Sunday, 3 September 2017

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas.

Illustration of The Three Musketeers by Denis Gordeev

The Three Musketeers (Les Trois Mousquetaires) is a strange book, at once seductive and unsettling. It was written by Alexandre Dumas and first appeared as a serial between March and July 1844 in Le Siècle. It tells the story of four friends: d'Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, and is based on the adventures of Charles de Batz de Castelmore d'Artagnan (1611 - 1673).

It begins with the young D'Artagnan who leaves his home in Gascony for fame and fortune in Paris, carrying with him a letter from his father to Monsieur de Treville, the head of the King's Musketeers. On the way the letter is stolen from him, but he is still able to train with the musketeers and hope one day to join them. He is lucky: one of the first things he does in Paris is get into a skirmish with three of the musketeers - Athos, Porthos, and Aramis - when he sees the man who stole his letter. They duel, but all quickly find themselves in trouble with the cardinal's men: duelling is illegal in Paris. D'Artagnan must fight with the three musketeers to warn the men off, and, despite the rocky start, they become firm friends vowing to fight "All for one; and one for all".

From here Dumas writes of D'Artagnan and the three musketeers' adventures. Constance, the queen's maid, for example, is kidnapped, and it's believed by the cardinal's men desperate to find out secrets of the Queen's. We then learn the queen's lover is the Duke of Buckingham, and she gives him her diamonds: when the cardinal finds out he suggests to the king that he should host a ball, stipulating the queen ought to wear her diamonds, sparking a desperate attempt of D'Artagnan to retrieve them. To complicate matters Milady, a spy of the cardinal's, is told to dance with Buckingham and steal two of the diamonds, which are then used to blackmail the queen. Later, D'Artagnan will get on the wrong side of Milday, and will learn she wishes to have him killed. Meanwhile, he falls in love with her and even manages, by deception, to sleep with her pretending he is her lover Wardes. He later tells her and it is partly thanks to her maid Kitty that she did not kill him.

This is a brief gloss over of the early adventures: The Three Musketeers is very action-packed with twist and turns all the way through. It's fun to read, though not the greatest book ever written (I'm sure die-hard fans will be disgusted by that!). It's highly dramatic, and the lack of impulse control of many of the characters is rather disconcerting. The psychology of it is somewhat alarming, but that I feel would be to read too deeply into something that is primarily to entertain and appeal to our adventurous side. The energy is immense, and it's a warm and thrilling tale of love and friendship, honour and pride, loyalty and revenge. A great novel, but not one I can see myself revisiting. That said, I would like to read the sequel: Twenty Years After, published a year later in 1845.

6 comments:

  1. this book is great fun... i've read several Dumas works and i confess, i got tired of them after a while; either his over- prolificity or my impatience gave me the impression that he was turning novels out like clockwork, which he was of course... i'd highly recommend the tv series that was made of the Three Musketeers, tho, the Mrs and i watched them all with a lot of enjoyment...

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    1. I was surprised that (it appears, perhaps this is wrong) Three Musketeers and Monte Cristo came out in the same year?! And Twenty Years After in the following year!? He's like a French Anthony Trollope! :) I heard there was a TV series - was it the BBC one? Will watch it if they re-show it :)

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  2. I think Dumas wrote The Three Musketeers as the base for the D'Artagnan installment. It is supposed to lay ground for the later books. From Musketeers we came to know the four friends intimately before Dumas brought us to their mature selves, with all the complication (which we would not highly appreciate if we have not known their early lives). One point I find mostly valuable from Musketeers (and the installment) is the lesson of nobleness and loyalty--things that I find more and more rarely these days. And with that you get the bonuses: dramatic adventures and a bit of history lesson. :)

    Can't wait to read your thoughts on Twenty Years After. This is one of my favorite books.

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    1. That's a good way of looking at it, as a base. I'll definitely read Twenty Years, maybe even in the next month or so. And I do like the lessons on nobleness and loyalty, I agree they're seen less and less...

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  3. I really liked this book, but nevertheless, a steady diet of Dumas, I could not handle; however they are grand fun now and then. I had to laugh at your comment about lack of impulse control. Perhaps they're children who never grew up ...?

    Thanks for the reminder that I need to read Twenty Years After. I have a lovely hardcover volume of it. :-)

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    1. Actually I too have a nice hardcover - and I have very few hardcovers indeed. Looking forward to reading it after Fanda's comment :)

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