Twenty Years After

by Alexandre Dumas

Study Guide by Beth Nachison

What makes a friendship endure?

It's easy to call people friends when you see them every day. But are they really? Suppose you were in trouble. Which ones would you ask for help? Which ones would come through for you? If you needed advice, which could you trust to tell you the truth, not just something you wanted to hear? If you moved away, which would you still be able to talk to after a couple of years apart?

Those are your friends. Even if you know a lot of people, there probably aren't a lot.

D'Artagnan, the young Gascon adventurer Dumas introduced us to in The Three Musketeers, was lucky enough to have three good friends: Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. But in the twenty years after the end of that novel, they all went their separate ways. When this new story opens, the question is real: has their friendship survived, in spite of the different paths they've taken through life? And if it has, is it strong enough to overcome the new challenges it's going to face?

Dumas's answer is quickly revealed: YES. Deeper than any superficial companionship or passing acquaintance, the bonds forged between the four very different young soldiers in the earlier book still join them, indissoluble despite all the trials they're put to. United by trust and affection, such friends can dare anything, risk anything for a good cause. True friendship endures forever.

Alexandre Dumas: Life Imitates Fiction

Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870) could have been the hero of one of his own novels. His grandfather was a French nobleman, his grandmother a black slave in Haiti, his mother an innkeeper's daughter, and his father, the physical model of the giant Porthos, a general in the armies of the French Revolution who died penniless in 1806. Dumas grew up in poverty, but he had a happy childhood, and through all the ups and downs of an eventful life retained an optimistic, resilient nature.

As a teenager he became interested in the theater, and after he moved to Paris in 1822 he began to write, and then to have his plays produced. In 1829 his historical melodrama Henri III and His Court took the public by storm; he followed up with a string of sensational hits also in the new Romantic style of writing. He had also published some stories and children's books, and in the 1840's began to write novels as well, for newspaper serialization. His historical fiction was even more successful than his plays. Besides The Three Musketeers and its sequels, many of his novels are still well-known today, including Queen Margot (1845) and its sequels The Lady of Monsoreau (1846) and The Forty-Five (1848), and The Queen's Necklace (1848-50). The Count of Monte Cristo (1844-5), an elaborate tale of revenge with a contemporary setting, is generally considered his masterpiece.

He wrote prolifically in other genres as well, including travel books, animal tales, children's stories, and a Grand Dictionary of Cooking (1873). His output was prodigious: he once claimed to have published 1200 books, and the complete French edition of his works actually comes to over 300 volumes. The words tumbled from his pen as fast as thought, sometimes for fourteen hours at a stretch. To keep up the speed he worked with collaborators and employed teams of research assistants and secretaries, but the charges of envious rivals that he ran a "factory" and put his name to books written by others are false (as he proved in a lawsuit in 1845). He just wrote very fast!

And he had to write fast, because as quickly as he earned a fortune, he could spend it even quicker. Dumas's lifestyle was extravagant. A man of enormous gusto and appetites, he built himself a mansion, had dozens of mistresses, gave wonderful entertainments for his large number of friends, bragged and told stories and loved to participate in adventures as well as to write about them. He dabbled in politics in France, and in later got deeply involved with the Italian struggle for independence and unity: Garibaldi was his daughter's godfather. By 1850 a changing political climate in France closed down many of the newspapers which had published his work, and he went bankrupt. He even had to leave France for a time to avoid his creditors! But he loved travelling abroad, and even after he resumed his literary career in Paris he toured extensively through Europe.

Dumas's love of action and his delight in the picturesque fills all his writing. The charm of the characters, the vivid action, the rapid dialogue make his novels exciting and fast-moving: long as they are, they seem too short when you reach the end. The lively, good-natured personality which lights up the narrative is the author's own.

Plot: Heroes for Two Kingdoms

Twenty Years After takes place in France and England in 1648-49, a tumultuous time in both countries. Dumas has plenty of opportunities here to put his heroes in exciting situations.

Since the end of The Three Musketeers, we discover at the outset, there have been great changes in France. Cardinal Richelieu, so stern and powerful, has died, and so has the king, Louis XIII. On the throne instead is Louis XIV, a child. The Queen, Anne of Austria, is now head of the regency government, but in fact she has given her authority Cardinal Mazarin. Anne has ignored d'Artagnan for years, despite his heroic service to her. As for Mazarin, he's no Richelieu. He's greedy, devious, conniving, stingy, selfish, and opportunistic. He is also deeply unpopular with the people and nobles of France, who resent being ordered around by an Italian upstart who has unjustly imprisoned his rivals, abused his authority in government, and skimmed the wealth of the kingdom to line his own pockets.

He's so unpopular, in fact, that Paris is close to open rebellion. Desperate for reliable supporters, Cardinal Mazarin turns at last to a brave man who has been serving him loyally all along without reward: d'Artagnan. We see that D'Artagnan's career, so promising at the conclusion of the earlier book, has stagnated since then. He's still poor, still a lieutenant in the musketeers, still meticulous in his duties even though he knows his masters are ungrateful and his prospects for advancement are small. But now Mazarin holds out to him the chance to achieve everything he once hoped for. All d'Artagnan has to do is round up his friends from the old days and help the Cardinal out of his troubles the way they once helped the Queen. Can he do it?

For the promise of promotion to Captain, d'Artagnan is ready to give it a shot. It's not as easy as the Cardinal assumes, however. It's been years since he's seen or spoken to any of his friends. He isn't sure he can even find them again, much less persuade them back to active service. As the CI adaptation shows, the first extended episode in the novel depicts d'Artagnan's successful search, and his unsuccessful attempt to reunite them.

Aramis and Porthos are both easy to find, and neither has changed much over the years. Aramis has entered the church, but he is still involved in various intrigues and rejects d'Artagnan's proposition. Porthos, immensely rich now but restless, is easily recruited when D'Artagnan promises Mazarin will make him a baron.

And Athos? Twenty years ago he was melancholy and drank too much. D'Artagnan dreads finding his old friend a hopeless, broken-down alcoholic, fit for nothing. But to his astonishment, nothing could be further from the truth. Athos has been rejuvenated: far from a helpless degenerate, he is vigorous, healthy, and sober, a model gentleman in the prime of life, master of a well-tended estate. And what has caused this miraculous transformation? With visible pride, Athos introduces his "ward," young Raoul, and afterwards explains: years ago, a series of circumstances led to his spending a night of passion with a noblewoman, and a child was born. Athos reclaimed the infant from the wetnurse, and since then he has raised him as his heir, though without publicly acknowledging his paternity (which could have aroused awkward questions). He reformed his own life and habits to be a better example. Raoul, now fifteen, is his pride and joy, a promising youth who is everything an adoring father could hope for.

Athos is overjoyed to show Raoul off to d'Artagnan, and enlist d'Artagnan's promise to help watch over the boy in his military career. But Athos also refuses to join d'Artagnan in Mazarin's service. D'Artagnan, as a soldier on active duty, doesn't have much choice in the matter. But Athos does. Blunter than Aramis, more perceptive than Porthos, he tells d'Artagnan he's on the wrong side: Mazarin is a bad ruler, and an unworthy master for a self-respecting French gentleman.

D'Artagnan never had a chance to win Athos over, because Athos was already deeply involved with the opposition, in a plot to liberate the Duc de Beaufort from the prison where the Cardinal had kept him for years. Beaufort, a cousin of the king, was a brave soldier and a gallant and attractive man, but he was also ambitious, popular, and politically awkward. Once Mazarin locked him up, he was afraid of the consequences if he ever got loose again. That's exactly what Mazarin's enemies are hoping for. While d'Artagnan was visiting Athos, Athos's servant Grimaud had already gone to assist Beaufort's escape, which soon comes off as planned.

Dumas devotes considerable space to Beaufort's imprisonment and escape. His own sympathy was always with the unjustly imprisoned. Beaufort is a more comic figure than Edmond Dantès in The Count of Monte Cristo, but his suffering at the hands of the Cardinal is just as real. And so is the infectious joy of his liberation, as he gallops away from Vincennes: "Free! Free! Free!" [show that panel]

Beaufort almost doesn't get away. Mazarin, fearing an escape was in the wind, had recalled d'Artagnan to Paris, and sends him out to bring Beaufort back. All night d'Artagnan and Porthos ride in pursuit, slowly gaining ground, till they finally catch up with the fugitives. And then, in this desperate encounter, d'Artagnan discovers just how committed his old friends are to the opposition cause -- because there they are, Athos and Aramis, riding alongside Beaufort to defend his escape. D'Artagnan, defeated and humiliated by their intervention, has to return to Paris in failure. D'Artagnan feels betrayed as a friend: he had gone openly to both of them, and instead of trusting him with the truth, they had concealed their involvement on the other side. It's in an angry and bitter frame of mind that he makes an appointment to meet them in Paris a few days later. They all go to the meeting armed and wary.

Is this the end of their friendship? Circumstances have divided them. They don't seem to have anything in common any more. Words are spoken in anger. Swords are drawn.

Then Athos, the pure, honorable gentleman, unwilling to see anything but the best in those he loves, steps forward and breaks his sword, insists that Aramis do the same, and declares that in the name of friendship he will never fight them. They must not let politics come between them, but always love each other and stand by each other as true friends.

They respond to this appeal: Athos's noble ideals inspire them. They pledge the renewal of their friendship. The rest of the novel puts it to the test in action, and demonstrates its strength and vitality. Though parted in body, they remain one in spirit.

Once Beaufort is free, he largely vanishes from the story. Athos and Aramis, meanwhile, are recruited in Paris by the exiled Queen of England to go to England to help her husband, Charles I, who is on the brink of losing the civil war which has raged in his kingdom for the past six years. She also begs Cardinal Mazarin to do something for King Charles, but he refuses; not five minutes earlier, he had received an emissary from Oliver Cromwell, the chief of Charles's enemies, with a request that France accept his victory and deny Charles any aid or sanctuary. While Athos and Aramis go to join Charles, d'Artagnan and Porthos are to travel there as well, to bring Mazarin's reply to Cromwell. Once again the friends are on opposite sides.

Events in Paris delay their departure. The night they chased after Beaufort, it seems, d'Artagnan had knocked a man down in the street. That man, Broussel, was a leader of the anti-Mazarin faction (called the Fronde: see Sidebar 2), and he took the mishap for a deliberate affront. Hostilities have escalated rapidly. When Mazarin attempts to have Broussel and a colleague arrested, the Parisians attempt to rescue their hero from his soldiers' clutches and a riot breaks out. D'Artagnan and his troops arrive to reinforce the arrest-squad and stop the scuffle. He finds, much to his dismay, that young Raoul, taking to heart Athos's instructions to serve the king, has intervened to defend the soldiers against the mob. D'Artagnan extracts him and scolds him: Athos, he says sternly, would not at all approve of his ward fighting for Mazarin, so in the future Raoul is to be a good Frondeur.

Tensions in Paris only grow worse after that. Thanks to the outrage of Broussel's imprisonment and the activities of a few ambitious agitators, the Parisians have grown so restive and furious that Mazarin is no longer safe in Paris, nor able to govern effectively. Everyone want him gone. He and the Queen decide to flee the city by night. D'Artagnan ingeniously provides for the Cardinal's escape by smuggling him out in a carriage belonging to a prominent enemy. Then rumors of the plan reach the people of Paris. Alarmed that Mazarin means to carry the king away and make war on them, their leaders demand to see the boy. At d'Artagnan's urging, they're allowed in. While young Louis XIV, fully dressed for his escape, lies under the blankets pretending to sleep, Parisians file into the bedroom to see for themselves that he's still there, and d'Artagnan, sword ready, hides behind the curtain ready to defend him if necessary. The crisis passes, and a few hours later the king, his mother, and their allies have all arrived safe at a palace outside the city. There, a comic interlude ensues: all this horde of nobles discovers, to their dismay, that there are no beds for them at St. Germain, but d'Artagnan, having cleverly foreseen this, has bought up all the straw in the town and is able to sell it to at an enormous profit.

Matters turn grim once they depart for England on Mazarin's errand. Mordaunt, Cromwell's agent, is also (as Athos and Aramis have already discovered to their horror) the son of the evil Milady de Winter, the villainess of The Three Musketeers, and has sworn revenge on all the men who killed her. [show a panel from The 3 Musketeers?] While d'Artagnan and Porthos carry Mazarin's message to Cromwell, their friends have joined Charles I and his doomed Royalist forces in Newcastle. Learning that some of Charles's men plan to betray him to his enemies, Athos and Aramis try to help him flee, but it's too late. They're all taken prisoner. Fortunately, Athos and Aramis are taken by d'Artagnan: turnabout for their capturing him the night of Beaufort's escape, but also the only way to keep them safe from Mordaunt's vendetta. When Mordaunt gets Cromwell to give him custody of the Frenchmen, d'Artagnan arranges to evade him. Still pretending to be part of Cromwell's entourage, he and Porthos have decided to join forces with their friends, to try and save King Charles.

They have no natural reason to get involved: Charles isn't their king, and his fate in England doesn't directly affect theirs in France. But as Athos explains, honor is not bound by nationality. Charles is a good man, and as king deserves the loyalty of others. If the English won't live up to their obligation, so much the worse for them -- let Frenchmen show them better! The other three agree wholeheartedly. They make increasingly desperate attempts to rescue the captive king. If Athos is the most emotionally committed to Charles's cause, d'Artagnan as ever is the most ingenious planner, ready with stratagems to turn an apparently hopeless situation around. We readers have seen him succeed against all the odds so many times by now, we're primed for another success. Though the odds are against them, d'Artagnan and his friends will pull off the impossible and save King Charles at last.

But it's not just the odds against them this time -- it's Destiny. No matter what they try, our heroes find themselves thwarted in every attempt. Wherever they turn, there is Mordaunt, both clever and lucky, ready to block them. Attempts to rescue Charles before they reach London are unsuccessful. In London, they have to stand by helplessly. while Charles stands trial before his enemies and is condemned to die. The night before the execution, they think they have a way to save him: d'Artagnan and Porthos bribe the executioner to hide, to give them another day's delay, and the next night they will sneak the king out of his cell through a hole Athos and Aramis, disguised as workmen, have made in the floor. A ship is waiting to carry them all to France. To their shock, however, the execution goes ahead on schedule. A substitute headsman, masked and anonymous, has come forward! While Athos, horrified, waits in concealment underneath the platform, Charles is beheaded.

The executioner, we discover, was Mordaunt himself.

Charles, clearly, was doomed to die. After an encounter with Mordaunt, our heroes now have to move fast to save themselves. They race for the coast and find their ship is still waiting for them. But -- Mordaunt has gotten there first. He knows the secret of the boat: the hold, apparently packed with wine-barrels, is actually full of gunpowder. It had actually been arranged by Cromwell, who hoped (Dumas claims) that Charles would escape, and then disappear mysteriously, so depriving the Royalists of a martyr. Mordaunt now plans to use the exploding ship to achieve his own revenge.

It would have worked too, except our heroes' servants, seeking to tap a cask of wine, overhear him and discover the truth. The Frenchmen hurriedly make their way to the boat being towed for the crew's escape, and cut it loose just as Mordaunt lights the fuse. In the terrible explosion the boat is destroyed and its crew killed. But Mordaunt is still alive. Wounded, drowning, he begs the friends to rescue him. Athos, touched by his pleas, charitable to a fault, stretches out his hand to the dying man -- who pulls him overboard to die with him!

The friends stare in horror. Athos is gone! But then, miraculously, Mordaunt bobs to the surface, dead, with a knife in his chest. And Athos, half-drowned but still struggling, rises after and is pulled to safety.

"I had a son" said Athos; "I wished to live."
"At last," said d'Artagnan. "God has spoken!"
"It is not I who killed him," murmured Athos, "but destiny."
(Chapter 77).

They make it back safe to France after that. But their troubles aren't over. A civil war, the Fronde, is in full swing, and Mazarin's forces have besieged the rebel city of Paris. And d'Artagnan realizes that by helping their friends attempt to rescue King Charles, he and Porthos had violated Mazarin's orders, and now face the consequences. They agree to split up, he and Porthos to return to Mazarin and the court, Athos and Aramis to rejoin their Frondeur associates in Paris; but fearing Mazarin's wrath, d'Artagnan warns that if he and Porthos don't arrive safely in a few days, the others should come looking for them.

As d'Artagnan foresaw, he and Porthos are arrested on the road, and jailed in an improvised prison. No charges, no trial; Mazarin just intends to keep them locked up forever if he can. Athos and Aramis discover that Mazarin has been secretly negotiating with the leaders of the Fronde, but stalling on an actual settlement. Athos, trusting to the Cardinal's sense of honor, goes directly to him and asks for his friends' release; only to be arrested himself. While Aramis, still free, coordinates with the Frondeurs, d'Artagnan engineers his own escape, discovers the secret of Mazarin's hidden hoard of stolen gold, takes him prisoner, and extorts from him both a peace treaty and provisions for his own and his friends' freedom and rewards.

At the novel's end, d'Artagnan is finally Captain of the Musketeers. Porthos is a baron. Aramis is (we are led to believe) the father of the Duchess de Longueville's newborn son. And Athos, dignified and selfless, is still a simple gentleman who asks nothing more than the peace of his estates, good governance for France, and the companionship of well-loved friends. This last, at least, he is now assured.

The Characters

As in The Three Musketeers, Dumas populates Twenty Years After with many real historical figures, some of them (like Mazarin and Charles I) in major roles for the story. The center of attention, however, is always on the quartet of heroes we first met in the earlier book. They were young men then. Now they are mature, on the edge of middle age, and have developed along very different paths from each other. Twenty years of living changes everyone. But despite that, their essential natures, like their affection, remains the same.


The impulsive, ingenious young man we met in The Three Musketeers has now been a professional soldier for twenty years, and his youthful hopes and ambitions have come to nothing. In the end, all his heroism, all his extraordinary service to the queen, all his bravery and cunning and sacrifice meant nothing. He has been ignored, virtually repudiated by his masters, while his career stagnated. Over the years he has only grown older and sadder. He's had no love in his life -- not the love of his friends, since they left the service, not even the love of women, with his Constance dead at Milady's hands and liaisons since then (currently with his landlady, the fair Madeleine) merely a matter of convenience. Is it any wonder that, when Mazarin proposes he reunite his old friends and renew his former role as protector of royalty, he leaps at the opportunity? A chance like this, to recreate happiest times of his life and possibly reap the rewards this time that eluded him before, might not come again if he misses it now.

In many ways, d'Artagnan hasn't changed. He was always the clever one of the four. Not the most profound thinker; not the most subtle plotter; not the one endowed with great physical strength; but the one who could think on his feet, see through a complex problem and devise a practical plan of action. He's kept his lively, inventive turn of mind, and gets to exercise it fully again in these adventures, particularly in the attempts to rescue Charles I, and in the more successful effort to outwit the wily Mazarin and extract from him the rewards he and his friends deserve.

With age, though, he's grown steadier: his heart is still warm, but his head is cool. The time to think, he's learned, is before you act. He's also mellowed toward old foes like Rochefort, and even thinks with regret of Richelieu, a deadly enemy in The Three Musketeers, recognizing the late Cardinal's heroic service to France. The memory of Richelieu shines all the brighter for d'Artagnan, perhaps, because his successor Mazarin is such an inferior specimen. D'Artagnan doesn't respect or trust the Cardinal. When Mazarin lives down to d'Artagnan's worst expectations in arresting him and Porthos, he has no compunction about blackmailing him with the secret of his hoard of stolen gold in order to get his promotion, Porthos's barony, the treaty for the Frondeurs. But in spite of Mazarin's failings, d'Artagnan as a loyal soldier obeys his instructions to the letter, even when that pits him against his dearest friends. He despises the Cardinal personally, but not the service he represents. His devotion to the young king is particularly evident the night he stands guard over the boy while rebellious Parisians troop into his bedroom. In later years (as we will see in The Man in the Iron Mask) d'Artagnan's faithful service is rewarded by the king's trust, and in the mature Louis XIV he finally finds a master truly worthy of him.

The strongest ties in d'Artagnan's life, however, are still, and always will be, those that join him to his three friends, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. Though the differences between their personalities have grown only more pronounced over the years, and they sometimes find themselves on opposite sides of a conflict, the trust and affection between them is as strong as ever, and easily renewed. D'Artagnan is confident that, with these three at his side, he can work wonders. And so he does.


The noblest of the musketeers, Athos is also the most changed since the earlier novel. Formerly brooding, cynical, a heavy drinker prone to violent outbursts, he is now sober and clean-living, a perfect gentleman who holds himself always to the highest standards and expects no less from the rest of the world. He is idealistic; for him the line between virtue and vice, honor and shame, is always crystal-clear, and a gentleman always does what is right, not what is convenient. He reveres royalty: his ancestors served the kings of France for generations, he has raised his son to do the same, and it shocks him to the soul that the people of England could dare to take arms against their own king, Charles I, much less bring him to trial and execution. His initial commitment to Charles's cause comes not from any sense of the merits of the dispute, but from simple shame that any king should be abandoned by those who owe him loyalty, and the need to demonstrate that in France, at least, some people still remember the duty owed to a monarch.

This same sentiment, of course, is also what makes him sympathize with the Fronde and participate in Beaufort's escape. He is loyal to the king, but not to Mazarin, and feels that France and the king would both be better off without the Cardinal in charge. This sets him at opposite purposes to d'Artagnan through the first part of the novel, although he is too honorable to try to persuade the musketeer to betray his duty and join the rebels. At the same time, however, he is clear-sighted enough to recognize that most of the leaders of the Fronde do not share his selfless idealism, but have gotten involved to serve their own ambition and greed. When he and Aramis return to Paris after their English adventure, they spot Mazarin moving secretly through the city in disguise, and Aramis proposes that they take him prisoner and so achieve the goals of the rebellion. It's Athos, though, who sees beyond the immediate opportunity to the truth: that Mazarin has been quietly negotiating private deals with the principal leaders of the Fronde, in the hopes of dividing and weakening his enemies, and that taking the Cardinal prisoner would simply spoil everybody's game and achieve nothing.

Athos's powerful sense of duty and honor are clearly admirable traits, but they are rigid, and not always appropriate to the situations he finds himself in. Even though he recognizes how slippery and unscrupulous Mazarin is, he walk places himself in the Cardinal's hands after d'Artagnan and Porthos are arrested, naïvely assuming the Cardinal would deal with him in good faith. More dangerously, his scruples in handling Mordaunt nearly cost him and his friends their lives. He feels guilty about Mordaunt because he did, in fact, help kill Milady, and did nothing to protect Mordaunt, then an innocent child. The ambiguity of his sentiments causes him to hold his hand when he has a chance to kill Mordaunt, and even tries to save his life after the explosion of the ship. Only when he has to make the immediate choice between Mordaunt and his own survival does instinct come to his aid.


He was born from an accidental one-night-stand between Athos (in disguise) and a married noblewoman (also in disguise), and his parentage is officially unknown. But Athos has raised Raoul from infancy and regards him with a doting father's eye. Without formally acknowledging his paternity, Athos has given him property and title as his heir. He's cleaned up his own life, to be a better model; he has taught him virtue, courage, and loyalty; as the novel unfolds, he arranges for Raoul, now fifteen, to begin his military career in the entourage of France's leading general, surely the best route to experience and promotion.

Raoul is indeed a worthy son for his noble father. He's honest, brave, warm-hearted, quick-thinking, and active. He makes an immediate impression on d'Artagnan as a promising youth. He makes an impression as well on his new commander, Condé, when he arrives at the army with news about enemy maneuvers -- and an enemy prisoner! -- which enables the general to position his own forces and win a great battle. He shows himself youthfully impetuous and innocent, however, when he rushes to the aid of the royal soldiers trying to arrest Councilor Broussel and fight off a mob of Parisians. Raoul knows only that they're the king's men, and Athos told him to serve the king; it's up to d'Artagnan to point out that things aren't always that simple.

Aramis and Porthos

Indispensable friends of d'Artagnan, these former musketeers are involved in most of the action in this book. Their personalities are well-marked in their habits and attitudes, but Dumas doesn't delve deeply into their psychology here.

Aramis, though now a man of the Church, is still very much a man of action. No contemplative life of quiet meditation for the Chevalier d'Herblay -- he's as ready as ever to put on his boots and sword and ride into battle for a good cause, or any other adventure that presents itself. He has always loved secrets, conspiracies, intrigues with beautiful women, and that hasn't changed either. His conspiracies, though, have a more political tinge than they used to; both his mistress and his associates are ringleaders of the Fronde. Whether aiding the escape of Beaufort from Vincennes, battling Mazarin's troops, or helping arrange the treaty that concludes this phase of the conflict, he spares no effort in their cause.

Aramis is also touchy in his pride. Meeting d'Artagnan in the Place Royale after their encounter on the road from Vincennes, he is stung by d'Artagnan's accusation of treachery. He points out angrily that when d'Artagnan first approached him, he not only refused to work for Mazarin, but gave strong hints he favored the other side. He's actually on the point of drawing his sword to fight his old friend when Athos intervenes to make peace between them. After they return from England he does fight and kill the Duke de Chatillon, who had been going around Paris on Mazarin's business and insulted Aramis in the process. It seems Aramis has difficulty distinguishing himself from his cause, a tendency which will have tragic consequences in later years. (See The Man in the Iron Mask.)

Porthos, on the other hand, has no cause other than himself and his friends. He has no politics: he's not naïve, but completely oblivious! Complexities of governance and principle go right past him. He's as innocent, as openhearted, as honest and direct as a child (though a child with a giant's frame, able to kill an ox, or a man, with a single blow of his fist). He has his flaws, of course: he is vain, sometimes pompous, and perpetually dissatisfied with his good fortune. When d'Artagnan finds him, he is living in vast luxury on a fine estate, in a magnificent chateau, surrounded by devoted servants, prosperous fields, fine hunting grounds, leading what to d'Artagnan (and to his own servant Mousqueton) seems a perfect existence, yet he confides to d'Artagnan his unhappiness: the other nobles of the area consider him an upstart and an interloper, and he needs the title of baron to prove his worth in their eyes.

Of course, a title alone can't make him happy. (In fact, when we meet him again in The Man in the Iron Mask, he is miserable as a baron and longs to become a duke.) The true cause of his discontent is loneliness. He misses his old friends and wants to be with them, active and adventurous, just like the old days. Thanks to d'Artagnan he gets the chance, and he seizes it joyfully.

A physical giant and affectionate companion, Porthos is not intellectually in the same league as his friends. It's easy for people to take advantage of him, but few of them actually do: his size and strength intimidate those who don't know him, and his trusting simplicity restrains those who do. D'Artagnan sometimes skirts the limits by allowing Porthos to believe his promised barony is close when he knows Mazarin will use any excuse not to make good, and he doesn't always trouble Porthos with detailed explanations of his plans and circumstances (which Porthos, to be sure, doesn't want to be troubled with). But unlike Aramis in The Man in the Iron Mask, he's careful not to lie about important things, or to allow his misdirection to lead Porthos into harm.

Both Aramis and Porthos, worlds apart in other respects, still cherish the friendships of their youth. No other associations, however pleasant or useful, can fill the same place in their hearts. And so, despite the initially awkward situation, they are more than ready to reunite for action, to revive the affection and trust they have never forgotten. Especially in England, where politics don't draw them into separate camps, they're free to act according to their wishes, and as a team to attempt new feats of daring.


This quiet, unassuming young Englishman is the cloud to their silver lining. He wants to kill them. And he does have real grievances, for which Athos at least admits some guilt. His mother, Milady de Winter, was killed when he was a young child; as an orphan he was deprived of name and inheritance and driven out to fend for himself or die. He was raised a Puritan, and his virulent hatred of the king and uncle who stole his birthright from him led him naturally to join the king's armies in the Civil War. By the time we meet him he is a trusted confidant of General Cromwell, carrying his messages and acting on his behalf. Though young, he is a competent and clever advisor to his commander, and a quick-witted man capable of outfoxing d'Artagnan himself.

Mordaunt's grievances are understandable. But in his actions Mordaunt demonstrates that he is Evil: a true son of his wicked mother, in fact. His sinister nature is shown from his very first appearance, in disguise as a monk to travel secretly in France. In that disguise he is brought by young Raoul to the bedside of a man wounded in a skirmish. Raoul leaves them alone so the "monk" can hear the man's confession. A few minutes later he discovers, to his horror, that the "monk" has stabbed the man and fled. It turns out the dying man had been the executioner of Béthune who killed Milady. Before taking his revenge, Mordaunt had learned enough to begin tracking down the men who employed him and ordered his mother's death. The incident demonstrates Mordaunt's ability to think on his, but also his ruthlessness, and his treachery. Everything we see of him in England confirms the impression. And yet, luck (or Fate) favors him up to the end. He discovers his mother's killers. He shoots his uncle in cold blood, and Athos is prevented from avenging the deed. He thwarts all d'Artagnan's ingenious plans to rescue King Charles. His hatred of the king is such that, when the Frenchmen have arranged for the executioner to disappear, Mordaunt himself steps in to substitute. He didn't arrange to put the gunpowder in the ship himself, but he gladly takes advantage of it. Only then does luck desert him, so the plot is discovered and our heroes escape. And even in the last extremity he can't bear to die without taking at least one of his enemies with him. He considers himself to be a just avenger, but he is beyond redemption.


Sly, greedy, supple, autocratic, ambitious, duplicitous -- there are many words to describe Cardinal Mazarin in this novel, and none of them are flattering. As the Queen's lover he exercises absolute control over her, which she willingly submits to: quite a contrast from her conflicts with Richelieu in The Three Musketeers. Although Dumas reluctantly acknowledges Mazarin's courage and determination in the face of opposition, he prefers to show him sneaking around, investigating d'Artagnan behind his back, arbitrarily imprisoning his foes, freely making promises he has no intention of keeping, hoarding embezzled funds and gloating over the treasure in secret. Most of the time there's nothing admirable or honorable about him. Even a loyal soldier like d'Artagnan feels degraded having to take his orders and do his errands, and he often subverts the spirit of his instructions while obeying the letter. Mazarin is not, strictly speaking, a villain in the sense that Mordaunt is, but he's an unsympathetic figure whom our heroes have to outwit.

Giulio Mazarini, called Jules Mazarin (1602-1661), born to an old family of Roman nobility, came to France in the 1630's as a diplomat working for the Pope. There he attracted the patronage of Cardinal Richelieu, entered French service and becamea French citizen in 1639. After the death of Richelieu and Louis XIII in 1642-3 he came to power as effective head of the Regency government, which (as Dumas shows) aroused the enmity of many rivals. In 1648 the first of a series of rebellions known as the Fronde broke out. Before they were over Mazarin had twice gone into exile, and lost his personal fortune to his enemies; but in the end he returned to power, and all his opponents were defeated and forced to submit. He taught Louis XIV all the skills needed for successful kingship. Louis respected him, and left him in charge of the government until his death. Under Mazarin's guidance France achieved military and diplomatic triumphs abroad, and political stability at home.

During the Fronde, Mazarin was the target of thousands of scurrilous pamphlets and denunciations, often crudely xenophobic; Dumas's portrayal owes much to that vivid, hostile tradition. Mazarin's private fortune before the Fronde enormous, and the one he built afterwards was even larger. People complained not only of Mazarin's greed, but of his success in transferring wealth to the Italian relatives who came to join him in France. Although a Cardinal, he was not a priest, and Dumas is not alone in suggesting he and Queen Anne were lovers, possibly married in secret. Most historians today , however, do not consider that likely.

Charles I

A paragon of kingly virtue, he is shown in contrast to Mazarin as the kind of ruler whose service ennobles his followers. He is dignified, generous, noble in spirit. Unfortunately, he's surrounded by villains who mean to overthrow and kill him for the sake of religious fanaticism and revolutionary zeal, and by traitors who hand him over to his enemies for their own selfish gain. His cause and personal virtues win Athos's passionate attachment and the service of all four heroes. In turn he trusts them even beyond death: at the very moment he lays his head on the block he confides to Athos (hiding beneath the platform) his hidden treasure, for the service of his son. To Athos he speaks his famous last word: "Remember!" (chapter 70).

But in fact, just as Dumas exaggerates Mazarin's defects, he overstates Charles's merits. Although indeed a man of strict personal morality and exemplary devotion to his wife and children, and a famous patron of the arts, as king the historical Charles I (1600-1649) was a disaster, whose exaggerated notions of royal prerogative and inability to communicate or compromise drove his subjects in three kingdoms to violent rebellion. Royalists and romantics alike traditionally portrayed him as a Royal Martyr, but in fact it was Charles's own record of duplicity and bad faith that convinced his enemies they could never trust him and would be safe in their victory only if he died.

Theme: United They Stand

In The Three Musketeers our heroes meet as young men, and by joining forces perform amazing feats to save the Queen's honor. They also have a series of adventures apart from each other, court the favor of women, and at the end go their separate ways. Twenty Years After, even more than the earlier book, is a testimony to the power of friendship. Together, the four friends can overcome almost any obstacle and achieve wonders. Divided, they are doomed to failure.

This pattern repeats itself over and over again. D'Artagnan's attempt to recapture Beaufort fails because Athos and Aramis oppose him. In the Place Royale their quarrel nearly leads to their fighting each other before Athos reminds them of their friendship and they all swear to maintain it. In England Athos and Aramis are unable to protect King Charles from capture, while d'Artagnan and Porthos are reluctantly present among Cromwell's men. Reunited, they try to engineer the king's escape, and only the intervention of Fate's own agent Mordaunt prevents them. They still win free of his traps by working together. Parted in France once again (this time voluntarily), they fall separately into Mazarin's clutches. Working as a team, they turn the tables on the wily Cardinal and triumph at last.

The power of their friendship is partly because of the trust they have in each other -- an absolute confidence in each other's abilities (even as adversaries) and the faith that, if one is in trouble, the others will spare no effort to aid him. In addition, the four heroes complement each other perfectly. Invention, strength, fervor, moral steadiness -- each one contributes a unique, vital ingredient to the mix. In combination they can do so much more than any one on his own.

Their failure in England, however, points to another issue in the novel - the inevitability of Fate. Some things, even the greatest heroes can't change.

The tyranny of history, after all, is absolute. Just as he couldn't save Buckingham in The Three Musketeers, d'Artagnan can't save Charles I here - because Buckingham was murdered, Charles I was executed. Dumas plays fast and loose with the details, inserting invented characters into the action, erasing inconvenient weeks, months, even years with auctorial sleight-of-hand when the story demands it. But even he can't meddle with the gross facts. To save Charles from the headsman might be gratifying, but it would also be cheating, and everyone would know it.

Besides, working within the constraints of history heightens the dramatic tension. When Dumas puts his heroes on the losing side, we know their efforts must be doomed. But what will they do to try to change things? How close will they come to success? We've already seen them work near-miracles, so what monumental force of villainy is necessary to thwart them? A hopeless struggle is inherently more involving than too-easy success. The musketeers will lose in England because they have to; but it's how they lose that matters to us.

This not only draws us more urgently into the story, but it deepens the role of the antagonist. Mordaunt is not just a young man obsessed with revenge; he is the human personification of malign Destiny. Relentless, merciless, implacable, preternaturally lucky, he is always a step ahead of our heroes, turning their victory into defeat, because he is the tool used by Fate to force events into their inevitable shape. Only after he's served his purpose and stuck off the king's head does he becomes vulnerable. While Fate, reserving our heroes for another purpose, saves them from Mordaunt's final plot, it forces Athos's unwilling hand, to kill the son as he had once helped kill the mother. The struggle against Mordaunt is not simply man against man, but virtue against corruption, free will against obsession, Good against Evil. And Evil, while it has occasional moments of glory, can't win in the end.

Sidebar 1: The real d'Artagnan

Dumas derived the inspiration for his hero, and various of his associates and exploits, from the Memoirs of Monsieur d'Artagnan (1700), a work of fiction by the prolific Gatien de Courtilz de Sandras. Courtilz in turn based his fiction very loosely on the life of a real man. Charles de Batz-Castelmore was born in southwest France around 1615, part of a large noble family which included at least four brothers and three sisters. Along with two of his brothers he used the name d'Artagnan, which properly belonged to his mother's wealthy relatives. Like many young nobles he joined the army, entering the royal Guards around 1635, and was admitted to the elite unit of royal Musketeers in 1644. By the time his musketeer company was disbanded in 1646 d'Artagnan had already come to the notice of Cardinal Mazarin, then head of the government, who employed him on a number of delicate diplomatic missions over the following years. By 1656 d'Artagnan had risen to be captain of the Guards. When the Musketeers were reinstated in 1658 he was given effective command over them, and was officially promoted to their head in 1667.

The real d'Artagnan was therefore one of the prominent personages of the day. As a confidential agent of Mazarin, and later of the King, he hobnobbed with all the rich and powerful people at the royal court. Louis XIV trusted him with difficult and controversial assignments. He was arrested the powerful Fouquet in Nantes in 1661, watched over him during the subsequent trial, and conducted him to his final prison in 1664 (an episode Dumas dramatizes in The Man in the Iron Mask). A few years later d'Artagnan did the same for one of the King's own friends, who had imprudently tried to marry one of the King's cousins. D'Artagnan continued to receive promotions and honors, and served with distinction in Louis XIV's wars. On June 23, 1673 he was killed at the head of his musketeers in the battle of Maastricht.

As a man of some renown, involved in many of the most colorful events of his day, d'Artagnan was a natural subject for a fictionalized biography -- Courtilz's "Memoirs" were roughly the seventeenth-century equivalent of modern TV movies. They were rather less accurate, however. Courtilz, and Dumas after him, embroidered a whole series of colorful adventures for d'Artagnan which he couldn't possibly have accomplished. (At the time of The Three Musketeers, for instance, the real d'Artagnan was a young boy living at home.) In Twenty Years After, Dumas correctly places d'Artagnan in the service of Mazarin and sends him out on sensitive missions for him, but there's no evidence the real shared the reluctance of the fictional character: the Cardinal made his career, after all, and the soldier served him well and loyally for many years.

Sidebar 2: The Fronde and the English Civil War

Louis XIV became King of France in 1643 at the age of five. His mother Anne of Austria therefore became Regent, and Cardinal Mazarin came to head the government. His power, however, was deeply resented by many French nobles. The methods Mazarin used to raise funds for the ongoing war against Spain were also extremely unpopular -- both with taxpayers (who were growing unruly) and with the judges of the royal courts (who saw their own financial interests threatened). As we see in Twenty Years After, these resentments bubbled into open hostility in 1648. The rebellious judges and nobles called themselves the "Fronde," from the slingshots used by Parisian children. Their main demands: the revocation of unpopular legislation and the dismissal of Mazarin. Once the royal army besieged Paris, the leaders of the Fronde had to negotiate, and a settlement was reached in 1649 (though not quite the way Dumas describes it!).

This treaty, though, only resolved some of the grievances: Mazarin's preeminence continued to offend his rivals. The Prince de Condé, whose troops had been instrumental in defeating the first Fronde, demanded to head the government. In 1650 Mazarin had him arrested and imprisoned; but unlike Beaufort, who had been locked away for years before his escape, Condé had allies on the outside who immediately raised rebellions, demanding his release. After a year Condé was freed, and Mazarin fled into exile. But Condé, a very good general, was a very bad politician, and within a few months people began to realize maybe they were better off with Mazarin! The situation degenerated into open warfare. By late 1651 Louis XIV had reached his legal majority (at age 13), ending the Regency. Soon Mazarin and the royal party had prevailed everywhere, and Condé fled abroad.

The principal result of the Fronde was therefore to enhance royal authority in France and demonstrate to French elites the advantages of collaborating with the royal government rather than resisting it.

The English Civil War was quite a different matter, both in the nature of the challenge to royal authority, and in the outcome. Charles I was not a child-king, but a man who had ruled since 1625 and bore personal responsibility for many unpopular policies, particularly regarding religion and taxes. Although Dumas depicts him as a noble, honorable man, his subjects regarded him as cunning and duplicitous; when rebellion broke out in Scotland and Ireland in 1641 and he summoned Parliament for the first time in many years to grant him funds for an army to suppress it, they feared he actually meant to use the troops against them. They passed legislation to tie his hands and prevent future abuses of power, but they went a little too. By early 1642 both sides were raising armies, and soon fighting had broken out.

It continued for several years. The Royalists had a few victories, but Parliament had a better army and better commanders, particularly Oliver Cromwell and his New Model Army. In late 1647 Charles was taken prisoner, and there was an attempt to reach a compromise, but he was not negotiating in good faith. In 1648 he escaped and made common cause with the Scots against Parliament, but was recaptured at the end of the year, and (as Dumas shows) brought to trial and executed in January 1649. The monarchy was abolished and what was left of the Parliament governed for several years, until Cromwell, in a military coup, seized power and ruled as Lord Protector till his own death in 1658. The restoration of Charles II in 1660 (shown in The Vicomte de Bragelonne as the result of d'Artagnan's intervention!) returned England to its traditional form of government, but the balance of monarch and people remained unsettled for another thirty years, till further upheaval in the 1680's resolved the dispute in favor of Parliament.

Essay Questions:

  1. Why is Mazarin so unpopular? Why do Aramis and Athos side with his opponents? Why does d'Artagnan continue to work for him?
  2. Why has Queen Anne neglected d'Artagnan for so many years? Why does she turn to him now? Why does she think she can still depend on him for help? Is she right? Why?
  3. Why is Mazarin afraid of Beaufort? Do his fears turn out to be justified? Why or why not?
  4. Do the four heroes' different views on politics affect the relations between them? Discuss and explain.
  5. Examine the relations between the heroes and their servans (present or former). What roles do the servants play in the action? What social or political elements might they represent? How does Dumas portray them?
  6. In what ways have the characters of d'Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis changed from their earlier depiction in The Three Musketeers? Are these changes believable? How do the changes affect their relationships with each other?
  7. Why do our heroes get involved in English affairs? How does the English episode in Twenty Years After compare with that in The Three Musketeers? Why?
  8. Is d'Artagnan's treatment of Mazarin in the final section of the novel justifiable? Explain.

    Beth Nachison
    955 Mix Ave #3L
    Hamden CT 06514
    (203) 287-8346

    NOTE This essay was written for the Acclaim Comics edition of Twenty Years After, and is (c) Acclaim Comics (though the edition did not appear before production of the series was suspended)

    Converted with HTML Markup 2.0 by Scott J. Kleper