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.