Alexandre Dumas: The Three Musketeers

Translated with an introduction by Richard Pevear

I’m no literary critic; I read The Three Musketeers primarily because I recently saw Slumdog Millionare, and I’ve been making a conscious effort to read books a little farther afield from my usual choices.

But for whatever it’s worth, here are my impressions.

Initially I found The Three Musketeers an uphill climb, mostly because I didn’t pay enough attention during European History class. Pevears’s copious notes are very helpful, but he assumes more knowledge of 17th-century French (and even English) politics than I brought to bear. In particular, the balance of power between King Louis XIII, Cardinal Richelieu, and Queen Anne (of France, but who is not French) was a little hard to puzzle out.

After I more-or-less internalized the dramatis personae I enjoyed the novel quite a bit — for a while. Dumas weaves his genre-defining derring-do skillfully through the threads of actual history. It reminded me a bit of how fantasist Tim Powers spins tales of high and improbable action around real events and people (only without the fantastic elements). A good portion of my pleasure in the book derived from flipping to an end-note and experiencing the jaw-drop of “that part really happened!” And, thanks in no small part to Pevear’s lucid translation, some of my pleasure derived from moments of genuine laugh-out-loud humor.

As the novel goes on, however, its tone darkens considerably and I found it increasingly unpleasant. I know it’s unfair to chastise a 19-century novel for sexism, but the portrayal of the novel’s femme fatale, Lady de Winter, seems to go beyond that and into misogyny. (Richelieu is guileful, a figure to be feared, but ultimately not ignoble; Lady de Winter, whose ambitions, cunning, and vengefulness roughly equal those of the male protagonists, is unsupportable.) It might be interesting to see a modern recasting of Lady de Winter as the novel’s heroine.

needs more demons? (too a silly yardstick to apply to a literary classic)

Published by therealsummervillain

likes: equality, making things easier to use, biking, jangle, distortion, monogamy dislikes: bigotry, policies that jeopardize people, lack of transparency

One thought on “Alexandre Dumas: The Three Musketeers

  1. Oh, right? I just finished the book and I found it DRASTICALLY unfair how Lady De Winter was executed, while the cardinal and Rochefort went free. That was appalling, both of them were just as guilty as she was. Lady De Winter as a protagonist? Now there is an idea! 😉


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