The Full Monte Read-Along Chapters 1-20: Edmond Dantès’ Right to Due Process
If you have trouble maneuvering your ship into port at Marseilles, steer yourself over to the master post.
The Count of Monte Cristo is best known as a story of revenge. But for the first 200ish pages, our boy Dantès doesn’t have a vengeful thought in his head. Or many other thoughts. He’s just a good-looking, lucky kid, on the cusp of gaining all the money, status, and love he could ever want.
This week, we read up to chapter 20, a totally arbitrary cut-off, but one that worked out wonderfully well. We follow golden boy Dantès until his arrest on trumped up charges, then we follow the conspirators, and the prosecutor who ensures he will stay in jail indefinitely, then we get back to Dantès in jail, and we stop right when it seems his escape is about to be foiled – though we know he must escape, because we still have 1,000 pages to go.
So far, Rick’s prediction that there may not be a lot to “discuss” seems apt. I don’t have an overarching theme to expound on, or a pop culture parallel to draw. So, here are my disjointed observations on this novella-length introduction to Edmond’s story.
Due Process for Dantès
Having read The Black Tulip in the warm-up round (check out my video review!), I’m struck by how both stories kick off with young men facing life imprisonment, with no due process, after being falsely accused by people who were just jealous.
Were these convenient plot devices, or was he trying to say something about contemporary social conditions? I don’t know enough about what was happening in 1840s France to comment. But as a modern reader, I can’t help but draw parallels to the due process moment we are having, both in the small world of CanLit (“Steven Galloway’s Right to Due Process” was the open letter that launched a thousand scandals; listen to one or both of these recent episodes of Canadaland for a great intro) and in the larger entertainment world via #metoo.
Obviously, the accusations and conditions are very different, but Edmond Dantès was ruined by anonymous accusations cooked up by jealous conspirators – just the sort of thing (*not all*) men in the literary and larger world seem so anxious about today…
Edmond and his haters
And speaking of jealousy, it strikes me that Dantès doesn’t really have all the much to be jealous of. I went in thinking he would be this arrogant asshole, calling attention to himself, attracting the ire of those around him. But he’s just a sort of clueless guy, who’s coming into a modest amount of status, money, and love. He just happens to have the exact status that Danglars wants, and the exact girl that Fernand wants. (Caderousse seems to be just a general hater.)
For all that he’s surrounded by haters, Dantès doesn’t even fathom that people were jealous of him until it’s pointed out by his father-figure abbé. Had he not met his friend in cell 27, Dantès would likely have languished in his cell for decades. It makes me wonder if we’ll eventually learn that Dantès was not suited for those things that (almost) fell into his lap – would such a passive man make a good captain? On the other hand, when he needs to, Dantès shows great resourcefulness and bravery. Who is this guy, anyway?
Just like last year, I’m reading two translations, because I like to drive myself crazy. Exhibit one: the first description of Dantès is translated like this in Project Gutenburg:
He was a fine, tall, slim young fellow of eighteen or twenty, with black eyes, and hair as dark as a raven’s wing; and his whole appearance bespoke that calmness and resolution peculiar to men accustomed from their cradle to contend with danger.
And like this in the Penguin Classics edition, translated by Robin Buss:
He was a young man of between eighteen and twenty, tall, slim, with fine dark eyes and ebony-black hair. His whole demeanor possessed the calm and resolve peculiar to men who have been accustomed from childhood to wrestle with danger.
And like so in the Oxford World Classics, which I thought was the same as the anonymous translation found on Project Gutenburg:
He was a fine, tall, slim young fellow, with black eyes, and hair as dark as a raven’s wing; and his whole appearance bespoke that calmness and resolution peculiar to men accustomed from their cradle to contend with danger.
So…. is he 18-20? Did one translator add his age, or did one remove it? Luckily, my reading-the-back-of-cereal-boxes French is good enough to verify:
C’était un jeune homme de dix-huit à vingt ans, grand, svelte, avec de beaux yeux noirs et des cheveux d’ébène; il y avait dans toute sa personne cet air calme et de résolution particulier aux hommes habitués depuis leur enfance à lutter avec le danger.
So, the Buss seems the most literal, and I’m struggling to understand why the Oxford removed Dantès’ age. Arg! Guess I better continue my Duo Lingo French lessons so I can read this in the original one day.
Well, friends, please don’t falsely accuse me of not trying my best with this first recap. We sure ended on a cliffhanger; how the heck is Dantès gonna get out of this one?
Ah, translations… Dont get me started!! Anyway, I’m reading the Robin Buss as well, because as far as I could tell (my French isn’t what it used to be), it’s quite true to the original. And as for the first 20 chapters: I really like how Dumas just cant be bothered to explain stuff. We know Danglars and Edmond had a ‘trifling dispute’ but thats all the details we are given for an incident without which we probably wouldnt have a story. And I have to say I didnt remember Edmond as being quite such a dumbnut :-). But the book is great, I had to force myself to stop after chpt. 20…
That’s so true! No backstory on Mercedes, no backstory on any of the conspirators… we probably get the most background on Villeforte.
Thank you for letting me know that the incident between Danglers and Dante was never explained. This entire time, I thought that I’d somehow missed the dispute or hadn’t put it together and it was driving me crazy.
I managed to get really behind with the read-a-long on the first week… typical. I had a manic weekend, but I’ve managed to get through the first ten chapters so far, so I’ll finish up tomorrow and then post.
I really like it so far though, and I agree that Dantes is a lot more likeable than I’d expected!
I went to this not knowing anything about the story, so it didn’t strike me as odd that Dantes was nice and clueless in the beginning. The first several chapters or so, I learned more about French history than anything. It was fascinating, but not the adventure story that I’d anticipated. Then, the story obviously picked up quickly with Dantes’ imprisonment. I similarly wondered if the events were merely plot devices or social commentary. The inconsistency of Dantes’ character didn’t occur to me until you pointed it out, but it is true. Sometimes he comes off as inconceivably, yet, adorably naive, but that isn’t consistent with someone who was going to be made Captain at 19.
His character is even more mysterious now, in the next batch of chapters. I have no idea what to make of this guy!
Yes! The further I get into the book, the more mysterious he becomes. Maybe that’s the idea, though? I think the mystery of his character is meant to be part of the romance. I hope that idea is that, as readers, we eventually understand him.
I have a ‘get rich quick’ scheme for you; these read-along posts could be re-formatted as a cliff notes to these classic books, and you could make a fortune selling them to college students who don’t want to read the whole book. You’re welcome! LOL
Haha Anne! Except if I find a part boring I just leave it out. I leave out A LOT.
lol you and the rest of the world! I wouldn’t worry about that
I’m listening to the audiobook (Bill Homewood reading), and it has taken me a while to catch up, but I’m engrossed now. Thank you for the motivation to listen to something completely different from my heavily nonfiction diet.
I see the young Dantès as someone who just expects everyone around him to be motivated by good intentions, which is why he’s a popular leader. People tend to rise to the occasion in such an environment. But, as Danglars shows, not everyone does. Edmond’s honourable treatment of the abbé suggests his essential goodness has remained intact despite enormous injustice, but I gather that will be tested.
Oh my god, how many hours is the audio?? And I wonder which translation. I think you’re right about Dantes and he’s being tested and found a bit wanting at the moment!