Bonsoir mes amis et bienvenue sur le blog pour la deuxième semaine du ‘Le Comte de Monte Cristo’.
Ok, that officially exhausts all my French language knowledge. For those unaware of the reason for my (frankly shoddy) French, I am currently taking part in Laura from Reading In Bed‘s 2018 summer readalong for Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. We’ve reached Week Two which meant joining the Count in chapters 21 through to 40, and boy what a ride it was – we had sailors, bandits, hash (not kidding), carnivals, public execution, and some important conversations too.
To catch up, check out my sign-up post and my week one update which contained a “summary” of the first twenty chapters of the book. You can also see how I’m doing (or not doing) every single day, by checking out my reading progress spreadsheet and I’m also updating periodically in a Twitter thread, using the hashtag #TheFullMonte.
At the end of Week One, we left Dantès in a rather precarious situation as he was sinking in the sea with a cannonball strapped to him. Suffice it to say, he survived, and the last section has been something of a transformation, along with a spot of cultural appropriation for good measure because why not. Would it really be a 19th century novel if it didn’t? But let’s take a peek at what happened in my usual overly long and slapdash (but not at all comprehensive) manner…
- We open with Dantès being rather logical about the fact he’s SINKING into the sea. He’s chill and simply cuts himself free from the cannonball he’s tied to and swims to the surface. Luckily, he is an expert swimmer, in fact “[they] often proclaimed him the most accomplished swimmer in Marseille”. Surprise surprise, Dantès has a talent that had not been mentioned up until the very moment it was needed… I mean, seriously, he has the skill set needed to escape an island fortress and that feels like info we could have used a couple of chapters ago?
- However good of a swimmer he is though, he’s still in the middle of the sea, but handily some sailors are passing by. Oh no, their boat is damaged in a storm and they all die! (Mourn them quick because Dumas doesn’t dwell on that for too long.)
- Another ship comes by (this time, smugglers) and Dantès calls for their help, pretending that he was a Maltese seaman, the only survivor of the ship he previously saw wrecked. Clever, very clever.
- Obviously this random crew of smugglers believe him because everyone seems to trust everyone in this novel for no apparent reason. (Or maybe the modern world has just made me very cynical?) He also offers up his SKILLZ at navigation (see what I mean about his convenient skill set?) so they take him in and he becomes one of the gang because EVERYONE LOVES HIM. The smuggler captain is even suspicious at one point because he sees a puff of smoke signal from the prison to say they have an escaped convict but he doesn’t really care if Dantès is the escaped prisoner because… he doesn’t care. He likes him SO MUCH he’s like ‘dayum, it’s a shame I don’t have a daughter because it’d be great if she married Dantès and then he could be my successor’.
- At some point Dantès takes time away from being loved and gets a haircut and a trim to his bear and then looks at himself so that us readers are treated to a nice description of him. Guess what? He Longbottomed. I know no one is surprised by this.
- Anyway, the smugglers need a neutral place to ditch some goods and do deals and stuff and, surprise surprise, they sail by Monte Cristo. How very convenient for the story that they should choose to land there! I’m almost convinced Dantès was Derren Brown-ing it and putting suggestions into their heads. I mean, whilst you’re at it, use your powers of suggestion to hypnotise people why don’t you?
- They land on Monte Cristo but Dantès has reservations about how obviously keen he was to land here and he’s worried the smuggler gang will be too observant for him to be able to find the hidden caves. (Remember, the caves where the old mad abbé said there was gold?) He needs an excuse to explore so (obviously) he tells them he wants to go goat hunting. Well, who doesn’t want to go goat hunting if there was prime goat hunting opportunities on Monte Cristo?
- Turns out goat hunting isn’t without its risks though and Dantès loses his footing on slippy rocks and falls, hurting his back really quite badly. The smugglers are aghast and try to help him but he’s all ‘go on without me, sAVE YOURSELVES!!!’.
- Spoiler alert: Dantès was faking so he could get them to leave, and as soon as they’re out of sight he’s like ahahaha can’t believe they fell for that
- “He hurried down, but cautiously, deeply fearing that he might, at such a moment, have a real accident like the one he had so cleverly and successfully pretended to have” (228) – ok, here’s the thing, not to burst Dantès’ bubble but it’s not so much that he’s a great actor, it’s that the people around him are just super gullible
- Dantès applies some basic principles of physics and leverage to try to move a heavy boulder from in front of a cave… and when that doesn’t yield results he just blows that shit up instead. It yields results and, what do you know, it turns out the treasure is real!! Who could have possibly predicted this wacky turn of events?
- He has a moment of being all Will Turner, obsessed with treasure, the rubies and diamonds and gold but then Dantès buys himself the best boat money can buy
- Meanwhile, Jacopo has done Dantès a solid and checked in on Papa Dantès and Mercedes back in Marseille for him. Unfortunately, Papa is dead and Mercedes has vanished so that’s awkward. Dantès goes to Marseille himself to check it’s true and it’s all a bit real and serious for a second – this is not what I wanted.
- Do you remember Papa Dantès neighbour Scaramouche/Caderousse (who used to be a tailor apparently and clearly I just missed that entirely first time round)? Well, he has since sold up and opened up an inn, a failing one at that (hahaha unlucky). Dantès drops by the inn, dressed as an abbé because, sure, why not?
- Caderousse tells him all about how poor he is, at length, because you’d obviously tell the intimate details of your financial situation to basically a complete stranger
- Direct quote from Caderousse: ” ‘… it is not enough to be honest to prosper in this world.’ The abbé stared hard at him.” Even whilst in disguise, Dantès can’t help but be like ‘mmhmm bitch please’. (246)
- Abbé Dantès pretends that, on his death bed, Dantès gave him a diamond to share amongst his five friends (Caderousse, Mercedes, Danglars, Fernand, and Papa Dantès) so he asks him for some information about these people. I don’t know about you, but I’d be wary of some kind of phishing scheme, but Caderousse is like ‘nope, seems legit’. His wife, on the other hand, is all ‘don’t be an idiot, don’t say anything’ but, of course, Caderousse IS an idiot so he says everything.
- During Caderousse’s storytime, he tells him how Papa Dantès died and obviously Abbé Dantès is very moved and emotionally invested in this random man’s death which Caderousse doesn’t find suspicious at all.
- Caderousse asserts that he was deeply sorry for not speaking up when he realised Danglars and Fernand’s joke wasn’t a joke after all and they denounced Dantès as a traitor. Apparently Danglars had persuaded Caderousse that if Dantès turned out to be guilty after all then he would be considered an accomplice if he tried to speak out in Dantès’ favour. I’m… not sure that’s how law works but… ok…
- Now, I’m in a right pickle because I just don’t know whether to believe Caderousse is innocent because, I mean, Danglars and Fernand are clearly despicable but Scaramouche? He’s just a drunken idiot, no?
- Caderousse provides Dantès/the readers with a convenient progress report on how the ol’ gang is doing nowadays: Danglars got rich, as did Fernand, and they’reboth important nobility or whatever. Mercedes married Fernand but doesn’t seem that happy about it (convenient that). Abbé Dantès rewards Caderousse for his honesty/information by saying that the diamond was to be shared amongst Dantès’ friends but he’s the only one that seems like a true friend so he should take it for himself. Again, that doesn’t seem AT ALL suspicious.
- Dantès switches masks (metaphorically) and pretends now to be an Englishman. He asks the mayor of Marseille for information on how Morrel is doing lately. Dumas takes this opportunity to take a swing at the English (I think): “he bowed and left, making his way towards the street in question with that stride which is peculiar to the natives of Great Britain” (267) Apparently us Brits have ‘a walk’?
- Dantès next pays a visit to the minister of prisons to look at the records for Chateau d’If’s prisoners, pretending to be a former student of the crazy ol’ abbé who wanted to know more about his former master. Really, it’s all a ploy to look at his own record – the denunciation, the inspection notes – to piece together the evidence of what actually happened to him when he was arrested and who is responsible.
- Under the guise of the Englishman of Thomson and French, he visits Morrel and Son to talk to the owner. Dumas, once again, is up to his usual shit of being indecisive about giving his characters an age – “On the staircase, they passed a beautiful girl of between sixteen and seventeen” – that’s a cue for a song if ever I heard one
- Morrel is horribly in debt obviously, but he still is rich in pearls of wisdom, and after a suggestion from the Englishman that he turn to his friends for help, Morrel elaborates “in business, Monsieur, as you very well know, one has no friends, only associates”. (278)
- Side note: you don’t often see the word ‘phlegmatic’ used, but when you do it’s apparently associated with us Brits again – “Phlegmatic though the Englishman was, a tear rose to his eye.” Stiff upper lip, man, don’t you know we have a reputation to protect! (279)
- Morrel has been pinning his hopes on the Phaeron returning but the ship has sunk. Conveniently, its sailors are still loyal to Morrel and reaffirm their loyalty in the face of complete ruin. However, the Englishman agrees to lengthen the terms of the payment to Thomson and French, giving Morrel another three months to pay up. Methinks a game is afoot…
- On his way out, the Englishman tells Morrel’s sixteen-or-maybe-seventeen year-old daughter, Julie, to wait for a letter signed by Sinbad the sailor and “Do precisely as this letter tells you, however strange its instructions may seem”. Well that sounds mightily reasonable, nothing suspicious there at all, no sir. (285)
- Side note: the Englishman also match-makes and is all “Stay always as good and virtuous as you are now [Julie] and I truly believe God will reward you by giving you Emmanuel as a husband” (285). She blushes because duh, Dantès is a matchmaker too now. This guy just has SO many talents.
- Remember those sailors loyal to Morrel? Yeah, they’re nowhere to be seen now. I wonder if they maybe possibly might have happened to sign on to sail on a ship with a captain called Sinbad the sailor? Do I presume too much??
- Meanwhile, the chapter gets real dark for a hot minute, as Morrel contemplates suicide because he knows he can’t pay his debts. He probably writes a will and locks himself away and cocks a pistol and, seriously guys, my heart was actually in my mouth because Morrel seems a good egg and what if the novel doesn’t save him in time???
- What am I saying… of course things work out in the nick of time. Julie gets a letter from Sinbad, just like he promised, and follows its instructions, finding a diamond for her trouble. And then, just like that, the Phaeron returns too!! And no one finds it in the least bit suspicious that they’re all saved from the brink of ruin!!
- Now the novel introduces some fella called Franz who fancies exploring Monte Cristo on the advice of some random Italian sailor who says ‘oh yeah, sometimes there are pirates and smugglers on the island who’d want to sink your ship but, it’s fine, I’ll go ask the smugglers over there if they’re going to rob us or not’. Franz just… trusts him because THAT’S WHAT EVERYONE IN THIS BOOK DOES!
- Obviously the smugglers is Dantès aka Sinbad the Sailor’s crew and Sinbad welcomes Franz to his cave of many treasures. I mean, it’s described as straight out of Arabian Nights, but the cave has a fucking dining room in it. It has a better basic layout than most people’s flats… and it’s a FUCKING CAVE, admittedly with gold but, you know. (There’s also a lot of cultural appropriation in his chapter, but unpacking that hot mess would require me to be sincere and… that’s not what this series is about.)
- Since Sinbad is a gracious host he lays out his finest hashish (only the best for his random guests) and Franz promptly gets off his tits on it. Seriously, read these sections of this book if nothing else – you will be uncomfortable and amused in equal measure. I think, but I’m not entirely certain, that Franz is so away with the fairies that he has a wank (well, he thinks he’s fucking statues/women but, you know) and then passes out once he’s finished.
- Friends, at this point, I must have stopped taking notes because I was so freaked out by the hashish section because, next thing I know, I have a note about Cucumetto, the fearsome bandit, and Luigi Vampa. I’ve definitely skipped over an entire section because I don’t know how Franz got from sexed out back to Rome, but it happened, so let’s just go with it. (I never promised my summaries would be comprehensive.)
- The section about Luigi Vampa is incredibly long and, if I’m honest, possibly the most boring section of the entire story which is quite a feat because it has BANDITS so it should be super exciting.
- Basically, there’s this urban legend of a fearsome bandit called Luigi Vampa and apparently he works the streets around where Franz and his pal Albert want to explore. Here’s the thing: at this point, I didn’t really care, the chapter had been so long and boring that I was just waiting impatiently for Albert and/or Franz to be held up at gunpoint by Vampa. But noooo, I had to wait. Ugh.
- In a feat of great planning, there’s a double execution planned for the day before Carnival – good way to attract a healthy crowd to watch, bravo. However, one of the two condemned men is pardoned just in the nick of time, something which Franz overheard two people discussing in the dead of night when he wandered off during a tour of the Colosseum. (He recognised Sinbad’s voice so I guess Sinbad is coming for Carnival too, he seems like the party sort.) Unfortunately, however, they don’t have good seats for the execution but it’s ok because their neighbour at the hotel they’re staying (the Count of Monte Cristo) has primo viewing spot and shares it with them. Shame there’s only one execution now, I guess.
- After the
party’s the after-party…execution is Carnival and it’s in full swing and sounds a HOOT. Albert has been making eyes at a girl and she invites him to meet her and they go off together just as all the candles lighting up the streets are blown out. That doesn’t sound at all suspicious, so Albert is all ‘don’t wait up for me, Franz’ so Franz ditches for the hotel. Albert doesn’t return so Franz naturally becomes somewhat suspicious that the woman was bait and this was a trap. No shit, Sherlock.
- It turns out the woman was Teresa (the woman from the Luigi Vampa story which I couldn’t be bothered recapping), and they’re kidnapping Albert for a ransom. Franz gets a ransom letter and obviously goes to his new friend the Count of Monte Cristo because he doesn’t have all the dolla needed for the ransom. However, as the Count recently helped one of Luigi’s band escape execution, he’s able to negotiate for Albert’s release and even get an apology for the inconvenience of being kidnapped from Luigi Vampa himself. SO CONVENIENT I HATE THIS BOOK.
- I think it was at this point that Franz finally spilled the beans and told Albert that he’d once got shitfaced on hash with the Count aka Sinbad the sailor in a cave on Monte Cristo. Albert doesn’t find this nearly as alarming as he ought to but then, it’s hard to be mad at the guy who saved you from what sounded like a rather civilised and pleasant kidnapping, all things considered.
- Sadly, all good things must come to an end, so before they part ways the Count of Monte Cristo promises to have breakfast with Albert in three months time at half past 10. Guess who shows up to breakfast three months later, to the very minute? The Count is nothing if not alarmingly punctual.
- Albert (who by the way is Fernand and Mercedes’ kid) introduces the Count to his pals and, over a nice breakfast conversation, they all pitch in to help get the Count set up in Paris. However, everything has already been taken care of, so their advice isn’t needed… maybe except for one area, the ladies: ” ‘… you have a household all ready: a mansion on the Champs-Elysees, servants, a butler; the only thing lacking is a mistress.’ […] ‘I have something better than that,’ Monte Cristo replied. ‘I have a slave. You hire your mistresses at the Theatre de l’Opera, at the Vaudeville, at the Varietes, I bought mine in Constantinople. She was more expensive, but I have no further worries on that score.’ ” … what.
- Friends, I’ll be honest with you, I was so alarmed by this sudden suggestion that Dantès bought a sex slave that I flat-out didn’t take any more notes. Seriously, this is apparently where my summary ends and, I presume, where their breakfast did too. But I’m sure they all promised to be firm friends whilst the Count was in Paris…
Aaand that’s it for this week! Once again, that proved to be a completely wild ride, didn’t it? That’s all for Week 2 (aka chapters 21-40) 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 accept hashish from random smugglers on a random island, you’ll end up probably fucking statues whilst you’re tripping balls.