By Chet Yarbrough
Narrated by Simon Vance
The Three Musketeers is a character driven novel loaded with romantic heroes and evil specters. In the context of a more enlightened 21st century, The Three Musketeers is a female bashing and debasing tale of travail; i.e. a male chauvinist delusion. Women are depicted as the cause of war, heart ache, and most maladies of mankind. However, if a listener can put Alexandre Dumas’s misogyny and view of justice aside, this is a fiction writer’s tour de force and a joy to listen to when narrated by a master story-teller.
Alexandre Dumas is one of France’s great writers. Meeting d’Artagnan for the first time and learning about Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, his three gallant and inseparable friends, is a guilty pleasure. There is no villain more devious, complicated, and scarily drawn than Milady de Winter and there are no heroes more gallantly and brilliantly defined than Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and d’Artagnan.
Dumas writes the story of d’Artagnan, a 19-year-old romantic that leaves his homeland with a letter of introduction to Monsieur de Treville, the Captain of the Musketeers. The hero, d’Artagnan, as soon as he leaves home, is unknowingly pitched into the middle of a jealous rivalry between the French King’s Musketeers and Cardinal Richelieu’s competing cadre of French protectors.
Dumas cleverly interlaces facts of history with stories of Musketeer bravery, hi-jinks, and romance that reminds men of their best and worst human qualities.
England and France are on the verge of war in the early 1600s. The jealous rivalry of the King’s Musketeers and Cardinal Richelieu’s nationalists roil the relationship between the King of France and its Cardinal. The Musketeers walk a fine line between their support of the King and Queen and Richelieu’s defense of the country. Richelieu is painted as a powerful French nationalist but a venal schemer that lusts for Queen Anne and is willing to go to great lengths to expose the Queen’s affection for the English Duke of Buckingham. Dumas suggests that Richelieu’s plan is to soil the Queen’s reputation, with the already jealous King, to improve Richelieu’s salacious interest in ravishing the Queen.
Women are unceasingly characterized as fickle, conniving, and duplicitous. A principal cause for the war between England and France is purported to be the Duke of Buckingham’s immoral advances toward France’s Queen Anne and Queen Anne’s suspected cuckolding of Louis the XIII. Dumas describes d’Artagnan’s infatuation with the married Constance Bonacieux and his dalliance with Milady de Winter as evidence of woman’s wiles rather than man’s lascivious nature.
Listening to Vance’s narration of “The Three Musketeers” is an addictive pleasure in spite of Dumas’s unfair characterization of women. The words Dumas writes that come from Milady de Winter vividly portray the worst of human nature. This is a villain that rivals all of literature’s villains, whether male or female.
The end of “The Three Musketeers” is thrilling and satisfying; pity the person who does not read or hear it.