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Old 06-16-2018, 01:05 AM   #16
CRussel
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I agree with both Bookpossum and Catlady on Milady. She would not have flinched, not for a moment. And as for the louts that were supposedly chivalric heroes? Their behaviour, even by the mores of the time, was inexcusable and _very_ unappealing when viewed through the lens of time. I think that's probably the single biggest reason I simply couldn't like this book.
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Old 06-16-2018, 07:58 AM   #17
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As for Milady, I quite agree with Catlady - she wouldn't have flinched. She was of course painted as the supreme villain, but it's interesting to consider what made her that way.
I was thinking about this as I was nearing the end of the book and I think Milady is what happens when you try to write a female villain but you firmly believe that women are constitutionally different to men. So she has a toughness to her, she can be very resolved, but she is still very controlled by her emotions - whether it's quailing at the execution or flying into a rage over D'Artagnan's betrayal of her.

Quote:
- Why was she in a nunnery in her youth? Clearly not by choice.
Have you ever read Sarah Dunant's Sacred Hearts? It's set in an Italian convent in 1570, so not that much earlier than this, and apart from being a very good novel it opened my eyes to a fact of life about convents in that era. Today if someone enters a monastery or convent we assume it's a personal vocation and that that person is especially religious, back in those days however it seems like a lot of rich families sent a second or third daughter, one they couldn't marry off, to a convent. Dunant paints a picture of a community of women where some are super religious and some are just getting by and doing their own thing - the main character is a herbalist who maintains a garden in the convent and treats minor illnesses and reads a lot. Another key character is a gifted singer and interested in music.

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- She was branded by the executioner for leading his brother astray. How about a bit of personal responsibility for his actions by the brother instead of blaming the girl, which is all she was.
This view of female sexuality needing to be constrained goes along with the view of women I mentioned earlier - IMHO.

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- She was hanged by her husband and left for dead, not because of anything she did, but because of the brand.
This really annoyed me when I read it. As far as I recall this is the first actual incidence where we're given any idea why she might be considered evil and it turns out she was punished out of all proportion of any perceived crime on her part.

Quote:
- She was double-crossed and treated disgustingly by D'Artagnan, our supposed chivalric young hero.
This was one of those parts where I was treating it as farce. If you take it on its face it is very disturbing.
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Old 06-16-2018, 08:38 AM   #18
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Thanks latepaul. I haven't read Sacred Hearts but I know that young women were disposed of like that - "Get thee to a nunnery" said Hamlet. So my question was somewhat rhetorical and my assumption was that her father sent her there.

Yes, I do agree with you about how dangerous women were, unless you could turn them into total doormats. The awful thing is that there are still a great many people in the world who continue to think this way.

I couldn't look on D'Artagnan's behaviour towards both Milady and her servant Kitty as anything other than utterly despicable. Presumably we were supposed to think that Kitty didn't matter because she was, after all, only a servant, and that Milady was so evil that she deserved anything that might be done to her. It says a lot about the attitudes towards women at the time the book was written, rather than just the period in which it was set.
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Old 06-16-2018, 09:59 AM   #19
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I couldn't look on D'Artagnan's behaviour towards both Milady and her servant Kitty as anything other than utterly despicable. Presumably we were supposed to think that Kitty didn't matter because she was, after all, only a servant, and that Milady was so evil that she deserved anything that might be done to her. It says a lot about the attitudes towards women at the time the book was written, rather than just the period in which it was set.
This is something I wondered about--were the attitudes those of the mid-1800s or those of the mid-1600s?

Milady certainly wasn't admirable, but on the other hand, what choices did a woman on her own have? She was tough and a survivor.
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Old 06-16-2018, 10:07 AM   #20
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The B&N Classics edition of The Three Musketeers includes these questions for consideration:

1. What is it about The Three Musketeers that has made it perennially popular? Given that the novel remains popular despite the vast social and political changes that have occurred since it first appeared, should we say that it addresses basic truths about human nature rather than historical and social issues?

2. The most villainous of villains in The Three Musketeers is a beautiful woman known as Milady. Her nefarious plots are thwarted by the male bonding of the (ultimately) four Musketeers. Is Dumas consciously or subconsciously making a point in this opposition—male against female—and its outcome? If so, what is he trying to say? If not, what is the purpose of pitting a woman against a man in this novel?

3. The Three Musketeers is full of scenes of eating and drinking. Do you feel that in these scenes Dumas is simply indulging his passion for food and camaraderie, or do the scenes function thematically, setting tone, defining characters, creating atmosphere?

4. Would you define Dumas as a writer of escape literature (swashbuckling adventure novels)—and if so, would you be putting him down? Is it possible that he gets at important human truths indirectly by adopting this format? If so, what truths does he reveal? Do they still apply today?
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Old 06-16-2018, 11:39 AM   #21
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Finished at last. The book didn't get any shorter in the last part, not for me. (Not much in what follows that others haven't already said, but here's my version...)

Two of our heroic figures (Porthos and d’Artagnan) are courting married women, but later everyone is aghast at Milady's accidental bigamy. Okay, no real surprise here, this double standard still stands strong.

Apparently it's a big joke, a great wheeze, that Porthos should seduce a married woman (with, apparently, no actual affection for her), and thereby induce that woman to steal money from her husband for the purpose of gross and flamboyant waste by Porthos.

But when Charlotte Backson (Milady-to-be) seduced a man and together they decide on a once off theft to fund their escape from the judgemental eye of the community, well this is - apparently - a different thing altogether. Firstly, the man is seen as forced into it, how could he possibly be responsible for his own actions when he was the one seduced? (Not much has changed here either, I guess: men still try to claim they are not responsible for their actions around women.) And secondly, the branding of the thief with the fleur-de-lis is enough that a future husband immediately wants to hang the girl! (This is appalling! How is it that a story with this as a central premise became, and remained, so popular?)

After seeing so much loutish behaviour from our musketeers and guard, I was on Milady's side and sad to see that she did not escape. I was sorry to see Mme Bonacieux killed - not for d’Artagnan's sake, but because she was strong, brave and principled (at least, noticeably more principled that the main protagonists).

I found that in the final scenes between Mme Bonacieux and Milady, that Mme Bonacieux was not entirely consistent with how she had been earlier - having become more girlish and silly in comparison to the young woman that had guided Buckingham to the Queen.

The final scenes with Milady (at least in this Pevear translation) I did not find inconsistent - as some others have noted - or not badly so. In these scenes we don't get to see what's happening from her point of view, but it is possible to imagine that each of her actions - even the apparently fearful or desperate ones - are being tried as deliberate experiments to see if there is any way to escape. (We see some of this sort of behaviour, from Milady's perspective, while she is a captive in England.)

But, having said that, I would have liked something a bit stronger in character to have come out at the end. After all, it is Milady that is left to carry the blame for everything in this story (however undeservedly), even the cardinal gets painted in a gentler light come the end. It seems to me that a stronger stand by Milady at the end would have been better for the story, not least because the scene as it stands - with six men (not counting lackeys) picking on a lone woman - leaves an very unsatisfactory feeling in a story that I thought was about gallantry and chivalry.


All up? I'm pleased to have read it at last. I have been meaning to for years. But the characters I see in this story are not the characters I envisaged from childhood versions of musketeers. These are not men to admire or look up to. These are thugs; people you'd cross the street to avoid rather than risk drawing their eye. And the story is not some chivalrous adventure, it's a murky, messy, mix up of several adulterous and manipulative relationships. There is no honour to be had in any of this, which is, I suppose, how we ended up with the protagonists we did.
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Old 06-16-2018, 02:17 PM   #22
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After seeing so much loutish behaviour from our musketeers and guard, I was on Milady's side and sad to see that she did not escape. I was sorry to see Mme Bonacieux killed - not for d’Artagnan's sake, but because she was strong, brave and principled (at least, noticeably more principled that the main protagonists)
Milady seems to represent woman as devil; Constance, as angel. The devil kills the angel, and the gang of men kill the devil. Constance is a victim because she's weak, and Milady is a victim because she's strong.

I don't know what the takeaway is here, as both end up quite dead, but Milady seems to have more fun along the way.
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Old 06-16-2018, 06:04 PM   #23
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I've yet to finish it. I find the dialogue very difficult in the original French. Ill probably read the rest in English and try the two translations mentioned here. But overall I think it genius and hilarious. I don't really care about attitudes about gender etc. I accept it as a product of its time and enjoy the parts I like. Dumas is the most read French writer for good reason.

Any reccomendations for best translation?

Incidentally Strugatkys' Hart to be a God is heavily influenced by it.

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Old 06-16-2018, 06:19 PM   #24
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Hi Pajamaman. I tried out the Pevear amd the Hobson, and decided on the Hobson. But either of these would be a good modern translation.
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Old 06-16-2018, 06:32 PM   #25
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A little more from me now that I am finished*.

I really wonder why this is considered such a masterpiece and a classic. The writing got better as it went along** but it was never what I would consider great (I read the Pevear version.)

The descriptions of d'Artagnan changed so much between the first couple chapters of the book and the end that I really had a hard time with it. It seemed like Dumas knew he had goofed up in the initial characterization and since this was serially published couldn't go back to fix it so instead he kept saying things like "as we have said, he was an extremely prudent lad, and he contained himself" (loc 4765) or "his natural prudence never abandoned him for a moment" (loc 4960) but the stupid argument and initial confrontation with Rochefort speaks louder than that. He was an impulsive, arrogant, shallow boy. I say that then think of this... Youtube.

The other characters weren't any better. I think I preferred Athos to the others but that is marginal. At least he has a reason for being bitter. Not a good one, but if you accept that he had to have Milady executed but felt awful about it at least it holds up after that.

Maybe if I had a better understanding of the people and this period of history it would have been better but as-is I just can't consider this a good book. Right now, I'd rather watch one of the movies and leave with some respect for the main characters.

* I couldn't take it any longer and just skimmed the last 15% and then read a couple summaries.
** Or, more likely, I just got used to the choppy writing.

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Old 06-16-2018, 07:49 PM   #26
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I strongly suspect that it has endured precisely because it provides such good fodder for films. Lots of galloping about, sword fights and gorgeous costumes. The scriptwriters can leave out the more offensive behaviour and attitudes, and just show them as merry rogues with hearts of gold.

Indeed, they spend so much time out having their questionable fun that you have to wonder when they actually carry out their duties.
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Old 06-16-2018, 09:49 PM   #27
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I strongly suspect that it has endured precisely because it provides such good fodder for films. Lots of galloping about, sword fights and gorgeous costumes. The scriptwriters can leave out the more offensive behaviour and attitudes, and just show them as merry rogues with hearts of gold.

Indeed, they spend so much time out having their questionable fun that you have to wonder when they actually carry out their duties.
I watched the Don Ameche/Ritz Brothers version this morning. It WAS fun, with all the swordplay and hijinks; I especially liked one of the songs, too. And in this version, which revolved around getting the queen's emerald brooch back to her (instead of the diamond studs), nobody got killed or even seriously injured. Don Ameche was a dashing D'Artagnan.
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Old 06-16-2018, 11:20 PM   #28
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Catlady, it seems as if you and I can't find anything to disagree about on this book?

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[...]
1. What is it about The Three Musketeers that has made it perennially popular? Given that the novel remains popular despite the vast social and political changes that have occurred since it first appeared, should we say that it addresses basic truths about human nature rather than historical and social issues?[...]
While I can agree with Pajamaman's sentiment that this book is 17th century, so of course gender issues etc. will be different (although not so different as we'd like), I don't see that that excuses the fact that it turns into a story of an (apparently) evil woman hounded by men from all sides until she is cornered and killed. Where is the chivalry? Where is bravery required for this? She had no special powers, just intelligence and consistency. It doesn't say much for any of our "heroes" in the story that it takes so many of them to best her. And the side stories of adultery and seduction don't offer anything better. The actual action - what little there is - seems to be mostly just poncing about in fancy dress and being polite between sword thrusts; almost none of it offers any sense of excitement or tension to the story. (The more I think about this book the less I like it - and I haven't even left myself room to talk about the lackeys!)

The only explanation that I can come up with for this story remaining popular, despite its myriad deficiencies, is that people cherry-pick what they want to see and remember from the story. The title itself has passed into our language as a phrase describing comradeship and loyalty. These are good things and so we make up other stories (cartoons for the kids, movie adaptations) that emphasise this and downplay the not so nice parts of the story.

So, over the generations it is the title and the meaning it has taken on that gets remembered, and the few that bother to read the book look mainly at those parts which reinforce what they've already learned of the story, and perhaps avert their eye from the less flattering parts.

At least, that's my explanation. I can't really think of how else a modern audience can overlook what a grubby little story this is at its core.
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Old 06-16-2018, 11:33 PM   #29
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Catlady, it seems as if you and I can't find anything to disagree about on this book?
So far, anyway. But it's early days; surely one of us will say something that the other will have to pounce on.
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Old 06-17-2018, 06:15 AM   #30
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Right now, I'd rather watch one of the movies and leave with some respect for the main characters.
My favorites are the 70s Richard Lester movies The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers with Michael York, Oliver Reed, Christopher Lee, Faye Dunaway, Spike Milligan, Raquel Welsh, and Charlton Heston. They were filmed at the same time and released a few months apart.
The screenplay was written by George MacDonald Fraser who had been working with Lester on a Flashman movie that didn't work out. (Later they made a movie of the second book in the series, Royal Flash.)
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