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)