Wednesday, 8 June 2016

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

I have finally read one of the books from my list for the Classics Club Challenge!  The Three Musketeers was also one of the books I read recently at the "Lunch with Dickens" book group organised by the Shetland Library.  We usually read novels by 19th century British authors so a book by a foreign writer was a departure for us.  I knew very little about The Three Musketeers before reading the book never having seen any film or TV adaptation of the novel. 

Alexandre Dumas wrote The Three Musketeers in 1844 - this was serialized in Le Siecle from March to July of that year.  The book is set in France in 1625 during the reign of Louis XIII. 

I was unsure whether I would like this book as I felt it was a masculine book full of sword fighting and swash buckling heroes.  However the novel is much more than that - over the course of 600 pages we follow the exploits of d'Artagnan and his friends the Musketeers, Arthos, Porthos and Aramis. 

I read the Oxford World's Classics edition which was translated by William Barrow.  The book is not historically accurate as David Coward points out in the introduction to this copy where he states, "Dumas's habit of seeing historical issues in terms of personalities was not good history, of course, but it made history accessible and exciting."  The book is certainly fast moving and exciting so that the reader does not get bored despite the length of the novel.  The mood changes as the book progresses - from the humour at the beginning of the book to the drama at the end where Lady de Winter is imprisoned and uses all her powers to dominate her captor in order to escape.

The main characters are well drawn - d'Artagnan is the young, honest hero who comes to Paris from the country.  Despite being newly arrived in the city he copes well with the intrigues of the court.  During the story we also get to know the Musketeers and their servants.  Dumas is able to describe people and places in a few words as in this excerpt where the four officers escape from d'Artagnan.

"After a moment more, those who had looked from their windows to learn the cause of this surprising noise, might see the door open, and four men clothed in black, not merely go out, but fly like frightened crows, leaving on the ground, and at the corners of the house, their feathers and wings, that is to say, portions of their coats and fragments of their cloaks."

Dumas held a Romantic view of women - they were either angels or demons.  At one point Aramis says, "Woman was created for our destruction, and from her all our miseries arise."  Lady de Winter was certainly an evil, manipulative woman who schemed and plotted throughout the book.  However we must remember that life was not easy for any woman in the 19th century and whether they were rich or poor they depended on men.  Even the Queen was unhappy with her situation and did not know who to trust.

The first film of The Three Musketeers was made in 1908 and numerous film and TV adaptations have been made since then.  A new series is currently being shown on TV - evidence that Dumas' writing continues to appeal to audiences today.  As Coward says in the introduction "The King of Romance always has the last laugh for he is a man of all seasons, a natural evergreen, unlike his critics who invariably turn out to be deciduous."

I will certainly be adding the sequel Twenty Years After to my reading list.

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