The Man in the Iron Mask
by Alexandre Dumas
Analysis: Writing Style
As you might expect from a book with a title like The Man in the Iron Mask, this book is just filled with intrigue. We mean, let's face it: folks who walk around with iron masks on their heads are nothing if not intriguing. More specifically, though, this book is filled with plots and schemes, twists and turns, ins, outs, and what-have-yous. Intrigue galore.
Now, if you're an author, you've got two choices about how to get all of this maneuvering onto the page: dialogue or exposition. In other words, you can reveal all the plotlines through the characters' speech, or you can just tell your audience all about it through the narrator.
Dumas goes for option A: dialogue. As a result, you get a lot of yakking in this book, as characters go back and forth about their histories, plots, and schemes for the future. Just check out this lengthy exchange that takes place right off the bat in Chapter 1. Here, Aramis is revealing his plan to free the prisoner from the Bastille, who asks him,
"And you would have kept your word, monseigneur?"
"On my life! While now—now that I have guilty ones to punish—"
"In what manner, monseigneur?"
"What do you say as to the resemblance that Heaven has given me to my brother?"
"I say that there was in that likeness a providential instruction which the king ought to have heeded; I say that your mother committed a crime in rendering those different in happiness and fortune whom nature created so startlingly alike, of her own flesh, and I conclude that the object of punishment should be only to restore the equilibrium."
"By which you mean—"
"That if I restore you to your place on your brother's throne, he shall take yours in prison."
"Alas! there's such infinity of suffering in prison, especially it would be so for one who has drunk so deeply of the cup of enjoyment."
"Your royal highness will always be free to act as you may desire; and if it seems good to you, after punishment, you will have it in your power to pardon."
"Good. And now, are you aware of one thing, monsieur?"
"Tell me, my prince."
"It is that I will hear nothing further from you till I am clear of the Bastile."
"I was going to say to your highness that I should only have the pleasure of seeing you once again."
"The day when my prince leaves these gloomy walls."
"Heavens! how will you give me notice of it?"
"By myself coming to fetch you."
"My prince, do not leave this chamber save with me, or if in my absence you are compelled to do so, remember that I am not concerned in it."
"And so I am not to speak a word of this to any one whatever, save to you?"
"Save only to me." Aramis bowed very low. The prince offered his hand. (1.263-282)
Whew. There's a lot of planning in that exchange, but that's typical of how Dumas choses to advance his mutli-layered narrative. If you find that exhausting, though, consider the alternative. Would you like to read all that detail in one big, honkin' paragraph? Neither would Shmoop. We think Monsieur D. actually does a great job with advancing so many plot lines through these exchanges.
Of course, when they hear Three Musketeers, most people expect swordfights and explosions. To be sure, this book has that element as well. But, for the most part, this last installment of the Dumas's d'Artagnan saga is one that features a lot more talking and a lot less swashbuckling. Still, the plot stays snappy through the dialogue. And, if we ever get tired or confused by all these goings on, we simply take a chill-break and put on one of our favorite '80s hits.