It seems at times that all the characters of "The Three Musketeers"--even the King and the Cardinal, even that most gifted and ruthless of femme fatales, Milady--are satellites circling the binary star of Buckingham and l'Autriche, whose doomed love is the center of this impossible--and delightful--romantic universe.
-My copy of the book is 754 pages, but I was able to finish it in less than two weeks and not even notice the length because the story was so engrossing. -The only complaint I had regarding the other Dumas book I'd read before this (Queen Margot, as previously mentioned) was that there was a total lack of what I will bluntly call the dirty details. In Margot, all the sex scenes were kept out of the way and, judging by the description Dumas gave us of the characters' nighttime activities, no one managed to get laid for the entire book. And then there's the scene where D'Artagnan decides that nailing Milady will be a good way to get revenge on her for kidnapping his girlfriend. She keeps poison in her ring, seduces a guard who has been specifically warned that she'll try to seduce him, stabs herself in the chest to make people think she killed herself, regularly tries to assassinate D'Artagnan and his friends, and was generally such a psychotic bitch that even Cardinal Richelieu was afraid of her.
Quite apart from being a terrific read - I just couldn't put it down - Les Trois Mousquetaires is a remarkably interesting book for anyone who's fond of French literature. The merest glance at my French shelf will show you that I like both so-called serious novels and trash - as everyone knows, the French write the best trashy novels in the world. Dumas is firmly in the great French tradition of Tragic Love. People in his world are divided into two classes: those who are motivated by Love and Honour, and those who want Money and Power. Unfortunately, living only for Love and Honour isn't very practical, so these superior people generally have rather tragic lives; a theme you see over and over again in mainstream French literature. One of Richelieu's main agents is the psychotic blonde temptress, Milady; her opposite number in the Queen's camp is the ambitious young swordsman, D'Artagnan. A still clearer example is Djihad A Chechen rebel group gets hold of a Russian nuclear warhead, and they pass it on to an Islamicist faction led by a sexy blonde woman. In the SAS world, Islamicist factions can be led by sexy blondes). But, really, it's Milady who makes the book, and she's the character who's been copied most often in modern trash fiction. What a shame Stone never got to play Milady in a serious adaptation of Les Trois Mousquetaires!
This is going to take some explaining, but my guiltiest pleasure when it comes to books is Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers. Even if people haven't read the book they know the Three Musketeers. Hell, most people even know that D'Artagnan, the main "hero" of the book, is not one of the eponymous "Three". She is an agent for the "villainous" Cardinal Richelieu, spying on, plotting against and battling our Musketeers at every turn. The Cardinal -- the right hand of the King, connected to the Pope, a man waging a war in the King's name, the most powerful man in France -- has Milady undermine the King's Queen, Anne of Austria, a woman having an affair with the man (Duke of Buckingham) who is helping the rebels within her husband's kingdom. And if that isn't bad enough, the man she's spying on turns up in her bedchamber posing as the Comte and proceeds to "make love" to Milady. Next, she is charged with assassinating the Duke of Buckingham, for which she is issued a carte blanche by the Cardinal, but her enemy, D'Artagnan -- committing treason against his own King and country -- warns the Duke, and she is banished to a tower while the Duke sails off to aid the Huguenots. He was writing from the Musketeers' perspective, and he knew that his readers would side with them against the Cardinal and Milady. The weight of popular culture has changed the way we see this story so thoroughly, has morphed the Musketeers so completely into righteous heroes, turned D'Artagnan into such a loveable heartthrob and his companions into the most likeable of heroes, that it is nearly impossible for people to see the things that make them grey. So here comes the guilt: I see the Four Musketeers crimes -- treason, rape, murder, theft -- and all their flaws -- cruelty, greed, hypocrisy, entitlement, adulterousness (to name but a few) -- and I still love them. p.s. I love Milady de Winter too.
Like I said, I don't want to dwell on this one starred book too much(one for all, and all for one). Having said that, I read the book in French and I think if I hadn't, if I'd read it in English I wouldn't have been able to finish the book.
Imagine my surprise that Alexander Dumas has made me laugh aloud in The Three Musketeers. Any wonder that their men are less than stellar examples of knighthood? So, without any reason to admire anyone in this fictional world, we are able to enjoy the escapades of these men and even cheer them on toward their conquests of women, rivals, and the world of French politics. I can imagine reading this in serialized form and waiting impatiently to find out what happens to Milady and the Musketeers.
At the very least, they know about the story or they can quote that famous line. It's just exciting and silly and crazy fluff. And now I know why it's a classic.
This note regards Alexandre Dumas, père, the father of Alexandre Dumas, fils (son).