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Considering not only that Alexander Dumas wrote them ~200 years later, but that this and his other works were explicitly fiction, is the society portrayed in The Three Musketeers reasonably close to how it historically was?

I am specifically looking into:

  • relations and motivation of characters (based on their class and/or other aspects that may be important);
  • descriptions of town life;
  • attitude towards religion;

As far as I understand, he did have a ghost-writer helping him, presumably with at least part of historical details. But is the end result reasonably plausible? Is it possible to assert, if it is or isn't so?

If not, then is there any literature about or of that time France that could serve as introduction to the society of the time (mostly considering town life, Paris, maybe court)?

In this case, I am more interested in general fiction, because I would like to have some general outlook of the times, rather than academic research, insofar as academic papers usually have quite a narrow scope.

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    Not sure whether it is relevant, but the latest film Les trois mousquetaires: D'Artagnan has nothing to do with history or the original book - despite being louded by such high-profile public history fans as Stéphane Bern. Closer to the subject: as far as I remember, the book is based on a real character, who participated in some special missions to the king, although his existence is shifted and extended in time. I have friends who knew the geography of the old part of Paris from this book, long before visiting the city.
    – Roger V.
    Aug 24, 2023 at 15:41
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    @RogerVadim Thank you. I haven't seen the new movie. I recently re-read the Dumas, and my interest was aroused for the general feel of the time. The fact that geography of Paris was reasonably close is inspiring, however, the society, way of talking and general living is more interesting to me. I was wondering if I should read some actual French authors of 17th century, but so far I am not sure how realistic was the literature of the time.
    – Gnudiff
    Aug 24, 2023 at 18:06
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    As a general commentary on using fiction to learn about history, one thing you need to be wary about is the author's stance in political matters. Dumas writes as a republican and freemason about a monarchistic and catholic society - he cannot avoid to make a judgement. Academic works have the luxus to state that explicitly. A writer of fiction can at best hide behind one of the voices in his story.
    – ccprog
    Aug 24, 2023 at 18:37
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    @T.E.D. on the other hand, the actors are really good and the French is very clear - perfect as a practice for non-native speakers.
    – Roger V.
    Aug 24, 2023 at 20:28
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    According to Wikipedia, Dumas based his work on a semi-fictional biography of Charles de Batz de Castelmore d'Artagnan by Gatien de Courtilz de Sandras, published 27 years after the death of d'Artagnan (died 1673). You can read the de Sandras work at Internet Archive in English translation or French. Much closer in time, so I am sure the portrayal of life will be closer.
    – bob1
    Aug 24, 2023 at 21:13

1 Answer 1

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Ghost writer
Les Trois Mousquetaires was one of the series of works that Dumas wrote in collaboration with Auguste Maquet. The name of the latter was apparently omitted on the insistence of publisher, and at one point Maquet did unsuccessfully sue Dumas for the co-authorship and royalties. French version of the Wikipedia article on Maquet contains an extended discussion of whether Maquet was the real writer or whether it was a genuine collaboration - it seems that Maquet write the principle story line, whereas Dumas extensively reworked the dialogues and other details. However, just as Dumas, Maquet was a fiction writer, rather than a specialist in history of the period in question. He also collaborated with Dumas on works placed in other historical periods, notably The Count of Monte Cristo.

Real antecedents
Charles de Batz de Castelmore d'Artagnan was the real protagonist, whose biography was written in teh forme of memoirs by Gatien de Courtilz de Sandras' as Les mémoires de M. d'Artagnan.

Many other heros of the novel are real persons - certainly the King and the Queen, the cardinal, M. de Tréville and other well-known personalities, as well as the three musketeers themselves. However, the story behind is quite improbable and the political realities are significantly distorted - e.g., King is presented as weak, Rechelieu as running the show, Queens as actively interfering in politics - none of which was quite true.

Dumas also took many liberties with chronology - e.g., the real d'Artagnan was born in 1615, and consequently would have been too young to participate in the siege of La Rochelle, 1627-28. It is also worth noting the real Porhos, Athos and Aramis were all younger than d'Artagnan:

Confusion encore entretenue par le fait que d'Artagnan finit maréchal de France dans Le Vicomte de Bragelonne, contrairement à Charles de Batz qui mourut en 1673 au siège de Maastricht, mais comme son cousin germain Pierre de Montesquiou d'Artagnan. Mais Dumas modifie son âge en 18 ans en avril 1625 et donc le fait naître au premier trimestre 1607 ou au deuxième semestre 1606 ; il le fait mourir en Hollande vers le milieu de l'année 1666, à l'âge de 59 ans.

Confusion further maintained by the fact that d'Artagnan ended up Marshal of France in Le Vicomte de Bragelonne, unlike Charles de Batz who died in 1673 at the siege of Maastricht, but like his first cousin Pierre de Montesquiou d'Artagnan. But Dumas changes his age to 18 years in April 1625 and therefore makes him born in the first quarter of 1607 or the second half of 1606; he had him die in Holland around the middle of 1666, at the age of 59.

The principle line of the story about the Queen's affair with Buckingham is also quite improbably, although Dumas took care not to link it to any real events (something ignored by the creators of the recent film The Three Musketeers: D'Artagnan, where the events do not withstand an elementary fact-check - like an attempted public assassination attempt against the King, during his brother's marriage.

It is hard to judge whether the manner of speaking and the depictions of life are are close to the historical period described. Again, they are certainly less distorted than in more recent adaptations of the novel.

References:
Les mensonges de l'Histoire: Les trois mousquetaires de Dumas, roman fidèle à la réalité historique.

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