100-ish Days of Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo
June 1 – August 31, 2022
July 25, 2022, Chapters 68-72 (to be read July 23-26)
Nexte post: July 28, 2022, Chapters 73-76 (to be read July 27-29)
Today’s set of chapters begins with hilarity and ends with tragedy…
Albert’s inability to commit to his marriage to Mademoiselle Danglars is riotously funny:
Since “Mademoiselle Danglars must become my lawful wife, live perpetually with me, sing to me, compose verses and music within ten paces of me, and that for my whole life, it frightens me.”
And even here we already sense humor tinged with sadness – Albert worships his mother to the point that no other woman can compare – and he confesses this to Monte Cristo…
“For any other son to have stayed with his mother for four days at Tréport, it would have been a condescension or a martyrdom, while I return, more contented, more peaceful—shall I say more poetic!—than if I had taken Queen Mab or Titania as my companion.”
And here Shakespeare again!!!
Monte Cristo’s maneuvering around words and facts and people and commitments is unnerving:
“I do not know him, viscount.”
“You do not know him?”
“No, I never saw him until a few days since, and am not responsible for him.”
“But you receive him at your house?”
“That is another thing: he was recommended to me by a good abbé, who may be deceived…”
And there you have it!!! Play with my playfellows at your own discretion, mere mortals!!! I am here to alter fate and shape destiny!!!
Ah, but two can play the game of disguises!!!
“This was all the visitor wished to ascertain, or, rather, all the Englishman appeared to know. The agent arose, and having bowed to Lord Wilmore, who returned his salutation with the stiff politeness of the English, he retired. Lord Wilmore, having heard the door close after him, returned to his bedroom, where with one hand he pulled off his light hair, his red whiskers, his false jaw, and his wound, to resume the black hair, dark complexion, and pearly teeth of the Count of Monte Cristo.
It was M. de Villefort, and not the prefect, who returned to the house of M. de Villefort. The procureur felt more at ease, although he had learned nothing really satisfactory, and, for the first time since the dinner-party at Auteuil, he slept soundly.”
Do you recall how cleverly Noirtier disguised himself at the start of a novel?! When he visited his son Villefort – and exited incognito?! The apple did not fall far from the tree… Remember why he was under surveillance at that point? A political murder… And who was Noirtier supposed victim? The father of Franz d’Épinay… And now his beloved granddaughter Valentine is engaged to marry the son of the men he murdered… Dumas intends these contradictions to be irreconcilable – Monte Cristo comes to pay retribution to a world already full of festering wounds, both moral and criminal in nature…
And now – a July ball!!! Wherever you are in the world today – can you imagine DANCING in this heat?!?!?! But then again, “those who remain in Paris in July must be true Parisians.” Quite so, quite so!!! Only none of our main characters are…
Monte Cristo’s mockery of social climbing and reward system is vicious:
And “so those gentlemen down there are men of great talent. I should not have guessed it. And for what kind of talent are they celebrated? You know there are different sorts.”
“That tall, harsh-looking man is very learned, he discovered, in the neighborhood of Rome, a kind of lizard with a vertebra more than lizards usually have, and he immediately laid his discovery before the Institute. The thing was discussed for a long time, but finally decided in his favor. I can assure you the vertebra made a great noise in the learned world, and the gentleman, who was only a knight of the Legion of Honor, was made an officer.”
“Come,” said Monte Cristo, “this cross seems to me to be wisely awarded. I suppose, had he found another additional vertebra, they would have made him a commander.”
And the one in the “dark blue coat?”
“He is a colleague of the count, and one of the most active opponents to the idea of providing the Chamber of Peers with a uniform. He was very successful upon that question. He stood badly with the Liberal papers, but his noble opposition to the wishes of the court is now getting him into favor with the journalists. They talk of making him an ambassador.”
AND NOW – the moment we have been waiting for – for the past 60-65 chapters – the meeting of Edmond and Mercédès…
“Then,” said Mercédès, “I will lead the way.”
Turning towards Monte Cristo, she added, “count, will you oblige me with your arm?”
The count almost staggered at these simple words; then he fixed his eyes on Mercédès. It was only a momentary glance, but it seemed to the countess to have lasted for a century, so much was expressed in that one look. He offered his arm to the countess; she took it, or rather just touched it with her little hand, and they together descended the steps, lined with rhododendrons and camellias. Behind them, by another outlet, a group of about twenty persons rushed into the garden with loud exclamations of delight.”
Chapter 71 is entitled Bread and Salt and in it Mercédès repeatedly offers Monte Cristo food. Grapes and peaches remind us of the biblical fruit of temptation and fall of humanity – but bread and salt are more basic, they are the essential and indispensable staples of nourishment. Breaking bread with your fellow human beings is a sign of trust – you do not suspect the food of being poisoned – thus are willing to partake as a sign of respect and communion. And Monte Cristo does not trust the society he has taken by storm lately…
But there is also the story of Proserpina/Persephone who, after being abducted from her mother by Hades, is taken into the underworld. The gods, after much pleading, are willing to return her to her mother – as long as she has eaten nothing while in the underworld kingdom. Sadly, Persephone did eat – a few seeds of pomegranate… Monte Cristo does not want to taint himself by sharing the food of these tainted people… But what about his breakfast with Albert?!?!?! More on his relationship with Albert soon!!!
Does Mercédès understand?! Does she know?! Is she terrified?!
“At Malta, I loved a young girl, was on the point of marrying her, when war came and carried me away. I thought she loved me well enough to wait for me, and even to remain faithful to my memory. When I returned she was married. This is the history of most men who have passed twenty years of age. Perhaps my heart was weaker than the hearts of most men, and I suffered more than they would have done in my place; that is all.”
The countess stopped for a moment, as if gasping for breath.”
She asks: “Do you then still hate those who separated you?”
“I hate them? Not at all; why should I?” The countess placed herself before Monte Cristo, still holding in her hand a portion of the perfumed grapes.”
“Inflexible man!” she gasps…
Villefort is in despair – he is searching through his seemingly endless list of enemies and cannot recall anyone capable of exquisite and skillfully delayed revenge:
“No,” he murmured, “none of my enemies would have waited so patiently and laboriously for so long a space of time, that they might now come and crush me with this secret. Sometimes, as Hamlet says:
‘Foul deeds will rise, Though all the earth o’erwhelm them, to men’s eyes…”
And reading of the harrowing experience of Madame de Saint-Méran was impossible for me – my dad passed away on July 24 last year – and my mother was left alone after 51 years of marriage… Thus our endless driving journey through literary sites this summer – my mom and dad loved to travel and read – and my mom and I are attempting to weave new strands into the wreath of her memories, combine past recollections with fresh impressions – and keep all those lovely moments of the past alive – while struggling with a glaring void:
He “fell into such a deep sleep, that it appeared to me unnatural; still I hesitated to wake him, although I fancied that his face was flushed, and that the veins of his temples throbbed more violently than usual. However, as it became dark, and I could no longer see, I fell asleep; I was soon aroused by a piercing shriek, as from a person suffering in his dreams, and he suddenly threw his head back violently. I called the valet, I stopped the postilion, I spoke to M. de Saint-Méran, I applied my smelling-salts; but all was over, and I arrived at Aix by the side of a corpse.”
But there is a ghost lurking in the corners… The doctor is skeptical: “I was not aware that Madame de Saint-Méran was subject to such hallucinations.”
Madame de Saint-Méran is on a mission – and the following words are as awe-inspiring as they are terrifying…
“I tell you I am going to die—do you understand? Well, before dying, I wish to see my son-in-law. I wish to tell him to make my child happy; I wish to read in his eyes whether he intends to obey me;—in fact, I will know him—I will!” continued the old lady, with a fearful expression, “that I may rise from the depths of my grave to find him, if he should not fulfil his duty!”
More on Thursday…
Photos for July 25
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