Study Guide

The Man in the Iron Mask Memory and the Past

By Alexandre Dumas

Memory and the Past

"Look at us, Aramis! We are three out of the four. You are deceiving me, I suspect you, and Porthos sleeps; an admirable trio of friends, don't you think so?- a beautiful relic!" (14.74)

This is the first indication in the novel that we're dealing with men whose time for glory is effectively over.

"I can only tell you one thing, d'Artagnan, and I swear it on the Bible: I love you just as much as formerly. If I ever distrust you, it is on account of others, and not on account of either of us. In everything I may do and succeed in, you will find your share. Will you promise me the same favor?" (14.79)

Aramis invokes his past with D'Artagnan to allay suspicions. This is dastardly.

This last endearment was tender as in youth, as in times when the heart was warm and life happy; and then Porthos mounted his horse. (26.63)

Talk about glorifying the past.

"War is a distraction. We gain everything by it; we can lose only one thing by it,- life; then so much the worse!"

"That is to say, memory," said Raoul, eagerly; "and that is to say, so much the better!" (27.75 – 27.76)

Raoul hopes war will distract him from his memories of Louise la Valliere.

In the heart of the poor young man it aroused emotions easily to be understood, thus to return to Paris among all the people who had known and loved him. Every face recalled to him who had endured so much, a suffering; to him who had loved so much, some circumstance of his love. Raoul, on approaching Paris, felt as if he were dying. Once in Paris, he really existed no longer. (28.2)

Returning to Paris brings up bittersweet memories for Raoul. He has sentimental attachments around the city and clearly has a very difficult time dissociating his experience of Paris from his experience of La Valliere.

"Biscarrat!" reflected the bishop. "It seems to me-"

"Try to recollect, Monsieur," said the officer.

"Pardieu! that won't take me long," said Porthos. "Biscarrat- called Cardinal- one of the four who interrupted us the day on which we formed our friendship with d'Artagnan, sword in hand." (46.26 – 46.28)

It is deeply fitting that Porthos and Aramis receive this blast from the past; it gives the novel a cyclical quality as it invokes the time detailed in The Three Musketeers.

"I believe in the times in which you live men are more engaged in their own interests and their own pleasures than they were in our times. You have sought a secluded life; that is a great happiness, but you have lost your strength in it. We four, more weaned from these delicate abstractions which constitute your joy,- we found in ourselves much greater powers of resistance when misfortune came." (33.36)

D'Artagnan points out the ways that friendships were stronger in the past, indicating that times have changed.

"Hush, Messieurs! you disturb the King."

D'Artagnan sighed.

"All is over!" said he; "the Musketeers of the present day are not those of his Majesty Louis XIII. All is over!" (52.72 – 52.74)

A sign that the old school way of doing things is rapidly disappearing – D'Artagnan's powerful role as an officer of the Musketeers is becoming a thing of the past.

"Great they will be, I feel; but if by chance I should not think them so? I have seen war, Sire; I have seen peace; I have served Richelieu and Mazarin; I have been scorched with your father at the fire of Rochelle, riddled with thrusts like a sieve, having made a new skin ten times, as serpents do. After affronts and injustices, I have a command which was formerly something, because it gave the bearer the right of speaking as he liked to his King." (53.64)

In this excerpt from D'Artagnan's speech to the King, D'Artagnan looks to the past to see exactly what he will be losing in the future if he bows to Louis's will.