What’s the best translation of The Three Musketeers? (Part 1)

“Which English translation of The Three Musketeers should I read?”

So, you’ve read Dumas’ masterpiece, The Count of Monte Cristo, and now you want to read his most popular novel, a meandering, swashbuckling historical adventure set in the 1620s. Originally serialized in 1844 in French with the title Les Trois Mousquetaires, this novel was written in collaboration with Auguste Maquet and was (very loosely) based on historical fact.

It has been translated and reprinted numerous times. In his 1978 book, Alexandre Dumas père: A bibliography of Works Translated into English to 1910, Douglas Munro says: “Without any great fear of contradiction it may be said that no translated foreign romance has had so many editions published in the English speaking world as ‘Les trois mousquetaires’” (page 79).

However, many publishers did not reproduce the text accurately; the text was bowdlerized to omit what was considered sensitive content. Thus in English, the book became known as a children’s story, which it is not.

Open Letters Review: “Review of The Three Musketeers” by Zach Rabiroff
“For such an enduringly popular writer, Alexandre Dumas, pere, has been surprisingly ill-served by his English-language translators. This is nowhere more true than in the case of his most famous and endlessly-adapted novel, The Three Musketeers. That book’s original 19th century translators, conforming to the delicate sensibilities of audiences across the Channel and the Atlantic, excised much of the sex, gambling, and bloodshed from what was once a happily raunchy historical adventure, transforming it into a fun but politely Victorian story for boys.”

The Role of Translators in Children’s Literature: Invisible Storytellers by Gillian Lathey says: “The historical novels of Alexandre Dumas pere… certainly had the verve and incident that made them popular with readers of all ages. The Three Musketeers alone… was issued in three English versions as early as 1846: on incomplete anonymous version, one translated by William Barrow, and an American edition entitled The Three Guardsmen translated by Park Benjamin. A subsequent translation of 1853 by William Robson was published in the Routledge Railway Library, suggesting that the novel was still published for adults at that point. By the late nineteenth century, however, Dumas’ novels had been appropriated by child readers, and [TV and film] adaptations… have confirmed the position of abridgements of Dumas’ novels as English-language children’s fiction in the latter half of the twentieth century.”

In the introduction to his 1950 translation, Lord Sudley says: “[T]o the average modern reader even Allinson’s [1903] version sounds stilted and unnatural, especially in the dialogue…. In his historical romances Dumas made his characters talk as they would have talked in his own day, not as they talked int he period with which he was dealing. Recurrent new translations are, therefore, both justifiable and necessary.”

Why is The Three Musketeers still popular?

The novel’s title has been recycled for everything from Mickey Mouse to Barbie to chocolate! The American candy bar called 3 Musketeers formerly consisted of three pieces (one chocolate, one strawberry, one vanilla). Why is the book so popular even now? It can’t be entirely because of the number three!

New York Times: “All for One” by Terrence Rafferty
Dumas had an “instinctive irreverence toward power and those who wield it…. [His] novels are shameless word-guzzlers, big and plush and almost sinfully comfortable: ideal vehicles for the long, scenic excursions into French history.”

The introduction by David Coward in the Oxford edition says part of the appeal is the author’s versatility: “The Three Musketeers is a stirring tale of adventure but it is also a historical saga, a macabre chiller, a thriller, a romance, and a kind of detective novel. It has, in other words, all the ingredients of classic story-telling. Each page moves the action excitingly forward in a variety of moods which run from the drama of the chase through humour to the super-reality of an allegorical quest…. [H]is attraction lies in the sheer force of his personality and the power of his imagination.”

The introduction by Barbara T. Cooper in the Barnes & Noble edition says: “If Dumas’s serialized novel quickly attracted a faithful and fervent audience, it was not only because the author proved to be a master storyteller whose writing was vividly alive with emotions and actions, dialogues and duels, but also because it skillfully combined literary genres then popular with readers [the Bildungsroman, the historical novel, and the Gothic novel].”

The introduction by Will Hobson in the Vintage edition says: “One of the reasons The Three Musketeers is so memorable, in fact, is the degree to which it bears the stamp of Dumas’s personality. Its relish for life, humour, warmth, flaws, comic bravado, and overriding sense of being undaunted, no matter what storm clouds are brewing, are all distinctly autobiographical.”

Brooklyn Rail: “Down Away from the Sun You’ll Burrow” Lawrence Ellsworth in conversation with Andrew Ervin
“Dumas’s work remains vital and relevant over 150 years later because his best novels speak to the problem of courage, of how an individual can find the strength and means to do what’s right despite the constraints of society, family, and convention. This is a problem that never goes away, a matter that every generation has to face for itself. Unlike many of the heroes of historical fiction, Dumas’s characters are complex, three-dimensional humans of depth and contradiction, people for whom wrestling with these problems is no easy matter…. Dumas’s work was miscategorized as ‘Boys’ Adventures,’ [and] is long overdue for a re-assessment.”

The Three Musketeers: Alternate Titles

The title of the manuscript was “Athos, Porthos and Aramis”. The published novel has had a variety of titles in English, including:

  • The Three Musketeers Guardsmen
  • The Three Guardsmen
  • The Queen’s Guardsmen
  • The Queen’s Musketeers
  • The Three Musketeers; Or, The Queen’s Guardsmen
  • The Three Guardsmen; Or, The Three Mousquetaires

You get the idea!

The Three Musketeers: Challenges of Translation

On a macro level, translating this novel is hard. There were three “original” French source texts:

  • The original that appeared in serial form in the Siècle, which was pirated in Belgium
  • a book manuscript with edits made by Dumas for the publisher, Baudry (rights to which later reverted to another publisher, Lévy)
  • an edition published by Fellens et Dufour based on the serial text and the book manuscript, later reissued by Lévy

Translating this novel is hard on a micro level, too: Translator Will Hobson, in his introduction, recounts an anecdote regarding Dumas’ sentences in which Dumas, using a pun, blithely says to a secretary something to the effect that “only dashes can save us”.

TLDR?

I found so much information on translations of The Three Musketeers that I had to split this post into two. If you just want a quick-and-dirty recommendation on which translation to choose, jump to the conclusion of Part 2.

The Three Musketeers: Translations in English

I’m not 100% sure there was only one anonymous translation, but I’ve grouped all the editions where no translator is credited under the 1846 anonymous translation.

Described Below (on this page)

  1. 1846 – Anonymous
  2. 1846 – Park Benjamin
  3. 1846 – William Barrow
  4. 1853 – William Robson
  5. 1893 – H.L. Williams
  6. 1894 – A. Curtis Bond
  7. 1903 – Alfred Allinson

Described in Part 2 (separate page)

  1. 1950 – Lord Sudley
  2. 1950 – Jacques Le Clercq
  3. 1952 – Isabel Ely Lord
  4. 1984 – Lowell Bair
  5. 1991 – Barrow edited by David Coward
  6. 2006 – Richard Pevear
  7. 2006 – Eleanor Hochman
  8. 2014 – Will Hobson
  9. 2018 – Lawrence Ellsworth

The Three Musketeers: Translation Comparison

Extracts have been included below so that you can see how the different translations sound.

1846 · Anonymous · The Three Musketeers

About the Anonymous translation of The Three Musketeers

I’m not sure whether or not all of the editions with no credited translator are actually the same recycled anonymous translation. Even if they are, they’re not all going to be exactly the same. (Publishing is messy, y’all!)

According to Alexandre Dumas père: A bibliography of Works Translated into English to 1910 by Douglas Munro, “The Vickers’ version [i.e., the first edition of the anonymous translation,] is not a complete rendering. For instance, the account of the dinner at Maitre Coquenard’s is omitted, much of the original French version is compressed, and an entirely new chapter which Dumas had not written is gratuitously interpolated before the final one. Again, this version was made from the Belgian, or newspaper, issues.”

Munro’s catalog says there’s an 1853 reprint of the Anonymous Vickers’ edition titled “The Historical Romance of Buckingham and Richelieu” credited to British writer and translator John Taylor Sinnett. Elsewhere Sinnett was mentioned as a publisher’s agent, so I don’t know if he did the original 1846 anonymous translation, or was merely involved in some way with the 1853 reprint.

I’m sure this Anonymous translation has been edited and updated to varying degrees by all the publishers who have subsequently printed it.

In particular, the Collector’s Library edition is abridged, and the Harper Perennial edition, while it doesn’t credit any translator, doesn’t match the “anonymous” text seen in other editions.

Extract from the Anonymous translation of The Three Musketeers

Extract from the Vintage edition:

Extract from the Harper edition:

Extract from Collector’s Library ABRIDGED edition:

 

Get the Vintage Classics Anonymous translation of The Three Musketeers

Available as a paperback (ISBN 9780099528838, 640 pages).

Buy from Amazon

Buy from Book Depository

Buy from Abebooks

Get the Vintage Digital Anonymous translation of The Three Musketeers

Available as an ebook (ISBN 9781446476871).

Buy from Amazon

Get the Everyman's Library Anonymous translation of The Three Musketeers

Includes an introduction by Allan Massie.

Available as a hardcover (ISBN 9780307594990, 680 pages).

Buy from Amazon

Buy from Book Depository

Buy from Abebooks

Get the Everyman's Library Anonymous translation of The Three Musketeers

Includes an introduction by Allan Massie.

Available as a hardcover (ISBN 9781841593364, 680 pages).

Buy from Amazon

Buy from Book Depository

Buy from Abebooks

Get the Word Cloud Classics Anonymous translation of The Three Musketeers

Word Cloud Classics have a flexible plastic/vinyl cover. They're not exactly hardcovers, but they're a step up from paperbacks in terms of esthetics and durability.

Available as a paperback (ISBN 9781626860551, 648 pages).

Buy from Amazon

Buy from Book Depository

Buy from Abebooks

Get the Enriched Classics Anonymous translation of The Three Musketeers

Includes an introduction, a chronology of the author's life, and work, a historical timeline, an outline of themes and plot points, explanatory notes, critical analysis, discussion questions, and a list of movie and book recommendations.

Available as a paperback (ISBN 9781439169421, 880 pages).

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Get the Tor classics Anonymous translation of The Three Musketeers

Includes a Biographical Note by Stephen Brust.

Available as an ebook (ISBN 9781466803435).

Buy from Amazon

Get the Dover Anonymous translation of The Three Musketeers

"Reprint of the Jacobs and Company, Philadelphia, 1893 edition."

Available as a paperback (ISBN 9780486456812, 560 pages).

Buy from Amazon

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Buy from Abebooks

Get the Dover Anonymous translation of The Three Musketeers

"Reprint of the Jacobs and Company, Philadelphia, 1893 edition."

Available as an ebook.

Buy from Amazon

Get the Barnes & Noble Anonymous translation of The Three Musketeers

"The original publisher did not credit the translator." Includes a page of quotes from the novel, an author bio, a timeline of the author's life and works, an introduction by Barbara T. Cooper, 7 pages of endnotes, a list of books and films inspired by the novel, 4 pages of comments and questions, and suggestions for further reading.

Available as a paperback (ISBN 9781593081485, 768 pages).

Buy from Amazon

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Get the Barnes & Noble Anonymous translation of The Three Musketeers

Includes an introduction by Barbara T. Cooper. "The original publisher did not credit the translator." Books in the Barnes & Noble Classics series include features such as: an introduction, author bio, chronology, notes, info on works inspired by the work, comments by other authors, study questions, list of books for further reading, index, glossary.

Available as an ebook (ISBN 9781411433298).

Buy Nook book

Get the Harper Perennial Anonymous translation of The Three Musketeers

Text sample doesn't match the other "anonymous" translations.

Available as a paperback (ISBN 9780007275212, 682 pages).

Buy from Amazon

Buy from Book Depository

Buy from Abebooks

Get the Harper Perennial Anonymous translation of The Three Musketeers

Text sample doesn't match the other "anonymous" translations.

Available as an ebook (ISBN 9780007373468).

Buy from Amazon

Get the Macmillan Collector's Library Anonymous translation of The Three Musketeers

ABRIDGED. Includes an afterword by Peter Harness. The books in the Macmillan Collector's Library series are SMALL hardcovers with gilt edges, a ribbon marker, and real cloth binding. As long as you're okay with a small font size, they are suitable for collectors or as gifts.

Available as a hardcover (ISBN 9781509842933, 688 pages).

Buy from Amazon

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Get the Macmillan Collector's Library Anonymous translation of The Three Musketeers

ABRIDGED. Includes an afterword by Peter Harness.

Available as an ebook (ISBN 9781509847822).

Buy from Amazon

1846 · Park Benjamin · The Three Guardsmen

Who was Park Benjamin?

Park Benjamin Sr. was an American poet, journalist, translator, and editor. There’s not just a Wikipedia article about him, there’s a whole book on him: Park Benjamin, Poet & Editor by Merle Montgomery Hoover.

His son Park Benjamin Jr. was also a writer. I’ve seen at least one website mistakenly attribute the Musketeers translation to him, despite the fact that he wasn’t born until 1849.

Extract from the Benjamin translation of The Three Musketeers

Get the William Taylor and Company Benjamin translation of The Three Guardsmen

Available as an ebook.

View scans at Hathi Trust

1846 · William Barrow · The Three Musketeers

About the William Barrow translation of The Three Musketeers

According to Alexandre Dumas père: A bibliography of Works Translated into English to 1910 by Douglas Munro, “It is a full and excellent rendering, although ‘her ladyship’ for  ‘milady’ may seem strange to modern readers; and it is to Barrow that we owe the spelling ‘Bonancieux’.”

Original full title: The Three Musketeers; Or, The Feats and Fortunes of a Gascon Adventurer

The Baltimore Sun: “Dumas’ classic: The solemnity left out and the sex put back in” by Tim Rutten
“The best previous English-language translation [before the 2006 Pevear translation] was made by William Barrow in 1846 (it is still in print). As Pevear writes in a note,’Its one major flaw is due, I assume, not to the translator, but to the greater delicacy of English manners at the time: All of the explicit and many of the implicit references to sexuality and to the human body, matters that Dumas dealt with rather frankly, have been removed.’ The results are, as this translator charitably puts it, sometimes ‘strangely vague.'”

Literary Transgressions: “Rereadings: A Dumas First Chapter in Translation(s)” by Corey
Corey compared first chapters by Barrow, Robson, Sudley, and Pevear. “Mr. Barrow appeared to be tremendously fond of literal translation to the detriment of the text. In his desire to present what Dumas literally had written, Mr. Barrow utterly lost all feeling in the translation.”

Extract from the Barrow translation of The Three Musketeers

Get the Childrens Classics Barrow translation of The Three Musketeers

Includes illustrations by Edouard Zier.

Available as a hardcover (ISBN 9780375406577, 752 pages).

Buy from Amazon

Buy from Book Depository

Buy from Abebooks

Get the Childrens Classics Barrow translation of The Three Musketeers

Includes illustrations by Edouard Zier.

Available as a hardcover (ISBN 9781857155037, 608 pages).

Buy from Amazon

Buy from Book Depository

Buy from Abebooks

Get the Wordsworth Barrow translation of The Three Musketeers

Includes an introduction and endnotes by Keith Wren. Also includes a bibliography and historical note.

Available as a paperback (ISBN 9781853260407, 592 pages).

Buy from Amazon

Buy from Book Depository

Buy from Abebooks

1853 · William Robson · The Three Musketeers

Who was William Robson?

He was a British teacher, writer, and translator.

About the Robson translation of The Three Musketeers

The Robson translation, based on the Baudry text, was the basis for many subsequent editions.

Literary Transgressions: “Rereadings: A Dumas First Chapter in Translation(s)” by Corey
Corey compared first chapters by Barrow, Robson, Sudley, and Pevear. “Mr. Robson, agreeably, was far less literal than Mr. Barrow and his text was thus greatly improved. His Three Musketeers managed to be both readable and enjoyable while maintaining a very close translation from the original Dumas. He carefully translated the work nearly-literally but wisely updated the grammar to be appropriate and understandable for English readers.”

Extract from the Robson translation of The Three Musketeers

Get the Amazon Classics Robson translation of The Three Musketeers

Possibly free. Definitely free if you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited.

Available as an ebook (ISBN 9781503957053).

Buy from Amazon

Get the Standard Ebooks Robson translation of The Three Musketeers

Free! Available in epub, Kindle, Kobo, and Advanced epub formats. Standard Ebooks are professionally edited, professionally designed versions of the Project Gutenberg texts.

Available as an ebook.

Download from Standard Ebooks

Get the Gutenberg Robson translation of The Three Musketeers

Free! Available in html, epub, Kindle, and plain text formats.

Available as an ebook.

Download from Project Gutenberg

1893 · H.L. Williams · The Three Musketeers or The Queen's Guardsmen

Who was Henry Llewellyn Williams Jr.?

He was an American writer and translator.

John Adcock: “Henry Llewellyn Williams (Sr.): A Literary Pirate”
The work that he did with his father, also a writer, may not have been completely legitimate according to an 1883 article quoted in a blog post by John Adcock.

The Alexandre Dumas père Web Site: “Henry Llewellyn Williams Jr.” by CadyTech
“Translated many works of Alexandre Dumas into English for lesser-known American publishers, often with unusual or variant titles.”

About the Williams translation of The Three Musketeers

According to Alexandre Dumas père: A bibliography of Works Translated into English to 1910 by Douglas Munro: “Despite the statement on the title-page it is quite evident that this edition was based on Robson’s translation with a large number of omissions and compressions, to such an extent that the work has been reduced by a third. It omits Dumas’ preface as well as the whole chapter ‘A procureur’s dinner'” (page 83).

Hathi Trust has scans, but they’re only available for searching.

View record at Hathi Trust

1894 · A. Curtis Bond · The Three Musketeers

About the Bond translation of The Three Musketeers

All I know is that such a thing exists.

View record at Worldcat

1903 · Alfred Allinson · The Three Musketeers

Who was Alfred Allinson?

Alfred Richard Allinson was a British writer, scholar, and translator of works from French and other European languages to English. He published works by Dumas and Anatole France.

About the Allinson translation of The Three Musketeers

It was based on the Lévy text.

Extract from the Allinson translation of The Three Musketeers

Get the Archive.org Allinson translation of The Three Musketeers

Includes an introduction by Andrew Lang.

Available as an ebook.

View scans at Archive.org

Continue to Part 2

What’s in Part 2?

  • translations by Sudley, Le Clercq, Lord, Bair, Barrow/Coward, Pevear, Hochman, Hobson, and Ellsworth (some of which are updated with scandalous content omitted from previous tranlsations)
  • other information and resources (including a list of the other books in the D’Artagnan series)

If you just want a quick-and-dirty recommendation on which translation to choose, jump to the conclusion of Part 2.

Go to the start of Part 2.