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The Three Musketeers: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) Paperback – Aug 28 2007
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"Brisk, agile . . . a heady mix of intrigue, action, and laughing-in-the-face- of-death badinage [all superbly rendered in this translation]."
-The New York Times Book Review
About the Author
Alexandre Dumas was born July 24, 1802, at Villiers-Cotterets, France, the son of Napoleon's famous mulatto general, Dumas. Alexandre Dumas began writing at an early age and saw his first success in a play he wrote entitled Henri III et sa Cour (1829). A prolific author, Dumas was also an adventurer and took part in the Revolution of 1830. Dumas is most famous for his brilliant historical novels, which he wrote with collaborators, mainly Auguste Maquet, and which were serialized in the popular press of the day. His most popular works are The Three Musketeers(1844), The Count of Monte Cristo (1844-45), and The Man in Iron Mask (1848-50). Dumas made and lost several fortunes, and died penniless on on December 5, 1870.
Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky have produced acclaimed translations of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Gogol, and Bulgakov. Their translation of The Brothers Karamazov won the 1991 PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize. They are married and live in Paris, France.
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Top Customer Reviews
Other than issues of translation what else can be said? The Three Musketeers is probably the best adventure ever told and remains one of my favorite books of all time. This version also has the cute cover art going for it, which is much less dreary than the drab portraits on many other editions.
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'Les Trois Mousquetaires', first published in 1844, was soon translated into three English versions by 1846. One of these, by William Barrow, is still in print and fairly faithful to the original, available in the Oxford World's Classics 1999 edition. However all of the explicit and many of the implicit references to sexuality had been removed to conform to 19th century English standards of morality, thus making the scenes between d'Aragnan and Milady, for example, confusing and strange. The most recent and new standard English translation is by award-winning translator Richard Pevear (2006). Pevear says in his translation notes that most of the modern translations available today are "textbook examples of bad translation practices" which "give their readers an extremely distorted notion of Dumas's writing." Thankfully we have high quality translations like this one now available.
I could come up with literally dozens of such examples, and eventually I just started keeping a separate list of obscure words and definitions so I only needed to refer to a short list rather than slog through the dictionary every time I came upon one of those recurring obscure words. By the time I finished the book, I had a five page (12 pt. Times New Roman type, single-spaced) list of obscure words. They range from 17th century French clothing ("tabard", "doublet", "jerkin") to horse-related terminology ("caparison", "sorrel", "croup") to 17th century military terminology ("counterscarp", "revetments", "circumvallation") and many others. In all these cases, I'm convinced that Pevear chose to use the English cognates of original French words rather than more modern English equivalents.
In fairness to Pevear, he does provide extensive notes explaining the historical references made by Dumas, which is extremely reader-friendly, and I profited from them greatly. Even in these notes, however, he leaves out some obvious choices such as "Rosinante" and "Circe".
In short, if you're an English speaker with no knowledge of French but would like to get a feel for Dumas' prose style and usage, this is the book for you. It is a remarkably faithful translation that really gives you a feel for the nuances of the original text. If you're unfamiliar with the obscure words chosen for the translation but are willing to make repeated trips to the dictionary (or keep a side list as I did), you'll be richly rewarded with keener understanding of life in 17th century France as well as a greater appreciation of Dumas' prose style.
For what it's worth, a doublet is close fitting jacket worn by European men in the 16th and 17th centuries; a jerken is a hip-length collarless and sleeveless jacket worn over a doublet, and a tabard is a tunic or cape-like garment emblazoned with a coat of arms. A caparison is an ornamental covering for a horse or for its saddle or harness; a sorrel is a brownish-orange colored horse, and a croup is the rump of a beast of burden, especially a horse. A counterscarp is the outer side of a ditch used in fortifications; revetments is a barricade against explosives, and circumvallation is the act of surrounding with a rampart. Rosinante is the name of Don Quixote's horse, and Circe is the goddess of Greek mythology who turned Odysseus's men temporarily into pigs but later gave him directions for their journey home. And an interlocutrix is simply a woman who is participating in a conversation.
I'll close with my favorite quote from the book, spoken by Cardinal Richelieu. He was musing about finding someone to assassinate the Duke of Buckingham, but Milady argued that potential assassins would be afraid to proceed for fear of "torture and death". Le Cardinal replied, "In all times and in all countries, especially if those countries are divided by religion, there will always be fanatics who ask for nothing better than to be made martyrs." It's as true today as it was when Dumas' wrote it more than 160 years ago.
Now, Richard Pevear takes a crack at one of the most sheerly enjoyable books ever written, The Three Musketeers. I'd tried to read a version of this book some years back. It was pretty good, but it seemed to be one of those adventure stories trapped in another time, where what was once considered bold and exciting had slowly become covered in sepia and dust. But this translation makes everything seem bright, bold, and (because this is a French novel) wonderfully risque.
Political backstabbing, sex-as-revenge, noblemen hiding under assumed names, poisoned wine, battlefield lunches...in fact, I was surprised how much romance and history are intertwined in this novel. The main villain, Milady, (Quasi-SPOILER!)
managers to seduce an English Puritan who is guarding her through a combination of pious prayer and that sort of faux-naivete that involves low-cut dresses and heaving bosoms. Porthos is after a woman for her money, and D'artagnan falls in love with his landlord's wife. Hilarity typically ensues, though there is the occasional kidnapping and the old "hide 'em in a convent".
I highly recommend this book to anyone who has a bit of a swashbuckler in them, or who likes their thrillers to have some actual literary merit (which this book does in spades).
I only ask that Mr. Pevear PLEASE turn his pen to the sequel to the Three Musketeers, the bluntly titled "Twenty Years Later". Who knows what we are missing?
Now, I admit I don't have a French version on hand, but I am honestly confused by Pevear's choices in this translation. For example, when the keeper of seals searches the queen's papers, he refers to it as a "perquisition." When the landlord is questioned in the Bastille, Pevear's text refers to the "beagles" who run the place and the "commissary" who is in charge. I held the book at arm's length --I work in a prison, am fluent in French, and have read this book before-- why don't the words match up to those people actually use in English? My old translation refers to the "commissioner" in charge of the prison. That makes sense to me; where I work the "commissary" is the service where inmates can order packaged food or hygiene products using their personal funds.
Pevear's version is still readable, but it's readable in a strange way, like a thesaurus when you're used to a dictionary. I found his choices somewhat distracting.