It was the sword fights that hooked me. I love a good sword fight. I swoon at the sight of flashing blades.
When I was a kid there were all kinds of movies on television that featured valiant warriors, lots of derring-do, and fearlessly brandished swords. King Arthur, Robin Hood, Zorro, and the Three Musketeers all stormed across my television screen.
Eventually I followed my gallant screen heroes into the library and into the books that were their original homes. I read Ivanhoe by Sir. Walter Scott, The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy, The Deerslayer by James Fennimore Cooper, The Mark of Zorro by Johnston McCulley, Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini, and The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas.
I can still tell you exactly where The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas was located in my high school library. There was a small alcove in the back left corner that had books on three walls and a free standing shelf in the middle. The Three Musketeers was on the top right side of the free standing shelf (it’s not like I spent a lot of time in that alcove or anything). I also read many other Alexandre Dumas books. Of course, I thought he had only written a dozen or so stories. I never realized Dumas had actually written more than 300 published books and more than 100,000 pages. Most of his books were high adventure but he also wrote plays, travel diaries, children’s books, a culinary dictionary, and also started and wrote for several magazines.
I really had my eyes opened when I was researching Alexandre Dumas. If you had asked me about him back when I was in high school I would have described him as some French guy with pale skin and lots of long curly dark hair because that was the image I had somehow built up of him. Of course, back then, it was not as easy to research a long dead author’s life and looks. You had to wade through dusty reference books and if you were lucky you might find a small black and write drawing. Nowadays, you just plug a name into the internet. Five seconds and I had half a hundred links and pictures. And wow! What I never knew about Alexandre Dumas.
Alexandre Dumas’ life, and especially the life of his father, were blueprints for high adventure. Let’s start with our author’s father:
General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas (originally named Thomas-Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie) was born in the French colony of Saint-Dominguez (present day Haiti). His father was a French nobleman (the marquis Alexandre-Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie) and a slave woman of Afro-Caribbean ancestry (Marie-Cessette Dumas). Eventually Thomas-Alexandre arrived in France where he faced racism, especially one notable incident where a white soldier took exception to Thomas-Alexandre being out on the town with a white Frenchwoman and tried to humiliate him and force him to kneel and beg forgiveness. Thomas-Alexandre then joined the army and became an exceptionable soldier. He was a general by age 31 (the first man of African origin to reach that rank in the French army). He served with distinction during the French Revolutionary Wars and he also served with future French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. The Austrians were in awe of Thomas-Alexandre and called him “Der Schwarze Teufel” (“The Black Devil“). When the French army invaded Egypt in 1798, the Egyptians were in awe of him, too. They called the 6 foot 2 inch Thomas-Alexandre “The Centaur” and thought he was in charge of the French army – not the “short and skinny” Napoleon Bonaparte.
Bonaparte’s growing jealousy may have prompted him to ignore his general when Thomas-Alexandre was later captured and left to rot in enemy hands for two years. The general’s health was broken and he died in poverty only a few years later. Emperor Napoleon went on to expel all black officers out of the French army and to reinstate slavery in France’s overseas territories.
General Thomas-Alexandre may have died from injustice but his young son, our future author Alexandre Dumas, idolized his father. Alexandre was born July 24, 1802. He was just four years old when his father died. Alexandre’s mother, the daughter of a white French innkeeper, could not afford much in the way of education. Alexandre mostly grew up teaching himself. And his mother’s tales of his father’s bravery and derring-do inspired his imagination and his own life.
Alexandre Dumas eventually got a position as a scribe in the royal household of the Duke of Orleans (future King Louis-Philippe). In 1830, Alexandre took part in the revolution that ousted the old king and made his employer the new “Citizen King” Louis-Philippe. At the same time, Alexandre started to write plays and then novels. He was hugely prolific and hugely successful and he also had a secret for success. Alexandre’s secret was that he was not afraid to work with collaborators. In fact he worked with many different collaborators but he mostly worked with Auguste Maquet. Maquet would propose a plot and write a simple draft and Alexandre would write the details, dialogues, and final chapters. Eventually Maquet got fed up with being ignored by his employer’s literary fans and sued for recognition and higher pay. He won more money but never the fame.
Meanwhile, Alexandre continued to write and gain fame. He traveled extensively and wrote travel diaries about his journeys. He was celebrated in high society. He married but also ran through other women like water. Alexandre is known to have had at least 40 mistresses and at least 4, maybe 7, illegitimate children. One of his sons was also an author and is known as Alexandre Dumas fils (for son, our author is Alexandre Dumas pere for father).
Alexandre Dumas pere also made and ran through several fortunes due to his lavish spending. He built a huge country house, Chateau de Monte Cristo, and filled it with hangers on then lost it to debt in only 2 years. Alexandre fled France at least twice to escape his creditors. He was depending on and living with his son and namesake when he died at his son’s house in 1870.
Throughout his life, Alexandre Dumas pere, like his father, the great General, faced discrimination because of his mixed race ancestry. In one incident, when a man insulted Alexandre’s African heritage, Alexandre famously replied: “My father was a mulatto, my grandfather was a Negro, and my great-grandfather a monkey. You see, Sir, my family starts where yours ends.” Alexandre also never traveled to America because he was afraid of being sold into slavery. Despite a family history of standing up to racism, Alexandre only overtly addressed the problem in one short story, Georges (about a free mixed race man who faces racism and eventually leads a slave revolt). Although many of Alexandre’s characters do face obstacles that seem to be loosely based on his family history such as betrayals and broken loyalties (similar to what his father, the General, faced). And other characters such as D’Artagnan in The Three Musketeers face discrimination based on their family or ancestry (D’Artagnan is described as “brown” faced and strongly Gascon and nearly everybody in The Three Musketeers disparage Gascons).
Alexandre Dumas pere published The Three Musketeers in 1844 and, yes, poor old Auguste Maquet collaborated on the novel although Alexandre seems to be the one who dreamed up the original idea. Reportedly Alexandre discovered a book about a real-life Musketeer in a library (Alexandre checked the book out and never returned it). Alexandre based several characters on real-life people but mostly seems to have only loosely used their names and made up his actual characters from his imagination. So the young and reckless Gascon, D’Artagnan, is loosely based on Charles Ogier de Batz de Castelmore, Comte d’Artagnan (1611-1673) who was an actual Musketeer. The fictional D’Artagnan’s friends were also loosely based on real-life people. Athos is based on Armand de Sillegue d’Athos d’Autevielle (1615-1644) who was a nobleman who joined the Musketeers and was friends with the real-life Comte d’Artagnan. The fictional Porthos was based on the real-life Isaac de Porthau (1617-1712) who was also a Musketeer. And the fictional Aramis is based on the real-life Henri d’Aramitz (1620-either 1655 or 1674) who was a real-life Musketeer who eventually retired and became an abbee. The 3 real-life Musketeers were all cousins while the fictional Musketeers were just great friends.
Many of the books and stories I have reviewed have been short fast reads. Not so with The Three Musketeers. This is a long wordy book of 69 chapters. The Three Musketeers is set in France and England in the years 1625 to 1628. The book is actually the first in a series called The D’Artagnan Romances. The second book is titled Twenty Years After and the third is The Vicomte de Bragelonne (which is itself usually split into 3 parts, the most famous of which is the 3rd part The Man in The Iron Mask).
The Three Musketeers begins when 18 year-old D’Artagnan arrives in Paris, France to seek a career in the military. He quickly runs afoul of 3 Musketeers named Athos, Porthos, and Aramis but eventually the 4 become loyal friends. D’Artagnan and the Musketeers “are involved in intrigues involving the weak King Louis XIII of France, his powerful and cunning advisor Cardinal Richelieu, the beautiful Queen Anne of Austria, her English lover, George Villiers, the 1st Duke of Buckingham, and the Siege of La Rochelle.”
D’Artagnan is the hero of the story. He is a “hot-headed youth” who has skills and intelligence. His 3 Musketeer friends are impressed with him but also rather protective of him, especially Athos who treats D’Artagnan almost like a son. D’Artagnan never hesitates to leap into the fray whether it’s challenging every perceived insult or chasing cross 2 countries to catch a murderous spy. D’Artagnan and his Musketeer friends are all extremely loyal to each other and their ideal image of king and country.
The Three Musketeers is just filled with adventure, fighting, plotting, lies and betrayals, disguises, murders, and executions. Also sword fights. Many sword fights. Among my favorite quotes:
- D’Artagnan’s father gives this advise in Chapter 1: “Never fear quarrels, but seek adventures.”
- The famous Musketeer motto in Chapter 9: “All for one, one for all.”
- Chapter 12 has this description of the Duke of Buckingham who is the secret lover of the French Queen: “The favorite of two kings, immensely rich, all-powerful in a kingdom which he disordered at his fancy and calmed again at his caprice, George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, had lived one of those fabulous existences which survive, in the course of centuries, to astonish posterity.”
- Buckingham tries to sweet talk Queen Anne: “The sweetness of your voice covers the harshness of your words,” in Chapter 12.
- In Chapter 20, the 4 friends begin a hazardous journey: “It was like the eve of a battle; the heart beat, the eyes laughed, and they felt that the life they were perhaps going to lose, was, after all, a good thing.”
- D’Artagnan doubts a man in Chapter 25: “All falsehood is a mask; and however well made the mask may be, with a little attention we may always succeed in distinguishing it from the true face.”
- In Chapter 39, the Musketeers face uncertainty: “For behind all present happiness is concealed a fear for the future” and “His good fortune – the best mistress possible.”
- D’Artagnan to Athos in Chapter 42: “Besides, we are men; and everything considered, it is our lot to risk our lives.”
- Porthos wonders why Athos did not kill Milady when he had the chance in Chapter 47: “It is only the dead who do not return.”
- And Milady returns to London in Chapter 49: “It was one of those rare and beautiful days in winter when England remembers that there is a sun. The star of the day, pale but nevertheless still splendid, was setting in the horizon, glorifying at once the heavens and the sea with bands of fire, and casting upon the tower and the old houses of the city a last ray of gold which made the windows sparkle like the reflection of a conflagration.”
Alexandre Dumas’ book The Three Musketeers has been made into numerous plays and movies. Only 2 of the adaptations are in the Public Domain, a 1921 silent movie starring Douglas Fairbanks titled The Three Musketeers and a serial adventure set in 1933 in the Middle East also titled The Three Musketeers. I’ll review both of those in upcoming articles.
I also wanted to mention a brand new adaptation on British television called The Musketeers. So far I have only seen one episode and it seems to have all the familiar characters but in new and different adventures. I have enjoyed what I have seen. The actors are all good looking and athletic and they seem to be enjoying their roles. Luke Pasqualino is D’Artagnan, Tom Burke is Athos, Santiago Cabrera is Aramis, Howard Charles is Porthos, and, the future Twelfth Doctor Who, Peter Capaldi, is Cardinal Richelieu. The action was energetic, the sword fighting was decent, the villains were suitably nasty. The only thing that really bothered me was when very British accents came out of the months of supposedly French characters – I actually found it very funny.
There seems to be a bit of a hubbub about casting POC Howard Charles as Porthos. It seems a bit silly to me. If French characters can speak with British accents and no one is upset then why get all twisted about a black man playing a historically white character? In fact, when you consider all the racism our author, Alexandre Dumas, and his father, the great General, faced it actually seems sort of fitting to have POC portraying Alexandre’s most famous characters. We know Alexandre modeled some of his characters on his talented father and his adventures. Perhaps, if Alexandre had had more freedom back in his lifetime, he might have more openly modeled his characters on the father he adored and actually written more of his characters as actual POC.
Unfortunately, The Musketeers TV show is brand new and obviously not in the Public Domain but you can catch it on TV or on certain internet sites.
The Internet Archive has many different versions of book The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas that are in the Public Domain and can be read for FREE. Here are a select few:
You can read online or download a digitized book from Harvard University at The Internet Archive at this link.
And another digitized book that you can read online or download, this time from Brigham Young University, can be found at The Internet Archive at this link.
You can also download or read the book online at the Gutenberg Project at this link.
You can listen to a LibriVox recording of the book at The Internet Archive at this link.
Or you can go straight to LibriVox and listen to The Three Musketeers at this link.
You can also download and read The Three Musketeers from Feedbooks at this link.
And, finally, for fans of The Three Musketeers who want a little challenge, I offer 2 online quizzes:
You can take a 10 question quiz and check your answers at this link at The Literature Network (you can also read the book at the sight).
And you can also go to the Alexandre Dumas page at this link. Click on “Quizz” at the top of the page to get several different quizzes on Alexandre Dumas and his books (be patient, many of you will need to have your computers translate the pages).
Above all, please enjoy reading The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas FREE in the Public Domain.