Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Louise de la Valliere by Alexandre Dumas

            And now I come to the fifth book in the Three Musketeers series, after having previously read through The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After, The Vicomte de Bragelonne, and Ten Years Later.
            (As I have noted previously, the whole series is only 3 volumes in the original French, but the convention in English has been to divide the lengthy 3rd volume into 4 separate books, so in the original French this would be simply chapters 141-208 of the 3rd book.  As I am downloading these books off of Project Gutenberg, I am following their divisions [LINK HERE])

            Some of what I have to say in this review is a repeat of what I said in my reviews of the previous volumes, but so be it.

The Review
            The surprising thing about the first two volumes, The Three Musketeers and Twenty Years After, is that their constant action and quick pacing made them seem like modern day paperbacks instead of old Victorian era classics.
            However, by this point in the series, that quick pacing has disappeared, and the story now moves at a tortuously slow pace.
            (I don’t know what happened along the way, but my best guess is that by this point Dumas had realized what a cash cow this series was, and he was trying to spin it out for as long as possible.  The whole series was originally serialized in the French newspapers, and Dumas got paid by the installment.  He also had financial problems all his life, so it’s not hard to imagine.)
            The writing style—the prose descriptions, the dialogue, et cetera—are all still highly readable, but for many chapters at a time the story just feels like it’s going nowhere.
            There’s also a lot of needless dialogue.  What will often happen is that two characters will sit around discussing a plan.  Then they will enact their plan.  Then afterwards they will talk about the results of their plan.  This means that the reader has to sit through the same thing recounted three times.
            Another characteristic of the dialogue is that very few characters are direct with each other.  Typically, when two characters have something to communicate to each other, one character will begin by alluding to the new information only in very vague terms, while the other character will usually act particularly dense and not catch the allusion.  In most of the dialogues, it takes a couple of pages for any character to get around to communicating the substance of their message.
            This is particularly irritating to the reader when it’s drawing out something the reader already knows anyway, since a fair amount of the dialogue is just recounting events that the reader has already witnessed.

            As a result, I would classify The Three Musketeers, and Twenty Years After as page turners, but Louise de la Valliere as a page stopper. 
            I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was a bad reading experience, but it was not the kind of book that encouraged me to keep flipping the pages.  I would typically read through a couple pages, realize that the story wasn’t going anywhere for a while, and decide I that I had had enough for the day.  And so I finished this book in little nibbles instead of long reading sessions.

            And yet, for all that, I’m still enjoying this series.
            I’m enjoying the large cast of interesting characters, historical and fictional, that Dumas has by this time fleshed out.
            I’m enjoying the complexity of the story, and the many different plot and subplots that Dumas is juggling.
            And I’m continuing to enjoy how much real history is integrated into this story.

            So I’m still glad I’m reading this series, even if I have am reading it at a slower pace then before.

            And then, finally, in the last few chapters of this book, stuff actually begins to happen, and then it all becomes exciting once again.
            I’m optimistic that the last book in this series, The Man in the Iron Mask, will pick up the pace even more.  There are a number of plot that have been slowly simmering for sometime now, and hopefully they’ll all get a decent pay off in the last book.  But this all remains to be seen—I’ll have to see what happens when I actually read it.

Other Notes
* As I’ve been reading these books, I’ve been using Wikipedia to help me sort out the fact from the fiction, since many of the characters in this story are real historical people with biographical pages on Wikipedia.  Of course, in many cases, finding out the biographical information about these characters also alerts me to what their final historical fate will be.  Which may arguable spoil the story somewhat.  (For example, I already know the historical fate of Louise de la Valliere (W) is not going to end well.)
            Although I’m curious as to what will happen in this story, I’ve tried to protect myself from Internet spoilers specifically about Dumas’s fiction.  However, in a compromise with myself, I allow myself to read anything which is a matter of historical record.  Even though I know some of the history now, it will still be interesting to see how Dumas deals with it in his fiction.
            (The reading of these novels in the pre-wikipedia age would, of course, have been a much different experience.)

* In my review of Twenty Years After, I expressed some ambivalence about its seemingly pro-royalist position.  In particular, I referenced a passage from chapter 24 of Twenty Years After in which Athos gives his son Raoul a speech about how the idea of monarchy is always to be revered and protected, despite any personal mistakes the king may make.
            The interesting developments in Louis de la Valliere, however, are now making me wonder if Athos’s pro-royalist attitude in Twenty Years After was simply a set-up for his subsequent disillusionment in this volume. 
            In chapter 58 of Louise de la Valliere, Athos expresses his disappointment to King Louis XIV directly, saying “All my life through I have maintained that kings are above all other men, not only from their rank and power, but from their nobleness of heart and their true dignity of mind.  I never can bring myself to believe that my sovereign, he who passed his word to me, did so with a mental reservation”.
            This is a far cry from the pro-royalist speeches he made in Twenty Years After.
            (And Dumas must have already been planning at least some of this as far back as Twenty Years After, because the characters of Louis de la Valliere and Comte De Guiche (W) were both introduced back in Twenty Years After, and they are both historical figures whose character arcs were already pre-determined.)
            So, I may have been a little hasty in my rush to judgment on Dumas.
            (Of course, this still doesn’t explain why King Charles I was overly romanticized, and why the English Republicans were all portrayed as vicious thugs.)

Link of the Day

and from the Asahi Shinbun:  INTERVIEW: Key negotiator in Okinawa's return amazed at continued U.S. presence

Recalling his first visit to Okinawa in 1967 when negotiations had begun in earnest, Halperin said: "At that time, the American military did not believe there were bases on Okinawa. They believed 'Okinawa' was a military base. Literally, they viewed the whole island as one military base."
He added that Okinawans "were viewed as people who were unfortunate enough to live on an American military base."


Dean said...

I really enjoy your insights into these Dumas stories. I believe the action and page-turning story will return for "The Man in the Iron Mask" as you so hope for. For me, it was a fun read with lots of intrigue. Athos will still be a royalist, but in a new way. D'Artagnan and the 3 Musketeers will all be back in action. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

Joel said...

Thanks for the comment.
I'm about halfway through the Man in the Iron Mask so far. The story is beginning to move a lot faster now, although I think I might some disappointments. But I'll have to finish the book first. Hopefully I'll review it sometimes soon.

Dean said...

I recall watching the most recent movie version of the Man in Iron Mask - with Leonardo DiCaprio - and being somewhat bored. I read the book after the movie, so I think this helped make the book seem much more exciting, maybe overly so. It is a great deal more predictable as well, but I recall still really enjoying the read. I hope all is going good with you!

Joel said...

At the moment, I'm just about done with the Man in the Iron Mask (525 pages read out of 600). Will hopefully be posting a review sometime soon.

I had also seen the Leonardo DiCaprio movie, and that had influenced my expectations of how this book was going to play out. In some ways, I like the story in the book better...I like the fact that it was only Aramis conspiring to switch Kings, and not all the Musketeers, which made the story more complicated having different motivations for different characters.
And, I like the moral ambiguity, that Aramis was trying to switch kings mainly for his own ambition, and not for more noble reasons.

I am somewhat disappointed, though, that the switching king plot fizzled out very quickly, and that Dumas never did anything more ambitious with it.
But I'll hopefully get to all of this in a separate review.