Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas: A Dumas can Count, needs editor

The Count of Monte Cristo, 
by Alexandre Dumas
Nook Book copy, originally published 1845

 A few weeks late, but here it finally is: my epic rant (could be a lot worse) on the epic word count that is The Count of Monte Cristo:

Once upon a time, in ye olde Napoleonic France, there was a young sailor named Edmund Dantes.  Everything was turning up Edmund:  his hawt girlfriend Mercedes said she’d marry him with two days notice, he was earning enough to take cake of his pop, and he was up for a big promotion to be captain on his boat.  But poor, silly Captain Oblivious, with his one-track mind (did I mention Mercedes was hawt?) failed to see that he was making a lot of dudes jealous.  Dudes like Mercedes’ cousin Ferdinand, who creepily wants a piece, and Danglars (Danglers in my reading), who can’t stand that a teenage boy is more successful than him.   Conspiring with Edmunds drunk tailor neighbor Caderousse, Danglers proves how low he dangles when he more or less manipulates Ferdinand into mailing an anonymous letter stating that Edmund was making nice with Napoleon (currently locked away on an island – kind of a theme in this book/French history).  

Since the monarchists hate Napoleon and his crazy expansionist ideas, Edmund is arrested at his rehearsal dinner or something like it, and continues to have crappy luck:  his judge?  Villefort.  Like Danglers, his name kind of tells us that he’s vile.  Villefort is an unabashed social climber who has daddy issues and has taken another family name so as not to be associated with his Napoleon supporting daddy, Noirtier.  Which means when he reads the “evidence” against Edmund, he freaks the eff out because he’s afraid it’ll link him to his daddy.  So he a) tricks Edmund’s boss into creating false evidence that winds up being used to indict Edmund, and then b) he locks up Edmund in a crappy 18th century prison on an island in the harbor and throws away the key.  You know, as you do.  

        So now that we know the system is corrupt, Captain Obvious (Edmund) is locked away to rot in solitary for years and years and years.  Thus commences about 400 pages of quivering, gnashing of teeth, moaning, etc.  You know, being pissed you’re in prison.  He does the usual stuff, like try to kill himself, and then after like five or so years of this decides to plan his revenge.  About this time he realizes he can totally hear his wallmate up to something.  Turns out this something is building a series of secret tunnels.  You know, as you do in a prison escape plot.  Edmund and his new buddy, the Abbe, make friends; the Abbe teaches Edmund like six languages and explains to him what anyone else would have picked up on: Edmund got thrown under the bus.  Poor, silly Edmund.  Luckily, when he gets angry, he gets smart.  The Abbe is assumed to be crazy because he claims to have a billion and five dollars in like, Roman coins hidden somewhere.  Edmund, being Edmund, is the only one to believe him, but only after there are lots of long speeches about how they are now besties and like father and son, and oh, I will adopt you and make you my heir with my words.  So then the Abbe gets sick and dies.  Edmund finally shows a glimmer of individual intelligence and switches places with his body to escape.  

        And we’re still only at page 200 of 1186!  Thus begins the long haul towards the setting sun (aka REVENGE).  So then for like the next 600 pages, we hear a lot of description about sailboats, and Edmund finds out about all the horrible things that have happened to the good people (his dad got starved to death, his noble boss is going bankrupt, and his hawt ladyfriend had to marry her cousin, gross), while the bad people who threw him under the yacht are prospering.  Oh, and also he finds the billion dollar fortune and changes his name to the Count of Monte Cristo.  So then there’s a lot of set up in Rome, etc., and we learn about other people seeking revenge tied into the bad things our bad friends have done, and how CMC is going to help them while helping himself to a big bowl of revenge soup, etc.  Suddenly we are all in gay Paris and the revenge starts.  Slowly.  This goes on for…like most of the rest of the book.  Somehow, only one person recognizes the CMC as Edmund, which I find dubious.  Sure it’s been a while.  But…really? I’m already getting tired of rehashing it; it’s all very complicated.  Favored methods of revenge in this book include poison, murder, financial ruin, and disgrace via truth telling.  

There is a whole secondary set of characters introduced in gay Paris, all of whom are part of the new lives of the bad guys.  We meet Madame Danglars, who is totally a cougar and cheating on her husband (but they kind of hate each other…?), and their daughter Eugenie, who aspires to be an opera singer, but maybe just has a big Sapphic crush on her musical instructor (unclear, but this is my suspicion).  She’s engaged to Albert, who happens to be the son of Mercedes and Ferdinand, who is now the Count Morcref.  Albert is surprisingly decent, despite his inbreeding.  Mercedes is still hawt; Ferdinand is still a dick.  Then at the Villefort manse, we meet Madame Villefort the second (first one died in childbirth and was apparently a saint).  Madame Deux is a big fan of poisons, and also of being a helicopter mom to her somewhat monstrous young son.  Valentine is Villefort’s daughter, who is engaged to another guy who’s dad was murdered for being a big old monarchist, but she’s really truly madly deeply hawt for Maximilian Morrel, CMC’s old boss’ son.  Noirtier is still alive, but has had a massive stroke and is totally paralyzed, except for his eyeballs, so he sees all and hears all, but has to like, blink to communicate.  Such a 19th century gimmick.  

         Other things happen and other characters are involved too – por ejemplo, Villefort has a secret evil son, and the CMC has “adopted” a young Greek girl named Haidee – but there’s already SO many, so I’m cutting you off.  And by adopted, I mean purchased, because there are slaves in this book who according to Dumas, want to stay slaves.  Now, from my spotty understanding of French legalese in the 1830’s, slavery was abolished, and if you were a slave who arrived in France, you were automatically freed…SO.  My jaw actually dropped when I read this:

‘Ali has many fauls mixed with most excellent qualities.  He cannot possibly serve you as a pattern for your conduct, no being, as you are, a paid servant, but a mere slave – a dog, who, should he fail in his duty towards me, I should not disaharge from my service, but kill.’ Baptistin opened his eye with astonishment.
‘You seem incredulous,’ said Monte Cristo, who repeated to Ali in the Arabic language what he had just ben saying to Baptistin in French.  The Nubian smiled assentingly to his master’s words, then kneeling on one knee, respectfully kissed the hand of the count  This corroboration of the lesson he had just received put the finishing stroke to the wonder and stupefaction of M. Baptistin.” (p. 507)

What is WRONG with you, Dumas?  This passage is so messed up! Were you hanging out with our Confederate friends?  Using this logic, of course CMC falls in love with Haidee at the end. 

        Suffice it to say I won’t ramble much more about this, I think Dumas did enough for the both of us.  All the plot lines are twisted together, but do wind up making sense, even if I periodically stopped caring (but luckily it switches between different characters, which I guess keeps it fresh).  But seriously, were there like 6 people in 1830’s France?  How do they all know each other?  Just know that this book is wicked long.  There are lots of eye-roll inducing moments, weird subplots that somehow tie in, a lot of moments where people are talking about making their toilet (oh come on, it’s funny), ridiculous and preposterous claims about Edmund/CMC always being pasty and seeing in the dark (he’s totally a vampire).  

I could say a lot more about themes of satisfaction and revenge, and personal growth, and the redemption of forgiveness, etc. that come about in this book, BUT I WON’T.  This isn’t an English paper!  If you were to, say, make this into a drinking game and drink anytime someone trembles, I’m fairly certain you would not survive.  So don’t do that.  And only read this book when you have a lot of time on your hands, because you will need it.  In short, I did not hate the story (I rather liked it), but I did hate reading it!  I know you’ve been dead for a long time, Alexandre Dumas, but next time use an editor and shave off about 700 pages, mmkay?
A few favorite quotations:
  • For Baxter/Peck/Em:  “Why, for heaven’s sake, are your eyes like cats’, that you can see in the dark?” (p. 147)
  • “If Renee could see me, I hope she would be satisfied, and would no longer call me a decapitator.” (p. 66)  Whatchu talking ‘bout, Villefort? Being called a decapitator is something I aspire to!
  • “I should have taken four reefs in the topsails and furled the spanker.” (p. 272) That’s what she said.
  • “The appetite grows by what it feeds on.” (p. 873)  Which probably explains why I’m totally digging ABC’s Revenge.  How is that show not on the CW?

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