In the format of a non-traditional critique, Writing that Scene examines the fundamentals of what it takes to capably convey a scene to one’s readers. The opinion expressed is my own, and other readers’ opinions may and will differ.

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Author: Alexandre Dumas

Scene location: First third of the book

Genre: Adventure

Twenty Years After: (Original Scene Text)

The monk seemed agitated by a strange emotion; he trembled all over, he seemed eager to put a question which yet he dared not ask. At length, with a violent effort at self-control:

“The name of that woman?” he said.

“I don’t know what it was. As I have said, she was twice married, once in France, the second time in England.”

“She was young, you say?”

“Twenty-five years old.”

“Beautiful?”

“Ravishingly.”

“Blond?”

“Yes.”

“Abundance of hair—falling over her shoulders?”

“Yes.”

“Eyes of an admirable expression?”

“When she chose. Oh yes, it is she!”

“A voice of strange sweetness?”

“How do you know it?”The executioner raised himself on his elbow and gazed with a frightened air at the monk, who became livid.

“And you killed her?” the monk exclaimed. “You were the tool of those cowards who dared not kill her themselves? You had no pity for that youthfulness, that beauty, that weakness? You killed that woman?”

“Alas! I have already told you, father, that woman, under that angelic appearance, had an infernal soul, and when I saw her, when I recalled all the evil she had done to me—“

“To you? What could she have done to you? Come, tell me!”

“She had seduced and ruined my brother, a priest. She had fled with him from her convent.”

“With your brother?”

“Yes, my brother was her first lover, and she caused his death. Oh, father, do not look in that way at me! Oh, I am guilty, then; you will not pardon me?”

The monk recovered his usual expression. “Yes, yes,” he said. “I will pardon you if you tell me all.”

“Oh!” cried the executioner, “all! All! All!”

“Answer, then. If she seduced your brother—you said she seduced him, did you not?”

“Yes.”

“If she caused his death—you said that she caused his death?”

“Yes,” repeated the executioner.

“Then you must know what her name was as a young girl.”

“Oh, mon Dieu!” cried the executioner, “I think I am dying. Absolution, father! Absolution.”

“Tell me her name and I will give it.”

“Her name was—My God, have pity on me!” murmured the executioner; and he fell back on the bed, pale, trembling, and apparently about to die.

“Her name!” repeated the monk, bending over him as if to tear from him the name if he would not utter it. “Her name! Speak, or no absolution!”

The dying man collected all his forces.

The monk’s eyes glittered.

“Anne de Bueil,” murmured the wounded man.

“Anne de Bueil!” cried the monk, standing up and lifting his hands to heaven. “Anne de Bueil! You said Anne de Bueil, did you not?”

“Yes, yes, that was her name; and now absolve me, for I am dying.”

Author’s Point of View: The executioner is retelling the climax from The Three Musketeers, the first book of the series, and the author is using this retelling to introduce us to Mordaunt, the villain of the novel and Lady de Winter’s son.

Twenty Years After: (Original Scene Text)

[The monk seemed agitated by a strange emotion; he trembled all over, he seemed eager to put a question which yet he dared not ask. Nice, concise telling. Since this is the first time we really encounter Mordaunt, we won’t intuitively know that he wants to ask something of a very personal nature.] At length, with a violent effort at self-control:

“The name of that woman?” he said.

“I don’t know what it was. As I have said, she was twice married, once in France, the second time in England.”

[“She was young, you say?”

“Twenty-five years old.”

“Beautiful?”

“Ravishingly.”

“Blond?”

“Yes.”

“Abundance of hair—falling over her shoulders?”

“Yes.”

“Eyes of an admirable expression?”

“When she chose. Oh yes, it is she!”

“A voice of strange sweetness?” I like how the questions and answers come, one right after the other. It really helps you feel the intensity of Mordaunt’s questioning.]

“How do you know it?”The executioner raised himself on his elbow and gazed with a frightened air at the monk, who became livid.

[“And you killed her?” the monk exclaimed. “You were the tool of those cowards who dared not kill her themselves? You had no pity for that youthfulness, that beauty, that weakness? You killed that woman?” Effective word choice. It shows how the young man remembers his mother, and what he thinks of the musketeers.]

“Alas! I have already told you, father, that woman, under that angelic appearance, had an infernal soul, and when I saw her, when I recalled all the evil she had done to me—“

[“To you? What could she have done to you? Come, tell me!” I like the touch of impatience at the end her. He asks, and then hurries the dying man to answer him.]

“She had seduced and ruined my brother, a priest. She had fled with him from her convent.”

“With your brother?”

“Yes, my brother was her first lover, and she caused his death. [Oh, father, do not look in that way at me! You could describe his changed expression, but I personally like how you have the executioner react to it, leaving the exact look to the reader’s imagination.] Oh, I am guilty, then; you will not pardon me?”

The monk recovered his usual expression. “Yes, yes,” he said. “I will pardon you if you tell me all.”

[“Oh!” cried the executioner, “all! All! All!” I’m not sure that you need all three “all’s.” It depends on your desired effect, of course, but they didn’t do much for me.]

[“Answer, then. If she seduced your brother—you said she seduced him, did you not?”

“Yes.”

“If she caused his death—you said that she caused his death?” I like how Mourdant repeats his facts, as though he is trying to be just, to vent his revenge on the right person.]

“Yes,” repeated the executioner.

“Then you must know what her name was as a young girl.”

“Oh, mon Dieu!” cried the executioner, “I think I am dying. Absolution, father! Absolution.”

“Tell me her name and I will give it.”

“Her name was—My God, have pity on me!” murmured the executioner; and he fell back on the bed, pale, trembling, and apparently about to die.

[“Her name!” repeated the monk, bending over him as if to tear from him the name if he would not utter it. Interesting description. I can’t quite picture it, but I like the idea of him tearing the name out of the dying man. I’m just not sure how someone would stand to evoke that feeling, unless he actually touches him?] “Her name! Speak, or no absolution!”

[The dying man collected all his forces. Nice wording. “Collected all his forces” instead of the usual, “collected himself.”

[The monk’s eyes glittered. “Glittered” is bit overused, and some may find it ineffective. Personally, I liked the image. I felt you could feel the expectant evil emanating from Mourdant.]

“Anne de Bueil,” murmured the wounded man.

“Anne de Bueil!” cried the monk, [standing up and lifting his hands to heaven. This is another motion that is used a lot and has come to mean very little. You could probably get rid of it and just have the dialogue here.] “Anne de Bueil! You said Anne de Bueil, did you not?”

[“Yes, yes, that was her name; and now absolve me, for I am dying.” I like your choice of punctuation. The semicolon gives a little more weight to the pause between the first and second clauses, yet keeps them connected in ways that a period (full stop) would not.]

Of course, since this is an English translation of Dumas, the original may word some of this quite differently.

You’re welcome (and encouraged) to share your own comments, keeping a tone of constructive criticism in mind so we can all learn from this project together. And feel free to disagree with any and all of the advice and comments I gave. Thanks!

Comments Copyright 2014 Andrea Lundgren
Photo "Frozen" by Nomadic Lass, used per Creative Commons license

One thought on “Writing That Scene: Twenty Years After

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