Friday, November 10, 2017

BACK TO THE CLASSICS CHALLENGE 2017: The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas père

“All for one and one for all” was never actually stated in the translation by Jacques Le Clercq in the 1999 Modern Library edition that I read.  I wonder where that comes from and if it is maybe even apocryphal?  

I find my reaction to finally experiencing a classic fiction source that has sparked so many adaptations, spin-offs, etc. to be quite varied.  Which is normal, of course. But I still have this idea that I am obligated to appreciate anything deemed “classic”. Silly, yet true.  Frankly, I was less than enamored when I finally read Frankenstein and also I thought The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde would have been a thousand times better if had been less familiar with the story prior to reading it.  However, I have been delighted by pretty much everything I have read by Charles Dickens and Jane Austen.

Which brings me to Les Trois Mousquetaires by Alexandre Dumas.  I liked it, but with reservations which are mostly based on reading a book written 200 years ago and which is set in a time period 200 years before it was written. I don’t know why sometimes my 21st century mores get in the way of reading older books and sometimes they don’t.  But in this case, I was annoyed by the moral ambiguity of 17th century Europe as portrayed by a 19th century author…in particular since the one female villain is so severely punished (her greatest evil seeming to be having the intellect of a man but born in to a female body) whereas the male bad guys are actually respected as worthy adversaries. Milady deserved better.  Frankly, I much prefer her depiction in the 1993 movie version starring Rebecca De Mornay. Whatever faults that movie may have (Charlie Sheen as Aramis?), it gives Milady (and Athos) a more nuanced personality than in the book. I guess one could argue that the book does allow for a more generous reading of Milady in the negative spaces, but you have to be a better reader that I am to get that.

My other reservation is that it isn’t particularly well written. There is literal mustache twirling going on.  One of the chapter title’s is literallyThe Plot Thickens”.  This book’s success rests I think on its characters, who are very memorable, despite their questionable behavior. I mean, these guys are constantly walking around, looking for a fight. And they very often actively work AGAINST the best interests of France in their support of Queen Anne.   Who knows, maybe Dumas was deliberately writing them as anti-heroes? That is for someone’s term paper to work out!

So, in summary, I am happy to have finally experienced Dumas’ original but I don’t think I will read on in his oeuvre.  I read this for the 2017 Back to the Classics Challenge: Read a book with a number in the title.