Bonsoir mes amis et bienvenue sur le blog pour la troisième semaine du ‘Le Comte de Monte Cristo’.
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 Three in which I had a rather big crisis of faith as to why I was reading this book but I think I came out mostly unscathed, it’s just this post’s comprehensiveness which may be compromised in the struggle.
To catch up, check out my sign-up post, my week one update and my week two update, which will bring you up to speed with summaries of the first forty 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 Two, we left the Count of Monte Cristo having breakfast with his new found pals in Paris and (spoiler alert) Week Three sees more society schmoozing and maybe a vendetta or two and ends with another rather civilised invitation to dinner (it’s all about the food with these people). But let’s take a closer look at what happened in Chapters 41-60 in my usual overly long and slapdash (but not at all comprehensive) manner…
- After a successful breakfasting with his new found pal Albert de Morcerf, the Count of Monte Cristo meets his parents. Quite obviously (because no one in this book can recognise each other for shit), his old arch nemesis Fernand doesn’t recognise him at all. You know, if I held a (mostly unfounded) grudge on a guy just because he was the boyfriend of the girl I wanted to marry, I think I’d remember his face, regardless of a little bit of ageing happening.
- Luckily though, the women of this book don’t seem quite as susceptible to forgetting faces, and Mercedes comes through for us and totally recognises the Count as Dantès. Does she play it cool? Well, the short answer is no. She is visibly shaken and even needs her smelling salts (don’t let the Count give you anything for it or you’ll trip balls). Needless to say, we can assume she doesn’t have a poker face, but the Count escapes with his secret identity intact somehow. Probably because they may very well assume Mercedes is just so taken with the Count’s hotness that she faints at the very sight of him… don’t blame you, girl.
- The Count disappears to his new fancy house in Paris to talk to his steward and a notary about buying a country house that he’s never seen and doesn’t even know the location of – just another day in the life of the Count of Monte Cristo. Oh to be that rich to just be like ‘I’ll take that random house, sounds like a decent price’
- However, his steward Bertuccio isn’t too keen on gong to see the house his master has just bought, because he believes that’s where the murder of the previous occupant happened. The Count quips that if Bertuccio is going mad it’d be good of him to let him know so that he can have him committed promptly, and it seems this Count has quite the sassy sense of humour but I kinda dig it?
- Whilst this banter with the steward is going on the Count also gets in a nice dig about Italy and/or France, I think? Who knows whether this is even meant to be offensive, or who should be offended by it… “I knew you to be a Corsican, I knew you to be somber and I knew that you were always mulling over some old tale of a vendetta; and in Italy I forgave you that, because in Italy such things are acceptable. However, in France people usually consider murder to be in very poor taste: there are gendarmes to look after it, judges to condemn it and scaffolds to avenge it.” (489)
- I present this quote, without context, because really the book itself is context enough: “This is an odd coincidence … that you should find yourself like this, by chance, with no prior knowledge, in a house which was the scene of an event that causes you such terrible remorse.” (490) We are literally almost 500 pages into a book in which ‘coincidence’ is an entirely foreign concept.
- Bertuccio can’t take it anymore and tells Count that he in fact murdered the previous occupant (and it’s a name we’re familiar with, it’s only Villefort!) because good ol’ Bert had petitioned magistrate Villefort for help when his brother was killed and Villefort was rude and like ‘what do you expect me to do about it?’ Naturally, Bert was put out by this… so he swore to kill Villefort, obviously.
- True to his word, Bert waited in the shadows like a creep watching the country house and then leapt forward and stabbed Villefort when he came out into the garden with a spade and box. It was only when Bert ran off with the box that he discovered its contents: namely one (1) newborn baby, asphyxiated by umbilical cord. Bert isn’t a monster (despite stabbing someone) so he does CPR on the newborn and it survives!
- An unnecessary series of events happens in which Bert dumps the kid in an orphanage in Paris, leaving with it half of blanket that has the letters H and N on it (thereby making it identifiable), despite his sister-in-law, Assunta’s pleading. Obviously Assunta tracks down the baby whilst Bert is away and they then raise the child as their own weird kid. Because this is the book it is the child obviously grows up wild and untameable and misbehaves – Bert especially struggles to discipline the boy, named Benedetto, because he’s not his real father and both of them keenly know it.
- Amidst all this family drama, a man still has to work, so Bert goes off on one of his smuggling trips. However, the Customs officials catch wind of this and head Bert and his smuggling pals off at the pass. They have to try to slip off uncaught and their escape plan relies on the help of a local inn keeper they know well. Surprise surprise, the same inn keeper is no longer there, the inn has been sold in the meantime to our old pal Caderousse.
- Whilst he’s laying low from the customs officials near the inn, Bert sees Caderousse and his wife selling the diamond (remember the one that Dantes/Abbe Busoni gave them only last week?) to a jeweller. A real strange exchange happens in which Caderousse’s missus really tries to get the jeweller to stay, saying there’s a storm coming, even though it’s barely drizzling, but the jeweller is insistent on leaving. Mrs Caderousse is being waaaay too insistent for it to just be French hospitality and, sure enough, when the storm does get wilder and the jeweller returns to the inn with his tail between his legs to stay the night, as she had offered. I think Mr and Mrs Caderousse may be contemplating doing a bit of murder to take back diamond, so they double their profits. I know times are hard, guys, but don’t be murderous dicks.
- Even though we’re seeing all this through Bertuccio’s eyes, he’s an idiot and falls asleep. (How convenient for the plot.) He wakes up just in time to the sound of pistol shot and a struggle. Naturally, he leaps out of his hiding place and goes to investigate because he sees Caderousse covered in blood coming downstairs. Then just in the (not) nick of time, the gendarmes and Customs officials burst in and, because he’s got blood on him, they assume Bert is guilty for the dead bodies upstairs!
- Luckily, Bertuccio had a night in shining armour, the very same knight who is now his boss but he doesn’t know that. The charitable Abbe Busoni helps this wrongfully arrested man out of quite the pickle and then sends him a letter of recommendation to the Count of Monte Cristo because, naturally, when you rescue someone from a murder charge the first thing you should do is find them a job.
- Meanwhile, back at the ranch, all was not well with Assunta and Benedetto who is a right piece of work. He tries to get money from her and she says no so he doesn’t take no for an answer and him and his mates rock up and decide they should TORTURE HER to find out where it is – oh sure, because if asking nicely doesn’t work then torture is the next logical step. In the struggle, Assunta somehow sets on fire and is unable to run out of the room and ends up burnt to death basically and Benedetto flees never to be seen again (yeah right, I know this book, I’m not stupid).
- After the end of this charming story, the Count of Monte Cristo and Bert go back to the Paris house to prepare everything to be ready for Haydeé, aka the pretty Greek lady aka Dante’s slave which he mentioned so casually at the end of last week’s section and almost caused me to spit my drink out over my book.
- We interrupt this summary to bring you notice that Dumas is back on his shit again of giving bodily parts weird adjectives – “his wide and not the least aristocratic ears” (525) I didn’t know ears could be noble, let alone not in the least noble. Clearly I have not studied enough aristocratic appendages…
- As I assume is the case of most super rich men, the Count spots Danglars’ horses and is promptly jealous (?) and annoyed (?) – who knows. After all, he did tell Bertuccio to procure him the best horses in Paris, yet there are better ones roaming the streets and not in the Count’s possession. Obviously he MUST have them, so Bert is a good little servant and goes off to get them, whatever the price. I presume they will become important later in the story.
- Meanwhile, the Count is off to speak to the very man whose horses he’s buying: Danglars. Probably wisely (for once), Danglars is mightily suspicious of allowing unlimited credit to a Count he’s never heard of so he talks to him to ascertain that he is a good and trustworthy person. Tbh, the Count spends the entire conversation being a smarmy dick and it’s great. I’m paraphrasing here but Danglars is practically like “I assure you whatever sum you would need I can give you, even a million” to which the Count is like “a million?!? I don’t even get out of bed for a million, I wouldn’t bother opening a line of credit for a million, I carry a million with me in my pocket right now”. Spoiler alert: he gets the line of credit with Danglars’ firm.
- Now the business of the day has been taken care of, it’s time to meet the family. The Count is introduced Mrs Danglars but she has bigger fish to fry, namely where the hell her horses have disappeared off too. Danglars attempts to be placating, they realise the Count is the one who has bought the horses recently, and the aforementioned Count stirs the pot between husband and wife and then promptly makes like Nick Miller and moonwalks out of that conversation like the good shit stirrer he is.
- Besides, he has his own (not) missus to think of. The Count points out to lovely Haydeé that she is free in France and can leave him if she wanted to at any point. Haydeé proclaims that she loves the Count and he’s more than a little skeptical given her lack of other choices: ” ‘I have never seen any man more handsome than you, or loved any man except my father and you.’ ‘Poor child,’ said Monte Cristo. ‘That is because you have only ever spoken to your father and to me.’ ” (562)
- Haydeé is insistent that it’s a different sort of love: “I did not love my father as I love you. My love for you is a different kind of love.” GOOD, otherwise that would be creepy af and incesty tbh. (562)
- Since he’s now in the habit of visiting people, the Count pays a visit to Morrel’s son Max and daughter Julie. They reveal that Morrel believed the fortune-altering diamond was a miracle and it came from a dead man, Dantés. NOOOOOO NO WAY (571). Whilst being told these theories about a man he allegedly doesn’t know, the Count has absolutely no fucking poker face and is Very Emotional. How has someone not noticed him reacting to random stories that don’t really concern him?!? That is the real mystery of this novel.
- We wouldn’t want things to get too much though, so Dumas slows the pace riiiiight down by treating us to a long and boring description of a fucking vegetable garden. I don’t care whose garden it is, or what it’s used for, but Dumas feels the need to describe it in detail before doing us the courtesy of letting us know Max Morrel has bought it recently so he can be closer to Valentine Villefort’s house. He’s in love with her. I find buying a garden so you can be close to her garden a bit clingy but ok… I mean is she even that into you?
- Meanwhile, Madame de Villefort and the Count talk poisons in a very weird chapter that, regardless, has some nuggets of brilliant turns of phase: “Come, come, Madame, is anything ever lost to mankind? The arts and sciences travel around the world, things change their name, that’s all, and ordinary people are deceived by it; the outcome is always the same.” (591) That’s all well and good and profound but then he talks waaaay too insistently about poisons in particular.
- The section about poisoning and bird eating the thing that’s been poisoned and then human eating bird once it’s dead is all so Symbolic undoubtedly, and has a lot to say about how coincidence vs fate vs action all figure in this tale: ” ‘You link all these events together,’ said Mme de Villefort, ‘but the slightest accident might break the chain. The culture might not fly over at the right moment, or it might fall a hundred yards away from the fishpond.’ ‘That’s precisely where the art lies: to be a great chemist in the East, you must direct chance. It can be done.’ ” (592)
- We go from nice symbolic quote to the Count practically telling her to poison people, and it’s not even subtle: “… just remember one thing: in small doses this is a cure, in large ones, a poison. One drop may restore life, as you have seen; five or six would certainly kill, and all the more frightfully because, if dissolved into a glass of wine, they would not alter the taste in the slightest. But I must stop, Madame, or I shall seem to be giving you advice.’ ” (596) That’s EXACTLY what you’re doing dude! The Lady Macbeth quote is unnecessary, we get it, you’re advocating her poisoning people but I wonder if she’ll do what Lady Macbeth should have done and just fucking stab her husband and take charge herself.
- Anyway, Dumas drags us away from the fun poison discussion to the Opera which, true to form, no one watches but instead uses as an excuse to gossip. We are introduced to Eugenie, Danglars’ daughter, who is definitely the lesbian character which is sometimes written not as a lesbian, so as not to offend delicate 19th century sensibilities. Dumas isn’t particularly subtle about it though: “… composer of music; this last was her great passion, which she studied with one of her school-friends, a young woman with no expectations but (one was assured) with everything needed to become an outstanding singer. It was said that a great composer took an almost paternal interest in this girl and encouraged her to work in the hope of eventually finding a fortune in her voice.” (600) Oh aye, is that what they’re doing, ‘practicing’?
- The thing is, Eugenie isn’t even subtle gay, like come on. Everyone else is all ‘oh Haydeé is covered in diamonds she’s so pretty’, Eugenie responds ” ‘too much so, in fact … she would be more beautiful without them, because you could see her neck and her wrists, which are delightfully shapely.’ ‘There speaks the artist!’ said Mme Danglars. ‘See what an enthusiast she is!’ ” (606) No dude, SHE GAY, she’s an enthusiast for girls. (Lovely to see body parts are back to being shapely again, though, thanks Dumas.)
- Talk obviously turns to the Count of Monte Cristo because he’s hot AF. They mention that he’s pale and casually joke about him being a vampire – now wait just one hot second, how much of a plot twist would it be if suddenly this were a vampire novel?!? If he had powers of compulsion it would explain so much about how NO ONE allegedly recognises him. I’m all up for this Vampire!Dantes theory.
- The excursion to the Opera was good for one thing and one thing only: Haydeé points to Fernand de Morcerf and declares that he ‘owes his fortune to Haydeé’s family’ aka “he sold [Haydeé’s father] to the Turks and the fortune was the price of his treachery” (611). NO. WAY.
- Ladies and gentleman, we have another moonlight meeting of Max Morrel and Valentine. It’s all very saccharine and I don’t really care for it all too much because, for all they’re allegedly in love, I swear he seems more into it than she is at the end of the day. Please don’t end in heartbreak, Max seems too much of a sweet summer child to take that kind of emotional trauma.
- It will be trauma, however, because Valentine is promised in marriage to Franz (remember him from Italy?) but doesn’t want to marry him. Conveniently, her grandfather (despite being paralysed and only able to communicate with his favourite granddaughter in a series of blinks) has Got This and hatches a scheme to help her be with her true love.
- Here’s the sitch: because Valentine is the daughter of Villefort and his first wife, his current/second wife Héloïse isn’t all too fond of her, especially since whatever fortune she inherits from her beloved grandfather will be at the detriment of her own child, Edouard. So she’s kind of a bitch to her. And she wants to force her into marrying Franz. Noirtier is a Great Guy and is having none of this so, in a bizarrely touching chapter, he uses only blinks and a handily summoned notary, to dictate his last will and testament in which he will leave Valentine his fortune only if she does not marry Franz d’Epinay. If she does marry him, all of his fortune will go to the poor and since the Villeforts are such greedy so-and-sos it’s unlikely that they will want this to happen, thereby Noirtier hopes to secure Valentine’s freedom to marry someone that isn’t Franz. He’s officially my favourite person in perhaps this entire book.
- Which is a good note to end this week on because… some other shit happened probably and I literally took no notes about it.
- No, seriously, this is the point at which I stopped taking notes for this week. Why? Because I realised that struggling to note down my up to the minute reactions of each and every page was detracting from my own reading enjoyment of this book. This week, I flagged, and hard… and even considered (despite being 500 pages deep into this novel) giving up entirely. So, I’ve come to the conclusion that these summaries may very well end in similar fashions where I trail off and can’t remember anything else of importance that happened but do you know what? That’s ok. Because I’m not Cliffs Notes… and I never claimed to be.
Aaand that’s all for Week 3 (aka chapters 41-60) so join me same place, same time, next week to discover what goes down in the next 20 chapters. Until then, remember: if you ever want to invent multiple complex personas in order to conduct probably shady deals and exact revenge on people who wronged you, if these people are men you need not worry about them recognising you through your disguise. They literally will not see you even if you’re sat right in front of them. Be wary of women though, they know what’s what.