The Three Musketeers Readalong: Preface-Chapter 11

Welcome to our readalong of The Three Musketeers! To recap: I’m reading it for the first time and Heather Vee is a longtime fan, so you get both our perspectives (and we can make her answer questions as necessary). This week, we’re discussing the preface through chapter eleven.

Kate: So! Heather Vee! I am finally reading this book that you love! And my main comment so far is that this book is hilarious. Why does no one talk about this? I think you’ve mentioned that it’s funny, but that doesn’t seem to be part of the usual conversation. Its reputation is more Serious And Historical. Well, and swashbuckling. But not comedic. Why is this?? (And I was left wondering how many additional jokes I was just missing because I’m not steeped in Dumas’s social and political context.)

A lot of the humor, of course, stems from D’Artagnan being so ridiculous in such a 19-year-old boy way. Stop challenging everyone you meet to a duel, dude! Since we mostly see things from D’Artagnan’s point of view, I found myself constantly trying to figure out to what extent the other characters realized he was ridiculous, and how his perceptions of others’ behavior toward him tracked with reality. The narrator is supposedly omniscient, but is he reliable?

P.S. “Congratulations on your distinguished acquaintances” is a line I now wish to use ALL THE TIME.

P.P.S. Confession: I was familiar with Mouseketeers long before musketeers, and it took a good 50 pages for me to stop reading the word that way every time.

Heather Vee: It’s true! Hell, I hadn’t read it in nearly two decades and I forgot how hilarious it is. I think charm and humor gets talked about in the greater scope of Dumas, but you’re right, it’s rather unfortunate that humor isn’t at least the second selling point when discussing The Three Musketeers – the first being adventure, of course.

And the humor is operating on so many levels, too! You have the narrator’s voice, telling the tale with breathless wonderment and at a dizzying pace, and then these witty asides that all but wink up at you from the page. And then you have the characters themselves, who are these larger-than-life musketeers within the scope of the story, and then there’s the part where D’Artagnan wants to learn about their lives, and the details are so wonderfully human and hilarious. My favorite is how the narrator approaches Aramis and his various liaisons. “Oh, Aramis always left dinner a few hours early due to a headache, or studying, or…” “No one can see into his garden.” It’s like the Pixar movie of so-called classic literature – hey, kids, here’s your swashbuckling adventure story, and hey there, adults, here’s another story for you, juuuuust out of reach…

D’Artagnan is beyond ridiculous. He’s responsible for – what? Eighty percent of the duels/swordfights that occur within the first 100 pages or so? Possibly all but one of them? Or is it all of them? (I forgot to keep count of the individual swordfights, but I don’t think people would believe how many there are until they read for themselves.) I think the narrator does a beautiful job of inferring how brash and young and hot-headed and occasionally dumb D’Artagnan is without judging him, and that’s why the reader can have such affection for him. He’s like a puppy that won’t stop chewing things, and then he falls in with these three dudes who are these adolescent messes themselves, and the narrator’s job is keep these personalities and the story bubbling like champagne. So D’Artagnan is that default lens the narrator favors, because everything is so exciting! And new!

And that line! “Congratulations on your distinguished acquaintances” – that’s an example of what I mean about that layered humor. Actually, that entire scene when Aramis is trying to be discreet but failing miserably is one of my favorites.

Do you have a favorite character so far?

Kate: Okay, speaking of the multi-layered . . . everything . . . I also love how clearly there’s this political derring-do going on and D’Artagnan is almost entirely oblivious. Clearly the handkerchiefs are just about love affairs! Obviously! Oh, D’Artagnan. I am very eager to find out more about this intrigue. And to find out whether/when D’Artagnan starts figuring stuff out. And this is one of the places where I was wondering whether I should have done a bunch of background reading in French history before reading this, because I know the basics, but I feel like I am probably missing so much.

I’m not sure if I have a favorite character yet – though, at the moment, possibly Madame Bonacieux, just because I loved that scene at the end of this section where she’s all “Thanks for helping out, but that doesn’t mean you have any rights over me, dude.” It felt almost breathtakingly modern. Can’t you just see it as a viral post on Tumblr? “Dear Nice Guy, Just because you took it upon yourself to jump into this situation as my protector doesn’t mean I need to tell you where I’m going, what I’m doing, or who I’m with.”

Who’s your favorite character? Or would that answer be spoilery at this point?

Heather Vee: I think my overall, pulled-from-memory answer would be spoilery at this point, but in that reacquainting myself sort of way, Aramis cracks me up because he is so obviously brimming with bullshit. He even goes on this spiel about women at one point that betrays his Church schooling but he is so obviously in love with the very idea of women. He’ll imply they are a weakness one minute but he is discreet to the point of ridiculousness and careful not to compromise any of his lovers in any way. Making him a Musketeer, a man of God, and a rampant womanizer is brilliance on Dumas’ part, if only because it gives us a new, fun spin on the utter hypocrisy much of Europe accepted as par for the course when it came to priests and monks and the like. It would be one thing if he was just a womanizer, but you get the distinct impression that women enjoy using him and his reputation. It seems balanced. Everyone is getting something.

So, everyone, that’s what we thought of this first section of the novel. How about you? Do you have a favorite character? Did you find the writing as funny as I did? Other thoughts? Hit the comments! Next week: chapters 12-19.

Readalong Schedule: The Three Musketeers

The BBC show The Musketeers is finally coming to BBC America on June 22nd, and I decided I really want to make sure I read the book by then. Perhaps you do too? Well, we’re in luck: My friend Heather Vee is a huge Dumas fan and is going to join us for a readalong, and/or harass me into actually finishing the book in time. We’ll read a set of chapters each week, starting in early May and ending before the show starts, and have weekly discussion posts and plenty of room for you to chime in with thoughts and questions. Questions for Heather Vee. I know nothing. I didn’t even know enough to split the book up sensibly, so I made Heather Vee do that, so here’s our schedule! (The dates here are approximate – just giving the Monday of each week – because exactly when the posts go up will end up depending on our schedules.)

  • May 5: Chapters 1-11
  • May 12: Chapters 12-19
  • May 19: Chapters 20-30
  • May 26: Chapters 31-40
  • June 2: Chapters 41-48
  • June 9: Chapters 49-60
  • June 16: Chapters 61-Epilogue

I’ll be reading the Modern Library edition, but Heather Vee also suggests Everyman’s Library, Bantam Classic, or Penguin Classics.

Hope you’ll join us!

Classics Club Schedule: Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About NothingReady for our next Classics Club? I’m timing this one to coincide with Joss Whedon’s new Much Ado About Nothing movie, which hits theaters on June 7th.

Week of May 20th: Discussion of the play

Week of May 27th: Discussion of 1984 BBC version (Netflix DVD)

Week of June 3rd: Discussion of 1993 movie (Netflix DVD or Amazon Prime)

Week of June 10th: Discussion of the new Whedon movie – this may be delayed depending on when the movie gets to a theater near me.

I’m going to be traveling a lot those few weeks, so things may get shifted up or back a bit, but at least this is a basic outline so you can plan! Later in the summer we will do Jane Eyre and Rebecca, and I’m thinking about The Three Musketeers for fall.

Our next Classics Club is…

Much Ado About NothingMuch Ado About Nothing! We’ll discuss this one in May in preparation for the new movie in June, and then over the summer we’ll tackle Jane Eyre and Rebecca. I like the idea of doing those two in succession since they’ve got some interesting similarities and differences. I’ll post a schedule for Much Ado next week, but I wanted to let you know the choice now in case anyone wants to get reading!

(And yes, that is a new poster for the movie. Check out a larger version and an interview with star Alexis Denisof at Entertainment Weekly.)

Friday Question: Pick the next Classics Club!

What should we read and watch next? Put your choice in the comments, and we’ll declare a winner next week and start discussing in May!

  1. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
  2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (at Rachel’s suggestion)
  3. Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare (to prepare for the Whedon version)
  4. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier (to prepare for the new version, though maybe this should come after Jane Eyre)
  5. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Classics Club: Emma – Aisha

Aisha is a Bollywood version of Emma, in the tradition of Bride and Prejudice. (Though I think I liked the latter better.) I haven’t seen many Bollywood movies, to place this one in context, and I’m not comfortable passing too much judgment on something I can’t understand in the original language, so this will be somewhat shorter from my other movie posts.

Overall, Aisha was light and enjoyable; Emma is of course somewhat of a romantic comedy, but this version definitely emphasized that aspect. The plot was simplified a lot – there was no Miss Bates or Jane Fairfax, exactly – and there were definitely some scenes that seemed straight out of Clueless, such as Aisha’s bad driving and the fight over the remote control. The age difference between Aisha and the Knightley character was much smaller – again closer to Clueless – but I liked the way the relationship played out, and I did not mind that this Knightley actually got the chance to punch Frank Churchill.

I think the main thing lost in the contemporary Indian setting was the sense of geographic isolation and limitation in Emma. Aisha travels between cities and goes on weekend “camping” trips and even goes on a plane at one point, and that freedom combined with her wealth made the character seem more shallow and childish than Emma. She didn’t have much of a career because she didn’t feel like it, not because her options were severely restricted by her circumstances, and that made the character somewhat less sympathetic.

Did anyone else get a chance to watch this one? What did you think?

Classics Club Suggestions, Anyone?

Our Emma project is winding down – we’ll discuss the last movie, Aisha, this week, and then have a few wrap-up posts, including a poll to see what your favorite version was, next week. So it’s time to start thinking about which classic we should take on next! I have a few ideas – Wuthering Heights, Rebecca, Brideshead Revisited – but I’m certainly open to suggestions and requests. Put them in the comments this week, and next week we’ll vote on a choice. That way everyone will have the month of April to read the book and start hunting down the adaptations, and we can start our discussion in May. Thoughts?

Classics Club: Emma – 2009 Romola Garai Version

I’ll admit right up front that this was the version of Emma I was most excited to see – I got the DVDs for Christmas and had to restrain myself from watching them immediately, since I wanted to watch all the versions in chronological order. Romola Garai stars as Emma, and Jonny Lee Miller is Mr. Knightley, so as a huge fan of both of those actors from their other projects, my expectations were pretty high here. And I’m thrilled to say that they more than met them. Garai’s Emma is a brilliantly happy medium of the other portrayals we’ve seen – smart but sheltered, manipulative but well-meaning – and manages to make that moderation complex and fascinating rather than dull. And Miller’s Knightley seems mature but not creepily old, and is adorably besotted. Honestly, they played the romance elements up a bit here, but I loved these two so much I can’t complain about it being different from the book.

But I suppose I should talk about other aspects of the production in addition to the amazing leads. This is another miniseries-length version, almost four hours, but it keeps from dragging the way the 1972 one did by showing on screen many things that are only mentioned in the novel. I was surprised by the way it opened with scenes of many of the main characters as children, but I wound up liking this as it progressed, and it definitely made the adaptation more dynamic and felt like it was bringing the audience deeper into the characters’ lives. The flashbacks and other sort of “asides” brought to life also set things up well for Emma’s internal monologue to take the form of voiceovers at crucial moments, and in general, I think the filming style did a good job of making it clear when Emma’s version of events was incorrect without being overly mean about it.

One thing I wasn’t thrilled with in this version was that Harriet came across as not just naive and unsophisticated but as actually stupid, more so than in the book. I also thought it interesting that Harriet, Emma, and Augusta were all similar physical types here. The cast as a whole is quite strong, and Michael Gambon as Mr. Woodhouse is a particular delight. I think I’d have to say that, overall, this was my favorite version of Emma to watch so far, even though it was not the one that most closely followed the book, and that’s not really what I expected. Interesting!

Classics Club: Emma – 1996 Gwyneth Paltrow Version

This is the first version of Emma I ever saw – I was in high school when it came out and remember watching it with my parents – and I realized while rewatching it this week that it’s pretty much the default version in my head, especially when it comes to Miss Bates, Mr. Knightley, and Harriet. (An aside: I also discovered that Miss Bates is played by Emma Thompson’s sister. Who knew?) And I was delighted to also realize that it held up quite well, especially in light of the fact that these days I’m more likely to think or talk about Gwyneth Paltrow in the context of her ridiculous lifestyle newsletter rather of any serious acting. This version keeps the lively tone and pace of the book, and it’s visually gorgeous, with lots of flowers and decorations and rich fabrics. The score is lovely – it won an Oscar – and overall it’s a little jewel of a movie, if we’re willing to overlook Ewan McGregor’s unfortunate wig.

Paltrow’s portrayal of Emma here is nicely nuanced – she’s sweetly but deliberately contriving, a la Blair Waldorf, which I prefer to versions that make her more obliviously self-absorbed. She’s absolutely convinced that she’s right and that what she’s doing is in people’s best interests, but, of course, she’s usually completely wrong. But what I liked about this version was that it highlighted that, especially when it came to Harriet, Emma wasn’t just dim – she was doing what would make sense for someone of her own class, because her upbringing and society made her unable to really grasp the huge differences between her own situation and potential futures and Harriet’s more dire options.

Jeremy Northam plays my favorite version of Mr. Knightley so far; he’s mature without seeming stodgy, and is completely believable as the beloved landlord everyone asks for advice. The age difference between him and Emma is made very clear but not emphasized too much, and I really liked the way they obviously had a connection and cared deeply for each other from the beginning without seeming overly flirtatious at that point. The rest of the cast was good as well, and Alan Cumming as Mr. Elton was an unexpected (well, forgotten) delight.

But my favorite thing about this Emma is the opening. We open by looking at what seems to be the whole planet, but zoom in to see that it’s in fact Highbury and its residents painted on a blue background – and then we zoom out again to see that it’s not a planet but rather a small ball-shaped ornament that Emma is holding. I thought this was the perfect way to establish the world of the movie (and novel): for Emma and many of the characters, Highbury is effectively the entire world, and Emma is at the center of it and, at least at the beginning, treats her neighbors as her playthings, there for her amusement and manipulation.