Literary Qualities

The Three Musketeers draws on the literary conventions of the three genres to which it belongs: the romantic, the Gothic, and the historical novel. As a romantic novel, its main interest lies in action rather than character: love, adventure, and combat form the basis of all the episodes of the story. The period seems exotic because of its remoteness, and so possesses a nostalgic attractiveness. The Characters appear heroic and larger than life, and the musketeers accomplish almost impossible deeds. At times the trappings are almost Gothic: damsels need to be rescued and won, enigmatic and inscrutable strangers come and go mysteriously, and the Characters live under the threat of being arrested and locked in a dungeon.

The influence of the historical novel helps to balance these romantic and Gothic elements, and to add realism to the text. Although Dumas’s picture of the 17th century is unquestionably idealized, he vividly captures the spirit of the age and presents a picture that feels authentic. The use of historical people as Characters who interact with the fictional Characters also lends plausibility to the musketeers’ heroic deeds.

The basic frame of the story draws on a traditional fairy tale motif. The reader can easily recognize d’Artagnan at the outset of the tale as the idealistic poor boy Setting off to seek fame and fortune. With the aid of his comrades he overcomes the dangers and obstacles that beset him. By the end of the novel he has attained renown and the rank of lieutenant in the band of musketeers. But success has its price. He has suffered, lost some of his idealism, and become a sadder and wiser man.

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