Summary and Analysis
Part 4: Chapters 52-57
Milady spends her first day in captivity brooding on her fierce hatred for d'Artagnan, Buckingham, and Constance Bonacieux. She wishes them all dead. Her eyes glow with murderous hatred, and she makes elaborate plans for revenge against them. When she finally calms herself, she decides that she should probably study the characters of the men who are guarding her. Foremost, there is John Felton, a seemingly strict disciplinarian.
She pretends to faint, but this ploy doesn't soften Felton's heart, and, to make matters worse, de Winter walks in during the fraudulent fainting fit and tells Felton that Milady's swoon is only her first dramatic performance: she will give many more performances, all demonstrating her considerable talents as an actress. Milady is furious. She grabs a dinner knife — only to discover that it has been blunted. De Winter points out Milady's fury to Felton and again warns him, but this time, Milady notices that Felton seems to have a tiny bit of pity for her.
On the second day, Milady feigns illness, and this time Felton responds sympathetically. He gives her a Catholic missal (a book of masses), and as he does so, she notes that Felton handles the book with distaste, signifying to Milady that he is not a Catholic — he is a Puritan. Thus she pretends to be a victimized Puritan, suffering from Catholic persecution. She summons up all of the pious knowledge that she has accumulated about the Puritans and begins to rant about persecution, martyrdom, and suffering — ideas that are close to a Puritan's heart. She also reads her prayers loudly and fervently, and she sings Puritan hymns like a steadfast victim might. By chance, her voice is so beautiful that Felton is deeply moved and distracted.
On the third day, Milady tries to conceive of a way to make Felton linger in her room. She knows when Felton is coming, so she makes sure that she is ardently praying for the strength to bear her sufferings. In particular, she asks God if the enemy is to be allowed to succeed in his abomination. This show of spiritual earnestness deeply touches young Felton because his religion embraces repentent sinners and elevates martyrs, Milady asks Felton for a favor which he is quick to deny, but he continues to listen to her story, especially when she suggests that de Winter plans to plunge her into shame with Buckingham. Felton can't believe such injustice from de Winter; yet, Milady notices, Felton is willing to believe anything derogatory about Buckingham. Felton is surprised to learn that Milady knows Buckingham.
At this point, Milady asks Felton for a knife, promising not to hurt him and promising to return the knife immediately. Felton is convinced that she plans to commit suicide and refuses to give her a knife, but clearly he does believe in her sincerity and goodness. When he leaves, Milady feels that she has Felton within her power.
When de Winter arrives and offers Milady exile or death, she does not choose death. Instead, she begins singing a Puritan hymn so loudly that she can be heard by all the guards.
On the fourth day, young Felton finds Milady playing with a rope made of batiste handkerchiefs. He assumes that she plans to hang herself. She, in turn, accuses him of protecting her body while being an accomplice to the slaughter of her soul. Felton is visibly shaken and tells her that earlier he doubted her sincerity; now, he believes her. Indeed, he is suddenly so fascinated by her that he cannot turn his eyes away from her. As she pleads with him for death, Felton feels the magic of her beauty, her irresistible attraction of sensuality, and her vibrant religious fervor.
Without warning, de Winter enters and breaks Milady's spell. Later, Felton tells Milady that he will return to hear all of her story. She is overjoyed; now she has Felton — "that brainless fanatic" — in her power.
On the fifth day, Milady has her plans prepared; her fictional autobiography is ready. Felton reenters and puts a sharp knife on the table; Milady is further convinced that she has Felton in her power. She tells Felton a long, dramatic story about a nobleman who once tried to seduce her because she was so young and beautiful; she rejected his advances, but he drugged her and then he raped her. Later, she awoke and he stood before her, offering a fortune for her love. She refused and threatened to stab herself. He left, and again she was drugged and raped. Afterward, she still refused — despite threats of more punishment. She vowed that someday she would publish his vile crimes throughout the world. At this point, he threatened to brand her with the mark of a criminal if she murmured a word.
Felton is so moved that he can hardly stand. Milady continues her fictitious story, providing all of the graphic, emotional details, particularly about the sadistic branding. Then, removing just enough of her clothing to entice Felton, Milady reveals the hideous brand, the fleur-de-lis.
When Felton sees the dreadful mark, he is so overcome with passion and fury that he will do anything for her. He demands to know who is responsible for such a crime. Before Milady can answer, though, Felton himself speaks: "Buckingham." He insists on knowing how de Winter is involved. Milady explains that de Winter's brother (her late husband) learned about her past, but married her and promised to kill Buckingham. Yet before he could, he mysteriously died. Buckingham then fabricated stories to her brother-in-law, de Winter, about Milady's shameful past, persuading him that Milady was never in love with de Winter's brother, that she was interested only in the family money. Finishing up, Milady falls dramatically into Felton's arms. He feels the warmth of her breath and the throbbing within her breasts. He has never felt such passion.
De Winter enters, and when Milady threatens to kill herself, he calls her bluff. She takes sudden, drastic measures and cleverly stabs herself in such a superficial way that she draws only a little blood but it is enough to convince Felton that she is an innocent victim of both de Winter and Buckingham.
On the first day of her imprisonment, Milady tries to arouse Felton's sympathy by pretending to faint; the ploy doesn't work. De Winter warns Felton that she will continue to use her immense talents as an actress to gain his sympathy. Later, however, when she puts on a grand performance for Felton, she is so superb that the young, naive Puritan falls for her ruse and also for her beauty and sensuality. Thus, Dumas prepares us for the likelihood that Milady will be able to deceive almost anyone else she wishes to deceive. Clearly, we do not have merely an ordinary villainess here; we have a skillful, talented woman who is the quintessence of evil, possessing the psychological insight to know how to evaluate her victims and how to .determine their weak points. She is a magnificent adversary, stunningly powerful and gifted — no match for the naive and sympathetic John Felton.
Note too that Dumas has endowed Milady with all sorts of talents; in addition to her intellectual perceptions, her acting, and her superb deceptions, Milady is endowed with a lovely and piously beautiful voice which converts not only Felton, but also her guards. Yet, never should we forget that at the core of this beautiful body and angelic voice beats the heart of a corrupt and destructive woman. Milady recognizes that a man like Felton can't be tempted by ordinary feminine wiles, and she is astute enough to know that when a man displays extreme piety, he is usually suppressing a secret, passionate nature. Accordingly, she plays on his pity, confessing a multitude of lies about being abducted, drugged, raped, and finally branded. Then, playing on his suppressed sensual nature, she reveals to him a lovely naked shoulder, scarred indelibly with a hateful brand.
Her plan is successful: "The enchantress had again taken on the magic power of her beauty and distress, heightened by the irresistible attraction of sensuality mingled with religious fervor." Thus, Dumas, like many modern writers, presents a close correlation between religious fanaticism and sexual passion.
It is to Milady's evil credit that she can seduce Felton's compassion and sympathy so quickly, especially after he has been warned repeatedly about her evil nature — and even after he has seen evidence of her duplicity. However, since Buckingham is known to be something of a "libertine" and a "ladies man," as the Puritans have labeled him, Felton is ready to believe anything about Buckingham; thus, Milady's story of sadistic lust appeals to him. He wants to believe wicked things about Buckingham.
The story that Milady tells Felton is filled with stock melodramatic elements, cliches which the innocent Felton readily believes — sleeping potions, drugs, poison, and a virgin deflowered and scarred for life. Ultimately, the dramatic actress finishes her story and pretends to collapse in his arms. Felton gathers up her sensuous body, and apparently this is the first time that he has held such loveliness. He no longer feels pity for her; he worships her.