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NA0149 - DUMAS, A.: Three Musketeers (The) (Unabridged)
Alexandre Dumas (1802–1870)
Years ago I recorded a cut version of The Three Musketeers for Naxos AudioBooks, abridging the book myself. It has been a privilege to return to this thrilling adventure of travel, war, love and intrigue, and record the whole masterpiece, unabridged. If you do not know the book already, you are in for a treat.
If you are looking for escape, the intrepid d’Artagnan and his three heroic friends Athos, Porthos and Aramis make the best companions! The four are invincible in combat, and irresistible in society. D’Artagnan, of course, is the young lion. He is a great horseman, handsome, brave, impulsive and proud. At the very beginning of the book, Dumas describes his hero with tremendous affection:
D’Artagnan’s over-riding ambition is to join the King’s Musketeers, and it only takes a couple of daredevil escapades for him to be accepted as an equal by the three finest. Of these, Athos is the doyen, but early in the book we are not allowed much of a description. The first one we meet properly is the vain Porthos:
Soon after, we meet the delicate Aramis:
As for the worthy Athos, when we finally meet him he has been injured on the field of battle:
And that is all we get. However, as the story unfolds, Dumas skilfully builds up a clear image of this most interesting of heroes - layer by layer, more by mystique than by information: aristocratic yet humble, a man of huge integrity and a soldier of great judgement and indomitable courage, Athos is a true leader, and an example to the younger musketeers. His wisdom tempers the impetuousness of d’Artagnan, the vanity of Porthos and the insecurity of Aramis. Athos’s fascinating past becomes more and more integral to the plot and provides one of the most exciting dénouements in literary drama.
Throughout the book, Dumas endears himself by personally escorting the reader in a chatty, self-deprecating style:
Dumas’ way of describing his leading characters is all the more convincing for the blemishes he mentions:
The book is set in early 17th-century Paris. Of course we love the courtly gossip, the comedy and scandal, the well-researched historical background and the brilliantly-described pageantry of both French and English courts, in this greatest of romantic novels—but above all it is the fighting and the loving which set the book apart. If there is a flaw our heroes share, it is their profligate excess of affection for the opposite sex. D’Artagnan is as valiant a lover as he is a fighter, and among dramatic heroes shares as much with Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, as with Shakespeare’s Henry V (both works available on Naxos AudioBooks).
We are privy not only to their philandering, but also to the shameless subtext:
‘The Four’ become embroiled in the furious rivalry between King Louis XIII and the sly Cardinal Richelieu. Their swashbuckling interventions in the romantic affairs of the Royal household actually affect the outcome of the bloody struggle for supremacy between England and France, culminating in the Siege of La Rochelle. Only their quick thinking and skill with the sword save them time and again from the sinister schemes of Richelieu and his friend, the beautiful and dangerous Milady Clarik. The tale sweeps inexorably towards the final chapters of the book, when, in scenes as thrilling as they are horrifying, revenges are taken and justice is seen to be done.
Alexandre Dumas wrote or collaborated on nearly 100 plays and many novels, including The Three Musketeers, The Man in the Iron Mask and The Count of Monte Cristo. He was born in 1802, the son of a general in Napoleon’s army and the grandson of a French Marquis and a Saint Domingo Negress. As a child he lived through the upheavals of the Napoleonic Revolution and the subsequent restoration of the monarchy of France. He received his private education from a priest (like Monte Cristo). He was politically active and, though he is thought to have rather embellished the actions in his Mémoires, was involved heroically in skirmishes during the 1830 revolution. He was the father of author Alexandre Dumas (fils), most famous for his La Dame aux Camélias. Alexandre Dumas (père) ran his career as an industry. It is thought that he would sketch the outline of a story to an assistant who would write it up; then Dumas himself would take the story by the throat and wrestle it into a masterpiece. He was a generous, idiosyncratic and fun-loving man. He cooked brilliantly, gave a lot of money away, and spent prodigiously on his private life—most notoriously on various highly publicised affaires and the construction of a monstrous folly of a house at Saint-Germain-en-Laye. He died, just solvent, in 1870.
Notes by Bill Homewood
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