I'm currently reading The Three Musketeers
. It's a re-read - I read it at some point as a child in my adventure-novel phase, and then re-read it every five-six years or so. I initially had a massive crush on Aramis, but then Athos became my favourite. He's so delightfully cynical, level-headed and drunk.
But. I'm reading it now through a completely different filter. I can't stand the four leads, they are awful
human beings. Well, Aramis seems kinda okay, I think he's actually the only one who treats other people with respect, even his mistresses. Especially his mistresses.
And there's the upcoming BBC adaptation
, which I am tentatively looking forward to. Tom Burke plays Athos, and I like Tom Burke, and there's Peter Capaldi, who is always excellent value. But at the same time, I can't help worrying that it's just another, slightly darker (they wear leather!) spin on the fannish interpretation of the source - i.e. three cheeky chappies who spout one-liners whilst beating up mooks, the bumbling village idiot d'Artagnan, the uber-evil Cardinal Richelieu, the star-crossed lovers King & Queen of France, and of course the evilest of all evil demons, Milady de Winter.
Whereas, in the novel, the musketeers are very much reprehensible human beings:
Athos has trained his valet not to talk, and if he does talk, he thrashes him mercilessly, albeit dispassionately. And, at the age of 25, he'd hanged his 16-year old (!) wife after discovering the fleur-de-lys brand on her shoulder, because obviously she must have been EVIL.
Porthos expects his mistress to finance his musketeering equipment and he feels absolutely justified to steal the money from her bed-ridden husband. When she's reluctant to do so, he goes off in a sulk.
d'Artagnan tricks a woman into sleeping with him by pretending to be someone else, and is justified in doing so, because the woman in question is Milady, and she's evil. Really, she is. Oh, and he "seduces" her maid (who is very reluctant, but unable to fight him) to get into Milady's knickers.
Aramis is kinda okay, I've got to admit. He seems to treat the various women he's involved with like human beings, he doesn't beat his valet and he's only moderately violent.
All four of them think nothing of taking human life, of course, and cheerfully kill people in duels as well as in battle.
The author stresses all throughout the novel that we mustn't judge men of that period by modern standards, which would be absolutely fine with me if Milady got the same treatment. But she is treated by the protagonists and the authorial voice as the hellish demon from hell who must be destroyed at all cost. I am actually totally rooting for Milady. She has done nothing
on the pages of the book that is in any way worse than what the heroes have done. She lies, tricks and is ambitious and avaricious, but so are they. Plus, the men feel entitled to lie; in several instances, they cheat lower-class people such as inn hosts by claiming self-righteously that they are "gentlemen" and nobody must ever doubt the word of a gentleman.
I would be much less annoyed if the various adaptations did the source justice and presented the musketeers as morally ambivalent, as the liars, cheats and killers that they are, and did not make the Cardinal the big bad. His relationship with the musketeers is much more complex than that.
I would absolutely love
it if there were an adaptation that treats Milady fairly in a way that the source did not. But seeing as there doesn't even seem to be any Milady-centric fanfic that does that, I will hope in vain.
There actually is a Russian adaptation that I watched as a child and that left a huge impression: the scene where Milady strangles Constance (who is married
in the book and commits adultery) was pretty nightmarish.
Any thoughts, anyone? It's one of the stories that everyone in the Western world is familiar with, but I think the way we perceive the characters is very much influenced by the (Hollywood) adaptations, not so much by the novel itself.