Book Simple: The Agent of Nemesis
a life-in-books by Amy Brown
I am the queen of plans that go awry. If I need to drive two-hundred miles for a business trip, inevitably that will be the time my car air conditioning will go on the fritz. Given the choice of freeway exit A or B, I will choose the wrong one, every time, and circle my desired location like an enraged buzzard. The cap falls off my pepper mill when I’m cooking; my skirt seam splits when I bend to pick up my dropped keys. I’ve never arrived at a hotel elegantly in my whole life. So it is with a sense of awe that I watch Edmond Dantes lay his plans for what’s left of his blighted life in the second half of The Count of Monte Cristo. (Speaking of things going haywire, I’m going to Anglicize all the names, as I noticed last week’s column didn’t handle the accents aigu or grave particularly well.)
After Dantes found his friend, the Abbe Faria, “the sight of an old man clinging to life with so desperate a courage, gave a fresh turn to [Edmond’s] ideas, and inspired him with new courage.” The pair plot their escape. When those plans are foiled, the Abbe reveals to Dantes, “the child of [his] captivity,” of the existence of a vast treasure hidden in the Island of Monte Cristo. “The abbe did not know the Island of Monte Cristo; but Dantes knew it, and had often passed it…a rock of almost conical form, which looks as though it had been thrust up by volcanic force from the depth to the surface of the ocean.” Just so is Edmond Dantes thrust into action by the wealth the Abbe described.
The wealth Dantes discovers on the Island of Monte Cristo allows him to return to Marseilles where his years in prison mask his previous identity. There Edmond sees how well “heaven recompenses virtue.” His father has died of starvation. His former employer M. Morel, who “wrote, implored, threatened and so energetically [tried to intercede on Edmond’s behalf] that on the second restoration he was persecuted as a Bonapartist,” has lost his ships and been driven nearly to bankruptcy. Meanwhile the two men who falsely accused Dantes of treason have risen through French society’s ranks to their highest echelons. Danglars, after speculating in the Spanish markets, “is a millionaire, and they have made him a baron,” while Fernand rose through the army’s ranks, wedding Edmond’s beloved Mercedes along the way.
Bit by bit, Edmond collects the proofs and pieces he will need to bend these circumstances to his will. Dantes collects the purse Morel left to pay his father’s bills and uses it to receipt Morel’s devastating debts. The man who becomes the Count of Monte Cristo believes himself to be an agent of Nemesis; “I have been heaven’s substitute to recompense the good,” Dantes cries, after his plot to restore Morel’s business succeeds, “now the god of vengeance yields to me his power to punish the wicked!”
One of the great joys of this novel is how slowly Dantes becomes the Count of Monte Cristo, while incrementally his schemes tick into place as calculatedly as a sculpture by George Rhodes. The Count is brilliant, and he is resolute, and he is ruthless. Besides his financial manipulations, Dantes cultivates friendships with the children of the men and the woman who have betrayed him. These offspring are to be mere pawns in his terrible chess game of vengeance.
The plotting and pace of the novel make it such an engrossing read, and I wouldn’t spoil all the twists and turns by summarizing them here, even if I could. But I will tell you that something wonderful happens when the Count discovers his own careful plans gone awry, when Dantes finds himself admiring “noble heart” Fernand’s son, when he discovers a kinship with Haidee, another victim of his enemy’s vicious ambition. Can the Count of Monte Cristo forgive? You’ll have to read the book to find out.
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