This is the third Dumas novel to feature d’Artagnan and his three friends, Athos, Porthos and Aramis. Originally published in serial form as part of a much longer book, it is now usually split into three volumes of which The Vicomte de Bragelonne is the first and Louise de la Vallière and The Man in the Iron Mask are the others. As Dumas is one of my favourite authors I was fully expecting to love this book – and I did, although it was not quite as satisfying as the first two d’Artagnan novels – The Three Musketeers and Twenty Years After.
The first thing to say about The Vicomte de Bragelonne is that it is not really about the Vicomte de Bragelonne! He does appear near the beginning and again near the end, but his role in the story is not really any more significant than any number of other characters. The next thing I should say is that any reader hoping to find the four friends working together again in the spirit of “all for one and one for all” will be disappointed; we do see quite a lot of Athos, but Porthos and Aramis only come into the story very briefly towards the end.
So, what is this book about, then? Well, possibly because this is only one section of a longer work, it’s difficult to give a summary of the plot. The first half of the novel concentrates mainly on d’Artagnan and Athos who are working on two separate schemes both designed to restore Charles II to the throne of England. History tells us that the restoration would be accomplished – though not quite in the way described in this book, which is much more fun than what actually happened!
Later in the book we learn that Aramis and Porthos seem to be helping the Superintendent of Finances, Monsieur Fouquet, to build fortifications on the island of Belle-Île. We don’t find out exactly what they are up to, however, and this part of the story is left shrouded in mystery, presumably to be developed in the next two novels. Finally, there’s the storyline involving the title character, Raoul (the Vicomte), and his love for Louise de la Vallière.
The gaps between these three subplots are filled with lots of chapters detailing the political situation in France in the 1660s (particularly the death of Cardinal Mazarin and the rivalry between Fouquet and Louis XIV’s new Minister of Finance, Colbert) and the romantic intrigues of the French court (revolving around the King’s marriage and also his brother’s marriage to Charles II’s sister, Henrietta). All of this makes The Vicomte de Bragelonne a heavier, slower read than the previous two novels, but I didn’t find it boring at all – I love the way Dumas writes and I love French history, so I didn’t really mind the fact that there was less swashbuckling action and that we don’t see as much of d’Artagnan’s friends.
Of course, where history (or even geography) is concerned it can’t always be assumed that everything in a Dumas novel is completely accurate. I was amazed to find that in Dumas’ world the city of Newcastle had suddenly been transported from the River Tyne to the banks of the River Tweed sixty miles to the north! Dumas also tends to change dates or rearrange the sequence of events whenever the story calls for it as well, though I’m sure I wouldn’t have even noticed most of these alterations if I hadn’t been referring to the notes at the back of the book. I’m pleased to say, by the way, that the notes in the Oxford World’s Classics edition didn’t spoil any of the story – although I avoided the introduction just in case.
As The Vicomte de Bragelonne doesn’t stand alone as a complete novel and wasn’t originally intended to, there are a lot of things left unresolved at the end of the book, as you would expect. I’m looking forward to continuing the story soon with Louise de la Vallière!
12 thoughts on “The Vicomte de Bragelonne by Alexandre Dumas”
Grr, my comment seems to have disappeared: just wanted to ask which one of the Dumas novels is your favourite to date?
My favourite Dumas novel is The Count of Monte Cristo, but I’ve loved all three of the D’Artagnan books too, especially The Three Musketeers. I also really enjoyed The Black Tulip.
Great choices! Have nearly forgotten The Black Tulip, but I remember loving it as a child.
I didn’t realize Dumas had written so many books featuring d’Artagnan and company.
Yes, I was surprised when I found that there were so many too!
I loved The Three Musketeers and I look forward to reading more about D’Artagnan and his friends in Twenty Years Later. I also have The Count of Monte Cristo to read 🙂
I tried reading Dumas when I was a teenager but found it too slow (for me then). I have just in the last few years discovered he is actually a great writer. I haven’t read any of the D’Artagnan stories except The Three Musketeers in recent years (think I read the second one years ago), but I loved The Black Tulip and La Reine Margot! And I liked The Count of Monte Cristo I haven’t heard of this book, so I’ll have to keep an eye out for it. I was surprised a few years back to learn that D’Artagnan was an actual person, and were the other musketeers, I think. I read a book that posited that the man in the Iron Mask, who apparently actually existed, was actually D’Artagnan himself.
I have a copy of La Reine Margot and am looking forward to reading it, but I want to finish the D’Artagnan series first.
I read a huge book about Henry IV. I can’t for the life of me remember who wrote it. Maybe it was one of Heinrich Mann’s trilogy, but I am not sure. It was about the end of his life. I remember just enough of it when I read La Reine Margot to make reading that book an interesting contrast, as it is about the time before he is king.
Yes, I think it was Henry, King of France by Heinrich Mann.
I have the hardest time keeping these books straight! I have Twenty Years After, which clearly I should read next. I also have The Man in the Iron Mask, which I wanted to read because the story sounds interesting – but I’ll wait and read it in order.
I don’t know enough about French history to see Dumas’s editorial changes, I bet.
I would definitely recommend reading this series in order if possible. I think a lot of people aren’t aware that The Man in the Iron Mask is actually the last of the five books.