Manny's Reviews > Les Trois Mousquetaires

Les Trois Mousquetaires by Alexandre Dumas
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Mar 10, 10

bookshelves: french, history-and-biography, well-i-think-its-funny, too-sexy-for-maiden-aunts
Read from January 30 to February 28, 2010

This is a kick-ass novel, and I am indeed kicking my own ass for not having read it earlier. I'm ashamed to say that I thought it was a children's book. My wife indignantly refuses any responsibility for my mistake... as she points out, it's entirely my fault if I drew the wrong inferences from the fact that her mother read it aloud to her as an eight year old. It turns out, on closer examination of the facts, that Elisabeth's mom must have skipped about a quarter of the text - but I digress. No, far from being a children's book, this is a noirish thriller, stuffed to the gills with violence, sex, nudity, dangerous blondes, corrupt politicians and random acts of mayhem and destruction. I should have known that. Anyway, better late than never.

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. But what do these two literary traditions have to do with each other? I feel like a paleontologist who's discovered one of those missing links in the fossil record. A kind of literary coelocanth, it's exactly halfway between the two genres. Too well-written to be dismissed as trash, it still has so many of the defining characteristics of the modern French trash novel that it can't possibly be anything but a direct ancestor.

I'd hate to give away any of the plot - there's a twist every other chapter - but let me explain in terms of generalities. 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. To be a superior person means belonging to the first group. 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. A particularly clear 20th century example is Belle du Seigneur.

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Ariane's husband is only interested in Money and Power, and his dreary monologues about his prospects of being promoted bore her to tears. Naturally, she's drawn to the dashing Solal, who never misses a chance to show how much he despises money (it helps that he's very rich). Equally naturally, it all ends up very tragically indeed.

But let's get back to Les Trois Mousquetaires. Dumas takes real historical events, and reinterprets them through the prism of his ultra-romantic world-view. On his account, the political events of 1625-27 were all about a complicated tangle of love affairs. The beautiful Anne of Austria is Queen of France, but she has at best lukewarm feelings for her husband, the pathetic Louis XIII. Cardinal Richelieu, the true ruler of the country, has made advances towards her, but been rebuffed; he's eaten up by jealousy and spite, especially since he knows through his network of informers that Anne's heart in fact belongs to the handsome Lord Buckingham. To keep the story bubbling, Dumas invents some more people, who play key roles in this complicated game. 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. Needless to say, both of them are involved in their own intersecting webs of romantic intrigue.

The startling thing to me is that the Dumas formula is still going strong, nearly 200 years later. The immeasurably popular SAS series, which you can buy at any French airport bookstall, is written to almost exactly the same specification. The central figure, Malko, is a modern D'Artagnan: vaguely on the side of the Good Guys, each episode sees him dispatched to a currently topical destination, where he's charged with some weighty task. For example, in Bagdad-Express

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Malko's assignment is to prevent the Iraq war by kidnapping Saddam Hussein. He and one of Saddam's sons (I think Qusay) get involved with the same woman, there's a lot of random sex and violence, and, of course, the deal falls through. A still clearer example is Djihad

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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. (I know what you're going to say. In the SAS world, Islamicist factions can be led by sexy blondes). This time, after the usual toing and froing, Malko shoots down the blonde when she's just a few seconds away from detonating the bomb in New York. It's all remarkably similar to D'Artagnan's battle against the nefarious Milady.

So what is it that makes this formula so incredibly effective? It's fun to see history rewritten so that politics and economics are less important than who's sleeping with whom. The camaraderie displayed by the Musketeers has become proverbial, and that's also inspiring. But, really, it's Milady who makes the book, and she's the character who's been copied most often in modern trash fiction. (Look at those girls on the covers of the SAS novels. Miladies, every one of them). Although D'Artagnan is a sympathetic hero, she effortlessly steals the show every time she appears, just as easily as Sharon Stone upstages Michael Douglas in Basic Instinct.

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What a shame Stone never got to play Milady in a serious adaptation of Les Trois Mousquetaires! Now that would have been worth watching.
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Reading Progress

01/30/2010 page 25
3.22%
01/30/2010 page 25
3.22% "One chapter in, several swashes have already been buckled, and he's met Milady. Can't complain about the pace!"
02/12/2010 page 57
7.34% "He's been in Paris one day, and he's already having trouble scheduling all his duels. Alas, the Palm Pilot hasn't been invented yet..." 3 comments
02/14/2010 page 90
11.58% "These guys are so damn chivalrous that I'm feeling thoroughly ashamed of myself. Gotta make a grand gesture of some kind..."
02/15/2010 page 130
16.73% "Wicked, scheming Cardinal! Poor, red-eyed Queen! Pathetic, wishy-washy King! Heroic but remarkably immoral D'Artagnan!"
02/18/2010 page 165
21.24% "We finally meet Richelieu, and also find out who "L'homme de Meung" really is."
02/18/2010 page 195
25.1% "THe Queen takes a letter out of her corsage, Mme Bonacieux puts one into hers. When did women stop doing this?" 1 comment
02/19/2010 page 240
30.89% "There and back again, with a considerable body-count." 1 comment
02/20/2010 page 290
37.32% "D'Artagnan's date doesn't work out as he'd planned. He goes off to find his friends."
02/21/2010 page 325
41.83% "Revelations about Athos, Porthos and Aramis, though not in that order."
02/22/2010 page 365
46.98% "Sometimes they're so fucking chivalrous they make you want to throw up. At least, I'm pretty sure the laquais feel that way."
02/23/2010 page 390
50.19% "D'Artagnan gets involved with Ketty so that he can get involved with Milady so that... I fear he's already lost track of the original idea." 1 comment
02/23/2010 page 410
52.77% "The plot thickens. D'Artagnan promises Milady to kill himself, but luckily she thinks he's someone else. I assure you that this makes sense."
02/24/2010 page 475
61.13% "D'Artagnan didn't immediately understand how badly he'd hurt Milady's feelings, but it's starting to dawn on him." 1 comment
02/24/2010 page 500
64.35% "During an extremely dangerous picnic, Athos once again demonstrates that he's the coolest dude in France." 3 comments
02/25/2010 page 560
72.07% "They've locked Milady up in an inescapable prison. Unfortunately, I read a footnote earlier, so I know what's going to happen next."
02/26/2010 page 610
78.51% "Those dumb English Puritans. They'll believe anything."
02/27/2010 page 640
82.37% "D'Artagnan spots "l'homme de Meung" again. As he gloomily says, usually a sign that something bad is going to happen..."

Comments (showing 1-43 of 43) (43 new)

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Whitaker Hahahahaha! Loved the review. And loved your revision of view about the book because I had a aimiliar shift. I spent half the book going, ooh my, that's not what was in those cartoons I watched as a kid.


Manny Thank you! I'm afraid I rather annoyed Elisabeth by repeatedly cross-examining her about just which bits her mother had left out. Though now she says she has to re-read it... she had no idea that quite so much had been skipped!


notgettingenough I can see we need a girl's version of this. Bunches of pictures of handsome men who make girls melt at a glance. I can't believe the whole thing isn't about D'Artagnan. Have you not seen Michael York play him? Surely that would practically put you off girls altogether. I've only just noticed the screenplay was by GM Fraser. No wonder it was so good.


message 4: by Buck (new)

Buck Hey, Manny, I'm guessing you've already heard, but there's some evidence that Les Trois Mousquetaires was largely ghostwritten by an "assistant". http://www.nationalpost.com/news/stor...


Manny OMG. So the father of the modern trash novel was a ghostwriter. That's just so completely right...


Robert It's an established fact that Dumas had a collaboration going on in his historical fiction writing - but the author is Dumas; plot and historical detail aren't all it takes to be a successful author and his "assistant" never made it as an author in his own right.


Manny I am rather struck though that Maquet apparently collaborated on what most people think are the best Dumas novels. In the academic world, I know for a fact that the person who does the important part of the work often doesn't get credited correctly. And in French trash novel writing, it's pretty clear that the novels generally aren't written by the person who has their name on the cover...


Robert The whole thing has been highly controvercial for many years...not much agreement as to how the credit should be divided.


Robert Manny, to what extent did you find the novel deliberately humourous?


Manny Robert wrote: "Manny, to what extent did you find the novel deliberately humourous?"

Oh, I thought it was often funny! In particular, a lot of humorous asides from the narrator...


Robert OK - 'cos I've read two translations and one was much more deadpan than the other, so I was curious as to which was closer to the tone of the original.


message 12: by Wendy (new)

Wendy Dumas own life was extraordinary and dramatic. His mixed African-French ancestry was also a fascinating aspect of his success in French society...
If you have not read Count of Monte Christo (a superb book of revenge ((with a dutiful bit of remorse, humility and repentance ..to soften it ) , you should!
I have read it repeatedly.

From wikipedia:
Dumas' paternal grandparents were Marquis Alexandre-Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie, a French nobleman and Général commissaire in the Artillery in the colony of Saint-Domingue — now Haiti — and Marie-Cesette Dumas, an Afro-Caribbean Creole of mixed French and African ancestry.[2:][3:] Their son, Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, married Marie-Louise Élisabeth Labouret, the daughter of an innkeeper. Thomas-Alexandre, then a general in Napoleon's army, fell out of favor and the family was impoverished when Dumas was born.

Thomas-Alexandre Dumas died in 1806, when his son was still an infant. His widow was unable to provide her son with much of education, but Dumas read everything he could get his hands on. His mother's stories of his father's brave deeds during the years of Napoleon I of France inspired Dumas' vivid imagination for adventure. Although poor, the family had their father's distinguished reputation and aristocratic connections. In 1822, after the restoration of the monarchy, twenty-year-old Alexandre Dumas moved to Paris, where he worked at the Palais Royal in the office of duc d'Orléans (Louis Philippe).


message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

Okay, I heard the story being read aloud to me as an eight year old and although I understand from Manny that my mother must have skipped about a quarter of the book I loved it.

Beleve me, it can be exiting without too much of the sex. I am now looking forward to reading the extra 25 Percent.

I give you a vote Manny for after all didn't I say this was a good book of it's kind. And I now feel I must re read the book and at least a quarter will be really new and exciting.

I feel I need to point out that my mother after the ordeal with the three musketeurs went on reading the more usual children classics.


message 14: by Jordan (last edited Mar 03, 2010 01:13AM) (new)

Jordan Manny. . .Manny,

You hurt me so!

You are one of the only individuals who can go from reviewing, The Three Musketeers to talking about trash novels, and trash movies. However you have MISSED a major power couple, you forgot about Rearden and Dagny, let's be honest they more than fit the class of a POWER AND MONEY couple. I still have those million emails between us talking about that very subject, so I think you need to add a picture, or a least a reference to your review! ; )


Manny Jordan, that's an interesting point! There's clearly more than one tradition in trash novel writing... Hank and Dagny are, as you say, all about Money and Power, but they're simultaneously all about Love and Honour. I wonder who their precursor in mainstream literature can be? There's a Ph.D. thesis here just waiting to be written...


message 16: by Jordan (new)

Jordan MMMM,
Next year I have to write my senior thesis, this actually might be a good one to go for!


message 17: by Jordan (new)

Jordan Manny wrote: "I am rather struck though that Maquet apparently collaborated on what most people think are the best Dumas novels. In the academic world, I know for a fact that the person who does the important pa..."

This sounds very similar to our discussion about the fourth book in the Twilight Saga. ; P


Manny Jordan wrote: "MMMM,
Next year I have to write my senior thesis, this actually might be a good one to go for!"


"Literary precursors of the trash novel: a dissertation by Jordan Roberts". That has a nice ring to it. You might even be able to publish a popularized version!


Manny It's funny: you have an idea, then suddenly you see evidence for it everywhere. This afternoon, I just happened to pick up the copy of Royal Flash that I bought on impulse a few weeks ago, and here are the first two paragraphs:
If I had been the hero everyone thought I was, or even a half-decent soldier, Lee would have won the battle of Gettyburg and probably captured Washington. That is another story, which I shall set down in its proper place if brandy and old age don't carry me off first, but I mention the fact here because it shows how great events are decided by trifles.

Scholars, of course, won't have it so. Policies, they say, and the subtly laid schemes of statesment, are what influence the destinies of nations; the opinions of intellectuals, the writings of philosophers, settle the fate of mankind. Well, they may do their share, but in my experience the course of history is as often settled by someone's having a belly-ache, or not sleeping well, or some aristocratic harlot waggling her backside.
Of course! If anyone picked up the Dumas torch, it was George MacDonald Fraser...


message 20: by trivialchemy (new)

trivialchemy Man I do need to read this. When I was a sophomore in high school, I remember reading the unabridged version of Count of Monte Cristo, and rather liking it, which is pretty advanced for someone otherwise interested pretty much exclusively in getting drunk, skipping class, and hacking into my teacher's gradebooks.


David I loved this book too, as a child and as an adult. Not at all just for kids, that's ridiculous. I've been sneered at by Germans for reading it in public, as I mentioned in my review of it, not nearly as good as yours of course. I fell in love with milady. Wicked women are always a lot more fun to be around. In another less colourful age she would probably have done well as a City banker. All her criminal traits would look good on a cv nowadays. Ruthlessness, overriding ambition, love of money, manipulative skills, hypocrisy - what a woman!


David Have you reviewed any Balzac?


Manny David wrote: "Ruthlessness, overriding ambition, love of money, manipulative skills, hypocrisy - what a woman!"

Well exactly. Who could possibly fail to love Milady? Not D'Artagnan, that's for sure...

David wrote: "Have you reviewed any Balzac?"

I think I have brief reviews of La Cousine Bette and Pierrette. Sorry, I should do something more substantial...


David I'll look forward to it. But I can't read French. Do it in German or Turkish. I read Cousin Bette as a teenager and became addicted. The sheer accumulation of words coupled with powerful plots just did it for me. I'm going to re-read them soon. Sorry this is not apropos The Three Mosquitoes. Could you translate those Bovary sections in French to English while you're about it. Your review was fascinating but but like listening to Isiah Berlin on a BBC documentary after he died (interviewed before his death, of course) when you just knew he was saying essential things but because of his speech impediment couldn't understand a bloody word of it. It should have had subtitles. Sorry for going on.


Manny Several people have asked me to translate those passages. Not an easy thing to do, since the point of including them was, more than anything, that they are so beautifully expressed. But I'm sure I'll learn something interesting by trying.


David Try...


notgettingenough David wrote: "Try..."

But if Manny does that he will have to start reading in translation. He couldn't bear it!


David Well he can suffer a bit like the rest of us can't he?!


notgettingenough David wrote: "Well he can suffer a bit like the rest of us can't he?!"

Most of us don't know, though do we? Am I suffering? I very much regret not having learned another language (or more) when I was little, but still, I read a lot in translation and thoroughly enjoy it.

I might add, though, I find it hard to believe that reading in the original makes sense unless one is very familiar with the language.


David I started learning German about 20 years ago, Goethe with a dictionary. Not ideal, but it gave me the motive, which is half the battle. It was this poem, actually:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ETjoi1...


message 31: by Marshay (new) - added it

Marshay I am maybe 8 yrs old but my mommy will still let me read this book of course if it talks about sex
Sorry about that!!!!!


Manny Marshay, you're lucky to have such a cool mom.


message 33: by Kalliope (new)

Kalliope The story of your wife's mother reading selectively out of Dumas reminds me of the Narrator and his grandmother in Proust's novels...

I have to go back to Dumas...

And the kind of books that fall under your definition of French trash is not the one I go for...


Manny You are right about the Proust!

I do not recommend the SAS series, which is uniformly dreadful. (I have reviewed a few, in the unlikely event that you require further details). But they do have a certain sociological interest...


Sentimental Surrealist It's nice to know that, for all Europe's reputation for impenetrable sophistication, they like their crappy airport novels as much as we do.


Manny I would in fact say that crappy French airport novels are even crappier than American ones. It's amazing that they've managed to keep this secret so long.


Sentimental Surrealist By the looks of the covers, they've got America whipped in the salaciousness department.


Manny Sentimental Surrealist wrote: "By the looks of the covers, they've got America whipped in the salaciousness department."

If you want more details, you may feel you have to look at my Brigade Mondaine shelf. But I'm warning you now, you're going to regret it.


Sentimental Surrealist I have this vague feeling that Perversions Quebecois isn't bound for anyone's list of Great Novels anytime soon. Don't ask me why.


Manny Intuition is an amazing thing, isn't it? Science still has no idea how it works.


message 41: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca An If I were a child, I'd say,"Shame on you fr saying something like that!",but I loved the book, so I'm iba good mood


message 42: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca An We needa girl version of this book!!!!!!!!!!!


Manny Get writing, Rebecca!


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