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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The friends of today are the enemies of tomorrow.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
The Count of Monte Cristo is a tale of romance, adventure, vengeance, sorrow, and redemption. Our story begins with a young sailor named Edmond Dantes in Marseilles, a city in southern France. Edmond is kind, generous, loves his father and his bride-to-be more than anything in the world, and has just been promoted by his boss, Monsieur Morrel. Everything seems to be going his way. While he is on leave between voyages, he is to be married, and his friends and family flock to the pre-nuptial feast. On the very moment he is about to leave for the church with his blushing bride, Mercedes, however, he is arrested and accused of Bonapartist activities. We as readers (and in this case, omniscients) know that three men (Caderousse, a greedy neighbor of Edmond's; Danglars, the ship's mate, who is jealous that he was passed over by Morrel in favor of Edmond; and Fernand, Mercedes' cousin who loves her passionately and wishes Edmond's death if it means he can be with her) made a pact to mail a letter revealing Edmond's supposed revolutionary activities. Edmond did, in fact, deliver letters on the orders of M. Morrel (who was in, fact, a Bonapartist) but he was unaware the extent of the letters and was, on the whole, blameless. We think at first that the procureur du roi (kind of like the D.A. of the time), Villefort, will be sympathetic to Edmond, as he has just come from his own wedding. It turns out (in an evil twist of fate) that Villefort's father has been implicated in the letters that Edmond received after stopping on Elba, and in order to cover up this heinous shame, Villefort condemns Edmond to the Chateau D'If, an infamous prison just off the shore of Marseilles. Edmond is imprisoned for over a decade, without even knowing the particulars of how or why he was accused. He despairs and almost kills himself by starvation, but meets a man, the Abbé Faria (a fellow inmate) by digging a tunnel and intercepting his. They hoped to escape, but their attempts are thwarted by various natural obstacles in the foundation of the prison. They maintain a great friendship, however, and the Abbé teaches Edmond all about literature and science and everything a sailor of the time would have no reason to know. The Abbé talks of a mysterious treasure that he has discovered, but Edmond (like everyone else) believes the Abbé is mad. He is finally convinced one of the last few times he sees the Abbé, and the Abbé informs him that he is dying. He suffers several strokes, and Edmond is able to save him with a few drops of a potion the Abbé created, but the last one is too much, and the Abbé dies. Edmond is heartstricken at the death of his only friend. In a deft maneuver, however, he switches places with the Abbé's body and sews himself into the sack meant for the Abbé, planning to dig his way out of the grave and escape to freedom. To his horror, the men who remove the body pitch him off a cliff with a cannon tied to his legs, chuckling about the sea being the grave of the Chateau D'If. Edmond manages to extricate his legs and escape notice due to the darkness. He swims to shore and encounters a fishing boat. He serves as a pirate in their smuggling crew until he manages to get himself shored on the Isle of Monte Cristo. He discovers his treasure and returns home to Marseilles, swearing vengeance against Danglars, Fernand, and Villefort (he found out in prison that they were responsible for his imprisonment). He finds, much to his horror, that his father has died of starvation, poverty stricken. Mercedes is gone. The story picks up again with Edmond (now styled the Count of Monte Cristo) in Rome, where he meets Albert de Morcerf (Mercedes' son with Fernand) and Franz D'Épinay, a friend of Albert's. They enjoy carnivale, Albert gets himself captured by Italian bandits, and the Count gets Albert freed because he's an old pal of the head of the bandits, Luigi Vampa. The Count and Albert become friends, and the Count hatches a number of plots to bring down the men who wronged him. It's a long story (and I won't share all the details) but Fernand kills himself out of shame when it becomes known that he was a traitor to France while fighting in Turkey (for a man who turns out to have been the father of Haydée, the Count's "slave"/ward) and after his wife and son leave him. The Count was going to fight Albert and kill him (when Albert found out that his father was accused of treason by the Count) but then the Count was going to lose on purpose (aka die) because Mercedes begged for his mercy (and she was the only one who recognized him from the get-go) but then Albert apologizes for challenging the Count when he realizes that his dad is basically a total tool. Danglars abandons his wife after his daughter runs off to pursue her singing career after his daughter almost married a man who turned out to be a thief and a murderer and who was actually (DUN DUN DUN) Villefort's son with Danglars' wife through an illicit affair. They don't realize this until the man, Benedetto, is on trial for murdering Caderousse (after he and Caderousse tried to rob and kill the Count - big mistake). Oh, and the Count basically bankrupted Danglars, so Danglars peaced out with the receipt from the Count and planned to make bank and leave the hospital (who was going to receive 5 million francs from Danglars) penniless. But of course the Count makes him pay by getting his Roman bandit friends to capture Danglars and starve him until he paid all the money back for food and then finally the Count reveals himself to Danglars and Danglars escapes with 5000 francs and gets to live because the Count is feeling a little over-vengeancy at that point. Oh, and Villefort's wife (it turns out, unrelated to the Count's vengeance agenda) has been poisoning his entire family (successfully killing Villefort's former mother-in-law (his first wife died) and father-in-law and his father's servant, and HE THINKS, his daughter Valentine, who the new wife didn't like because she was her stepdaughter, and we all know how stepmothers hate their stepdaughters when large amounts of money are involved that could be going to their darling little sons named Edward) and when Villefort tries to make her pay after he finds out by telling her she better kill herself before he throws her in jail, he goes to court only to have it revealed that Benedetto, the murderer and thief and almost hubby of Eugénie Danglars (he was called Andrea Cavalcanti and everyone thought he was a prince (thanks to the Count of course)) is his illegitimate son. Crazed, shamed, dishonored, and potentially in legal trouble, Villefort returns home, only to find the Count there (who reveals himself in another AHA moment) and his wife and son Edward dead at her hand. The Count is kind of horrified by the level of trauma at the Villeforts, though he secretly helped Valentine fake her death to save her life - and did I mention that the Count saved the Morrels from bankruptcy way back when and M. Morrel's son Maximilian and daughter Julie and her husband Emmanuel are the only people the Count loves and who love the count and that Maximilian falls deeply, madly, hopelessly in love with Valentine but she's engaged to Franz D'Épinay, and she only gets out of the marriage when Noirtier (Villefort's dad, Valentine's grandfather) [who happens to have suffered a stroke and speaks only through a series of blinks] reveals to Franz that he KILLED FRANZ's father back when Noirtier was a badass Bonapartist (but the death was from a duel of honor, not an ambush, like Franz thought). Oh, but then Maximilian thinks Valentine is dead (only the Count and Noirtier know) and he is sooooo sad and the Count keeps telling him to give him a month and then when he thinks he's dying because the Count offered to help him commit suicide (but really it's just a perception-altering hallucinogen, of which the Count has many), the Count reveals Valentine to him on the Isle of Monte Cristo and they stroll on the beach and Haydée reveals that she Loooves the Count and the Count decides maybe he doesn't have to die now that his vengeance is over and they disappear into the sunset.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

WHEW! That was exhausting! Well. Now I know for SURE what is in the unabridged version. I am glad that I got the full experience, though 1462 pages is quite a lot to take in. I think it would have been a real thrill to read it in serial form as it was originally published, but alas, it was not to be.

Have you read the complete version? See here for my notes on a comedy of errors...

I loved this book, though I admit I did balk at the sheer enormity of the tome. I liked Edmond, and Dumas is truly a craftsman when it comes to merging descriptions and imagery with swashbuckle and romance. Ultimately, I got a little mired down by all of Edmond's various plots to complete his vengeance, and I felt that the three separate reveals to his accusers were a little much. But then again, the whole book has a very over-the-top adventure feel to it, so I shouldn't have been surprised.

Since the book is so long (and there really are a lot of great parts that I don't want to ruin for you if you haven't read the unabridged version - which, apparently, you probably haven't, since they don't sell it in that many places and the average book store thinks you CAN'T HANDLE IT) I'll share my feelings in a few choice quotes.

This one is from a conversation between Edmond and the Abbé Faria, toward the beginning of the book:

Edmond: "If you thus surpassed all mankind while but a prisoner, what would you not have accomplished free?"
Dantes: "Possibly nothing at all; -the overflow of my brain would probably, in a state of freedom, have evaporated in a thousand follies; it needs trouble and difficulty and danger to hollow out various mysterious and hidden mines of human intelligence."

I thought this was a fascinating concept, but also quite poetic. I'm not sure whether imprisonment would drive me to moments of brilliance or sheer insanity, but I suppose when one is imprisoned alone and when one is fully aware of one's innocence of any crime, the situation is rather different. Also, I think I probably could have handled 19th century prison better than I would handle the prison of today. What do you think? Not that I'm planning to go to prison or anything, but Edmond wasn't really planning on it, either.

Edmond to Mercedes: "From good-natured, confiding, and forgiving, I became revengeful, cunning, and wicked, or rather immovable as fate."

What would you do if three people in your life - not necessarily friends, but acquaintances who didn't really seem like they had any beef with you - just up and accused you of a crime, and you not only got arrested, but you were jailed for 14 years afterward? Would you be able to come out with a heart of forgiveness? Or would you let the rage fester and find a way to make them pay, like Edmond did? I like to think I would find a way to forgive them, but I really don't know if I could - especially if the deal included losing the one I loved and my closest kin.

I think the really heartwrenching thing about this novel is when Edmond starts to question the extent to which he's playing God. He truly believes that he is acting on the behalf of Providence for a large portion of the vengeance gig, but after Villefort's son and wife die, he seems a little overwhelmed. I mean, I guess after the three men ruined his life, he feels he has the right to ruin theirs, but he ruined at least 5 lives, where they only tampered with one. I don't know; I get the whole maligned feeling Edmond channels during his vengeance, but I don't know how he is so driven by vengeance and devoid of love and real happiness. How much of his life did he spend ruining the lives of others? How much good could he have done in his own life and other people's lives instead? Maybe no one wants to read that book.

I'll close with this quote from the Abbé to Edmond, after the Abbé has helped Edmond to piece together the details of how he came to be imprisoned: "Is there anything I can assist you in discovering, besides the villainy of your friends?"

Adieu! I encourage you to tackle the unabridged version, just remember to bring your stamina and your patience for intricate, incestuous plots. I'm on to North of Purgatory. Or something like that. ;)

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