historical novel. TWENTY YEARS AFTER, which appeared first as a serial in LE SIECLE, was the first sequel to the immensely successful novel THE THREE MUSKETEERS, published the year before.
The novel deals with the Fronde—a name given to two revolts against the absolutism of the monarchy—as well as with the downfall and execution of Charles I, King of England. In terms of this book, the four musketeers are close to the leading actors in the history of their time and are involved even more importantly in more major events than they were in the original story. Increasingly sophisticated, this time they are makers of history as well as witnesses.
It is hardly necessary to tell readers that Dumas played fast and loose with history. Often basing his stories on unreliable memoirs, he compounded unreliability. Working hastily and carelessly, he frequently failed to keep historical chronology straight. There are prime examples of his various kinds of faults in TWENTY YEARS AFTER. Charles I, for example, writes to his wife that he is preparing to fight a battle that actually took place three years before the date of the letter. Anne of Austria says that Louis will reach his majority “next year,” at a time when he is only ten years old. The portrait of Mazarin, apparently based on the memoirs of one of his enemies, is entirely one-sided.
Dumas also took liberties with fiction. Never was the long arm of coincidence longer or more nearly omnipresent that it is in this novel. He embraced improbabilities with outstretched arms and consorted openly with impossibility; but these faults and inconsistencies, in a sense, do not matter. What remains important is the special magic of the author’s storytelling, which has enthralled generations of readers, and will most certainly enchant generations to come. Dumas is an absolute master storyteller, and his talent is showcased nearly as well in this novel as in his classic novel THE THREE MUSKETEERS.