Preliminary note. It seems good to write something on each book that I finish, but it also doesn’t seem worth too much time. The time limit is set for 30 minutes. At that point, I will wrap it up and post. That will save more time for reading.
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas was an excellent novel. The only point against it is its length! Providence was kind enough to grant me a period of isolation from society which allowed me to finish it. Some thoughts.
[All spoilers below.]
Suicide. I don’t know why this was so striking, but the frequency of suicide and the… reasoned character of it? In our modern-day society, it is almost an axiom that suicide is the result of a mental illness. This is far from the case in this French novel. (Examples will be from memory; I apologize for errors.) There is the scene where the elder Morrel is determined to commit suicide, knowing that he won’t be able to keep his word. His son arrives near this time and what does he do? Thanks the father that there is a second pistol so that they may both carry out this action! They are stopped only by the removal of the misfortune.
At the end of the book again, the younger Morrel is committed to ending his own life for the purpose of ending his suffering and sadness. The Count walks through all the reasons against it, but nothing convinces the young Maximilien. It seems odd to me that the Count goes through with allowing Maximilien to “commit” the act which he thinks is the ending of his life. But that’s not all! In the same few pages, the Count suggests ending his life, and Haydée says she would have to end her life if parted from the Count! It does not seem to me that these persons are mentally ill, though all of them have endured grave emotional trials.
Apart from the good who consider suicide, there are also the wicked who see in it an escape from ignominy. M. de Villefort suggests (with the authority of a judge!) that his wife take her own life by poison, and she follows this advice. M. de Morcerf too takes a pistol to himself, and it does not seem there is a person in his world who would have suggested he do otherwise.
Have I named them all? Of course, there are the earlier unfinished attempt of Edmond to end his life, and it almost seems Mercedes is committed to punishing herself precisely because she did not commit suicide. If there is any doubt about the importance of suicide in the book, only look at the conclusion which presents itself as the height of human wisdom.
Wait and Hope. These are the two words that crown book, in the parting letter which the Count leaves for Maximilien and Valentine. I must admit, I was not satisfied at the conclusion, as if this somehow accounts for all that came hitherto. Perhaps something about Providence? Ah! But perhaps “wait and hope” is the practical precept that follows from a belief in Providence. Just as the Count made Maximilien the successor of his wealth, I also expected him to somehow make Maximilien the successor to his title (Count of Monte Cristo) and office (Providence in the flesh). I can’t think of any other reason for the Count allowing Maximilien to feel the full weight of despair, and I found it odd that the Count was nervous when it seemed the Maximilien had anything at all to live for.
Only at the very end do we hear the Count say that miracles do not happen anymore, and yet there seems something almost supernatural about him throughout the book. Is he really just a man of excellent natural who committed himself to knowledge of every useful trade and custom? Just one who believes himself the instrument of Providence and therefore untouchable? Wait and hope. It seems the Count followed a much more rigorous philosophy than this and this is what allowed to serve as such a sharp and precise tool in the hands of God.
Literature. This always gets me, but I enjoyed all the references to other forms of literature. The Thousand and One Nights is perhaps the most important work referenced, and the novel itself frequently becomes a story within a story. From genies to hidden treasures to Sinbad to Aladdin, it seems to provide much inspiration for the novel. The name of the main character “Dantés” also made me think of Dante (who was referenced a few times), so that it seemed there would be segments in this book corresponding to hell, purgatory and heaven. It is not so simple as this, yet it seems our protagonist starts in the lowest depth and makes his way to the highest place one could reach in this world. Instead of a divine comedy, this is something more worldly (Edmond, monde, world). Who knows.
I love that the bandit is always seen reading the Latin classics whenever he is unoccupied. In one scene it is the Commentaries of Caesar. In a later scene, it is the Life of Alexander by Plutarch. Just delightful. The Count himself seems to reference Shakespeare, perhaps more than any other author. There are references to Desdemona from Othello, Banquo from Macbeth, and Claudius from Hamlet, and probably more than that. This makes sense if one of his entire altar-egos is a wealthy English man with a flawless accent.
The resurrected body. After Edmond escapes from his prison, his life reminds me of the glorified body as described by medieval theologians. Agility, clarity, impassibility, subtlety. He has basically died. Not just when he went to prison, but he actually entered a death shroud, and then was buried at sea. But he rose. And he is no longer like us mortals: He can go wherever he wants, he is impressive to all who see or hear him, no one can do him any harm whatsoever, and (for good measure) he seems even to pass through walls. Some call him a vampire (Lord Ruthwen) or a genie, but he seems to me an image of what a man can be when every faculty is perfectly honed and set. No doubt his wealth contributes to his power. But could anyone but a man of his caliber possess that wealth so well? The novel has many wealthy characters, but they are mostly petty persons. I think of people like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. I do not know them personally, but would I feel like I was meeting a god in the flesh? I do not think I would. The Count is so impressive, not just because he has that wealth (though that’s part of it), but because he uses it so well.
The alarm is sounded, so I will finish there.
This is part of my second classics challenge.
[Question: When did the WordPress interface become so horrible? Please let me know if there is a way to make it less jumpy. What is this “block” nonsense?]
I’m impressed – by your setting yourself a time limit (great idea) and the quantity and quality of writing you managed, really impressed.
With your question – I was distraught when it all changed to blocks and did so without even asking me, but now I’m happy and even prefer it. . .
Oh no! I was hoping there was a way to opt out of it… Oh well, if you could get used to it (and even prefer it!) then I’ll give it a chance.
I had definitely thought a bit about what I wanted to write before I sat down for the 30 minutes. Thank you for the positive response though! I was wondering if it was worth it, but if you think it came out well enough, I’ll try to stick to the practice. Thank you!