The Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas. New York: Everyman’s Library, 2011 (originally published 1844).
Summary: An adventure that begins with D’Artagnan, a young nobleman who wants to join the musketeers of the guard, and quickly gets entangled with plots to bring about war between England and France, and love affairs that endanger his life and break his heart.
Sometimes, a good adventure makes for a great summer read. The Three Musketeers was a book I read in a children’s edition more than 50 years ago. I remember little, but I suspect the adult version has a lot of material omitted in the children’s edition. The story begins when a young but poor nobleman, d’Artagnan, from Gascony sets off for Paris with a recommendation from his father for the Musketeers of the Guard for the King of France. On the road he has an encounter with the Comte de Rochefort (unknown to him at the time), an agent of Cardinal Richelieu, who might be the real power in France at this time (c. 1625). Insulted by de Rochefort, d’Artagnan challenges him to a duel. Instead, he is roughed up by Rochefort’s companions, and his recommendation is stolen. Nevertheless, he makes it to Paris, and while not admitted to the Musketeers by Monsieur de Treville, his spirit sufficiently impresses de Treville to recommend his admission to a kind of training academy. While awaiting the recommendation, he spies de Rochefort, runs after him, insulting three of the musketeers, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, who all challenge him to duels that afternoon. They are amazed when he shows up, nearly dispatching Athos before they are all set upon by Richelieu’s guards. They join up to fight and defeat the guards and become “one for all and all for one.”
The remainder of the story revolves around the further adventures of d’Artagnon and the three musketeers. There are affairs of the heart, between d’Artagnan and Madame Bonacieux, the wife of his landlord that begin when Madame is kidnapped and d’Artagnon sought out to rescue her. He also pursues an affair with de Rochfort’s conspirator, Milady de Winter, who he ends up spiting when he learns she does not truly love him and bears the mark of a criminal, discovering that she is a most dangerous woman, seeking his death throughout the remainder of the story.
Much of the story revolves around the plots of Richelieu, de Rochefort and Milady to involve France in a war with England. The Queen of France, unhappy in her marriage, is having a secret affair with the Duke of Buckingham. She gives a set of diamond studs as a keepsake, only to have the king of France, at Richelieu’s bidding, ask her to wear these at a ball. D’Artagnan, aided by the musketeers, recovers the jewels, earning the Queen’s gratitude. Later, once again they pursue a secret mission, this time to warn against Milady, who is on a mission to kill the Duke.
Milady is captured by her brother, the Lord de Winter, but escapes, beguiling her guard, Felton, who helps her, and accomplishes her mission. This section is perhaps one of the most suspenseful, counting down her days to exile, while tracing her step by step efforts to seduce her guard, despite the warnings of de Winter. Buckingham will not be her last victim as she avenges herself on d’Artagnan before the final denouement.
In between are the battle exploits of d’Artagnan and the Musketeers. Perhaps the most satisfying part of the book is the fraternity and friendship of these four. Richelieu comes off as a shrewd Machiavellian, far more savvy than his king, though outwitted by d’Artagnan. In the end, Richelieu decides to keep his friends close and his enemies closer. None of the women come off very well, perhaps revealing the options open to them in a male-dominated society. Milady comes off as the most fascinating, if also the most sinister, in the pursuit of her interests.
My sense is that by today’s standards, Dumas could have used an editor to pare down the prose, and perhaps, some of the intricacy of the plot. Nevertheless, he offered what I sought–a diverting summer adventure read.