Alexandre Dumas – Louise de la Vallière

After almost a year I finally picked up the second part of the so-called Ten Years Later trilogy by Alexandre Dumas. Ten Years Later is his third serialization of his famous the Three Musketeers saga. As this part was far too long (over 2000 pages in fairly small print) to publish in one novel, it is often split into three parts. The reason it took so long to continue was not because the first part, The Vicomte Of Bragelonne, was bad, but simply because a long serialized novel (over 600 pages) from the mid nineteenth century is somewhat an exhausting read. Serialization means that every week a chapter is published and that the reader has to be able to understand the story sufficiently to know what the situation is and that each chapter has to sell and push the reader onward towards the next chapter. This means each chapter has a certain amount of repetition. Dumas handles this expertly by extending dialogues and/or adding some quick short notes in the narrative to keep the reader up to date. Nevertheless the effect on the dialogues is such that they get dramatized and that one character goes into long ways to either avoid telling what is going on, forcing the other character to keep trying to slowly nibble all the details from the other, or tries to tell what happens in an elaborate way to avoid misunderstanding. This actually creates amusing and intricate dialogues which one rarely finds in novels these days, but after scores of such chapters one simply needs a break, no matter how entertaining the story itself is.

The second part of Ten Years Later, known as Louise de la Vallière (1847), had some peculiarities about it. As it is the middle part of the story there is no real beginning or end. The book pretty much ends in a cliffhanger. Luckily I have the third part so I don’t need to wait. If it was intended or not I don’t know, but cutting Ten Years Later in three parts is exactly the best way it can be cut. This I know now because I’ve already started with the third part. There surely is some overlap in events, but the moments chosen to cut it are actually the best to choose. One could of course cut it into smaller parts, but to have a better view of that I need to complete the last part, The Man In The Iron Mask, first.

Of the five Musketeer novels into which the serializations have been collected Louise de la Vallière stands out as the novel lacking musketeer presence. Less than a quarter of the novel includes one or more members of the famed musketeers. This also means that all of the action is only found there. The reason for this is that most of the novel focuses on romantic intrigues at the royal court. As such Louise de la Vallière can better be described as an historical romance instead of an historical adventure like the other novels. The intrigues are elaborate, border to silliness, but are also rather entertaining because the behavior of the characters often feels quite odd. I am still quite surprised how fast I have been able to complete this long novel while romance is not a genre I like. Of course the chapters that did contain musketeer action helped a lot to break the romance streak. There was a stark contrast between those chapters and it made me enjoy them to a far greater extend as Dumas made the chapter very witty and the development much unpredictable.

One of the things that saves this long romance is that Dumas uses every possible excuse to create a confrontation between characters. The developments do not always follow logic and often happen too quickly within the timeframe, but this is only noticed when one pays attention to it. Many novels often choose to make the characters avoid each other, creating tension because confrontations just miss or the characters try not to give anything away and create intrigue because the characters don’t know enough. Instead Dumas creates confrontations in which too much is disclosed through heartwrenching dialogues causing great drama and more intrigues and confrontations to follow. It’s great fireworks and in a way also exhausting.

Most of the characterization is done through the dialogues. Dumas only provides some motivational comments so that the reader can put the words of the character in the right perspective. As most of the approach in the dialogue is dramatic and most characters avoid saying things straightforwardly as they don’t want to be misinterpreted, this does make it hard to genuinely understand the character. Many choices are made because or for others and not for the character himself. Many characters are thus acting to provide the right impression and not their true nature. Of course this can be as a representation of the behavior of the people in these times.

Louise de la Vallière is not the best of the Musketeer novels, which is also proven by the fact that it has never been adapted for the TV screen (to my knowledge). It is quite different from the typical Musketeer novels as it focuses on courtly life, but the many silly romantic intrigues do have their perks and are a change from the regular fare.

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