Friday, March 4, 2011

Book Twenty - The Count of Monte Cristo - Part Six

From Victor Hugo Central

This book was an adventure for me, not just because of the secrets, perils and voyages, but also because of the emotional journey. Monte Cristo seems to be about intrigue but also illustrates profound truths. One of these is that all actions have consequences. Seems like such a simple statement, doesn’t it? Of course actions have consequences. To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. I learned this not from Newton but from Garfield the lasagna-loving cat. (You can see the cartoon here.)

It is easy “know” but difficult to comprehend how much our actions affect others. To show the power of consequences, Dumas goes to great lengths to illustrate suffering. I continued to love Edmond throughout the book even when I did not understand him. I suffered with him and traveled with him and learned with him and wept with him. I haven’t walked in Edmond’s shoes, but I’ve certainly been betrayed and hurt in my life. And I daresay I’ve hurt others. I wish I had not, but if I’m honest I must admit that I have. Are those people lying in wait somewhere? I hope not.

I was not satisfied with the motivation Dumas gave for Edmond’s course of action. In fact, Edmond began to doubt his own motivation as time passed. As the puppet-master, he plays to the individual nature of his victims, knowing what will work with each (sorta like Ben manipulating people on LOST). What Edmond does not take into account is the incidental damage he inflicts upon the innocent. He does not understand the consequences of his own actions! Ah, the irony! The selfish acts of others caused a domino effect which mowed down Edmond, yet the skeletons Edmond causes to pour forth from locked closets are like dominoes going backward in time.

Another message in The Count of Monte Cristo is that we reap what we sow. While Edmond intended to force people to do this, his enemies were already doing so by the way they lived; their own choices dictated their lives. One character, for example, in losing his family –

... darted to his bedroom to see once more all he had loved in the world; but the hackney-coach drove on and the head of neither [his wife] nor her son appeared at the window to take a last look at the house or the deserted father and husband.
But that wasn’t all this particular man loved – he loved money. Money, power and prestige had ruled his life for many years. I do wonder about people who seek fame and fortune as fame and fortune tend not to treat people well.

Dumas is a master of detail and quite clever. Many times I found myself turning back a few pages to make sure I remembered what I thought I remembered - he's devious, Mr. Dumas. He also makes some quite funny observations. I particularly enjoyed the ladies who, upon receiving dreadful news, prepared to faint. Other examples --

As for his wife, he bowed to her, as some husbands do to their wives, but in a way that bachelors will never comprehend, until a very extensive code is published on conjugal life.

... were struck with the worthy appearance, the gentlemanly bearing, and the knowledge of the world displayed by the old patrician, who certainly played the nobleman very well, so long as he said nothing, and made no arithmetical calculations.

It was evident that Madame Danglars was suffering from that nervous irritability which women frequently cannot account for even to themselves; or that, as Debray had guessed, she had experienced some secret agitation that she would not acknowledge to any one. Being a man who knew that the former of these symptoms was one of the inherent penalties of womanhood, he did not then press his inquiries...
Debray: Though I am intrigued by the situation, I shall postpone my questions until you are well, Madame.

Madame Danglars: I’m well! Who says I’m not well???

Debray: I am sorry, I meant only that I do not wish to antagonize you when your hormones are out of whack.

Madame Danglars: Monsieur, speak to me of hormones when your own are in check.

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