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?