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Alexandre Dumas

let's buckle some swash

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We all know Dumas as the author of the Three Musketeers saga and the Count of Monte Cristo; in addition to these he wrote hundreds of other novels, only a few of which are available in English. We think of them as classics, but to the audience of the day they were the most popular historical novels going.

The major problem in finding Dumas' novels in English is finding good unabridged editions. Most English editions of Dumas' work that are currently available are abridged; these should be avoided, in my opinion. The abridgement of The Man in the Iron Mask is usually particularly bad. It is only the final part of a much larger work, and usually gets gutted of the material relating back to the earlier parts. As a result you enter the tale in the middle, with no explanation of why the characters are currently doing what they are doing. I found it most unpleasant on my first try, and in fact never finished reading that version of the tale.

However, there is happy news. Dumas' best known books, including all of the books in the Three Musketeers saga, are currently available from Oxford University Press, in their World's Classics series. These are highly recommended. Also, the edition of The Three Musketeers published by Tor Books is particularly delightful; it has uniquely colorful and flamboyant language, due mostly, I think, to a literal translation of French idiom into English. This is the translation that inspired Steven Brust to write his Khaavren series.

The Three Musketeers Saga

The number one question I get asked, by far, is some variant of "Just what books did Dumas write about the Three Musketeers? And what are they called?" It's not surprising people are confused, as the publishing history of the Musketeer saga in English is decidely squirrely. Here are the facts, as best I understand them. Alexandre Dumas wrote three novels about D'artagnan and his friends Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, titled as follows:

  • 1. The Three Musketeers
  • 2. Twenty Years After
  • 3. Le Vicomte de Bragelonne, or Ten Years Later

The Three Musketeers itself needs no introduction. Twenty Years After picks up the story two decades after the close of The Three Musketeers. Cardinal Richelieu is dead; D'artagnan is serving the new prime minister, Cardinal Mazarin; Athos and Porthos have retired to the country; Aramis has taken holy orders. Nevertheless, they combine together for a nice bit of swashbuckling on behalf of Charles I of England and mix it up with Oliver Cromwell. Le Vicomte de Bragelonne takes place about ten years later, and follows our heros through the reign of Louis XIV.

The first two books are easy to get; each is available in several additions, abridged or unabridged, but with those precise titles. It is with book #3, Le Vicomte de Bragelonne, that things begin to get complicated. #3 is quite a long work, at least three times as long as its two predecessors. As a result, it has generally been published (in English, at any rate) in three volumes, confusingly titled as follows:

  • 3a. The Vicomte de Bragelonne
  • 3b. Louise de la Valliere
  • 3c. The Man in the Iron Mask

The first published volume thus borrows the name of the whole. To make matters worse, there has also been at least one edition, published by Collier in 1911, that breaks the novel up into four volumes:

  • 3w. The Vicomte of Bragelonne
  • 3x. Ten Years Later
  • 3y. Louise de la Valliere
  • 3z. The Man in the Iron Mask

The new volume, which confusingly appears to be a direct sequel to Twenty Years After, adds no new material; the full set of chapters is simply broken up into four segments instead of three. Simply and heedlessly--the last chapter of what I've marked volume 3y and the first chapter of what I've marked volume 3z were meant to be read as a unit. This explains the unhappy state of most abridgements of The Man in the Iron Mask--they are based on the Collier four-volume edition. (I am indebted to Mike Schilling for the information about the Collier edition.)

As you can see, it's a confusing mess. If your interest in all of this is simply to find a good, readable copy of the entire Musketeer saga, look no further. Pick a decent bookstore and order the following volumes from Oxford University Press's "World's Classics" imprint. They are unabridged, and just what you're looking for:

  • 1. The Three Musketeers
  • 2. Twenty Years After
  • 3a. The Vicomte de Bragelonne
  • 3b. Louise de la Valliere
  • 3c. The Man in the Iron Mask

Order a copy of The Count of Monte Cristo from the same imprint, while you're at it. If you haven't read it you should, and if you have you've probably read an abridged copy. Get the real thing.

Plays by Dumas

I've recently discovered that in addition to his novels, Dumas wrote a number of plays. Of those, several previously untranslated plays have been translated into English by a gentleman named Frank J. Morlock. I've not read them myself, but if you're interested you can find them on the web at http://www.cadytech.com/dumas/personnages.asp?Key=130.

If you like Dumas...

You might be interested in Steven Brust's Khaavren series, which was inspired by the Three Musketeers saga. It's by no means a retelling of Dumas' story, but has very much the same flavor. You might also like Rafael Sabatini's books, such as Captain Blood, and Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda.

Books by Alexandre Dumas

The Three Musketeers
Reviews: 1 December 2002
Twenty Years After
Reviews: 1 February 1997
The Vicomte de Bragelonne
Reviews: 1 April 1997
Louise de la Valliere
Reviews: 1 May 1997
The Man in the Iron Mask
Reviews: 1 May 1997
The Count of Monte Cristo
Reviews: 1 May 1997

Dumas Web Links

The best Dumas site I know of is at http://www.cadytech.com/dumas/. If they don't have a line on what you're looking for, it probably isn't on-line.

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