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THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK

Introduction:

In the months of March-July in 1844, in the magazine Le Siecle, the
first portion of a story appeared, penned by the celebrated playwright
Alexandre Dumas. It was based, he claimed, on some manuscripts he had
found a year earlier in the Bibliotheque Nationale while researching a
history he planned to write on Louis XIV. They chronicled the adventures
of a young man named D'Artagnan who, upon entering Paris, became almost
immediately embroiled in court intrigues, international politics, and
ill-fated affairs between royal lovers. Over the next six years, readers
would enjoy the adventures of this youth and his three famous friends,
Porthos, Athos, and Aramis, as their exploits unraveled behind the
scenes of some of the most momentous events in French and even English
history.

Eventually these serialized adventures were published in novel form,
and became the three D'Artagnan Romances known today. Here is a brief
summary of the first two novels:

The Three Musketeers (serialized March--July, 1844): The year is 1625.
The young D'Artagnan arrives in Paris at the tender age of 18, and
almost immediately offends three musketeers, Porthos, Aramis, and Athos.
Instead of dueling, the four are attacked by five of the Cardinal's
guards, and the courage of the youth is made apparent during the battle.
The four become fast friends, and, when asked by D'Artagnan's landlord
to find his missing wife, embark upon an adventure that takes them
across both France and England in order to thwart the plans of the
Cardinal Richelieu. Along the way, they encounter a beautiful young spy,
named simply Milady, who will stop at nothing to disgrace Queen Anne of
Austria before her husband, Louis XIII, and take her revenge upon the
four friends.

Twenty Years After (serialized January--August, 1845): The year is now
1648, twenty years since the close of the last story. Louis XIII has
died, as has Cardinal Richelieu, and while the crown of France may sit
upon the head of Anne of Austria as Regent for the young Louis XIV,
the real power resides with the Cardinal Mazarin, her secret husband.
D'Artagnan is now a lieutenant of musketeers, and his three friends have
retired to private life. Athos turned out to be a nobleman, the Comte de
la Fere, and has retired to his home with his son, Raoul de Bragelonne.
Aramis, whose real name is D'Herblay, has followed his intention of
shedding the musketeer's cassock for the priest's robes, and Porthos has
married a wealthy woman, who left him her fortune upon her death. But
trouble is stirring in both France and England. Cromwell menaces the
institution of royalty itself while marching against Charles I, and at
home the Fronde is threatening to tear France apart. D'Artagnan brings
his friends out of retirement to save the threatened English monarch,
but Mordaunt, the son of Milady, who seeks to avenge his mother's death
at the musketeers' hands, thwarts their valiant efforts. Undaunted, our
heroes return to France just in time to help save the young Louis XIV,
quiet the Fronde, and tweak the nose of Cardinal Mazarin.

The third novel, The Vicomte de Bragelonne (serialized October,
1847--January, 1850), has enjoyed a strange history in its English
translation. It has been split into three, four, or five volumes at
various points in its history. The five-volume edition generally does
not give titles to the smaller portions, but the others do. In the
three-volume edition, the novels are entitled The Vicomte de Bragelonne,
Louise de la Valliere, and The Man in the Iron Mask. For the purposes of
this etext, I have chosen to split the novel as the four-volume edition
does, with these titles: The Vicomte de Bragelonne, Ten Years Later,
Louise de la Valliere, and The Man in the Iron Mask. In the first three
etexts:

The Vicomte de Bragelonne (Etext 2609): It is the year 1660, and
D'Artagnan, after thirty-five years of loyal service, has become
disgusted with serving King Louis XIV while the real power resides with
the Cardinal Mazarin, and has tendered his resignation. He embarks on
his own project, that of restoring Charles II to the throne of England,
and, with the help of Athos, succeeds, earning himself quite a fortune
in the process. D'Artagnan returns to Paris to live the life of a rich
citizen, and Athos, after negotiating the marriage of Philip, the king's
brother, to Princess Henrietta of England, likewise retires to his own
estate, La Fere. Meanwhile, Mazarin has finally died, and left Louis to
assume the reigns of power, with the assistance of M. Colbert, formerly
Mazarin's trusted clerk. Colbert has an intense hatred for M. Fouquet,
the king's superintendent of finances, and has resolved to use any
means necessary to bring about his fall. With the new rank of intendant
bestowed on him by Louis, Colbert succeeds in having two of Fouquet's
loyal friends tried and executed. He then brings to the king's attention
that Fouquet is fortifying the island of Belle-Ile-en-Mer, and could
possibly be planning to use it as a base for some military operation
against the king. Louis calls D'Artagnan out of retirement and sends
him to investigate the island, promising him a tremendous salary and his
long-promised promotion to captain of the musketeers upon his return. At
Belle-Isle, D'Artagnan discovers that the engineer of the fortifications
is, in fact, Porthos, now the Baron du Vallon, and that's not all.
The blueprints for the island, although in Porthos's handwriting,
show evidence of another script that has been erased, that of Aramis.
D'Artagnan later discovers that Aramis has become the bishop of Vannes,
which is, coincidentally, a parish belonging to M. Fouquet. Suspecting
that D'Artagnan has arrived on the king's behalf to investigate, Aramis
tricks D'Artagnan into wandering around Vannes in search of Porthos,
and sends Porthos on an heroic ride back to Paris to warn Fouquet of
the danger. Fouquet rushes to the king, and gives him Belle-Isle as a
present, thus allaying any suspicion, and at the same time humiliating
Colbert, just minutes before the usher announces someone else seeking an
audience with the king.

Ten Years Later (Etext 2681): As 1661 approaches, Princess Henrietta of
England arrives for her marriage, and throws the court of France into
complete disorder. The jealousy of the Duke of Buckingham, who is
in love with her, nearly occasions a war on the streets of Le Havre,
thankfully prevented by Raoul's timely and tactful intervention. After
the marriage, though, Monsieur Philip becomes horribly jealous of
Buckingham, and has him exiled. Before leaving, however, the duke
fights a duel with M. de Wardes at Calais. De Wardes is a malicious and
spiteful man, the sworn enemy of D'Artagnan, and, by the same token,
that of Athos, Aramis, Porthos, and Raoul as well. Both men are
seriously wounded, and the duke is taken back to England to recover.
Raoul's friend, the Comte de Guiche, is the next to succumb to
Henrietta's charms, and Monsieur obtains his exile as well, though De
Guiche soon effects a reconciliation. But then the king's eye falls on
Madame Henrietta during the comte's absence, and this time Monsieur's
jealousy has no recourse. Anne of Austria intervenes, and the king and
his sister-in-law decide to pick a young lady with whom the king
can pretend to be in love, the better to mask their own affair. They
unfortunately select Louise de la Valliere, Raoul's fiancee. While the
court is in residence at Fontainebleau, the king unwitting overhears
Louise confessing her love for him while chatting with her friends
beneath the royal oak, and the king promptly forgets his affection for
Madame. That same night, Henrietta overhears, at the same oak, De
Guiche confessing his love for her to Raoul. The two embark on their
own affair. A few days later, during a rainstorm, Louis and Louise
are trapped alone together, and the whole court begins to talk of the
scandal while their love affair blossoms. Aware of Louise's attachment,
the king arranges for Raoul to be sent to England for an indefinite
period.

Meanwhile, the struggle for power continues between Fouquet and Colbert.
Although the Belle-Isle plot backfired, Colbert prompts the king to ask
Fouquet for more and more money, and without his two friends to raise it
for him, Fouquet is sorely pressed. The situation gets so bad that his
new mistress, Madame de Belliere, must resort to selling all her jewels
and her gold and silver plate. Aramis, while this is going on, has grown
friendly with the governor of the Bastile, M. de Baisemeaux, a fact that
Baisemeaux unwittingly reveals to D'Artagnan while inquiring of him
as to Aramis's whereabouts. This further arouses the suspicions of the
musketeer, who was made to look ridiculous by Aramis. He had ridden
overnight at an insane pace, but arrived a few minutes after Fouquet
had already presented Belle-Isle to the king. Aramis learns from the
governor the location of a mysterious prisoner, who bears a remarkable
resemblance to Louis XIV--in fact, the two are identical. He uses
the existence of this secret to persuade a dying Franciscan monk, the
general of the society of the Jesuits, to name him, Aramis, the new
general of the order. On Aramis's advice, hoping to use Louise's
influence with the king to counteract Colbert's influence, Fouquet also
writes a love letter to La Valliere, unfortunately undated. It never
reaches its destination, however, as the servant ordered to deliver it
turns out to be an agent of Colbert's.

Louise de la Valliere (Etext 2710): Believing D'Artagnan occupied at
Fontainebleau and Porthos safely tucked away at Paris, Aramis holds a
funeral for the dead Franciscan--but in fact, Aramis is wrong in both
suppositions. D'Artagnan has left Fontainebleau, bored to tears by
the _fetes_, retrieved Porthos, and is visiting the country-house of
Planchet, his old lackey. This house happens to be right next door
to the graveyard, and upon observing Aramis at this funeral, and his
subsequent meeting with a mysterious hooded lady, D'Artagnan, suspicions
aroused, resolves to make a little trouble for the bishop. He presents
Porthos to the king at the same time as Fouquet presents Aramis, thereby
surprising the wily prelate. Aramis's professions of affection and
innocence do only a little to allay D'Artagnan's concerns, and he
continues to regard Aramis's actions with a curious and wary eye.
Meanwhile, much to his delight, Porthos is invited to dine with the king
as a result of his presentation, and with D'Artagnan's guidance, ...


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