Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas

 I finished this novel several nights ago but the writers block I have been suffering from recently has seen me struggle to put pudgy fingers to keys! It took me only five days to rattle through the entire book. At the most I read two hundred pages in one night and at the least only fifty when I was on the tail end of a migraine. So it is fair to say I blitzed through its seven hundred and fifty two pages!!

  Alexandre Dumas is probably my favorite 19th century author. Unlike some authors of the era Dumas wrote what I call 'pure' novels and didn't delve into tangents in discussing politics, religion, or other social issues of the day. Look no further than Leo Tolstoy and Victor Hugo who were masters at these tangents within their novels. Dumas was a writer of fiction and kept it that way. I like his works the more for it.

  I read The Count of Monte Cristo just over three years ago immediately after finishing War and Peace. It is a novel I just loved from the first to last and is probably Dumas' finest work. Interestingly it is a more complex book to read than The Three Musketeers, and far longer as it was split into two seven hundred page books. But it still show cases Dumas' clear writing style which is easy to get into and enjoy.

  What I like about Musketeers is that it is easier to read than most novels of the era. Dumas didn't bog his narratives down with complex sentence structure that the like of Charles Dickens did. Dickens is a great writer but his complex style can be a hindrance to the story.  I find I have to be in a very settled state of mind to fully concentrate with his writing. Whereas with Dumas his sentence structure is less complex, and yet, like Dickens, he can fit so much into just the one sentence! He just does it with more economy of words.

  This is not to say that Dumas is a simplistic writer because he had a very distinctive way of writing his novels. In Musketeers there are many passages that mirror William Shakespeare. What I mean by that is in a play Shakespeare had to describe so much within the words of the actors. Scenery, castles, furniture, people,etc, were described not in text but in word, and of course when you see a Shakespeare play there are very few props as the actors are describing what is around them. It is up to the audience to imagine what the actors are portraying. It is in essence the Shakespearean eras version of a modern film makers use of CGI.

 Dumas in Musketeers takes this technique and novelises it. He brilliantly uses the characters speech and words to describe their surroundings and props. Instead of writing, the four went to the castle, one character would say, 'now let us retire to the castle yonder'. The spoken line lets the reader know there is a castle nearby and the four are going to it. This technique provides an economy of words and is an enjoyable reading experience. I love the technique, and it is what I took most away from from the book.

 The other thing so noticeable about Musketeers, as it is with The Count of Monte Cristo, is the way the characters speak to each other. It is all politeness, even to enemies. To my modern sensibilities it was quite quaint!! Speech has moved on and been dumbed down so much it was a joy to read the by gone eras way of communicating. At times their speech was a bit long winded, and again shows the difference in the use of speech from our modern usage. Whereas an author today would take a paragraph to make a statement or describe something, Dumas would take four or five to describe the same thing!! It is indicative of the era, and whilst frustrating at times it was the style of the times and must be read as such.

  It is not to say that Musketeers drags because of the long windedness of some passages. It moves along at a very good clip and I was able to average about forty pages a hour comfortably. Not once did I find a part I slogged through. After I put the book down I was amazed at how much I had read compared to how much I thought I had. The narrative is swift and with the amount of speech involved many pages can be read quite quickly compared to a dense page of complex descriptions. This again comes back to the writing style. It is a long book and yet it can be read very quickly which is an acknowledgement to the crisp writing of Dumas. It is a classic example of less being more!!

 The plot is very easy to follow and doesn't get bogged down in too much sub-plot or tangents. For a 19th century novel it is relatively clear and concise compared to many of the era. An interesting thing to note is the short list of characters. There are only fifteen named. Any others are referred to by rank or as nameless civilians or soldiers ( as those at the siege of La Rochelle ). This brevity is great compared to say War and peace that has over two hundred different characters. It all helps to the pacing of the novel as the reader doesn't have to search back constantly to remember a character that hasn't been mentioned for some time.

  Hollywood has made many adaptations of this novel and they have all been a disgrace. They all pick up on the sword fights and costumes, but at detriment to the plot. It isn't a difficult plot to follow and would be quite an easy novel to adapt.

 In some ways Musketeers has dated especially in regards to women. Dumas portrays the fair sex as delicate, sweet natured, maidens who faint and swoon at anything even mildly unpleasant. They are afraid of heights and....well almost everything! In essence they are completely useless!! It is to our modern eyes quite laughable and I wonder how a modern woman who reads it feels. It is quaint and indicative of 'ladies' of the time, but I'm glad woman aren't like that any more!!

 Also, compared to our Hollywood saturated culture of graphic violence, rape, and pillage, the killing and death in Musketeers is minimally described and quickly moved on from. It is so refreshing that death isn't a selling point compared to a good plot. There are no graphic descriptions of sword wounds or be-headings even though there are many, and it is quite amusing when a character has been run through with a sword says,' oh, I have been killed'!! Very amusing, quaint, and Shakespearean in delivery, with a very noticeable lack of blood, guts, and histrionics that modern audiences all but bay for.

 All in all The Three Musketeers is a thoroughly enjoyable read. It has a good fast moving plot which is delivered through some very clever writing from Dumas. Although it can be a bit long winded at times it is still good reading as you admire the language and use of words modern writers cannot even begin to make use of. It is somewhat dated in some terms but it is still a great novel, with a superb plot, a great cast of characters, which, combined with a brilliant writing style, make The Three Musketeers a thoroughly entertaining and memorable read.



  1. Love the blog. I think it's such a great idea to start a literary blog. I like the way you write because you make it very relaxed and conversational ...which makes it really approachable.

    The only tip I'd offer is putting an actual space to separate paragraphs. It's easier on the eyes. :)

  2. Thanks Laura for stopping by and being the first to leave a comment! I will take your advice into account! When I started blogging I didn't intend to be conversational in my style it just sort of happened. I'm pleased though that you approve and hope you come back for more!

  3. This is actually my favourite book which I have re-read on several occasions (something which I only have done with a couple of books)

    It is such a good read with some genuinely funny little set pieces thrown in. The characters are all memorable with Dumas writing Milady as a brilliant vileness

    Have you read The Black Tulip? It would be my second favourite Dumas novel?

  4. No haven't read that one. Have read The Count of Monte Cristo, which is one of my top three favorite novels, and am half way through The Man in the Iron Mask.Iron Mask isn't as good as Musketeers though. It is overly complicatd and not as much fun as it's predecessor.

  5. I read The Man in the Iron Mask and you are right it isn't as fun or as enjoyable.

    To be honest I thought it would be like the movie version which had some resemblance of the humour of the Musketeers (yes for my sins I have a soft spot for the DiCaprio film - call it a guilty pleasure)

  6. I haven't seen the Dicaprio version. It is incredible that there hasn't been one decent version of a Dumas book ever filmed. The Three Musketeers is always rubbish, Guy Pearce's Monte Cristo was completely unrecognisable from the book, and DiCaprio was far too young in Iron Mask because by that stage the four main characters were into their forties!!

    I really hooked into Iron Mask last night and read 170 pages and only have about that left to go so hopefully will fininsh it today or tomorrow.

  7. Ah ha,reading and commenting in 2017! Came across your blog post in a search on Dumas. I revisited The Three Musketeers lately and thoroughly enjoyed the book.
    I agree about your point of the outdated notions towards women, though I thought I saw another aspect Dumas at least alluded to and that being resourcefulness, ability,and or strength in a woman. Though he illustrated Milady as a villainess,I thought he respected her and in a cautionary way espouse not underestimating women. The queen seemed to me to be another example.
    Granted, written in an age gone by. Thanks again for your thoughts on the book.