Book Simple: A Classic Reinvention [Pt.1]
a blogumn by Amy Brown
From the Girl Scouts’ logo to the countless starlets trying to be the next Madonna, it might seem that reinvention is a current national obsession. Having just experienced a rather significant personal rebranding, this week I started to read an epic saga on that subject, The Count of Monte Cristo. The 1844 novel by Alexandre Dumas p?re describes the adventures of Edmond Dant?s, a simple Castilian sailor forced through the villainy and ambitions of others to become someone vastly different than what he planned to be. He’s like an object lesson for Lindsey Lohan, a man who finds good fortune and innocence turned suddenly into dark imprisonment.
When first we meet Dant?s, he is the first mate of the Pharaon, who assumes command after the death of her Captain Leclere. Upon his return from the otherwise-successful voyage, his ship’s owner, M. Morel congratulates him. “There’s a providence that watches over the deserving,” Morel notes, promising that Dant?s will soon be captain himself. His good fortune means that Edmond will be able to marry his beloved Mercédès, a Catalan woman with only “a few ragged nets, [as] the miserable inheritance left by [her] father” to sustain her.
Edmond’s success awakens the jealously of the Pharaon’s supercargo, Danglars. “On turning around the owner saw Danglars behind him, apparently awaiting orders, but in reality also watching the young sailor, – but there was a great difference in the expression of the two men who thus followed the movements of Edmond Dant?s.”
Danglars schemes with Fernand, Mercédès’s cousin who desires her for himself. While the death of Dant?s might mean the suicide of Mercédès, “Absence severs as well as death, and if the walls of a prison were between Edmond and Mercédès they would be as effectually separated as if he lay under a tombstone.” Fernand falsely denounces Dant?s for the Bonapartist sympathies of Captain Leclere. Once arrested and under the judgment of the ambitious Villefort, Dant?s falls victim to his innocent discovery of the judge’s dark family secret. He is condemned to the Chateau d’If, the darkest dungeon reserved for political prisoners of the frail French monarchy.
Dant?s’s misfortune and time in prison leads to his first reinvention; in the prison he meets the Abbé Faria, an educated Italian priest who digs through the walls in search of escape. The priest attributes his ingenuity to the rigors imposed by captivity: “misfortune is needed to bring to light the treasures of the human intellect.” La Lohan might do well to take a read through these chapters. “Compression is needed to explode gunpowder. Captivity has brought my mental faculties to a focus,” notes the Abbé, “and you are well aware that from the collision of clouds electricity is produced—from electricity, lightning, from lightning, illumination.”
Under the tutelage of Faria, “Days, even months, passed by unheeded in one rapid and instructive course. At the end of a year, Dant?s was a new man.” The formerly uneducated sailor becomes versed in languages and philosophy. The Abbé, however, teaches Dant?s one lesson he regrets: “the axiom that if you wish to discover the author of any bad action, seek first to discover the person to whom the perpetration of that bad action could be in any way advantageous.” Through this reasoning, Dant?s discovers the betrayal of those he believed were his friends, which “instilled a new passion in [his] heart – that of vengeance.”
I’m going to serialize here, as the book is gigantic. In keeping with my tabloid theme: tune in next week for the story of how Edmond Dant?s obtains his revenge!