If you’ve been around these parts for some time, you may remember my participation in the War and Peace Newbies Readalong last year. I didn’t actually finish the book (I still haven’t, ok?) but I enjoyed the hell out of myself reading War and Peace and doing weekly summary posts of what had went down in Russia in the chapters I’d read that week. This summer brings Laura from Reading In Bed‘s 2018 readalong pick which is Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo – you may have seen my sign-up post last week – which is the book I am officially reading over the next six weeks.
I have a fancy reading progress spreadsheet with which you can track my progress down to the very page, and I’m also updating periodically on Goodreads and via Twitter, using the hashtag #TheFullMonte. However, I will also be continuing the tradition and doing weekly summary posts in which I recap how what has happened in the book in the past week’s chapters and how I feel about the story so far.
Week One brought with it the first 20 chapters of The Count of Monte Cristo, starting with the oh so excitingly titled ‘Marseille – Arrival’ and ending with ‘The Graveyard of Château d’If’ which, I think we can all agree, is something of a morbid downer. Let’s take a peek at what happened in my usual overly long and slapdash (but not at all comprehensive) manner…
- We open in Marseille, with a ship arriving, on-board which stands “a young man, alert and sharp-eyed, supervising every movement of the ship and repeating each of the pilot’s commands” – I’ve read enough literature to know this is an Important Person and likely the Hero of the story but let’s see…
- Thankfully Dumas doesn’t leave us hanging for long and lets us know “He was a young man of between eighteen and twenty, tall, slim, with fine dark eyes and ebony-black hair. His whole demeanour possessed the calm and resolve peculiar to men who have been accustomed from childhood to wrestle with danger.” What did I say? Looks like we have our Big Damn Hero.
- However, it turns out, all is not well on-board because Captain Leclère has in fact died in not at all suspicious circumstances (apoplectic fever) during the journey. How awful!
- The shipowner Monsieur Morrel takes an important moment to philosophise that “We are all mortal. The old must give way to the young, or else there would be no progress or promotion.” – presumably this will be a recurring theme or motif in the rest of the book…
- Rather than dwelling overlong on the unfortunate and sudden death of his ship’s captain, Morrel just seems mightily concerned that the cargo is fine though. Which it is… so you can stop asking about it dude.
- Not everyone seems so happy about Dantès stepping up to the plate and commanding the ship, though, least of all the supercargo Monsieur Danglars… though it’s clearly a case of sour grapes because, as Dumas describes him on first meeting, he was “obsequious towards his superiors and insolent to his subordinates […] was generally as much disliked by the crew as Dantès was loved by them”. Boy, this is a guy who’s never heard the whole ‘If you want to know what a man’s like take a look how he treats his inferiors’ speech.
- After making sure the boat is moored and shit (I’m not au fait with seafaring terminology, can you tell?), Dantès goes off to visit his father and also his girlfriend, but father first because my boy has his priorities right.
- Dantès’ dad tells him that the money he left him to live on before he went off to sea ran out and, with some basic maths, Dantès is surprised that his father lived on 60 francs for three months because he had had to pay 140 francs to clear a debt Dantès owed to his father’s neighbour, Caderousse. I’m not sure why the maths needs to be so obviously spelt out but this is Dumas so I’m still assuming that the slightly inaccurate joke about Dumas being paid by the line is to blame for these overlong conversational interludes.
- Entirely unrelated side note: I can’t help it, in my head I call Caderousse Scaramouche. And Danglars is pronounced not at all French, so I do say the ‘s’ in my head… and sometimes he goes by Dangles anyway.
- Meanwhile, whilst everyone else is singing Dantès’ praise, Caderousse and Danglars are having a good ol’ bitch about him because… they’re jealous, I presume. They hope he doesn’t make captain because “otherwise there will be no talking to him” once that happens
- But like the scheming gossips that they are, Caderousse and Danglars are all ‘hmmm did you notice Dantès’ girl Mercedes is hanging out with her “cousin” quite closely’ ‘Ooo really? Drama!’ ‘Want to go watch it all blow up?’ ‘God yes, I’ll bring the popcorn, you bring the wine’. I’m not even embellishing it, that’s basically what they do, they sit in the bushes nearby and drink and watch it kick off. But then it gets a bit more serious and life-ruin-y so that’s a shame…
- Just as it was easy to identify that the tall drink of water standing on the ship dramatically staring off into the distance would be our Hero, I think it’s safe to assume that the hot Catalan lady described here is Mercedes. I mean… really… “A lovely young girl with jet-black hair and the velvet eyes of a gazelle […] her arms, naked to the elbow, arms that were tanned but otherwise seemed modelled on those of the Venus of Arles […] she was tapping the ground with her supple, well-made foot, revealing a leg that was shapely, bold and proud, but imprisoned in a red cotton stocking patterned in grey and blue lozenges.” I don’t know about you but if I were a heterosexual male I’d go weak in the knees for a gal with a shapely, bold and proud leg too. (How can a leg be ‘bold’ though?)
- We interrupt this ogling of Mercedes to bring you an observation: the narrative is doing this thing that makes me cackle unnecessarily every time it happens – why are we describing people’s ages in this fashion of “between twenty and twenty-two”… so probably 21 then? “a young man of between eighteen and twenty”… so probably 19 then? “a man, twenty-five to twenty-six years old” – just PICK an age, Dumas, and run with it!
- Back to Mercedes because… she hot… turns out this cousin, Fernand, wants to marry her and she’s all ‘nah thanks’ but, as he points out a rule that “Catalans only marry amongst ourselves”. Thankfully, Mercedes aint having any of this shit and is all…
- Fernand sees Mercedes’ valid point and, in a tactful manoeuvre that is sure to get her on-side, points out that her beloved Dantès could quite probably die at sea at some point. Smoooth…
- You know what is smooth though? Just as if he’s been waiting outside in the bushes for his cue, Dantès strides in all ‘my love, where are you? It is me, your beloved.’ Way to make an entrance, A++ Dantès.
- So Dantès and Mercedes play it like Parks and Rec’s Andy and April and host a dinner party at which they announce they’re actually going to get married that afternoon because who doesn’t love a surprise wedding? Well, as it turns out, the police don’t love a surprise wedding because they break up that party to arrest Dantès which is awkward because you can’t really have a wedding without the two people who are getting married…
- Apparently Dantès has been accused (by Fernand but he doesn’t know that so shhh) of being a Bonapartist traitor because when Captain Leclère realised he was dying, he made him promise to deliver a package to General Someone-or-other on the island of Elba (where Napoleon is conveniently exiled too) and deliver a letter from the same island to Someone in Paris. Caderousse knows that Danglars and Fernand drunkenly set this whole thing up but, whilst Dantès is being arrested, he’s just like…
- The deputy prosecutor Villefort talks to Dantès and is like ‘well let’s have a look at this letter you had for the person in Paris and see how fucked you are’… and then he not at all suspiciously takes one look at who the intended recipient was and burns it. Though he promises to help… I think.
- (Spoiler alert: the letter was to his dad, Noirtier, who is anti-royalist, so you know it’d probably look Bad with a capital ‘B’ and probably be career kryptonite for Villefort himself.)
- So then Dantès ends up in prison, obviously, and is then transferred to an island fortress and taken into the dungeons because apparently thinking you shouldn’t be in prison and petitioning to speak to the governor and then getting angry and frustrated at your current lot in life when you’re in prison is a sign of going mad.
- We leave our hero in prison for a moment to visit King Louis XVIII and I’m sure this would be significant if I knew the first thing about French history but my historical knowledge in general is… shaky, at best. Anyway Dandre (the minister of police) arrives to ask Louis if he’d happened to read his report yet. In a masterstroke Louis is all ‘well I did, but the duke here can’t find the report so you’d better tell this idiot what was in it’… clever… I see what you did there.
- Soooo… this is awkward, they have to tell Louis that Napoleon has slipped past them even though they were meant to be keeping an eye on him and making sure he stayed exiled on Elba. Understandably, Louis is a bit miffed…
- Whilst Villefort is in Paris to see the king, he and his dad have a chin wag. Turns out Noirtier is one funny dude “the king! I thought him enough of a philosopher to realize that there is no such thing as murder in politics. You know as well as I do, my dear boy, that in politics there are no people, only ideas; no feelings, only interests. In politics, you don’t kill a man, you remove an obstacle, that’s all”. Yeah, sure cool cool cool it’s still murder though.
- Noirtier observes that he knew where his son would be staying so that proves his side’s spies are damn good and Villefort has to begrudgingly admit that that’s true. What’s the secret to having good informants? Well, Noirtier dishes the dirt…
“Heavens, it’s simple enough. You people, who hold power, have only what can be bought for money; we, who are waiting to gain power, have what is given out of devotion.”
“Devotion?” Villefort laughed.
“Yes, devotion. That is the honest way to describe ambition when it has expectations.”
- For some reason, Villefort tells his papa that he’s heard that the police are looking for a guy who suspiciously matches his father’s description, right down to the facial hair. Obviously his dad just changes his coats and shaves is like ‘ok thanks son bye bye’. This just in: Villefort is an idiot.
- Not only is Villefort an idiot, Monsieur Morrel (the shipowner, remember him?) petitions Villefort to please help Dantès out of prison so the deputy prosecutor gets Morrel to write a plea to the Minister of Justice asking for his release and Villefort promises to stamp it with his seal and send it for him because, you know, he’s an important guy and his backing will mean a lot. Morrel just trots off trusting Villefort’s word that he’ll send the plea out asap, what a beautiful idiot this man is…
- Then we have the Hundred Days and Waterloo (you know, that important battle?) and we’ve had two major upheavals in power and the government, meanwhile Dantès is still just (not) chilling in prison.
- Meanwhile, back at the ranch… Dumas takes the opportunity to throw some shaaade: an inspector and the governor tour the prison and discuss Dantès’ unfortunate descent into madness:
” ‘Well so much the better for him… When he is altogether mad, he will suffer less.’ As you can see, this inspector was a man of the utmost humanity and altogether worthy of the philanthropic office with which he had been entrusted.”
- In a show of his philanthropic tendencies, the inspector points out that Dantès has only been in prison for 17 months. Because, of course, that’s hardly any time at all when you’re falsely imprisoned for a crime you didn’t commit.
- We are introduced to another “mad prisoner”, the Abbé Faria, an Italian priest who is also imprisoned in the dungeons of d’If on account of how insane he is. He starts petitioning to be released and promises the inspector a not-so-small fortune if he does release him. Everyone’s like ‘lol he’s clearly insane’ but I, for one, cannot wait until Dumas reveals he does have the dolla dolla after all.
- Meanwhile Dantès is working through the stages of grief when he realises he won’t be released soon – we have bargaining, and denial, and then he turns to religion… and then to suicide. But, so says the novel, Dantès is loath to hang himself because it reminds him of pirates strung up on a gibbet… so clearly starvation is the only other option available to him. That proves trickier than he thought, though, because his mind keeps warring with how much life he could have ahead of him if he doesn’t starve himself to death.
- Like all desperate prisoners, Dantès starts digging a hole in the wall of his prison cell but he realises the abbé has also been digging a hole too. They quickly become friends because of shared interests (digging holes to escape) and the abbé helps him to realise that, examining all the evidence, Danglars was probably the one who framed him. Omg waaaaat…
- I know, I know, but the handwriting of the denunciation wasn’t Danglars’, how could it possibly be so? Well, obviously he wrote it with his left hand and as, the wise abbé tells us all, “while all handwriting written with the right hand varies, all that done with the left looks the same” (riiiiight) so… how does that mean it’s definitely Danglars then?
- We know it’s Danglars though so no need for the narrative to dwell on that… instead, the abbé and Dantès become the best of friends and he begins tutoring him in many things. Dantès picks up speaking 3 languages within 6 months because of course he does (pls share your secrets… oh… right… you’re in prison with nothing else to do)
- It’s not just about school though, they also concoct an escape plan and it all goes a bit Great Escape
- Quite inconveniently, the abbé has paralysing fits every so often which makes the prospect of his escape from a prison fortress in the middle of the sea slightly unlikely, especially when one of these fits leaves one of his arms and one of his legs paralysed. Because the abbé is (rightfully) worried that the next of these fits could kill him, he imparts his Big Secret on Dantès and tells him about the island of Monte Cristo where this huge fortune is located in a specific cave. Sounds legit.
- Now that he has imparted this secret, and taught Dantès some philosophy and history and languages and stuff, the abbé has served his purpose and can die. So he does.
- Now he dead, and the governor and guards check his cell and yep he’s definitely dead so they put him in a sack and Dantès (who is listening from the hidden tunnel they dug between their cells) can’t seem to work out why they’d be putting the abbé’s body in a sack. Umm…
- Obviously, Dantès concocts a flawless scheme to get into the sack instead of the dead body because that would be a great way to escape the prison. Yeah… maybe don’t… they’re gonna throw the weighted-down sack into the sea of this sea-surrounded island fortress, you beautiful idiot.
- Yep, they threw him tied in the sack, weighted down with a cannonball, into the sea aka the graveyard of the Chateau d’if (ha) aaaand that’s the end of the chapters for this week, talk about a predicament and a cliffhanger…
Well that was a wild ride, wasn’t it? That’s all for Week 1 (aka chapters 1 – 20) folks, join me same place, same time, next week to discover what goes down in the next 20 chapters. Until then, remember: maybe don’t get into sacks intended for dead bodies.