The Three Musketeers-Part 1: Read-Along!

In this edition of Trish and Sophia Talk Books, my daughter and I have decided impulsively to buddy read The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas.  Feel free to read along with us by following our blog posts, which we will update every day or two.  

How did this come about, you ask? I blame Little Free Libraries! 

We occasionally like to go "Little Free Librarying," exchanging our old books for something new.  It is a super fun thing to do.  This weekend, Sophia scored a copy of The Three Musketeers (from now on referred to as TTM for ease of typing),  because it's on her TBR.  We got to talking on the way home, and it became evident that though TTM is famous, we had no idea what it was actually about.  We had a notion that it is about three men, probably French, and they have swords.  We thought adventure must be involved.  I thought two of their names began with A, because they are always New York Times crossword puzzle answers and I can never remember them in full.  Sophia then added that her sum knowledge about TTM was from watching the Barbie Three Musketeer movie, which she loved at the time.  Alas, she's forgotten the major plot points, though did fondly remember her love of the dresses the Barbies wore.  We wondered how faithful the Barbie plot had been to the actual book.  Hmmm.  

Given that our collective knowledge about such a famous and culturally cited work ended there, we decided that we'd read it immediately, going in knowing nothing.  What fun!  We'll read the book, then enrich our TTM knowledge base with a viewing of the Barbie version, and perhaps some other adaptations.  I seem to recall a Disney Mickey Mouse version...   

A note on translations.  The copy Sophia found was a Penguin classic put out by Indigo! in 2014.  From my research on the excellent website We Love Translations, it's the 1952 Lord Selby translation, which is bowdlerized.  That term is coined from Thomas Bowdler, a publisher who was known for publishing expurgated versions of books.  It means that all of the offensive parts are removed, resulting in a tamer version.  In this case, it was largely done to appease Victorian sensibilities, and it effectively changed the novel from an adult book to one that was more suitable as an adventure story for children.  I downloaded my copy from Project Gutenberg, and it is the 1853 William Robson translation, which is not bowdlerized.  Sophia objected to having a watered-down version--and I quite agreed--so we found a used copy of the well-respected and unbowdlerized Richard Pevear 2008 translation.  So we're set!  (She'll donate the beautiful-looking copy she got from the LFL back again for someone's else to discover).  


Our Read-Along Plan: 

There are 67 chapters, so we plan to read 2 chapters per day over 34 days.  We're challenging ourselves to note particular phrases or ideas that jump out at us as we go, and will note them on this blog every day or two.  


Day 1: Chapters 1-2:

S: It's great already.  As a Medieval Studies undergraduate, I loved an allusion to Medieval literature.  He mentions the birthplace of the author of the Romance of the Rose, which made me smile.  Chapter 1 was a good introduction to main character D'Artagnan, and the description and dialogue showed his fragile ego beautifully: "D'Artagnan took every smile for an insult and every glance for a provocation."  It was surprisingly funny for a classic! It reminded me of Dracula in that way: good characterizations and humour.   Chapter 2 introduced us to the lifestyle of the Musketeers, and to two of the trio: Porthos and Aramis.  Their camaraderie and easy going friendship is clear in their banter. I also appreciated Dumas' description of the Musketeers: Instead of being sophisticated protectors of the King,  they are rowdy and slightly annoying "gallows-birds" who frequent pubs and taverns!

T: Agreed!  I love the vivid descriptions and humour.  From the start, Dumas says, "In those times panics were common, and few days passed without some city or other registering in its archives an event of this kind," then tells us about everyone making war on everyone else.  Somethings never seem to change! I love that young D'Artagnan gets advice from his father on departing the family home for the wider world and that is one of the gifts he is given.  My favourite piece of advice: "Never fear quarrels, but seek adventures!" 

Day 2: Chapters 3-4:

T: More wonderful descriptions of the Musketeers: damned Musketeers! daredevils! braggarts!  A new way to curse: Morbleu! And the action reads as almost slapstick: "But D'Artagnan had reckoned without the wind.  As he was about to pass, the wind blew out Porthos's long cloak, and D'Artagnan rushed straight into the middle of it...D'Artagnan rolled himself up in the velvet by a movement of rotation explained by the peristency of Porthos." And I think D'Artagnan has three duels to fight, after only four chapters. 

S: Chapter three was very much a set-up for chapter four; we learn more about the musketeers, and even see Treville's clear favourite: Athos. In chapter four, D'Artagnan meets each musketeer individually, and we see their respective personalities on a one-to-one basis. The dialogue in these meetings was so funny, and I'm excited to see how D'Artagnan fares in his three duels!

Day 3: Chapters 5-6

S: This bit, especially chapter 5, was defined by this quote: "Monsieur, I like men of your temper, I see that, if we don't kill each other, I will afterwards take real pleasure in your conversation." The humour and drama continues! A surprise for me was how truly witty the King is. He has so many great, very un-kingly moments that made the very long and dialogue-heavy chapter 6 entertaining to read. I especially liked everyone's shared dislike and cheeky insults towards Le Cardinal.

T: I agree! I liked the way D'Artagnan was faced with a decision about his future, and he didn't really hesitate.  He stood with the King's Musketeers: "It was one of those events which decide the life of a man; it was a choice between the king and the cardinal--the choice made, it must be persisted in.  To fight, that was to disobey the law, that was to risk his head, that was to make at one blow an enemy of a minister more powerful than the king himself." In Chapter 6, the comments about sleep struck me: "D'Artagnan, with his Gascon imagination...passed the night in golden dreams."  The King, by contrast, has too much worry: "Do you think I ever sleep, then? I sleep no longer, monsieur.  I sometimes dream, that's all." And finally, more humour! ""Oh, sire!" cried the four companions, with one voice, "we would allow ourselves to be cut to pieces in your Majesty's service." The King: "Well, well, but keep whole, that will be better, and you will be more useful to me." 

Day 4: Chapters 7-8

T: Seriously, they have lackeys?  And even when their money runs out, they keep their lackeys.  When D'Artagnan runs out of money, and his lackey wants dinner, he tells him to sleep instead: "He who sleeps, dines."  Hmm.  Then, I found it interesting that when a man comes to him for assistance in a kidnapping, he doesn't realize that it's his landlord.  The landlord deferentially notes that D'Artagnan hasn't paid rent for three months, so perhaps he can help find his kidnapped wife.  The arrogance of youth! 

S: I love these characters more and more every chapter! I seriously wasn't expecting this book to be so funny. Dumas sure knows how to write banter! Also, since I'm much closer in age to D'Artagnan than my lovely mother, I can totally relate to his youthful attitude towards life.

Day 5: Chapters 9-10

T: Our mysterious tall dark gentleman, D'Artagnan's nemesis again is spotted and "disappeared as if by phantom, like a shade, like a specter."  Will we ever meet him again?  I'm sure we will, but in the meantime, the four companions have a landlord, his wife, and the Queen to save.  No mean feat! And Aramis, the consummate womanizer, warns D'Artagnan off rushing in too quickly to save women in distress: "Woman was created for our destruction, and it is from her we inherit all our miseries." Hmm, jilted much? I also love that people's teeth keep getting mentioned as a feature of their status, which I suppose is in keeping with dental care of the time.  Finally more news about how people sleep: "...the queen, since her marriage had slept badly and wept much." 

S: "'Porthos', said Aramis, 'Athos has already informed you that you are a ninny, and I concur with his opinion.'" Just had to get that quote out of the way because it's too funny!

Anyway, these two chapters saw lots of action. Most importantly, Madame Bonacieux has been found, in such a cartoon-like scene! I lived the description of  D'Artangnan listening to the skirmish from the floorboards, rushing into the room, and second later the kidnappers are flying out. I also thought D'Artagnan throwing Madame B the most "amorous look" he could was such a teenager thing to do.

Day 6: Chapters 11-12

T: In which Dumas colludes with the reader in observing love it it's many forms.  Plot happens here, but most interesting to me is the all-consuming notion of courtly love and less lofty desire.  Of young D'Artagnan, who is head over heels in love with Mme Bonacieux, despite having know her for three hours only: "We must never look for discretion in first love.  First love is accompanied by such excessive joy that unless the joy be allowed to overflow, it will stifle you."  And D'Artagnan in turn sees a woman at the aspiring priest Aramis' apartments and says, "'This is all very fine, dear Aramis...Ah, Monsieur Hypocrite, I understand how you study theology." A smirk and a wink here, I think!  And the dashing, suave, perfection-itself Duke of Buckingham will not be outdone when describing his own passion for the Queen when she implores him to flee for fear of his life: "Why, the sacrilege is the separation of two hearts formed by God for each other." 

S: Lots of (at least, attempted) romance in these last two chapters! I liked seeing both D'Artagnan/Madame Bonacieux and The Duke /Queen's dynamic. I especially liked The Duke's chapter because the contrast of the classy, sophisticated, mysterious Duke persona we've heard about in previous chapters was completely flipped around when he starts pleading and professing his love for the Queen. Very unexpected!

Day 7: Chapters 13-14

S: These two chapters reminded me of a police procedural drama. We had our suspect, M. Bonacieux, being interrogated by pretty much all the political/law-related characters. Bonacieux was pretty clueless throughout. I especially thought Le Cardinal's manipulation of Bonacieux was so well done! I liked his quote right after a very overjoyed Bonacieux leaves: "Good. There's a man who will henceforth get himself killed for me."

T: I have to note that the commissary's interrogation of M. Bonacieux is probably the worst example of police investigation that I have ever encountered!  And his journey in a cart past all of the places of execution, constantly thinking he was done for, was nerve wracking.  In Ch. 14, it's funny that M. Bonacieux doesn't recognize the famous Cardinal; that would never happen in our modern era of 24 hour news and social media. 

Day 8: Chapters 15-16

T: "It is well known how violent the king's prejudices were against the queen...One of the grand causes of this prejudice was the friendship of Anne of Austria for Mme. de Chevreuse.  These two women gave him more uneasiness than the war with Spain, the quarrel with England, or the embarrassment of the finances."  Amazing, though vulnerable women in the court, how much power they have over the king's behaviour and peace of mind.

S: So far, I have been reading this book as a comedy, so was slightly taken aback (in a good way!) by the Letter scene. Dumas was able to write that whole section with such suspense and drama, and I honestly didn’t know which way things were going to go. Got me thinking, every comedy book or movie always has one serious scene to really ground the story.

Day 9: Chapters 17-18 (Also in which Sophia has to drop out for a bit, due to life being very busy!)

T: "More intrigues! Nothing but intrigues!": M. Bonacieux expressing his frustration as his wife tries to cajole him into yet another secret task.  Will he be persuaded? "Bonacieux was cowardly and avaricious, but he loved his wife. A man of fifty cannot long bear malice with a wife of twenty-three."  (shaking my head...) If her husband is unwilling, will D'Artagnan step in?  He professes his love, but can Mme Bonacieux trust him? "She found herself in circumstances where everything must be risked for the sake of everything." 

Day 10: Chapters 19-20

What a journey!  I just have this image of Musketeers littering the road to France...

Day 11: Chapters 21-22

I'm struck with how fragile the kingdoms are, and how easily lives can be destroyed, particularly those of the nobility and royalty.  D'Artagnan sees it too: "D'Artagnan was amazed to note by what fragile and unknown threads the destinies of nations and the lives of men are suspended. "  Sadly, it relates today just as much as back then. On a more satisfying note, the Queen of France gives the Cardinal his comeuppance.  But the book is only a third of the way through, so I'm afraid her ascendance won't last. 

Day 12: Chapters 23-24

I really like Planchet,  D'Artagnan's lackey.  He's a loyal servant, but long-suffering.  Lackies always bear the brunt of their employer's adventure.  D'Artagnan tells Planchet to be ready for another night of getting up to no good: "Don't be afraid, you idiot; there is nothing in hand but a party of pleasure."  Planchet, just back from a dangerous trip to London with his master, answers, "Ah, like the charming journey the other day, when it rained bullets and produced a crop of steel traps!" 

Day 13: Chapters 25-26

There was so much humour, so much farce in these chapters.  D'Argagnan goes looking for Porthos and finds him injured, ensconced in an expensive room at the inn, having lost all his money gambling, and refusing to pay the landlord.  Such unbelievable privilege!  And I loved learning more about Porthos' lackey Mousqueton, who's family plays fast and loose with religion (changing between Catholic and Protestant as it suits) and who lassos wine from the innkeeper's cellar.  

Our young hero is lost in thought as he searches next for Aramis and I love the quote here: 

"Nothing makes time pass more quickly or more shortens a journey than a thought which absorbs in itself all the faculties of the organization of him who things. External existence than resembles a sleep of which this thought is the dream. By its influence, time has no longer measure, space has no longer distance. We depart from one place, and arrive at another, that is all. Of the interval passed, nothing remains in the memory but a vague mist in which a thousand confused images of trees, mountains, and landscapes are lost." 

D'Artagnan then finds Aramis, on the verge of ordination into the church, his longtime dream.  The scene is to funny, as Aramis is easily convinced away from that path for love.  

Day 14: Chapters 27-28

It's interesting how the others fan-boy over the so cool Athos: "'Do you think, then, that any harm can have happened to him?' asked Aramis. 'Athos is so cool, so brave, and handles his sword so skillfully.'" But then we see such a fabulous description of the fits of depression that he falls into, it's quite moving...

Then, soon after, I was exasperated with these young men once again, getting into trouble and gambling their fortunes away.  The mom in me wanted to scold them, and tell them to smarten up! 

Day 15: Chapters 20-30 (Half way done the book!)

These poor, silly lads.  Having lost all their money by irresponsible means, and needing money to outfit themselves for a new Royal campaign in two weeks, they mope; "It may be seen by these disastrous details that desolation reigned in the community...They wandered about the streets, looking at the pavement as if to see whether the passengers had not left a purse behind them." And Porthos is revealed as a master manipulator when procuring money is concerned. 

Day 16: Chapters 31-32

In which Porthos has high expectations of his mistress' home and dinner, where he must attend in order to get the money he needs for his campaign...but alas, the home is dingy and the meal is sad. The soup: "a pale liquid, abundant but entirely free from meat, on the surface of which a few crusts swam about as rare as the islands of an archipelago." The chicken: "thin, and covered with one of those bristly skins which the teeth cannot penetrate with all their efforts.  The fowl must have been sought for a long time on the perch, to which it had retired to die of old age. 'The devil!' thought Porthos, "this is poor work. I respect old age, but I don't much like it boiled or roasted.'" 

Day 17: Chapters 33-34

Money-procuring shenanigans continue.  I loved the words about our sensible-ish Athos and the giving of advice: "Athos believed that everyone should be left to his own free will. He never gave advice but when it was asked, and even then he required to be asked twice. 'People in general,' he said, 'only ask advice not to follow it; or if the do follow it, it is for the sake of having someone to blame for having given it.'"

Day 18: Chapters 35-36

As D'Artagnan pursues Milady, and Kitty pursues D'Artagnan, we have a hilarious scene of a jealous lover wooing a deceitful Dutchess, and a sorrowful maid crying over a scheming Musketeer! "D'Artagnan was in a dolorous situation which he had not forseen. Jealousy gnawed his heart; and he suffered almost as much as poor Kitty, who at that very moment was crying in the next chamber." 

And I have to add this to my collection of insults: Of D'Artagnan, Milady mutters, "You double idiot, you animated sword blade!" 

Day 19: Chapters 37-38

D'Artagnan is so infatuated with Milady.  I love this line: "A secret voice whispered to him, at the bottom of his heart, that he was but an instrument of vengeance, that he was only caressed till he had given death; but pride, but self-love, but madness silenced this voice and stifled its murmurs." 

Day 20: Chapters 39-40

It was a different time, that's for sure: "Planchet and Grimaud appeared in their turn, leading their masters' steeds. D'Artagnan and Athos put themselves into saddle with their companions, and all four set forward; Athos upon a horse he owed to a woman, Aramis on a horse he owed to his mistress, Porthos on a horse he owed to his procuratror's wife, and D'Artagnan on a horse he owed to his good fortune-the best mistress possible." 

Day 21: Chapters 41-42

D'Artagnan continues to be a lucky man indeed. Two plots to kill him foiled! I didn't see the tainted wine coming, that's for sure. A narrow escape. 

Day 22: Chapters 43-44

The more I read this book, the more it reminds me of a modern soap opera. I love the French view of the English military: "The English, who require, above everything, good living in order to be good soldiers, only eating salt meat and bad biscuit, had many invalids in their camp." And Milady is scheming with the Cardinal against D'Artagnan again. They call him a "libertine, a duelist, and a traitor...An infamous scoundrel!" 

Day 23: Chapters 45-46

I LOVED the scene between Athos and Milady in the inn. So much tension, so much cold, sharp anger from Athos. "Hell has made you rich, hell has given you another name, hell has almost made you another face; but it has neither effaced the stains from your soul nor the brand from your body." And later: Athos slowly raised his pistol...and then, in a voice the more terrible from having the supreme calmness of a fixed resolution, 'Madame,' said he, 'you will this instant deliver me the paper the cardinal signed; or upon my soul, I will blow your brains out." 

He leaves her with this: "'And now,' said Athos...'now that I have drawn your teeth, viper, bite if you can.'" He has truly thrown down the gauntlet! 

Day 24: Chapters 47-48

The audacity of Athos is astonishing: to court death by breakfasting in a garrison and stand in the way of musket balls! I think his audacity is like a shield and keeps him alive. I also love how Milady takes on an unearthly terror for D'Artagnan. Even when his is finally promoted to Musketeer, he, "would have been at the height of his wishes if he had not constantly seen Milady like a dark could hovering in the horizon." I picture her spectre spookily in the night sky. 

Day 25: Chapters 49-50

The ever cunning Milady and her brother-in-law verbally spar. She is trapped, but when he leaves, she, "slowly raised her head, which had resumed its formidable expression of menace ad defiance, ran to the door to listen, looked out of her window, and returning to bury herself again in her large armchair, she reflected." She reflected. Such foreboding in that phrase. 

Day 26: Chapters 51-52

I enjoyed the politics of the Cardinal's oversight of the siege of LaRochelle, and the pressure he faces as the burden of ending the impasse weighs heavily on him. He was in low spirits: "...always to believe that the causes of his sadness created gaiety of others." Tough way to live. Then, we turn back to Milady, imprisoned in England. Love the reference to Dante's Inferno: "We shall find her still in the despairing attitude in which we left her, plunged in an abyss of dismal reflection-a dark hell at the gate of which she has almost left hope behind, because for the first time she doubts, for the first time she fears." 

Day 27: Chapters 53-54

Say what you may, Milady is one smart cookie, and uses her intelligence to play intellectual chess with De Winter, with Felton as her pawn on the board. "Milady was so beautiful at this moment, the religious ecstasy in which she appeared to be ;lunged gave such an expression to her countenance, that Felton was so dazzled that he fancied he beheld the angel whom he had only just before heard."

Day 28: Chapters 55-56

We are deep in the weeds with Milady these last few chapters. I know she's the villain here but she's desperate, fighting for her freedom, and surrounded by men who have used her as a pawn. I feel for her. She's wily, and has to act the feminine weak victim to get any modicum of power here.  "She did not invoke God, we very well know, but she had faith in the genius of evil-that immense sovereignty which reigns in all the details of human life..." "It was not difficult to conquer, as she had hitherto done, men prompt to let themselves be seduced, and whom the gallant education of a court led quickly into her net. Milady was handsome enough not to find much resistance on the part of the flesh, and she was sufficiently skillful to prevail over all the obstacles of the mind." 

Day 29: Chapters 57-58

Dumas has a way with words, and I am officially calling melodrama! " these words, as if all her strength was exhausted, Milady sank, weak and languishing, into the arms of the young officer, who, intoxicated with love, anger and voluptuous sensations hitherto unknown, received her with transport, pressed her against his heart, all trembling at the breath from that charming mouth, bewildered by the contact with that palpitating bosom." 

Day 30: Chapters 59-60

In which a major character dies! And we can finally join our four Musketeers once again. Not that they are feeling in high spirits..."You terrify me, Athos!" cried D'Artagnan. "My God! what do you fear?"...."Everything!" replied Athos.  As I approach the last 10% of the book, I'm eager to see how the story comes to a head. 

Day 31: Chapters 61-62

I do feel that Milady is a great villainess! She's growing on me, even though I know she must be defeated. I applaud her steadfastness in the doing of evil.  Her run of success continues but Dumas foreshadows her demise: "Great criminals bear about them a kind of predestination which makes them surmount all obstacles, which makes them escape all dangers, up to the moment which a wearied Providence has marked as the rock of their impious fortunes." 

Day 32: Chapters 63-64

So much action! So much drama! My head is spinning. And in the midst of it all, "Milady was like a good general who contemplates at the same time victory and defeat, and who is quite prepared, according to the chances of the battle, to march forward or to beat a retreat." 

Day 33: Chapters 65-66

I didn't actually think any book chapters began with the likes of, "It was a stormy and dark night," anymore...but given this was written in 1844 perhaps it was still fresh. And finally, Milady sees justice done. I have to say that this doesn't sit entirely well with me as an ending. She's bad, I know it. But: 

"You are cowards, miserable assassins-ten men combined to murder one woman. Beware! If I am not saved I shall be avenged."

"You are not a woman," said Athos, coldly and sternly. "You do not belong to the human species.; you are a demon escaped from hell, wither we send you back again." 

Call me crazy, but these guys aren't the most impartial of jurors, and it's pretty brutal. Milady is in the right here, I think, when she says, "If I am guilty, if I have committed the crimes you accuse me of...take me before a tribunal. You are not judges! You cannot condemn me!" 

Day 34: Chapters 67-Epilogue

After the last scene, all is denouement. Everyone is accounted for, and we are told of their fortunes briefly. D'Artagnan is on his way up though he grieves for those lost. As D'Artagnan shed tears, Athos speaks kindly to him: "You are young...and your bitter recollections have time to change themselves into sweet remembrances."