Review: Hobson’s Translation of Dumas’ Three Musketeers is the Best

Will Hobson’s brilliant new translation brings Alexandre Dumas’ Three Musketeers to life…

by Ambra Gargini

In his 2014 translation of The Three Musketeers, Will Hobson’s viewpoint is refreshingly contemporary while remaining sympathetic to the age in which Dumas lived and wrote. No other English translator has had such a grasp on Dumas’ vision for the story nor such a talent for characterization. The result has been a translation of The Three Musketeers like no other.

Translator after translator has tried to transform d’Artagnan and the musketeers into more conventional heroes and to mark Milady with a brand more infamous than that wielded by the executioner of Lille. Hobson is the first translator to portray Dumas’s characters as Dumas intended.

In this post, I compare Will Hobson’s translation with Dumas’ French text as well as with all translations of The Three Musketeers currently in print. My review includes comparisons with translations by Richard Pevear, Lawrence Ellsworth, William Robson, William Barrow, Jacques Le Clercq and others. 

Let the comparisons begin!

Portia Reads the Best Translations of Dumas' Three Musketeers
Portia Reads the Best Translations of Alexandre Dumas' Three Musketeers

Portia with her Christmas haul of different translations of The Three Musketeers.

THE THREE MUSKETEERS

From Alexandre Dumas, author of The Count of Monte Cristo, comes an enduring tale of friendship, disillusionment and betrayal. Richard Pevear said “We think of The Three Musketeers as a novel of action and adventure, of duels, skirmishes, galloping horses, and yet it is nine-tenths dialogue. The suspense comes most often not from what the characters are about to do to each other, but from what they are about to say to each other. It is based not so much on narrative action as on dramatic confrontation.” 

Will Hobson Wrote the Best Translation of Alexandre Dumas' Three Musketeers Translated by Will Hobson (Vintage)
Will Hobson Wrote the Best Translation of Dumas' Three Musketeers

“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’”

“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’” 

Douglas Munro 

HOBSON · VS · BAIR

Will Hobson conveys the full power and poetry of Dumas’ work while Lowell Bair’s translation leaves everything flat, lifeless and moderately abridged.

· Milady ·

Betrayed and imprisoned, Milady finds herself without friends, without freedom, almost without hope. Hobson’s writing dazzles as bright as the lightning flashes of Milady’s despair as he recounts the scene: “What hatred she exuded! There, motionless in her empty room, her eyes blazing and fixed, how closely the dull roars that sometimes escaped with a breath from the depths of her breast echoed the sound of the swell as it rose, boomed, roared and broke, like eternal, impotent despair against the rocks…” 

Bair reduces the expression in Milady’s eyes to the cliché “glowing with murderous hatred” and says prosaically that “Now and then an angry sound like the low growl of a tigress rose from deep inside her and mingled with the roar of the waves breaking against the cliff…”

Lord de Winter tells Milady that she will remain a prisoner (Three Musketeers) by Maurice Leloir

Lord de Winter tells Milady that she will remain a prisoner, by Maurice Lelior 

HOBSON · VS · BAIR

Will Hobson conveys the full power and poetry of Dumas’ work while Lowell Bair’s translation leaves everything flat, lifeless and moderately abridged.

· Milady ·

Betrayed and imprisoned, Milady finds herself without friends, without freedom, almost without hope. Hobson’s writing dazzles as bright as the lightning flashes of Milady’s despair as he recounts the scene: “What hatred she exuded! There, motionless in her empty room, her eyes blazing and fixed, how closely the dull roars that sometimes escaped with a breath from the depths of her breast echoed the sound of the swell as it rose, boomed, roared and broke, like eternal, impotent despair against the rocks…” 

Bair reduces the expression in Milady’s eyes to the cliché “glowing with murderous hatred” and says prosaically that “Now and then an angry sound like the low growl of a tigress rose from deep inside her and mingled with the roar of the waves breaking against the cliff…”

Lord de Winter tells Milady that she will remain a prisoner (Three Musketeers) by Maurice Leloir

Lord de Winter tells Milady that she will remain a prisoner, by Maurice Lelior 

HOBSON

HOBSON

translation 2014
  1. What hatred she exuded! There, motionless in her empty room, her eyes blazing and fixed, how closely the dull roars that sometimes escaped with a breath from the depths of her breast echoed the sound of the swell as it rose, boomed, roared and broke, like eternal, impotent despair against the rocks on which that dark and overweening castle stood! In the lightning flashes her tempestuous anger sent jagging across her mind, how she conjured up magnificent plans of vengeance against Madame Bonacieux, against Buckingham, and, above all, d’Artagnan, plans that stretched into the far distant future!
  2. Yes, but to take revenge one must be free…

Hobson (2014) translation of The Three Musketeers, chap.lii

BAIR

BAIR

translation 1984
  1. She sat motionless, her eyes glowing with murderous hatred. Now and then an angry sound like the low growl of a tigress rose from deep inside her and mingled with the roar of the waves breaking against the cliff on which the forbidding castle stood. As the lightning of her fury flashed in her soul she made magnificent plans, set in the vague future, for revenge against Madame Bonacieux, Buckingham, and especially d’Artagnan.
  2. But to take revenge she would have to be free…

Bair (1984) translation of The Three Musketeers, chap.lii

HOBSON

translation 2014
  1. What hatred she exuded! There, motionless in her empty room, her eyes blazing and fixed, how closely the dull roars that sometimes escaped with a breath from the depths of her breast echoed the sound of the swell as it rose, boomed, roared and broke, like eternal, impotent despair against the rocks on which that dark and overweening castle stood! In the lightning flashes her tempestuous anger sent jagging across her mind, how she conjured up magnificent plans of vengeance against Madame Bonacieux, against Buckingham, and, above all, d’Artagnan, plans that stretched into the far distant future!
  2. Yes, but to take revenge one must be free…

Hobson (2014) translation of The Three Musketeers, chap.lii

BAIR

translation 1984
  1. She sat motionless, her eyes glowing with murderous hatred. Now and then an angry sound like the low growl of a tigress rose from deep inside her and mingled with the roar of the waves breaking against the cliff on which the forbidding castle stood. As the lightning of her fury flashed in her soul she made magnificent plans, set in the vague future, for revenge against Madame Bonacieux, Buckingham, and especially d’Artagnan.
  2. But to take revenge she would have to be free…

Bair (1984) translation of The Three Musketeers, chap.lii

Click “More” below to read the same passage as it appears in Dumas’ original French and in the Pevear translation.

More
Dumas' The Three Musketeers Translated by Will Hobson (Vintage)
Dumas' Three Musketeers - Translated by Will Hobson (Vintage)

“All for one, one for all!” — Will Hobson’s translation of The Three Musketeers, Vintage Books, 2014

HOBSON · VS · LE CLERCQ

Hobson remarked that “Dumas knew not only how to entertain with his tales of romance and adventure, but also how to appeal directly to the imaginations of his huge audience then, and ever since; to conjure up the spirit of youth, the challenge of setting out into the world, the need for friendship and loyalty, the openhearted embrace of life, the quest for self-respect…[Dumas’] style is… beholden to no one… Translating Dumas is partly a question of getting out of the way. His language, while occasionally purple… is plain and direct. His dialogue is sparkling, all parry and riposte. His way with action is unparalleled.”

While Hobson works tirelessly to let the magic of Dumas’ immortal story shine through, Jacques LeClercq takes an entirely different approach. Blinded by ego and bias, LeClecrq adds line after ridiculous line of his own invention—distorting Dumas’ beloved classic in his trainwreck of a translation.

Discussing Dumas, his work and his talent, Le Clercq makes a barrage of racist and condescending remarks. He calls Dumas “uncouth and untutored,” challenges Dumas’ status as a literary dramatist, claims that “Dumas wrote like a driveler” and tells readers that they should not forget that “Negro blood ran through [Dumas’] veins.” 

· On · the · Road · to · Calais ·

Hobson leaps straight into d’Artagnan’s thoughts as d’Artagnan reflects on his friendship with Athos and whether or not he will see his friend alive again. “What state would he find Athos in? Would he even find him at all?” So begins Hobson’s affecting translation of this passage.

Le Clercq prefaces d’Artagnan’s thoughts with the added line “Several problems assailed him.” As the passage continues, Le Clercq goes on to make more trite and pointless additions to the story. “Here was a gloomy prospect,” Le Clercq interjects, “but one he must face. As he rode on, the silent Planchet by his side, he felt lost in perplexity.” None of Le Clercq’ changes have any parallel in Dumas’ French text.

Athos With his Sword Between his Teeth Illustration by Maurice Leloir (Three Musketeers)

Athos set off with his sword between his teeth, by Maurice Lelior 

Hobson

Hobson

translation 2014
  1. What state would he find Athos in? Would he even find him at all?
  2. The position he had left him in was critical; he might easily have been worsted. That thought clouded his brow, wrenched sighs from his breast and caused him to mutter oaths of vengeance. Of all his friends, Athos was the eldest and hence, to all appearances, the furthest removed in his tastes and sympathies.
  3. And yet he had a marked preference for this gentleman.

Hobson (2014) translation of The Three Musketeers, chap.xxvii

Le Clercq

Le Clercq

translation 1950
  1. Several problems assailed him. How was he to find Athos, if find him he could? And in what state? He had left his friend in a very critical condition; Athos might very easily have been killed. Here was a gloomy prospect but one he must face. As he rode on, the silent Planchet by his side, he felt lost in perplexity. Now he frowned angrily, now he sighed in desperation; but he was sure of one thing, he would exert vengeance if vengeance was called for.
  2. Of all D’Artagnan’s friends, Athos was the eldest and therefore the most remote from him, apparently, in tastes and interests. Yet of all his friends it was Athos he preferred. 

Le Clercq (1950) translation of The Three Musketeers, chap.xxvii

Click “More” below to read the same passage as it appears in Dumas’ original French and in the Pevear translation.

More
Dumas' Three Musketeers Illustration Milady and Felton with Tulips
Illustration Milady and Felton with Tulips - Dumas' Three Musketeers

Milady and Felton, as drawn by Edmund H. Garrett for a limited edition of The Three Musketeers, Little Brown and Co, 1893.

Milady and Felton, as drawn by Edmund H. Garrett for a limited edition of The Three Musketeers, Little Brown and Co, 1893.

HOBSON · VS · PEVEAR

“All this talk about men is all very well,” Hobson said, discussing The Three Musketeers, “but what about women: the damsels in distress; Aramis’s dismal nonsense about women being the cause of all evil; Milady, the utterly evil villainess — how is that OK?” 

Hobson understood that Dumas didn’t want his characters to fit into neatly categorized slots. D’Artagnan and the musketeers were not intended to be seen as faultless heroes anymore than Milady was intended to be seen as flatly villainous. In fact, it’s questionable whether Milady should be seen as a villain at all. It is true that she seeks revenge against the musketeers but it is such revenge as is sought by Shylock or Dumas’ own Edmond Dantès—she seeks to revenge herself upon those who have most cruelly abused her.

“If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”


Merchant of Venice, Act III. Scene i.

Hobson goes on to point out that Milady’s character was as important to the story as she was to Dumas himself.

“Milady… is so central that she is almost the book’s anti-heroine, or rather, another part of her creator. She comes from nowhere, like d’Artagnan, and fights her way to the top. She is the one imprisoned, like Dumas’s father and the Count of Monte Cristo; she is the one who has to tell a story to survive.” 


Will Hobson, Introduction to The Three Musketeers, Vintage Books, 2014

In his introduction, Richard Pevear extols the virtues of the musketeers as if they were beyond reproach. According to Pevear, it is Milady alone who bears the guilt. In his discussion of the characters, she is the “pure opposite” of the “arial” and “demidivine” musketeers. She is composed solely of “earth, flesh, [and] the downdrag of evil.”

SPOILERS:

If you are a first time reader of The Three Musketeers, you may wish to skip ahead to the next section. 

This is how Pevear characterizes the musketeers, d’Artagnan, Cardinal Richelieu and Milady:

“We see the musketeers as [d’Artagnan] sees them; we know them as he knows them. It is he who moves the intertwining plots. He acts, suffers, loves. He has normal human feelings and failings. The three musketeers are above history and above personal involvements.

“It seems at first that the villain of the novel will be Cardinal Richelieu—the all-powerful ‘red duke,’ as Aramis calls him. But his very contingency makes him unsuited to that role. He is a politician, that is, a relative, mixed character, capable of cold cruelty, but also, when it suits him, of generosity and of a just appreciation of merits—as d’Artagnan discovers. For conflict, the aerial needs its pure opposite—earth, flesh, the downdrag of evil. Thus Milady, whose name is also no name, emerges as the fictive counterpart of the musketeers. D’Artagnan is as drawn to her as he is to his three tutelary spirits, who barely manage to save him, and who in the end vanish from his life—until the sequel summons them up again.” 


Richard Pevear, Introduction to The Three Musketeers, Penguin Classics, 2006

Whatever view you hold of Milady’s actions in the second half of the book, it is incontrovertible that in the first half of the book Athos and d’Artagnan both commit terrible crimes against her. Athos attempts to murder her and d’Artagnan sexually assaults her. Up to this point of the story, Milady has not so much as raised a finger against either of them. In Athos’ own words: “She was as beautiful as love itself. An ardent spirit shone through the naivety of her age, the spirit, not of woman, but of poet. She did not merely please, she intoxicated.” (Hobson translation, chap.xxvii) 

Pevear’s statement that the musketeers “barely manage to save” d’Artagnan from Milady is misleading. If Pevear is referring the events at the end of the book, then d’Artagnan is not “saved” by his friends nor does he require saving. It is Milady and not d’Artagnan who is in danger. It is Milady who vanishes where not even the sequel can summon her up again.

· Milady · Imprisoned ·

Hobson’s depiction of the scene in which Milady is imprisoned and threatened with death is vivid and sympathetic. Lord de Winter, her kidnapper, tells Milady that he has given his men precise orders to open fire on her for “any step, any gesture, any word that smacks of attempt to escape.” Milady desperately tries to mask her thoughts and appear defeated so that Lord de Winter won’t realize that she is already planning her escape. Hobson gives a depth of emotional impact to this scene that is not found in Pevear. 

Lord de Winter introduces Milady to her Jailor (Three Musketeers) by Maurice Leloir

Lord de Winter shows Milady to her jailor, by Maurice Lelior 

Hobson

Hobson

translation 2014
  1. Seeing her thoughts read, Milady dug her nails into her flesh to master any impulse that might make her expression suggest anything but anguish.

Hobson (2014) translation of The Three Musketeers, chap.l

Pevear

Pevear

translation 2006
  1. Seeing herself found out, Milady dug her nails into her flesh to subdue any movement that might give her physiognomy some significance other than that of anguish.

Pevear (2006) translation of The Three Musketeers, chap.l

Click “More” below to read the same passage as it appears in Dumas’ original French.

More
Lord de Winter introduces Milady to her Jailor (Three Musketeers) by Maurice Leloir

Lord de Winter shows Milady to her jailor, by Maurice Lelior 

· Madame · Coquenard ·

In the middle of a lovers’ quarrel between Porthos and Madame Coquenard, Porthos compliments Milady at the expense of Madame Coquenard. In Dumas’ French text the line runs: “Eh! elle n’est déjà point si décharnée, que je crois!” (Compared to Milady, Madame Coquenard is considered to be a bit thin.) Hobson translates the line faithfully as “She still has some flesh on her bones, I believe!” By contrast, Pevear translates the line as: “Ah, she’s not a withered hag yet, I believe!” This offensive epithet “withered hag” that Pevear uses is not even close to being an accurate representation of what Dumas wrote.

Porthos and Madame Coquenard Wave to Each Other (Three Musketeers) by Maurice Leloir

Madame Coquenard waves to Porthos, by Maurice Lelior 

Hobson

Hobson

translation 2014
  1. [Madame Coquenard:] “Go off with your beautiful duchess then! Don’t let me keep you.”

  2. [Porthos:] She still has some flesh on her bones, I believe!”

Hobson (2014) translation of The Three Musketeers, chap.xxix

Pevear

Pevear

translation 2006
  1. [Madame Coquenard:] “Go off then with your beautiful duchess. I won’t keep you any longer!”
  2. [Porthos:] “Ah, she’s not a withered hag yet, I believe!”

Pevear (2006) translation of The Three Musketeers, chap.xxix

Porthos and Madame Coquenard Wave to Each Other (Three Musketeers) by Maurice Leloir

Madame Coquenard waves to Porthos, by Maurice Lelior 

Click “More” below to read the same passage as it appears in Dumas’ original French.

More
Portia Reads Hobson's Translation of Dumas' Three Musketeers
Portia Reads Dumas' Three Musketeers - Hobson's Translation

Portia reads her way through the stack.

HOBSON ·VS · ROBSON

While Hobson translates Dumas’ story with brilliance and clarity, William Robson has a tendency to muddy his version by paraphrasing rather than translating. For instance, Dumas’ description of Milady is “belle comme les amours.”  This is translated faithfully by Hobson as “She was as beautiful as love itself,” while Robson changes it to the hackneyed expression “beautiful as fancy can paint.” 

· Aramis ·

In The Three Musketeers, Dumas described Aramis’ appearance as naïve et doucereuse.”  Translators have struggled with the second word of this descriptionoften translating it as “sweet.” The meaning of doucereuse, however, is a bit darker and more complex. There is a connotation of excessive—even to the point of sickly—sweetness to the word. The actual meaning of doucereuse is somewhere between “insipid” and “saccharine.” Hobson made the inspired decision to describe Aramis’ appearance as “cherubic” adding—in the parenthetical dashes often favored by Dumas—that he is “almost cloyingly” so. 

William Robson entirely fails to capture the meaning of doucereuse—translating it as ingenuous.” Also, Dumas and Hobson both describe Aramis as “a young man” while Robson incomprehensibly describes Aramis as “a stout man.” 

Aramis and Porthos Illustration by Maurice Leloir (Three Musketeers)

Aramis and Porthos, by Maurice Lelior 

Hobson

Hobson

translation 2014
  1. This musketeer formed a perfect contrast to the individual who, in putting the question, had called him Aramis. He was a young man of barely twenty-two or twenty-three, with an artless, cherubic face – almost cloyingly so – black, gentle eyes, and rosy cheeks as downy as an autumn peach.


Hobson (2014) translation of The Three Musketeers, chap.ii

Robson

Robson

translation 1853
  1. This other Musketeer formed a perfect contrast to his interrogator, who had just designated him by the name of Aramis. He was a stout man, of about two- or three-and-twenty, with an open, ingenuous countenance, a black, mild eye, and cheeks rosy and downy as an autumn peach. 


Robson (1853)  translation of The Three Musketeers, chap.ii

Aramis and Porthos Illustration by Maurice Leloir (Three Musketeers)

Aramis and Porthos, by Maurice Lelior 

Click “More” below to read the same passage as it appears in Dumas’ original French and in the Pevear translation.

More
A Translation Comparison of Dumas' Three Musketeers
Dumas' Three Musketeers - a Translation Comparison

“…But there is no style so untranslatable [as Dumas’]; light as a whipped trifle, strong as silk; wordy like a village tale; pat like a general’s despatch; with every fault, yet never tedious; with no merit, yet inimitably right.” 

“…But there is no style so untranslatable [as Dumas’]; light as a whipped trifle, strong as silk; wordy like a village tale; pat like a general’s despatch; with every fault, yet never tedious; with no merit, yet inimitably right.” 

Robert Louis Stevenson 

HOBSON · VS · ELLSWORTH

From weeding out parts of the story that didn’t appeal to him to mistranslating sections he didn’t understand, Lawrence Ellsworth leaves much of Dumas’ French text lost in translation. For example, in the passage quoted below, Dumas specifically states that Kitty is going mad. Ellsworth misinterpreted the meaning of the line and says instead that Kitty is madly in love. 

Hobson

Hobson

translation 2014
  1. D’Artagnan made Kitty promise to bring him that letter the following morning. The poor girl promised her lover everything he wanted. She was mad.

Hobson (2014) translation of The Three Musketeers, chap.xxxiii

Ellsworth

Ellsworth

translation 2018
  1. D’Artagnan made Kitty promise to bring him the letter the next morning, and the poor girl, mad about him, promised everything her lover asked for.

Ellsworth (2018) translation of The Three Musketeers, chap.xxxiii

Click “More” below to read the same passage as it appears in Dumas’ original French and in the Pevear translation.

More
D'Artagnan Steals Milady's Letter from Kitty Illustration by Maurice Leloir (Three Musketeers)

Before Kitty could stop him, d’Artagnan opened Milady’s letter, by Maurice Lelior 

Hobson’s excellent understanding of the story and the French language is as apparent in this line as it is in the rest of his translation. Dumas wrote “elle était folle.” Hobson translated this with simplicity and faithfulness as “she was mad.” In Ellsworth’s hands this became “mad about him.” To top it all off, Lord Sudley somehow turned the same line into the utterly unrecognizable “agreed to do so.” Sudley’s version of the passage is so distorted that I was only able to recognize it by placement. I kept double checking to make sure I really was looking at the same line. 

However far Ellsworth’s interpretation is from Dumas—Sudley’s is even farther. With a complete lack of respect for Kitty’s character and emotional trauma, Sudley has her agree to do d’Artagnan’s bidding like a mindless automaton. Sudley wrote: “D’Artagnan suggested that [Kitty] call at his lodgings afterwards to pass on her orders to him, and the poor child, in her foolish infatuation for the young musketeer agreed to do so.” (Though Sudley blithely refers to d’Artagnan as “the young musketeer,” the scene under discussion takes place in Chapter XXXIII and d’Artagnan doesn’t become a musketeer for another fourteen chapters.)

D'Artagnan Steals Milady's Letter from Kitty Illustration by Maurice Leloir (Three Musketeers)

Before Kitty could stop him, d’Artagnan opened Milady’s letter, by Maurice Lelior 

· The · Romance · of · the · Rose ·

Hobson is the first translator to appreciate the significance of Dumas’ decision to change the location of d’Artagnan’s original run-in with Rochefort from St Dié, where Courtilz’s Memoirs place it, to Meung. Hobson hypothesizes that this was almost certainly done so that the reader would associate d’Artagnan with the hero of the Romance of the Rose. 

“Courtilz… sets d’Artagnan’s first (mis)adventure at Saint-Dié on the left bank of the Loire… Dumas changes it to Meung… presumably to establish the literary credentials of his hero.

“…Romance of the Rose was the most popular of all medieval romances, an allegory of courtly love tracing the trials of [a character called] The Lover… Dumas’s subsequent allusions to Don Quixote emphasize the point: d’Artagnan is to be seen as the latest in the line of knights errant who seek to apply the chivalric code in different times.”


Will Hobson, annotations on The Three Musketeers (2014)

D'Artagnan and The Three Musketeers Wave their Swords (Three Musketeers)

Maurice Lelior’s fantasy frontispiece illustration for The Three Musketeers 

Ellsworth apparently overlooked the significance Dumas attached to this literary allusion. Ellsworth acts like the Romance of the Rose never was a part of The Three Musketeers—and in his translation it isn’t.

D'Artagnan and The Three Musketeers Wave their Swords (Three Musketeers)

Maurice Lelior’s fantasy frontispiece illustration for The Three Musketeers 

Hobson

Hobson

translation 2014
  1. On the first Monday in the month of April 1625, the little market town of Meung, birthplace of the author of The Romance of the Rose, appeared to be in the throes of as full-blown a revolution as if the Huguenots had come to make it a second La Rochelle.


Hobson (2014) translation of The Three Musketeers, chap.i

Ellsworth

Ellsworth

translation 2018
  1. On the first Monday of the month of April, 1625, the town of Meung appeared to be in such a state of revolt it was almost as if the Huguenots had made it into a second La Rochelle.

Ellsworth (2018) translation of The Three Musketeers, chap.i

Click “More” below to read the same passage as it appears in Dumas’ original French and in the Pevear translation.

More
The King's Musketeers and the Cardinal's Guards - an Illustration from Dumas' Three Musketeers
Dumas' Three Musketeers Illustration the King's Musketeers and the Cardinal's Guards

The King’s Musketeers and the Cardinal’s Guards, as drawn by Edmund H. Garrett for a limited edition of The Three Musketeers, Little Brown and Co, 1893.

The King’s Musketeers and the Cardinal’s Guards, as drawn by Edmund H. Garrett for a limited edition of The Three Musketeers, Little Brown and Co, 1893.

HOBSON · VS · HOCHMAN

The series of events that leads to d’Artagnan dueling each of the three musketeers and subsequently to his lifelong friendship with all of them begins with d’Artagnan crashing headfirst into Athos’ wounded shoulder. Hobson translates this memorable scene with flair—preserving all the nuance and detail present in Dumas’ French text. 

Though Eleanor Hochman’s translation claims to be complete and unabridged, it is not. Much like Bair, Hochman moderately abridged her version. The scene quoted below is no exception. Line after line of Dumas’ novel is lost in Hochman’s translation. 

Athos Stops D'Artagnan by Maurice Leloir (Three Musketeers)

Athos stops d’Artagnan before he can run down the stairs, by Maurice Lelior 

HOBSON

HOBSON

translation 2014
  1. D’Artagnan had crossed the antechamber in three furious bounds and was rushing towards the stairs, intending to take them four at a time, when, caught up in the heat of chase, he crashed into a musketeer who was coming out of Monsieur de Tréville’s office by a side door, and, colliding headfirst with the man’s shoulder, caused him to let out a cry, or rather, a howl.

Hobson (2014) translation of The Three Musketeers, chap.iv

Hochman

Hochman

translation 1991
  1. In a state of fury, d’Artagnan had crossed the anteroom in three bounds and was darting toward the stairs, when he carelessly ran headfirst into a Musketeer coming out of another door and struck his shoulder violently, making him howl with pain.


Hochman (1991) translation of The Three Musketeers, chap.iv

Click “More” below to read the same passage as it appears in Dumas’ original French and in the Pevear translation.

More
Portia (a Blenheim - red and white - Cavalier King Charles Spaniel) looks up with an animated and surprised expression. her head rests on a copy of the Everyman's Library Children's Classics edition of The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas and translated by William Barrow. Portia is lying on an overstuffed chair and wrapped in soft, cozy alpaca blankets. Her long fluffy ears are spread out over the blankets.
Portia (a Blenheim - red and white - Cavalier King Charles Spaniel) looks up with an animated and surprised expression. her head rests on a copy of the Everyman's Library Children's Classics edition of The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas and translated by William Barrow. Portia is lying on an overstuffed chair and wrapped in soft, cozy alpaca blankets. Her long fluffy ears are spread out over the blankets.

Rainy day reading — Portia looks over William Barrow’ translation of The Three Musketeers.

HOBSON · VS · BARROW

Imagine a version of The Count of Monte Cristo in which Edmond Dantès was never betrayed and yet seeks revenge. This would turn Dumas’ carefully-structured plot topsy-turvy and Dantès’ actions would no longer be judged as revenge but as senseless cruelty. 

SPOILERS:

If you are a first time reader of The Three Musketeers, you may wish to skip ahead to the next section. 

When William Barrow obscures the depth of d’Artagnan’s betrayal, he plays havoc with the plot of The Three Musketeers and makes Milady’s quest for revenge less justified. If it is kept from the reader that d’Artagnan sexually assaulted Milady (through deception, it should be noted, and not violence), then the reader cannot understand the motivation for many of Milady’s actions throughout the remainder of the book. In Barrow’s translation, Milady is but a shadow of the unique and fascinating character that Dumas had created.

While other translators have sought to obscure Dumas’ sympathetic portrayal of Milady, Hobson embraced it. This quote from Hobson’s introduction is worth repeating:

“Milady… is so central that she is almost the book’s anti-heroine, or rather, another part of her creator. She comes from nowhere, like d’Artagnan, and fights her way to the top. She is the one imprisoned, like Dumas’s father and the Count of Monte Cristo; she is the one who has to tell a story to survive.” 


Will Hobson, Introduction to The Three Musketeers, Vintage Books, 2014

For a side-by-side comparison of Hobson and Barrow please check out my full review of the Barrow translation.

The Three Musketeers by Dumas - A Translation Comparison
The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas - a Translation Comparison

“…But, in any case, Dumas would have left it up to the reader to judge. As a female admirer of his plays at the time wrote, ‘The great talent of Dumas is to move souls; one does not worry about the means; one cries and is happy.’ If he didn’t move a reader, then obviously he wouldn’t expect to be read.”

“…But, in any case, Dumas would have left it up to the reader to judge. As a female admirer of his plays at the time wrote, ‘The great talent of Dumas is to move souls; one does not worry about the means; one cries and is happy.’ If he didn’t move a reader, then obviously he wouldn’t expect to be read.”

Will Hobson

· Readability ·

“In terms of diction,” Hobson said, “I have tried to steer a course between excessive fruitiness and dusty bookishness… Anything that failed to capture the book as it reads in French – namely, as a supremely compelling and entertaining piece of storytelling for all ages – I avoided.” When it comes to readability and retaining the reader’s interest, Hobson’s style is superb. By contrast, I found Pevear’s translation fell a little flat.

Hobson

Hobson

translation 2014
  1. Succumbing to his peers, Porthos put out his hand, grumbling softly, and the four friends repeated with one voice the creed dictated by d’Artagnan: “All for one, one for all!”
  2. “Good, now, let’s all go home,” said d’Artagnan, as if he had done nothing but command his entire life, “and be on our guard, because from now on we are at war with the cardinal.” 

Hobson (2014) translation of The Three Musketeers, chap.ix

Pevear

Pevear

translation 2006
  1. Defeated by example, grumbling quietly, Porthos held out his hand, and the four friends repeated with one voice, the formula dictated by d’Artagnan:
  2. “All for one and one for all.”
  3. “Good. Now let’s each retire to his own home,” said d’Artagnan, as if he had done nothing but give orders all his life, “and watch out, for from this moment on, we’re at grips with the cardinal.”

Pevear (2006) translation of The Three Musketeers, chap.ix

Click “More” below to read the same passage as it appears in Dumas’ original French.

More

· Character ·

Translator after translator has tried to transform d’Artagnan and the musketeers into more conventional heroes and to mark Milady with a brand more infamous than that wielded by the executioner of Lille. Hobson is the first translator to portray Dumas’s characters as Dumas intended.

· Censorship ·

Hobson’s translation is complete and uncensored.

· Accuracy ·

Hobson is more accurate than Richard Pevear (2006), William Robson (1853), William Barrow (1846), Lawrence Ellsworth (2018), Eleanor Hochman (1991), Lowell Bair (1984), Alfred Allinson (1903), Lord Sudley (1952) and Jacques Le Clercq (1950). (The translations are listed in order of accuracy.)

Review: Hobson’s Translation of Dumas’ Three Musketeers is the Best
Alexandre Dumas' Three Musketeers Translated by Will Hobson shown here in both the Vintage Classics edition and the BBC Books/Random House edition. The two paperback books stand up on their own on a ragged stone step. There is a Murano glass paperweight in the foreground and red gladiolas and golden sunflowers in the background.
Alexandre Dumas' Three Musketeers Translated by Will Hobson shown here in both the Vintage Classics edition and the BBC Books/Random House edition. The two paperback books stand up on their own on a ragged stone step. There is a Murano glass paperweight in the foreground and red gladiolas and golden sunflowers in the background.

From left to right: the BBC Books edition and the Vintage Classics edition of Will Hobson’s translation of The Three Musketeers.

From left to right: the BBC Books edition and the Vintage Classics edition of Will Hobson’s translation of The Three Musketeers.

THE · HOBSON · TRANSLATION

2014

Will Hobson is a translator, writer and stand-up comedian. His translation of The Battle by Patrick Rambaud won the Goncourt Prize and his translation of Being Arab by Samir Kassir won the Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Award 2007. The Collector of Worlds by Iliya Troyanov and Marilyn’s Last Sessions by Michel Schneider (a novel about Marilyn Monroe) are among Hobson’s translations from original French and German texts. Hobson is the author of The Redstone Inkblot Test and A Household Box: Knock Knock! Who’s There? We Are!

Will Hobson holds a book in his hands and looks above and to the left of the camera. He wears a dark sweater and spectacles and has a pensive expression.

Will Hobson, image credit: Pushkin House

Will Hobson’s translation of The Three Musketeers is my favorite translation of Dumas’ beloved classic.

  • Vintage Classics

    • Paperback
    • Introduction and explanatory notes by Will Hobson.
    • Original calligraphy cover art by Mark l’Argent.
    • There are no interior illustrations.
    • The pages are not acid-free.
    • The book stays open nicely.
  • BBC BOOKS/ Random House

    • Paperback, Kindle
    • Introduction and explanatory notes by Will Hobson.
    • BBC The Musketeers series tie-in edition featuring photos of actors from the series on both the front and back cover.
    • There are no interior illustrations.
    • The pages are not acid-free.
    • The book does not stay open on its own.
Alexandre Dumas' Three Musketeers Translated by Richard Pevear shown here in both the Penguin Deluxe Classics paperback edition and the Viking Hardcover edition. The two books stand at odd angles to each other on a ragged stone step. There are red gladiolas and golden sunflowers in the background.
Alexandre Dumas' Three Musketeers Translated by Richard Pevear shown here in both the Penguin Deluxe Classics paperback edition and the Viking Hardcover edition. The two books stand at odd angles to each other on a ragged stone step. There are red gladiolas and golden sunflowers in the background.

From left to right: the Penguin Deluxe Classics (paperback) edition and the Viking (hardcover) edition of Richard Pevear’s translation of The Three Musketeers.

From left to right: the Penguin Deluxe Classics (paperback) edition and the Viking (hardcover) edition of Richard Pevear’s translation of The Three Musketeers.

Will Hobson

THE · PEVEAR · TRANSLATION

2006

Richard Pevear rocketed to fame in 2004 when Oprah made the Pevear- Volokhonsky translation of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina one of her book club picks. Originally from Boston, Pevear now lives in Paris and teaches at the American University of Paris. Larissa Volokhonsky and Richard Pevear are married. They have twice won the PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize — first for their translation of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov and next for their translation of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. They also won the first Efim Etkind Translation Prize for their translation of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot.

Larissa Volokhonsky stands holding Richard Pevear's arm as he sits beside her. The couple smile towards the camera. They both wear sweaters and are photographed in their study surrounded by framed pictures and books.

Larissa Volokhonsky and Richard Pevear, image credit: Random House

  • Penguin Deluxe Classics

    • Paperback & Kindle
    • Introduction, note on the translation and explanatory notes by Richard Pevear.
    • This is a large, deluxe paperback edition with acid-free, deckle-edged cream pages. The cover is made with high-quality watercolor paper.
    • Original cover illustrations by Tom Gauld covering the front and back covers as well as the inner flaps and the spine.
    • There are no interior illustrations.
    • The book stays open nicely.
  • Viking

    • Hardcover
    • Introduction, note on the translation and explanatory notes by Richard Pevear.
    • Original dust-jacket illustration by Barry Blitt.
    • The pages are not acid-free.
    • There are no interior illustrations.
    • The book stays open nicely.
    • This hardcover is out-of-print but can still be found second hand. You might try Amazon, Biblio or Abebooks.

This post has not been sponsored in any way. The thoughts and opinions I have expressed are my own.