Count of Monte Cristo Check-In

I apologize for my absence here the past couple of weeks. We’ve all been sick at my house, the boys with the flu and I with a cold that turned into a sinus infection that has knocked me on my bottom. I’m just now starting to come out of it. Things have also been nutty at work and I’m in the midst of trying to hire a senior assistant. I haven’t had energy to write and not a lot of time to blog hop, but I have been reading! It’s time for another installment of my Count of Monte Cristo reader’s journal (covering pages 417-605.)

9780307271129Here’s what I want to say most about this book right now: Don’t be afraid of big books. For so long I put off reading this classic because its size intimidated me. I was afraid the style would be off-putting or too archaic. How wrong I was! Yes, there are sections that drag a little bit more than others, but on the whole, it’s a remarkably fresh, exciting, well-crafted story. Breaking it up and taking it slow has enabled me to enjoy this classic at my own pace while still reading other books.

Here are some plot highlights of this section (Chapters 34-45:)

  • Two young French men, Baron Franz d’Epinay and Viscount Albert de Morcerf, become acquainted with the Count in Rome. In fact, Dantès orchestrates a “kidnapping” of Albert just do he can save him. Why is Albert so special to Dantès? He’s related to someone from Dantès’ past.
  • The Count is powerful and wealthy enough to save an old associate from being executed, but he’s weird enough to make Franz and Albert watch the other criminal get executed.
  • Franz realizes he’s met the Count before, only when he partied with him in the grotto on Monte Cristo he knew his as “Sinbad.”
  • Dantès and Albert make a plan to meet in Paris at Albert’s house in exactly 3 months.
  • Who should Dantès meet at Albert’s house? Mercédès, his former fiancee, who is Albert’s MOTHER. Dear old dad is none other than Fernand. Mercédès is shaken and unnerved by The Count’s appearance, but she doesn’t say anything about her true feelings to her son.
  • Dantès buys a house in Paris and discovers that Villefort once had an illegitimate child with Madame Danglar there, and tried to kill it. Dantès’ servant, Bertuccio, rescued the child and gave him to his sister-in-law to raise.

Whew! This book certainly doesn’t lack for plot! And all the connections of the characters sometimes make me have to consult Wikipedia so I’m sure I know what’s going on. But it’s still good fun.

So I’ve got a lot of catching up to do, both here and on reading your blogs, friends. I hope you’re all staying well this winter – flu and other illnesses have been running rampant down here. My son’s school was closed because of illness for two days ahead of the holiday weekend. Drink lots of fluids, get some sleep, and wash your hands! 🙂

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

The Second 200(ish) Pages of The Count of Monte Cristo

(Note: I’m making my way slowly through The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas as part of my Classics Club list. I’m reading 100(ish) pages a week and writing up my thoughts reader’s journal-style every couple of weeks.)

1088140So where did we leave off last time? Oh yes, with Dantès and the Abbe Faria, his fellow prisoner and new friend, hanging out together by way of a secret tunnel they’ve carved between their two cells. Faria is showing off his homemade tools to an incredulous Dantès. Well, we pick up in this installment with the two men talking about just how Faria got his reputation for being “mad.” Apparently he has talked for years of a massive treasure that was willed to him long ago by his former boss and friend, the Compte de Spada. (The story of how the treasure is concealed and revealed to Faria is really fun and I won’t spoil it.) Guess where this supposed treasure (Dantès is skeptical) is located? The small island of Monte Cristo! And Faria, in a touching speech, wants Dantès to have it.

“You are my son, Dantès,” exclaimed the old man. “You are the child of my captivity. My profession condemns me to celibacy. God has sent you to me to console, at one and the same time, the man who could not be a father and the  prisoner who could not get free.”

And Faria extended the arm of which alone the use remained to him to the young man, who threw himself upon his neck and wept bitterly.

Fast forward a little bit, and Dantès has indeed escaped prison. I won’t tell you HOW, because that is truly one of the most inspired bits I’ve read so far and caused me to write “OMG!” in my notes. He’s now a man of 33, fourteen years since his arrest.

Then his eyes lighted up with hatred as he thought of the three men who had caused him so long and wretched a captivity.

He renewed against Danglars, Fernand, and Villefort the oath of implacable vengeance he has made in his dungeon.

He hooks up with some amiable smugglers and assumes the identity of a shipwrecked Maltese sailor. Apparently his appearance and even his voice has undergone such a great change in his fourteen years of captivity that “it was impossible that his best friend – if, indeed, he had any friend left – could recognize him; he could not recognize himself.” I had to suspend my disbelief that no one seems to recognize him, but you just have to go with it if you’re going to continue to enjoy the story. Then, in a stroke of luck, the patron of the boat that he has sailed with for a couple of months happens to want to make some sort of clandestine exchange of goods, and which small, uninhabited island would make the best out of the way place for such an exchange? Why, Monte Cristo, of course! So Dantès is able to finally go to the island and try to devise a way to search for the treasure out of eyesight and earshot of his fellow smugglers.

Does he find the treasure? Again, I don’t want to spoil things for you, but suffice it to say that he doesn’t need to keep sailing with the crew of The Young Amelia when his term of service ends.

He charges his new friend Jacopo to venture to Marseilles on an errand, to ascertain the whereabouts of his beloved father and his former fiancee, Mercédès. The news isn’t good. Assuming various identities and accents, Dantès visits both his old pals Caderousse and M. Morrel to get more of the particulars that led to his imprisonment. After playing the silent benefactor to save Morrel from his financial troubles, Dantès leans in to his dark side, with this rousing speech:

“Farewell kindness, humanity, and gratitude! Farewell to all the feelings that expand the heart! I have been Heaven’s substitute to recompense the good – now the God of Vengeance yields to me his power to punish the wicked!”

Finally, we get a strange little diversion with the story of two young, elite Frenchman, Albert and Franz, who want to travel around Europe. The last 50 pages or so of this section are a little strange and rambling and I’m not sure exactly where it’s headed. I mean, obviously Dantès is playing the long game here in his quest for vengeance – after all, there are 1000 more pages to go!

This continues to be a very entertaining read and I’m thoroughly invested in seeing how this all plays out for Dantès. I want to see Danglars, Fernand, and Villefort get what’s coming to them, and good!  Stay tuned for more in a couple of weeks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The First 200 Pages of The Count of Monte Cristo

I’m doing it, friends! I’m finally reading this book!

And it’s terrific.

I’ll be posting informal reading updates every 200 pages or so. These are not going to be in-depth lit-crit examinations of the book but more like a reader’s journal. Reading about 100 pages a week works for me, allowing me to continue reading other books and making progress on my other reading goals. I’m pleasantly surprised by how entertaining and easy to read this is. I don’t know what I expected, but I suppose I thought it would be harder going than it has been so far. Where do we get these notions of “classic” novels, that they should somehow be like work?

9780141392462Anyway, the book. Do you guys know how the plot gets rolling? There’s this young sailor, Dantès, who’s virtuous and upstanding, well-liked by his men. He’s about to be married to his true love, the beautiful Mercédès.  He does an errand for his dying Captain, delivering a letter to Elba, where the deposed Napoleon is exiled. Upon his return, and about the become Captain of the ship, he is accused of treason for his errand. How did this devastating turn of events come to pass? Three men, jealous of Dantès for different reasons – Danglars, Caderousse, and Fernand – have conspired to frame him.

The villains are villainous, although I suspect one of them may have a change of heart at some point. One of them I absolutely hate. (Guess which one?) Mercédès is pretty much a non-entity at this point; I get nothing from her except she’s awfully blind to Fernand’s true nature. Dantès’s father is a heartbreaking case.  The injustice of the whole thing propels the plot along. I want to keep turning the pages because I want Dantès to get his revenge! And I know it’s coming, but as I have 1200 more pages to go, probably not for a while. 🙂

Then there’s the whole Villefort/Noirtier side plot, the thing that takes the accusations of the three conspirators to the next level and gets Dantès imprisoned. I’m not sure what to make of Villefort yet  – he’s selfish and conniving – but the meeting with his father was certainly a dramatic moment.

I LOVE that Dantès has found a pal in prison! And they’re doing all sorts of fun prison break stuff together! The Abbé is practically MacGyver (do people remember that show?) He’s made pens out of fish bones, paper out of hankerchiefs, and ink out of soot and blood.

“There is one thing puzzles me still,” observed Dantès, “and that is how you managed to do all this by daylight?”

“I worked at night also,” replied Faria.

“Night! – why, for Heaven’s sake, are your eyes like a cat’s , that you can see to work in the dark?”

“Indeed they are not; but a beneficent Creator has supplied man with ability and intelligent to supply the want of the power you allude to. I furnished myself with a light quite as good as that possessed by the cat.”

“You did? – Pray tell me how?”

“I separated the fat from the meat served to me, melted it, and made a most capital oil; here is my lamp.” So saying, the abbe exhibited a sort of vessel very similar to those employed upon the occasion of public illuminations.

“But how do you procure a light?”

“Oh, here are two flints, and a morsel of burnt linen.”

“And your matches?”

“Were easily prepared, – I feigned a disorder of the skin, and asked for a little sulphur, which was readily supplied.”

I love how nonchalant the Abbé is about the whole thing.

81lq9cbf+sl._sy445_Are there classic novels you’ve put off reading for one reason or another? What’s been stopping you from getting to them? Is the movie version of this book any good? Let me know in the comments.

 

 

Thoughts on Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin (#CCSpin #19)

And the darkness of John’s sin was like the darkness of the church on Saturday evenings; like the silence of the church when he was there alone, sweeping, and running water into the great bucket, and overturning chairs, long before the saints arrived. It was like his thoughts as he moved about the tabernacle in which his life had been spent; the tabernacle that he hated, yet loved and feared.

510dFZyJmyL._SX303_BO1,204,203,200_I feel like I got way with something by reading Go Tell It on the Mountain for the latest Classics Club Spin. We were supposed to be reading one of the longer books on our lists, but I only put ten “big books” on mine, and the spin result happened to be Baldwin’s 1953 first novel. The one I borrowed from the library clocked in at 291 pages. Oh well. Those big books are still waiting for me.

This is a challenging books to write about. It’s a family story and a coming of age story. Goodreads says it’s semi-autobiographical and my copy’s jacket flap quotes Baldwin himself as saying, “Mountain is the book I had to write if I was ever going to write anything else.” I’ve now read three of Baldwin’s books, and I’ve seen the exquisite documentary about him, I Am Not your Negro, but I do want to read a biography about him or at least do some more research into this life.

Not only is this book challenging to describe but it was challenging to read as well, because I felt so bad for the main character, the young teenager John. His family lives in 1930’s era New York City, and his cold and critical father Gabriel is an associate pastor of a very Evangelical type of church. His world seems pretty sheltered and restricted, and you can feel John wanting to break free and explore the variety of experience that New York offers.

He stood on the crest of the hill, hands clasped beneath his chin, looking down. Then he, John, felt like a giant who might crumble this city with his anger; he felt like a tyrant who might crush this city beneath his heel; he felt like a long-awaited conqueror at whose feet flowers would be strewn, and before whom multitudes cried, Hosanna! He would be, of all, the mightiest, the most beloved, the Lord’s anointed; and he would live in this shining city which his ancestors had seen with longing from far way. For it was his; the inhabitants of the city had told him it was his; he had but to run down, crying, and the would take him to their hearts and show him wonders his eyes had never seen. 

Gabriel and John do not get along, and we come to find out that John is Gabriel’s wife Elizabeth’s son by another man. Gabriel becomes a bit more humanized and sympathetic as we delve into flashbacks of his story, and we come to understand in flashbacks how and why Elizabeth married him as well. The last section of the book is John’s feverish, nightmarish religious experience (salvation? conversion?) with an ambiguous ending.

Did I enjoy this book? Enjoy is not exactly the word – it was a surprisingly page-turning read. Some parts were more engaging than others, especially the back stories of John’s aunt Florence and mother Elizabeth. But I gave it four stars because of the beauty and precision of the language and the challenging spiritual imagery.

Time was indifferent, like snow and ice; but the heart, crazed wanderer in the driving waste, carried the curse forever.

Have you read this? If you’ve read Baldwin before, what is your favorite of his books? Are you interested in seeing the new film If Beale Street Could Talk (based on Baldwin’s 1974 novel?)

 

 

Classics Club Spin #19

Hello friends. I hope those of you who have been celebrating Thanksgiving have had a great few days. I’m delighted to write that it’s time for another Classics Club Spin! Here are the “rules:”

  • Go to your blog.
  • Pick twenty CHUNKSTER books that you’ve got left to read from your Classics Club List.
  • Post that list, numbered 1-20, on your blog before Tuesday 27th November.
  • We’ll announce a number from 1-20.
  • Read that book by 31st January 2019.

Um, did they say “CHUNKSTER?” Gulp. When I looked at my list I noticed that I do have quite a few chunksters I haven’t even touched yet. Because I’m a wimp, my spin list is half 500+ page tomes, half “fun size” literary masterpieces (bigger books in bold type.)

  1. Go Tell it on the Mountain – James Baldwin
  2. Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Anne Brontë
  3. The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov
  4. A Study in Scarlet – Arthur Conan Doyle
  5. My Cousin Rachel – Daphne du Maurier
  6. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
  7. The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
  8. Adam Bede – George Eliot
  9. Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
  10. North and South – Elizabeth Gaskell
  11. Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
  12. The Thin Man – Dashiell Hammett
  13. The Blue Castle – L.M. Montgomery
  14. Less Than Angels – Barbara Pym
  15. Ceremony – Leslie Marmon Silko
  16. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
  17. The Warden – Anthony Trollope
  18. Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
  19. The Island of Dr. Moreau – H.G. Wells
  20. Native Son – Richard Wright

What from my list have you read? I’ll post the result next week.

The Lottery & Other Stories by Shirley Jackson and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (Classics Club books #8 and #9)

I read two books in the September and October that qualified for both the R.I.P Challenge and my Classics Club listkilling two birds with one stone. I had read Jane Eyre before but it had been since I was about 14 or 15 years old – long enough that it was almost like new to me. The Shirley Jackson had been on my TBR list for quite a while. I’d read her classic story “The Lottery” in high school as well, and was thoroughly chilled. I didn’t know what to expect from the rest of her stories. I’m happy to say that I enjoyed them and was surprised by both books.

51Uz5FayRhL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_First, impressions of Jane Eyre. It’s a classic, and deservedly so. I chose it for the R.I.P. Challenge because I remembered the Gothic feel and the mysterious person (or supernatural being?) who kept making scary things happen at Thornfield House. Turns out what I most remembered about the novel, the part where Jane is employed by Mr. Rochester at Thornfield, is only about a third of the book! I had somehow totally blocked out her horrible childhood, unwanted and unloved by her horrid aunt, Mrs. Reed, and her terrible experiences at the boarding school she was sent to. I also totally forgot about what happens when she is later forced to leave Thornfield. (I’m trying to be vague because I’m sure there are some who haven’t yet read this.) Therefore, the first and last thirds of the novel felt juuuust a smidge overly long. (St. John! Oh my goodness! What a pill!)

I was terribly impressed, however, with how spunky Jane herself was, right from the get-go. She was no shrinking violet but instead a girl and later a young woman who stood up for herself even when it got her into trouble. I admired that. One early exchange between Jane and her aunt particularly impressed me:

“Don’t talk to me about her, John: I told you not to go near her; she is not worthy of notice; I do not choose that either you or your sisters should associate with her.”

Here, leaning over the banister, I cried out suddenly, and without at all deliberating on my words, –

“They are not fit to associate with me!”

And since I reread this for the R.I.P. Challenge, I thought I would offer a creepy passage from the book:

Good God! What a cry!

The night – its silence – its rest, was rent in twain by a savage, a sharp, a shrilly sound that ran from end to end of Thornfield Hall.

My pulse stopped: my heart stood still; my stretched arm was paralysed. The cry died, and was not renewed. Indeed, whatever being uttered that fearful shriek could not soon repeat it: not the widest-winged condor on the Andes could, twice in succession, send out such a yell from the cloud shrouding his eyrie. The thing delivering such utterance must rest ere it could repeat the effort.

All in all, a very enjoyable, romantic, insightful classic novel that I would recommend to everyone, and a perfect choice for autumn reading.                       ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Shirley Jackson has become one of my favorite authors over the last few years. I’ve read The Haunting of Hill House, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, The Bird’s Nest, Hangsaman, and The Sundial. I just have the rest of her short stories, one more novel, and her nonfiction still to read. The Lottery and Other Stories was the only story collection published in Jackson’s lifetime (1949.) Many of these stories are not scary or Gothic in feel like some of her longer fiction. But they are unsettling, often depicting people new in town, people in unfamiliar surroundings, people who don’t quite have a firm hold on reality.89723

There were a few stories that also dealt with racism and “otherness” quite overtly. One of these that impressed me was “After You, My Dear Alphonse.” The title refers to a silly phrase that two young boys, Johnny and his friend Boyd, keep saying to one another as a game. Johnny brings Boyd home for lunch after they’ve been playing outside. Right away, as soon as she sees that Boyd is black, Johnny’s mother Mrs. Wilson starts making assumptions. She scolds Johnny for making Boyd carry in a load of wood, but Johnny responds, “Why shouldn’t he carry the wood, Mother? It’s his wood. We got it at his place.” Then when she serves the boys stewed tomatoes, Johnny tells her he doesn’t want any and that Boyd doesn’t eat them either. Instantly Mrs. Wilson says, “Just because you don’t like them, don’t say that about Boyd. Boyd will eat anything.” She goes on to explain that Boyd wants to grow up to be big and strong so he can work hard, presuming that he will have to work in some sort of manual labor. The assumptions keep piling up, and it becomes almost comical how Boyd thwarts Mrs. Wilson’s expectations at every turn.

 “Sure,” Johnny said. “Boyd’s father works in a factory.”

“There, you see?” Mrs. Wilson said. “And he certainly has to be strong to do that – all that lifting and carrying at a factory.”

“Boyd’s father doesn’t have to,” Johnny said.  “He’s a foreman.”

Mrs.Wilson felt defeated. “What does your mother do, Boyd?”

“My mother?” Boyd was surprised. “She takes care of us kids.”

“Oh. She doesn’t work then?”

“Why should she?” Johnny said through a mouthful of eggs. “You don’t work.”

In the end Mrs. Wilson tries to reinstate her percieved cultural dominance by trying to make Boyd take something he doesn’t want and very politely refuses. Johnny and Boyd leave and go back to playing, shaking their heads at the “screwyness” of mothers. I thought this story was a brilliant depiction of the ways in which racism can show up very subtly – Mrs. Wilson is enlightened enough to have Boyd share a lunch table with her son, but she persists in making assumptions about what Boyd’s life and future will be like. Her growing annoyance at being shown her mistakes portrays that she’s not as enlightened as she might like to think. It’s interesting how relevant this story feels – the insidiousness of subtle racism shows up often in modern life.

As with any collection some stories are better than others. But overall this was a very good read with hardly any clunkers. Jackson skewers conventional mid 20th-century American society with insight and wit, making her reader question the nature of both identity and personal agency. Many of her characters are taken out of familiar places and situations and have to deal with the frightening and confusing consequences. I think I expected a certain kind of story when I approached this collection – stories more in the vein of Hill House or Castle. Instead I was pleasantly surprised to find that Jackson’s range extended even wider than I had imagined.                  ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Have you read either one of these? If not, do they intrigue you?  

 

The Bird’s Nest by Shirley Jackson (20 Books of Summer #16/Classics Club #7)

The Bird’s Nest is the Shirley Jackson’s third novel, published in 1954, and it is just as quirky and oddball as you might expect if you’ve ever read her before. It’s the fifth one I’ve read by her so far and it is my least favorite, but still it is more thought-provoking and entertaining than many novels published today. Jackson has a way of describing human relationships and the human mind that is deliciously off-kilter and insightful. In this tale of a young woman’s deepening mental illness Jackson explores what it means to download (1)be human and how trauma can affect the mind.

Elizabeth Richmond had a corner of an office on the third floor; it was the section of the museum closest , as it were, to the surface, that section where correspondence with the large world outside was carried on freely, where least shelter was offered to cringing scholarly souls. At Elizabeth’s desk on the highest floor of the building, in the most western corner of the office, she sat daily answering letters offering the museum collections of pressed flowers, or old sea-chests brought back from Cathay. It is not proven that Elizabeth’s person equilibrium was set off balance by the slant of the office floor, nor could it be proven that if was Elizabeth who pushed the building off its foundations, but it is undeniable that the began to slip at about the same time.

Living with her aunt Morgen and working in a hum-drum job at a museum, Elizabeth starts experiencing perplexing and frightening symptoms, like losing gaps of time and horrendous headaches and backaches. She also starts receiving threatening notes at the museum. Her aunt takes her to a doctor, who recommends a psychiatrist, Dr. Wright. Dr. Wright suggests hypnosis to try and get at the root of the problem, as “Miss R” (the doctor’s initial name for Elizabeth) insists there’s nothing wrong with her. When he puts her under hypnosis for the first time, Dr. Wright sees something that leaves him shaken:

…I wonder, though, how I ever thought her handsome. Because she was not, I saw, at all handsome, and as I watched her in horror, the smile upon her soft lips coarsened, and became sensual and gross, her eyelids fluttered in an attempt to open, her hands twisted together violently, and she laughed, evilly and roughly, throwing her head back and shouting, and I, seeing a devil’s mask where a moment before I had seen Miss R.’s soft face, thought only, it cannot be Miss R.; this is not she.

Little by little the hypnosis starts revealing that Elizabeth’s personality has split into four distinct personas: Elizabeth, Betsy, Beth, and Bess. There is a hinted trauma in Elizabeth’s past involving her mother, which Dr. Wright thinks is perhaps the origin of her mental illness. One section of the book is narrated by Betsy, who is the most lively and interesting personality. She takes off for New York City trying to find her mother. This was one of my favorite parts of the book because I had no clue where the story was going, and Betsy experiencing total freedom and control of the other personalities was entertaining, like a naive child out in the world for the first time.

I won’t spoil any more of the plot but I’ll just mention that Dr. Wright himself occupies a large share of the book, and he’s really not the most interesting character. He likes to hear himself talk and Jackson gives him too much of the book’s real estate. He’s not malevolent but instead self-important and irritating. Betsy aptly calls him “Dr. Wrong.”

If you’ve never read Jackson before I wouldn’t start with this one. It could use a bit of editing and Jackson honed her craft as she wrote more, becoming better at characterization and narrative drive. However, if you are already a Jackson fan and want to read everything she’s written, you will probably enjoy this, if for nothing else than to see the ways in which her skills developed over time. It is a strange exploration of identity and I liked it.

Elizabeth spoke very slowly, feeling her way. “What he’s going to have when he’s through is a new Elizabeth Richmond, with her mind. She will think and eat and hear and walk and take baths. Not me. I’ll maybe be a part of her, but I won’t know it – she will.”

“I don’t get it,” said Morgen.

“Well,” said Elizabeth, “when she does all the thinking and knowing, won’t I be… dead?”

“Oh, now, look,” said Morgen, and then sat helplessly, facing the definition of annihilation.

(This is the 16th book from my 20 Books of Summer list and the 7th book from my Classics Club list. I know that today – Labor Day in the U.S. – marks the official end to 20 Books of Summer, but I have one more review to post. Expect my thoughts on George Saunders’s short story collection CivilWarLand in Decline sometime later this week.)