The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

Plot Summary: This swashbuckling epic of chivalry, honor, and derring-do, set in France during the 1620s, is richly populated with romantic heroes, unattainable heroines, kings, queens, cavaliers, and criminals in a whirl of adventure, espionage, conspiracy, murder, vengeance, love, scandal, and suspense. Dumas transforms minor historical figures into larger- than-life characters: the Comte d’Artagnan, an impetuous young man in pursuit of glory; the beguilingly evil seductress “Milady”; the powerful and devious Cardinal Richelieu; the weak King Louis XIII and his unhappy queen—and, of course, the three musketeers themselves, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, whose motto “all for one, one for all” has come to epitomize devoted friendship. With a plot that delivers stolen diamonds, masked balls, purloined letters, and, of course, great bouts of swordplay, The Three Musketeers is eternally entertaining. 

Published in 1844, this book has achieved that sort of cultural status in which pretty much everyone has at least heard of it, and most people have a familiarity with the plot and/or characters. Because of that, I’m not going to concern myself about spoilers. If you care about spoiling the plot of a book that was published 160 years ago, perhaps do not read on.

I had high expectations of this book – I love a good swashbuckling story and I expected to be charmed by our protagonists. 

There were parts of the book that I enjoyed. Overall, though, I think that the book suffered from two things: the overwhelming dickishness of the main characters and the fact that I am not a nine-year-old boy. 

I spent much of the book bemused about the fact that the characters (basically all men) kept pulling out their swords (that is NOT a double entendre – I mean pulling out their actual long, metal, pointy weapons) to hack at one another for the most trivial of insults. If duelling was as prevalent as this book made it seem during 17th century France, I cannot imagine how any of the local aristocrats were able to maintain a standing army. The soldiers kept murdering one another for the most ridiculous slights.

In addition, I was thoroughly annoyed by the bad behavior of the “Three Musketeers.” There was far too little swashbuckling and heroism and far too much stealing, gambling (things belonging to other people) and refusing to pay one’s bills. No wonder the French went about chopping off the heads of the aristocrats during the French revolution. Those people were such massive assholes – Porthos, for example, checks into a hotel and refuses to either pay or leave. 

I can certainly understand why the book appeals to people. I am, however, not one of those people. I wanted to slap the protagonists into the 21st century, where they would inevitably get #MeToo’d into oblivion. 

I know, I know, we can’t judge characters in a book written in 1844 by current cultural standards. Nonetheless, I certainly don’t have to like them. In terms of enjoyment, I’d rank this at middling enjoyable. Not bad, but not nearly as good as I had expected.

I was planning to put this in the 19th century classic category in my Back to the Classics challenge, but I have decided to move it to Classics in Translation, as that is typically a more difficult category for me to fill, and I play to read something by Mrs. Oliphant later this year.

3 thoughts on “The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

  1. I read this when I was a teenager, but I’ve got it on my Classics Club list now. I’ll have to see what I think. Sadly, I think some of the behavior you’re describing was actually common back then, especially among various groups of the armed forces. Maybe not the stealing, but the gambling, duelling, and not paying debts.

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