October 26, 2006


Two pens and four swords: A review of THE THREE MUSKETEERS by Alexandre Dumas translated by Richard Pevear (Antonia Fraser, Times of London)

READING DUMAS’ The Three Musketeers again after 60 years, I was utterly engrossed. This is a new translation by Richard Pevear, more than 700 pages of it, with an excellent introduction.

I was momentarily taken aback to learn that Dumas, like a modern celebrity, had a “researcher” who did most of the work — a minor writer named Auguste Maquet. Dumas and Maquet first collaborated in 1843 when Dumas “reworked” one of Maquet’s novels. In 1844 Maquet brought Dumas another project for collaboration: the plan of a novel featuring Louis XIII, Anne of Austria, the Duke of Buckingham and Cardinal Richelieu.

This was the story that was to become The Three Musketeers. It was supposedly based on the Memoirs of M D’Artagnan, written by one Gatien de Courtils and published in 1700, although the final novel has little in common with them, beyond the use of the historical D’Artagnan. Maquet toiled thereafter on a number of Dumas’ finest books, including that work of genius The Count of Monte Cristo. Maquet did all the preliminary research and even a rough draft that was turned over to Dumas. This seems quite a long way to go for an author not acknowledged on the title page.

But before one feels too sorry for the “ghost”, it has to be recorded that, by a cruel chance, 90 pages of Maquet’s first draft of The Three Musketeers have survived: “A comparison with the finished version shows just how important Dumas’ reworking was,” Pevear writes. “Maquet’s musketeers would have been forgotten at once; Dumas’ touch transformed them into immortals.”

Mr. Pevear and his translating partner, Larissa Volokhonsky, have even managed to make Dostoevsky and Tolstoy accessible to English readers--imagine what he can do with one of the most accessible novels of all time?

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 26, 2006 8:48 AM

All 3 of the D'Artagnan romances are quite good -- the other 2 are 20 Years After and the Vicomte de something or other.

Another great novelist in that tradition is Rafael Sabatini. Even his less well-known works, such as Bellarion, are very good indeed.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at October 26, 2006 10:48 AM

There are more than three. They are - The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After, The Vicomte de Bragellone, Louise de la Valliere and The Man in the Iron Mask.

Posted by: Brandon at October 26, 2006 11:49 AM

I've never read it, though I loved the Count of MC. I putting this next on my reading list. By the way oj thanks for suggesting We Have Always Lived in the Castle and the Book of the Dun Cow. They made a flight to and from Mexico much easier.

Posted by: Shelton at October 26, 2006 12:30 PM

This looks like a good place to to thank you for recommending Philip Kerr. Berlin Noir, a collection of all three Bernie Gunther novels, was fantastic and he just released a sequal that I plan to read soon. Jeff Long's The Wall was also great and I'm currently reading another of Alan Furst's books. You've earned your annual Christmas gift many times over.

Posted by: Patrick H at October 26, 2006 1:24 PM