Monday, January 28, 2013
The Fable Behind the Fiction
When I was a boy, I fell in love with Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers and its sequels. I love them still, enough so that I revisit the books periodically. And I've often wanted to read the inspiration for them, the Memoirs of M. d'Artagnan, attributed to Gatien Courtilz de Sandras, a semi-fictionalized account of the life of the Captain of Musketeers Dumas drew his hero from, in a book he borrowed (and never returned) from the National Library. After many years of wondering if it even existed in English translation, I found a nice copy of it on ABE. As the previous link shows, I could have read the thing on line, it turns out, but I'd already ordered the book. They're en route; I will be patient, and not cheat with the digital edition.
It's in three heavy octavo volumes, the 1899 English Edition of Ralph Nevill's translation. And in it, scholars say, one can glimpse (through Courtilz's fabulizing) the shadowy images of the "real" inseparables, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis (Gascon brothers? Not Comte de la Fere, M. du Vallon de Bracieux de Pierrefonds, and Abbe d'Herblay, sometime Bishop of Vannes?) Not to mention a shadowy figure known only as "Miledi" As the New York Times noted in reviewing this translation in 1903, they "and the rest of that glorious company live in the language of their time--as in the diary of a chronicler. But it was Dumas who made them human, who gave them color, and who made them more real than even the truth itself. At the same time, these "Memoirs of M. d'Artagnan," in their spirited and sympathetic translation of Mr. Nevill, are by no means bad reading."
Can't wait to verify that for myself.