Review: Dumas’ Three Musketeers was Censored in Barrow’s Translation

Translations of The Three Musketeers can be said to fall into three levels of accuracy: they are faithful, unfaithful or written by William Barrow.…

by Ambra Gargini

As a translator, William Barrow’s work presents an almost Jekyll and Hyde contrast. In his “Jekyll” sections, Barrow accurately reflects the content of Dumas’ story even if he fails to catch the tone. In his “Hyde” sections, Barrow ruthlessly cuts, rearranges and entirely rewrites the novel without any regard for Dumas’ vision for the characters or the story. 

Barrow puts himself squarely between Dumas and the reader. The result is an awkward translation. Pevear said that, “Dumas’ language is terse and modern.” Conversely, Barrow’s language is verbose and archaic. Also, Barrow makes some odd and inexplicable word choices. For instance, instead of calling M. Coquenard’s errand boy an errand boy, Barrow calls him “a little stump-in-the-gutter.”
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 the Barrow translation of The Three Musketeers. 

MILADY

Dumas is notably sympathetic towards Milady. Barrow is not. In fact, Barrow is not only entirely lacking in sympathy for Milady, he actually adds unsympathetic and judgmental remarks about Milady into the narration—remarks that have no parallel in Dumas’ text. All of Barrow’s additions and alterations change the reader’s perception of the unique and fascinating character that is Milady. 

In my opinion, Barrow lost the spirit of the novel when he decided to censure Dumas’ characters and censor Dumas’ story.

Affronted by, what he perceived to be, her unwomanly strength of will and deplorable lack of morality, Barrow claimed that Milady was “a woman of wicked dispositions.” Continuing to add his own misogynistic stamp to the novel, Barrow writes in a passage that has Milady “feigning embarrassment” in order to prove to d’Artagnan that she is worthy of his regard. Barrow’s remark about Milady pretending to be ashamed is not only out of character, but also dehumanizing as it strongly implies that Milady should cover her face in shame if only a woman of her sort could even begin to understand what shame was. It is yet another line which has no parallel in Dumas’ French text. 

In the introduction to his critically-acclaimed translation of The Three Musketeers (Vintage Books 2014), Will Hobson spoke about how important Milady’s character was both to the novel and to Dumas:

“Milady, after all, 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

Milady and Felton an illustration drawn by Edmund H. Garrett illustration for Alexandre Dumas' Three Musketeers. Milady, with the light hitting her fair hair and white dress clasps her hands and looks upward with an expression of angelic inspiration. Felton, dressed in a dark, heavy and awkward style, stands with his back to the light and looks at Milady with a fixed, intent expression.
Milady and Felton an illustration drawn by Edmund H. Garrett illustration for Alexandre Dumas' Three Musketeers. Milady, with the light hitting her fair hair and white dress clasps her hands and looks upward with an expression of angelic inspiration. Felton, dressed in a dark, heavy and awkward style, stands with his back to the light and looks at Milady with a fixed, intent expression.

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

NOT · THE · FULL · STORY

Richard Pevear discussed some aspects of Barrow’s censorship in the preface to his own critically-acclaimed translation of The Three Musketeers (Penguin, 2006):

“[The] one major flaw [of the Barrow translation] is due, I assume, not to the translator, but to the greater delicacy of English manners at that time: all of the explicit and many of the implicit references to sexuality and to the human body, matters which Dumas dealt with rather frankly, have been removed. That makes the rendering of certain scenes between d’Artagnan and Milady, for instance, strangely vague.” 


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

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.” 

A stack of translations of The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas sit on a stone wall. The translations from top to bottom are: Will Hobson (2014), Richard Pevear (2006), William Robson (1853) and William Barrow (1846). Three battered silver tankards stand in the foreground of the photo a fourth tankard stands next to the pile of books. A teal glass vase with golden sunflowers is behind the books and golden petals are scattered along the wall. There are green-leaved oaks and rosemary in the background bokeh. The scene is backlit and flooded with sunlight.
A stack of translations of The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas sit on a stone wall. The translations from top to bottom are: Will Hobson (2014), Richard Pevear (2006), William Robson (1853) and William Barrow (1846). Three battered silver tankards stand in the foreground of the photo a fourth tankard stands on top of the pile of books. A teal glass vase with golden sunflowers is behind the books and golden petals are scattered along the wall. There are green-leaved oaks and rosemary in the background bokeh. The scene is backlit and flooded with sunlight.

From top to bottom: the Will Hobson (2014), Richard Pevear (2006), William Robson (1853) and William Barrow (1846) translations of The Three Musketeers. 

From top to bottom: the Will Hobson (2014), Richard Pevear (2006), William Robson (1853) and William Barrow (1846) translations of The Three Musketeers. 

THE BARROW TRANSLATION

SPOILERS:

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

Review: Dumas’ Three Musketeers was Censored in Barrow’s Translation

Lord de Winter introducers d’Artagnan to Milady, by Maurice Lelior

Barrow’s rendering of the the final rendezvous between Milady and d’Artagnan is a masterpiece of evasiveness. Barrow twists the story into complicated knots as he tries to achieve his desired level of censorship only to find that some of the things he had so carefully removed were actually necessary in order to hit unavoidable plot points. In Barrow’s version, the scenes between Milady and d’Artagnan become, as Pevear said, “strangely vague.” The final rendezvous is still set in Milady’s boudoir but now, instead of retiring to bed, d’Artagnan and Milady… never go to bed. Lover’s transports are swept away to be replaced by serious discussion and contemplative thought. Barrow won’t even admit that it is a rendezvous—referring to it instead as an “interview.” Barrow introduces into the scene an implication that d’Artagnan and Milady stay several feet apart at all times.

This vague arrangement delighted Barrow until he suddenly remembered that the plot requires that d’Artagnan discover Milady’s branded shoulder in this scene by tearing her garment. Without d’Artagnan discovering the fleur-de-lys brand, the end of the scene—and, indeed, most of the second half of the book—would make very little sense. Barrow compromises by having d’Artagnan go near Milady only when the garment is torn.

All references to the passage of time or to time lapses are removed by Barrow in order to give readers the impression that d’Artagnan is at Milady’s house for only a very short period of time. In the uncensored text, there are several references to the passage of time and it is clear that d’Artagnan does not leave until the early hours of the morning.

Barrow also made some alterations to the clothing—or rather the lack of clothing—that d’Artagnan and Milady wear in this scene. Milady—so far from wearing the scanty negligée that barely covers her in the uncensored text—is, in Barrow’s version, dressed in a sturdy nightgown covered with a dressing gown and, above all, encased in that bulwark of Victorian respectability: the corset. In the uncensored text, the morning after their rendezvous, d’Artagnan is forced to flee from Milady’s house before he can access his clothes and—in order to avoid running naked through the streets—borrows Kitty’s dress. This leads to a comic scene in the next chapter in which d’Artagnan—wearing Kitty’s dress—seeks shelter at Athos’ house. 

In Barrow’s rendition there is absolutely no mention of d’Artagnan getting undressed, losing his clothes or putting on Kitty’s clothes. In a surprising twist, Barrow returns to the original script and has d’Artagnan arrive at Athos’ house wearing Kitty’s dress. There is no explanation or transition—one moment d’Artagnan is wearing his own clothes and the next he’s wearing Kitty’s dress.

Review: Dumas’ Three Musketeers was Censored in Barrow’s Translation

D’Artagnan on the run and wearing Kitty’s dress, by Maurice Lelior

Instead of calling Milady “Milady” as Dumas did, Barrow refers to her obliquely as “the lady” or “her ladyship” (no caps) throughout his entire translation. When I read Barrow’s translation, I had to continuously remind myself that when he says “lady” or “ladyship” he is referring to Milady. This pulled me out of the story and added an extra layer of tedium and confusion to Barrow’s already confused and tedious translation. For example:

“A smile of incredulity passed across the pale lips of her ladyship.”

or

“Nevertheless, the lady, who had not the same motives as d’Artagnan for forgetfulness, quickly drew him from his contemplations and recalled him to the reality of the interview.”

Hobson

Hobson

translation 
  1. Pale and terrible, Milady drew herself up, and pushing d’Artagnan away with a violent blow to his chest, leapt out of bed.
  2. It was almost completely light.
  3. D’Artagngn held her back by her peignoir of fine Indies calico to beg her forgiveness, but she jerked herself free with a powerful, resolute movement. The cambric tore, leaving her shoulders bare, and on one of those beautifully rounded white shoulders d’Artagnan, with an inexpressible feeling of shock, recognized a fleur-de-lys, that indelible mark impressed by the executioner’s defaming hand.
  4. “Good God!” cried d’Artagnan, letting go of the peignoir.
  5. And then he remained mute, motionless, frozen to the bed.
  6. But d’Artagnan’s horror alone was denounciation enough for Milady.

Hobson translation of The Three Musketeers, chap.xxxvii

Barrow

Barrow

translation 
  1. Pale and terrible, her ladyship raised herself up, and pushing away d’Artagnan, who was near her, by a violent blow on the chest, sought to hasten from him.
  2. D’Artagnan restrained her by her robe, in order to implore her pardon. But, with a powerful and resolute effort, she endeavoured to escape. In this effort, her robe gave way near the corset; and then, one of her beautiful shoulders being uncovered, d’Artagnan, with inexpressible horror, perceived upon it the fleur-de-lis—that indelible mark, impressed by the degrading hand of the executioner.
  3. ‘Great God!’ exclaimed he, letting fall the robe; and he remained mute, motionless, and rooted to his place.
  4. But the lady felt herself denounced, even by d’Artagnan’s horror.

Barrow translation of The Three Musketeers, chap.xxxvii

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

More
Portia a bright-eyed, Blenheim (red and white) Cavalier King Charles Spaniel sits on a stone wall. Next to her there is a stack of translations of The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. Two blue Hokkaido squashes and four battered antique silver tankards are scattered on the wall. The scene is set in the soft, warm autumnal light after sunset.
Portia a bright-eyed, Blenheim (red and white) Cavalier King Charles Spaniel sits on a stone wall. Next to her there is a stack of translations of The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. Two blue Hokkaido squashes and four battered antique silver tankards are scattered on the wall. The scene is set in the soft, warm autumnal light after sunset.

Portia with some her autumn reads. Yes, they are all different translations of The Three Musketeers.

SELECTIVE · CENSORSHIP

Pevear said that Barrow censored The Three Musketeers in order to conform to the “delicacy of English manners” during the Victorian era by removing “all of the explicit and many of the implicit references to sexuality.” However, I have found that Barrow’s censorship of The Three Musketeers was more selective than Pevear makes it sound. References to sexuality were removed by Barrow from scenes between d’Artagnan and Milady and scenes between d’Artagnan and Kitty, but Barrow left basically unaltered Milady’s account of being sexually assaulted by Buckingham—arguably the most explicit scene in the book. What was it that caused Barrow to censor some scenes and yet leave others practically untouched? 

Dumas, as the narrator, makes it clear that d’Artagnan behaved like a cad towards both Milady and Kitty. I believe that Barrow’s motive in censoring those relationships sprang not so much from prudishness as it did from a desire to alter how d’Artagnan’s character appeared to the reader. My theory is that Barrow’s paramount goal was to take d’Artagnan from the flawed and complex character that Dumas had written and remold him into something closer to a stock hero.

THE · SCENIC · ROUTE

Aside from its many additions and omissions, I found Barrow’s translation to be wordy and archaic. Contrast Barrow’s (1846) rendering of the two passages quoted below with Richard Pevear’s (2006) and Will Hobson’s (2014) renderings of the same lines. Barrow makes these simple passages unnecessarily lengthy and awkward. Hobson and Pevear don’t leave anything out—it just takes Barrow twice as long to say the same thing.

PEVEAR

PEVEAR

translation 
  1. D’Artagnan was left stunned by Athos’s terrible secret.

Pevear translation of The Three Musketeers, chap.xxviii

Barrow

Barrow

translation 
  1. D’Artagnan had not recovered from the consternation produced by the terrible communication of Athos.

Barrow translation of The Three Musketeers, chap.xxviii

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

More
Review: Dumas’ Three Musketeers was Censored in Barrow’s Translation

After the siege of the cellar, d’Artagnan leads Athos to safety, by Maurice Lelior — The drunk complacency with which Athos holds himself—an assumption of dignity that is not remotely dignified—showcases Leloir’s talent for characterization.

Review: Dumas’ Three Musketeers was Censored in Barrow’s Translation

M. de Tréville scolds Aramis and Porthos, by Maurice Lelior 

HOBSON

HOBSON

translation 
  1. ‘So, the king’s musketeers allow themselves to be arrested by the cardinal’s guards,’ continued Monsieur de Tréville, no less furious than his men, but speaking in a staccato, plunging his words one by one, as it were, like so many dagger thrust into his listeners’ breasts


Hobson translation of The Three Musketeers, chap.iii

Barrow

Barrow

translation 
  1. ‘So! the musketeers of the king allow themselves to be arrested by the guards of the cardinal!’ continued M. de Treville, not less excited within than were his soldiers without, but jerking out and mincing his words, and plunging them, as one may say, one by one, like poniards, into the bosoms of his auditors.

Barrow translation of The Three Musketeers, chap.iii

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

More
Portia (cute dog) looking with interest at stacks of translations of Alexandre Dumas' Three Musketeers - copies of the various English translations lay strewn over stone steps edged with green plants and yellow flowers.
Portia a Blenheim (red and white) Cavalier King Charles Spaniel looks with interest at stacks of translations of Alexandre Dumas' Three Musketeers. The copies of the various English translations lay strewn over stone steps edged with green plants and yellow flowers.

“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 

· Readability ·

Apropos of translating Dumas’ works, Will Hobson said: “[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.”

Rather than getting out of the way, Barrow puts himself squarely between Dumas and the reader. The result is an awkward translation. Pevear said that, “Dumas’ language is terse and modern.” Conversely, Barrow’s language is verbose and archaic. Also, Barrow makes some odd and inexplicable word choices. For instance, instead of calling M. Coquenard’s errand boy an errand boy, Barrow calls him “a little stump-in-the-gutter.”

· Character ·

In my opinion, Barrow lost the spirit of the novel when he decided to censure Dumas’ characters and censor Dumas’ story.

· Censorship ·

In addition to other (more minor) alterations, Barrow rewrote or entirely removed scenes with d’Artagnan and Milady and scenes with d’Artagnan and Kitty. Barrow also took out the two kisses exchanged between d’Artagnan and Rochefort.

I am surprised by what Barrow apparently didn’t object to. Accounts of violence including duels, artillery fire, poisonings, assassinations, sexual assault and beheadings were, as far as I could tell, left almost untouched.

· Accuracy ·

Returning to the metaphor I used at the beginning of this review, Barrow’s “Jekyll” sections are less accurate than Will Hobson (2014) and Richard Pevear (2006) and more accurate than William Robson (1853), Lawrence Ellsworth (2018), Eleanor Hochman (1991), Lowell Bair (1984), Alfred Allinson (1903), Jacques Le Clercq (1950) and Lord Sudley (1952). On the other hand, Barrow’s “Hyde” sections are less accurate than all of those translations except for Lord Sudley (1952) and Jacques Le Clercq (1950). (The translations are listed in order of accuracy.)

Review: Dumas’ Three Musketeers was Censored in Barrow’s Translation
The blue cloth hardcover stands out against the rough textured bark of the oak. Lime green and orange leaves are out of focus in the background.
Rather than getting out of the way, Barrow puts himself squarely between Dumas and the reader. The result is an awkward translation. Pevear said that, “Dumas’ language is terse and modern.” Conversely, Barrow’s language is verbose and archaic.

The Everyman’s Children’s Classics (hardcover) edition of William Barrow’s translation of The Three Musketeers.

THE · BARROW · TRANSLATION

1846

  • Everyman’s Children’s Classics

    • Hardcover  
    • Illustrated by Edouard Zier.
    • Trigger warning: the Zier illustrations show surprisingly graphic depictions of sexual assault and violence.
    • This is a deluxe hardcover edition consistent with the rest of the Everyman’s Library line up. The book is clothbound. It has smyth-sewn, acid-free pages, a ribbon bookmark, illustrated endpapers and many illustrations throughout. However, if you actually intend to give this book to a child, the illustrations (as well and the text itself) pose something of a problem.
    • This edition does not have an introduction or explanatory notes.
    • The book stays open nicely.
  • Oxford World’s Classics

    •  Paperback & Kindle
    • The introduction and notes for this edition were provided by David Coward who is Professor of Modern French Literature at the University of Leeds and the author of studies of Marivaux, Marguerite Duras, Marcel Pagnol, and Restif de la Bretonne.
    • Neither the trade paperback nor the Kindle e-book have any illustrations.
    • The book does not stay open on its own.
  • Wordsworth Classics 

    • Paperback
    • The introduction and explanatory notes for this edition were written by Keith Wren of the University of Kent at Canterbury.
    • It’s also a plain trade paperback without any illustrations.
    • 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.

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.
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 (both paperback) 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.

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