Thursday, September 3, 2009

Reading the Count of Monte Cristo, Day Three

The casserole is in the crock-pot. My short story about cartography is onto its fourth page. Warren Zevon is pleading for Lawyers, Guns and Money (hunh!). Time for a reading update...

Progress: midway through chapter 31. That's page 308 of 1243 (24.8% of the way through... let's just call it a quarter!)

The Plot So Far: Edmond Dantès is set to become captain of the Pharaon at age nineteen and marry the most beautiful girl in Marseilles, Mercedes, but is arrested and thrown in jail as a Bonapartist traitor thanks to some sneaky dealing by Danglars (the dude who stands to be captain with Dantès out of the way) and Fernand (Mercedes' cousin who has the hots for her, big-time).

After years in prison without trial, and with no hope of release, Dantès tries starving himself, then digging through the wall. His tunnel meets Abbe Faria's, and the older man tutors the younger in the ways of the world. Faria also helps Dantès figure out who's to blame for his incarceration and let's him in on the location of a massive treasure. They build another tunnel, but Faria dies and Dantès seizes the opportunity to pose as Faria's corpse, but instead of being buried in the Chateau D'If's graveyard, the sack is tossed into the sea. Dantès survives and is picked up (eventually) by some smugglers.

After three months, he lands on the uninhabited isle of Monte Cristo to see if Faria's treasure is real. It is. Sweet. He's now rich.

Dantès visits his old neighbour, Caderousse, in disguise, who's having a hard time of it. He learns Caderousse wasn't actively involved in his imprisonment, and also that his father is dead, Danglars is now super rich and powerful, ditto Fernand but he's also married Mercedes! Bummer. Dantès then goes to Marseilles and uses his wealth to save M. Morrel, his old boss, from bankruptcy without revealing his true identity. He then proclaims, "I have taken the place of Providence to reward the good; now let the avenging God make way for me to punish the wrongdoer!" Dun-dun-dun.

Notes from the last two days' reading

Chapter 10: "Let us leave Villefort going hell for leather down the road to Paris..." Dumas assumes the role of stage director at the start of many chapters. Smart in this instance as we fly ahead and meet Louis XVIII and Blacas before Villefort arrives so that the three characters are on similar footing (for the reader) when they're all in the room together.

Chapter 12: Another "Father and Son" chapter. This one is largely extraneous given a) historically we know what happens re: Napolean's return and how short it is and b) the reader suspect Villefort and Noirtier won't be big players in the book for much longer. The reader wants to get back to Dantès BUT Dumas needs to create distance (and tie up a few loose ends I guess).

Chapter 13: "Everyone knows about the return from Elba..." Links to what I was saying about historical info above.

The chapter ends with two pages of summary, one paragraph for each character. Later, when Dantès is free, the summaries are provided as dialogue (conversation with Caderousse), which isn't always realistic, seems a bit more artful than just telling us. Perhaps made worse by the one year jump that follows in the next chapter... The story seems to be slipping from our grasp (our = narrator + reader).

Chapter 14: "As you can see, the inspector was a man of the utmost humanity and altogether worthy of the philanthropic office which he had been entrusted." There's the 'you = reader' thing again, but this time the voice is kinda sarcastic. Will pay attention and see how much irony the narrator actually employs...

P.129 Interesting paragraph criticising the imagination of contemporary monarchs: "They no longer have any sense of the superiority of their divine being: they are men who wear crowns, nothing more." Definitely a different tone to this chapter.

Chapter 15: Pages and pages of Dantès in prison. Not a lot happens. Needs to happen to show time passing and build our sympathy, but it does drag. It's a relief when Faria arrive and Dumas can indulge in dialogue once more!

Chapter 16: Faria: "I discovered that one hundred and fifty books, carefully chosen, give you, if not a complete summary of human knowledge, as least everything that is useful for a man to know..." This better be one of my 150 books, dammit.

The character of Abbe Faria knows almost everything and with deductive abilities akin to Sherlock Holmes* he can work out everything else: extremely useful guy to meet in prison and to help move the plot along!! Despite my cynicism, I like him.

*Unlike in Arthur Conan Doyle's stories, the reader here already knows the answer the detective is looking for, so it's not as amazing.

Chapter 19: Faria's dead body is branded to prove he's not faking it, then he's denied a priest (and thus heaven), then Dantès delays his "burial" (he doesn't know there's no graveyard)... It's a bit sad how poorly the guy is treated considering how important he is to the novel. C'mon, Alexandre, have a heart!

Last line of Chapter 20: The sea is the graveyard of the Chateau D'If." Pretty obvious in context, but epigrammatic when transferred to your notebook!

Chapter 21: Dantès spends an incredibly long time naked, and even commands the smugglers' ship!

Chapter 22: The physical changes in Dantès are necessary later as he goes around unrecognised by people from his old life, but it's nice how each change is grounded in some sort of reason. His complexion is lighter and duller due to lack of sunlight, his voice, "accustomed to prayers, sobs and curses" takes on a "soft resonance" which alternates with a "rough edge that was almost husky."

p.218 "We forgot to mention that Jacopo was a Corsican." Wonderfully human moment for the narrator (who choses the royal we this time).

p.219 Here's that cheeky voice again: "Mercury, God of Tradesmen and Thieves - two sorts of people whom we consider separate, if not entirely distinct, but whom Antiquity appears to have classed together."

Chapter 23: p.220 "At last, by one of those unexpected chances which sometimes happen to people on whom misfortune has exhausted its ingenuity..." Nice.

p.224 "It was not the fault of Dantès, but of God who, while limiting the power of man, has created in him infinite desires!" Way to blame it on the big man, Alexandre.

Chapter 26: Begins "Those who have walked across the south of France, as I have done..." Here the narrator = I = Dumas (he loved to travel). Makes me think every royal we = Dumas + Maquet the ghostwriter... Muy interesante.

p.243 "... from the inn which we have just briefly (but accurately) described." Cheeky again, but the we makes me one if Maquet wrote the sentence (to get the plot moving on) and Dumas added the parenthetical remark?? The idea of two narrators reminds me of Nabokov's Ada.

Also, noticed how the we's and I's signal shifts in the narrative (moving from summary to action or vice versa). the we's may disapear during the action, but if you drill down, the narrator(s) is still there. E.g. the massive assumption/prejudice evidence in "Like all Southerners, he was moderate..." (p.244).

Chapter 27: Another recap chapter, but useful in what was originally a serial.

p.260 Caderousse: "The secret of happiness and misery is between four walls..."


Sweet. Time to check on the casserole.

No comments: