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.