Bonsoir mes amis et bienvenue sur le blog pour la quatrième 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. 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 sixty 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.
This week has proved (yet again) that I shouldn’t leave the majority of my reading until the weekend because I will hate Past Emma for her poor life choices. With two weeks left of the readathon, we shall seen if I learn from experience or continue to bumble on just about keeping up with the reading schedule. Without further ado, let’s take a closer look at what happened in Chapters 61-80 in my usual overly long and slapdash (but not at all comprehensive) manner…
- We open this week’s reading with arguably the best and most innocuous chapter title ever which is uncharacteristically long for this book but would not be out of place elsewhere – ‘How to rescue a gardener from dormice who are eating his peaches’. It sounds like it’s going to be a metaphor, doesn’t it?
- This week sees the very exciting visit of the Count to… a telegraph operator… ok then, not quite the swashbuckling jailbreak adventures we’re used to but I suppose every adventure has to have its less action packed but undoubtedly crucial moments.
- Unfortunately, this moment is interrupted by Dumas back on his shit of describing gardens in minute detail when I really, really don’t care about the foliage. You’re not Thomas Hardy, Dumas, I don’t need to hear about the grass.
- It’s obvious that Monte Cristo is here to use the telegraph operator somehow, though it isn’t yet clear how. The only problem is that he can’t find his in with him because the guy has no ambition so can’t be swayed by promise of promotion and success and the guy (though not handsomely paid) isn’t in need of money. A point which Monte Cristo disagrees like the snob he has become:
- “But, as you can see, one is housed.”
Monte Cristo looked around the room and muttered: “As long as one doesn’t mind where one lives.” (682)
- “But, as you can see, one is housed.”
- Monte Cristo ends up bribing the guy, and it’s all quite rushed and forceful, but his scheme now becomes evident: he asks the guy to repeat a different message along the line to the Ministry of the Interior (NB: Debray is Secretary of the Interior) than the one which is transmitted to him. Specifically, this stirs up a rumour that Don Carlos has escaped Burgos so people (including Danglars) rush to sell Spanish government bonds and then it is revealed as a false report so the stock price prices swiftly again – Danglars loses a million francs and I’m surprised Count isn’t just cackling maniacally to himself over breakfast now.
- His cackling in glee must wait, though, for the occasion dawns of the much talked about dinner party at Monte Cristo’s place.
- Naturally, as his steward, Bertuccio is hanging about and as the guests start to arrive he starts in surprise, outing Madame Danglars as the woman and Villefort as the man who he saw at the house and thought he’d stabbed to death all those years ago. I hate to say the obvious here but I mean, you obviously did a pretty poor job of stabbing Villefort to death. He also, obviously, recognises the miscreant Benedetto who the Count is trying to pass off as Andrea Cavalcanti in society. I don’t quite understand the Count’s game yet – I’m sure it’s all for ~reasons~ but right now it just seems like he’s purposely trying to annoy Bertuccio.
- But of course, this wouldn’t be a dinner party without actual dinner so it’s time for the Count to escort the ladies into dinner. He sees a prime opportunity to be a dick and is all ‘I’ll escort Madame de Villefort to the table, Villefort could you be kind enough to escort Madame Danglars?’ It’s not at all awkward.
- As is to be expected, the Count puts on a good spread of food, and it’s just downright ostentatiously exotic because… he has money and he can.
- What do all good dinner parties end in? No, not coffee and a cheese board, no. A trip the murder room! The Count decides to show his guests the murder room in his newly acquired home in which he’s sure a crime happened. Unsurprisingly, being taken back to the room of a rather traumatic event leaves Madame Danglars feeling disturbed and faint and the Count twists the knife deeper in the wound by being all innocently like ‘come now, come, perhaps I am wrong and perhaps this room is innocent after all and no bad things have ever happened in it. Why, imagine a man innocently carrying his sleeping child here.’ (Sleeping, or dead, Count?) It’s obvious that the Count is goading Madame Danglars into thinking about that night but… he’s kind of just being a dick at this point?? Like it’s just cruel now and I don’t like the Count very much now.
- After the dinner party breaks up there’s a scene where Benedetto and Caderousse converse not at all suspiciously and they seem to know each other. Caderousse is amusing and steals a hat and coat from Benedetto’s coach driver before disappearing into the night again. (Yep, that’s literally all the notes I took from this chapter, clearly I was invested in it.)
- Now, we enter a chapter that is possibly one of my favourites thus far in the entire book – called ‘A conjugal scene’ in certain translations (which suggests a slightly more fruity scene than what we actually get), the scene finally confirms that everything isn’t rosy in the Danglars household but both parties involved know (and accept) this.
- We interrupt this amusing scene to bring you news: Danglars basically tosses the dog across the room because it doesn’t like him and clearly likes Debray (Madame Danglars’ lover, I presume). Let’s add dog cruelty to his list of crimes, guys.
- Anyways, dog hater Danglars has it out with his wife and it’s not even subtle and is barely veiled. Their various affairs are talked about as though they’re having lessons and I find this ridiculously amusing: “Either the diplomat will have to start giving his … lessons for nothing, and I shall put up with him, or he will not be allowed to set foot again in my house.” (721, 722) Oof Danglars laying down the law on his wife’s extra-marital affairs!
- Speaking of marriage, the Count is back scheming again, this time to put the idea into Danglars head of him marrying off his daughter, Eugénie, to Andrea Cavalcanti who is apparently loaded. So obviously Danglars quite likes the idea of having Cavalcanti for a son in law. HMM DO I SPY SOME POTENTIAL INCEST BREWING???
- Speaking of the incestuous origins, Madame Danglars and Villefort have a super secret meeting in his office and idk man if I were meeting up to discuss past indiscretions, I think I’d do it far away from either of our work places?? Anyway, Madame Danglars makes a very valid point that if their scandalous affair comes to light, she’ll be ostracised whilst he, as a man, will be praised. Preach, girl. “What do you have to fear from all this, you men whom everyone excuses and who are elevated by scandal?” (735)
- Villefort and Mme Danglars go through what happened That Night and he admits to her that he was attacked by a Corsican (cough Bertuccio cough). He realises that Monte Cristo must know of their affair and the child that came from it because he had alluded to a child’s body being found in the garden. How could it be in the garden? The Corsican took it! – Villefort then pledges to find out who, or what, Monte Cristo is… *cue dramatic music*
- Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Count has gone a few chapters without cracking out his disguises so obviously he’s back on the game. Villefort’s agent (spoiler alert: actually Villefort himself) visits the esteemed Abbé Busoni and enquires about Monte Cristo and why on earth he would have bought the house in Auteuil. The abbé claims that the Count said he bought the house in Auteuil because he wanted to turn it into a lunatic asylum (757) … sure Jan
- Seemingly unsatisfied with one random man’s answer, Villefort pays a visit to Lord Wilmore next, since he’s an alleged enemy of Monte Cristo so is sure to provide a different opinion to Busoni, who is a friend of the Count’s. Wilmore (aka the Count in disguise again) claims he thought the Count had bought the house because he believed there was a mineral water spring near it that he hoped to tap (759)… again, sure Jan.
- Another day, another dinner, this time at the Morcerf’s place. Because she’s not an idiot, Mercedes observes that the Count of Monte Cristo doesn’t seem to eat or drink anything whilst at the party. She dispatches her son to go insist that the Count does, but Albert is unsuccessful. Mercedes, not so easily cowed, has the shutters opened since it’s hot and suggests that the guests cool down by walking in the garden and forces Cristo to go walk with her. You know what, she’s cunning I like her.
- Mercedes and the Count have a lovely little chat about love and how he’s not married because he was in love with a girl in Malta and then went to war thinking she’d wait for him but when he returned she was married etc. and… man, it’s obvious they both ~know~ but won’t say anything.
- Villefort retires to his office to check his list of haters. No, seriously, he’s so reviled that he has a secret list of everyone who hates him and I find this inordinately funny.
- Meanwhile, Valentine’s grandpa dies (no, not Noirtier, her late mum’s dad) and I know it’s super harsh but I don’t give a shit about Saint-Méran dying like he’s literally never mentioned and idgaf? Sorry/not sorry.
- But apparently this character barely mentioned before is now conveniently oh so relevant and now his wife, Madame de Saint-Méran is like ‘hey so imma die soon probably so I want to see you married Valentine’. Obviously this scuppers Valentine’s love affair with Max I guess. But here’s the thing: idgaf either about Valentine and Max because they’re a bit Cosette and Marius for my liking.
- However, slightly more directly than Marius, Max Morrel takes the devotion a step further and becomes oh! so! dramatic! declaring that he is nothing as a person and his existence has no purpose without Valentine’s love. So he’s gonna blow his brains out so… and that escalated quickly. Valentine, presumably very alarmed, vows to him that she’ll sort it all out and says wait for her at nine o’clock and they’ll idk run away and elope or whatever. Because that seems like a healthy relationship.
- Max obediently waits in the garden with a ladder like a creep but after nine o’clock comes and goes he hops into the garden thinking something has gone wrong and she signed the marriage license to Franz after all. Just then, Villefort and a doctor come into garden so Max hides in the bushes (naturally) and he overhears the doctor saying that Madame Saint-Méran has just died and she was poisoned! Omg le gasp! (Spoiler alert: the culprit will be that weird ghostly shape she saw lingering over her glass on the bedside table in the middle of the night.)
- Max hears Valentine sobbing in house because of her grandma’s death so he sneaks in and finds her at Saint-Méran’s deathbed, but then oh no Villefort comes back into house so Max can’t sneak back out that way! But, luckily, his creeping has bore fruit because, it turns out, just as Franz and Valentine were about to sign, grandma conveniently died – what are the chances!!!
- Valentine decides to do what every girl should and takes Max to see her granddad to check he approves and also to see if he can help their little predicament. Not to worry, Noirtier is all ‘leave it to me son *taps nose knowingly*’. But ‘how is a paralysed man going to help’ you may ask? Idk but I have every faith in him, he’s my fave in this entire book, no word of a lie.
- They have the dual Saint-Méran funeral and then, with all his usual tact, Villefort is like ‘right, no time like the present, forget mourning periods let’s get these kids married’. However, just as they start proceedings, Noirtier sends his servant downstairs to summon Franz to see him.
- Noirtier gives Franz a letter that tells of how he became an orphan aka the circumstances under which his Royalist dad was killed. Basically, the secret Bonapartist club had a letter from Elba (the one mentioned in the opening chapter) suggesting Baron d’Epinay was sympathetic to the cause so they tap him and bring him to club but he says no he doesn’t want in and then they make him swear not to reveal anything about the club. They leave in a carriage with a few people including President of the club and they end up stopping on side of road to have a duel, as you do. Long story short: the President wins and d’Epinay’s body is pushed into the river. When Franz reads this letter he’s all ‘omg who was the president do you know Noirtier?!’. I swear everyone is an idiot. Obviously Noirtier is like ‘yeah, it me’.
- Amidst all these revelations, the Count goes to see Madame Danglars and Andrea Cavalcanti happens to be there, creeping on Eugenie. Unfortunately Eugenie is definitely gay and Dumas has THE BEST turn of phrase to describe her: “Not a single glance or sigh from Andrea escaped her, but they appeared to be deflected by the breastplate of Minerva, which philosophers gets sometimes say in fact covered the breast of Sappho.” (834)
- However, Danglars is oblivious, as always, and continues pushing Andrea and Eugenie together, even in front of Albert because he’s been led to believe that Cavalcanti is a prince and prince trumps Viscount.
- Albert visits Monte Cristo and meets with Haydeé who tells him her story, though she leaves out the bit about Fernand aka his dad being the one who betrayed her father, Ali Pasha. Because, you know, that’d be an awkward admission and would probably put all three of them off their coffee and pipes.
- Conveniently, there’s a newspaper article in which a “correspondent writes from Janina” and it reveals that the French person responsible for the betrayal of Ali was called Fernand. (I know what you’re thinking, does it have to be that Fernand, it’s surely a common name?) Albert decides he wants a duel with Beauchamp since he refuses to retract what was written unless he gets evidence it was false and negotiates down from a duel to three weeks for him to prove/disprove it. Nicely done.
- Next up we have a chapter called Lemonade which just makes me think of Beyoncé nowadays tbh. However, this couldn’t be less Beyoncéish as Max Morrel literally races to Valentine’s house with the servant Barrois running to keep up. Barrois looks knackered so when he gets there they offer him lemonade from Noirtier’s pitcher. He takes it then has multiple fits and dies. Oh shit.
- The doctor, seeing a link, tells Villefort that he thinks Valentine is to blame and is poisoning people based on, what, securing her inheritance in the will???
- Villefort can’t believe it, and neither can I – that would be a plot twist! However, Dumas allows his reader to be more shrewd: “he also managed to observe Mme de Villefort; and it seemed to him that a faint, dark smile passed briefly across her thin lips, like one of those sinister meteors that can be glimpsed as they fall between two clouds against a stormy sky.” (895) Yeah she’s well guilty and framing her step daughter who she doesn’t even like. She wants the inheritance to fall to Edouard and what better way to get it than by making Valentine go to jail and/or get sentenced to death!! Ohhh it’s getting serious now.
Aaand that’s all for Week 4 (aka chapters 61-80) folks! So join me same place, same time, next week to discover what goes down in the next 20 chapters. Until then, remember: even if you are really thirsty, maybe don’t drink an old man’s lemonade, it might be poisoned.