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Wednesday Widening Gyre

What I've Finished Reading

How Dear is Life - war comes to Europe, Philip joins the local Territorials, suffers embarrassment and shame, and is marched all over France and Belgium. At home, a familiar situation: the number of news sources has exploded, but no one knows what's true and what's false, and hardly anyone has the time to wonder in the first place. There are stories of atrocities in Belgium, fact mixed with half-truth mixed with pure garbage, all luridly illustrated. There are rumors of children poisoned at random by German bakers. The country is choked with information, while over in Europe no one tells the soldiers anything. Nothing very new here if you've read more than one WWI novel, but Philip and his family continue to be interesting and sympathetic.

What I’m Reading Now

So far in Clea: Justine has recounted how Pursewarden cured her of her “neurosis” about being raped as a child by telling her she enjoyed it and probably asked for it, and we have had this wonderful Durrellism:

She was, like every woman, everything that the mind of a man (let us define 'man' as a poet perpetually conspiring against himself) – that the mind of man wished to imagine. She was there forever, and she had never existed! Under all these masks there was only another woman, every woman, like a lay figure in a dressmaker's shop, waiting for the poet to clothe her, breathe life into her. In understanding all this for the first time I began to realise with awe the enormous reflexive power of woman – the fecund passivity with which, like the moon, she borrows her second-hand light from the male sun. How could I help but be anything but grateful for such vital information? What did they matter, the lies, deceptions, follies, in comparison to this truth?

There's probably a sense in which this is more or less accurate, if you're Not Lawrence Durrell.

There's more to it than that, of course. Our dogged narrator Not Lawrence Durrell has dropped down out of the cloud cover of the past into a mangled, alien, and anxious wartime future. Justine and Nessim's plan to run guns to Palestine has led to them being trapped together under house arrest, and Justine is crackling with boredom and philosophy like a lot of frayed wires. It's very Durrell. My feelings about Durrell are still mixed.

Is anyone going to care about Clea when there is THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO on the same page? Maybe not, but I care about Clea.

In The Count of Monte Cristo, things fall apart; the center cannot hold. [SPOILERS through Chapter 95]

Convinced he's going to die in a duel with Albert, Dantes leaves twenty million francs to Maximilian, with the suggestion that maybe he should marry Haidee (heir to the rest of the gigantic fortune). Of course, Max can't do that because Valentine exists, and to both their credits, they just have a quick talk about it as soon as possible and Dantes doesn't press the issue. Dantes shows up to the duel ready to die. . . only for Albert to apologize! He has learned of Fernand's earlier treachery toward Dantes, and forgives him for seeking revenge! He tells him this in private, then announces that the duel is off! Mercedes, the true hero of this book, must have told him. But now two people know the Count's secret, so maybe it's time to pack it in?

Then Albert and Mercedes decide to leave town and the name of de Morcerf behind. They receive a letter from the Count, enclosing the hundred and fifty louis he had saved up for his marriage when he was Dantes.

Meanwhile, poor Fernand has been waiting all day for the news of his son's duel. He saw Albert come home unscathed; where is the embrace and the account of his triumph? Eventually, hardly knowing why, he shows up at Monte Cristo House to demand an explanation, and gets one:

"Fernand," cried he, "of my hundred names I need only tell you one to overwhelm you. But you guess it now, do you not? Or rather, you remember it? For notwithstanding all my sorrows and my tortures, I show you today a face which the happiness of revenge makes young again -- a face you must often have seen in your dreams since your marriage with Mercedes, my betrothed!"

Fernand doesn't know how to do anything anymore but collapse miserably and run home to his family. In his present state I doubt he could even manage a decent betrayal, if he had anyone left to betray. But no one is left. There's an ordinary hackney cab outside his beautiful house, and he sees Mercedes and his son leaving together with their luggage. He watches them, hoping to see them look back, just for a minute. They don't look back. A moment or two later, he shoots himself. Poor Fernand. :(

Fernand, you could have at least warned your old acquaintance Danglars that Edmond Dantes was back! I doubt Fernand has much concern for Danglars - if anything, it's all his fault, the manipulative jackwipe. If he hadn't manipulated Fernand into getting Dantes thrown in jail, maybe Dantes would have died of some kind of sea disease in a couple of years and he could have married Mercedes with no guilt. Then everything would be the same as it used to be, only safer and better rested. Anyway, he doesn't warn anyone of anything as far as we know.

Meanwhile, Valentine is being poisoned, poor thing. Max goes to Monte Cristo's House to intercede for her, and the latter is dismayed to learn that the woman Max loves is the daughter of Villefort, another snag in his vengeance plan! Dantes, how about you just don't try to poison people at all? Luckily, Noirtier is ALSO the true hero of this book and has been training Valentine's body to resist the poison, by encouraging her (blinking at her) to take small increasing doses of his own medicine. Noirtier is the best.

Next up: a conference between Danglars and his daughter Eugenie! I'm a little behind on Monte Cristo this week due to work, but should catch up again next Wednesday. We're almost to the end of the book! And we're down to the two least sympathetic of Dantes' original antagonists, which may or may not mean anything for how the next few chapters play out.

What I Plan to Read Next

The Golden Notebook? For 99 Novels, and it's already in my house. Probably The Secret Country, which I've been meaning to finish for a while.


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 21st, 2016 03:20 pm (UTC)
Oh Fernand. I must confess I felt a tiny twinge of sorrow for him when he shot himself, because he had just lost absolutely everything he cared about and, well, of course that's exactly what he did to Dantes so you can't say it's unjust, but. I did still feel a little sorry for him.

Also: aaagh, Valentine! Does Dantes realize that his little poisoning scheme has gotten out of hand now that three people have died? Or was his plan always to have Villefort's entire family die around him before Mme Villefort finally gets around to killing him? Dantes, Dantes! But thank goodness Noirtier is there to act as Valentine's guardian angel. All he can do is blink and he's still tougher than his son.

I am a couple chapters ahead of you, I think. All the Eugenie scenes are A++ material, even by the high standards Dumas has set for himself (although nothing will ever top the scene where Mercedes comes to beg the Count's clemency for her son).
Dec. 22nd, 2016 02:34 am (UTC)
:( :( :(

From the way he reacted to Maximilian, I got the impression that Dantes intended the poisonings to cut as wide a swath through Villefort's family as possible, because of the sins of the fathers etc.. Now he's rethinking the sins of the fathers thing, but he hasn't totally convinced himself out of it. He's flailing a little. That's my impression; I could be wrong. Poor everyone. :(

Eugenie is the best. I've just read Ch. 97, and it's like a whole little novel in there; you can see the imprint of all the mental and emotional adjustments she's made over the years in order to live her own life in her father's house. And she's a match for him! Danglars isn't as clever as he thinks he is, but Eugenie is exactly as clever as Danglars thinks he is.

Mercedes turning up in her DRAMA VEIL to beg clemency has got to be one of the top ten scenes in human history.
Dec. 22nd, 2016 01:05 pm (UTC)
OH DANTES, revenge is so complicated. It's such a problem when the people you have tried to manipulate into poisoning your enemies poison their virtuous stepdaughters instead!

(Does this make Valentine Snow White? Hmm.)

I want to read The Novel Of Eugenie now. Do you think anyone has written one? There is sort of a cottage industry of spin-off novels from classics, after all... although I don't think I've ever seen one for The Count of Monte Cristo.
Dec. 22nd, 2016 02:28 pm (UTC)
I'm TORN because on the one hand, if the Novel of Eugenie existed, obviously I would have to read it as soon as I found out, but what if it's bad?? OR WORSE, what if it's technically accomplished and emotionally rich, but buries Louise and Eugenie under a slag heap of grim realism instead of giving them the dashing romantic adventures and well-earned comforts that God and Dumas intended?

Ok, I'm getting ahead of myself. I don't know! But clearly I should find out!
Dec. 23rd, 2016 01:15 am (UTC)
What kind of homage to The Count of Monte Cristo would be cluttered up with grim realism? I refuse to believe that anyone would do anything so cruel. Bring on Eugenie Danglars and Louise d'Armilly, lady adventurers/opera singers! They are captured by highwaymen on the way to Italy, which somehow ends with Eugenie leading the bandits. Perhaps there will be pirates, later on!
Dec. 21st, 2016 03:48 pm (UTC)
I feel I won't be inviting Durrell around for tea!
Dec. 22nd, 2016 02:46 am (UTC)
He'll hide your scones and replace them with aphorisms about sex, women, and writing! You'll be all, "Durrell, where are the scones? They were supposed to be for everyone," and he'll be like, "There were never any scones, only the rancid opium dream of the great whore Alexandria, whose eye-crusts we were, each in our separate yet equally imaginary desolation. dropping between her scented fingers into the sands of ageless Egypt."

Or Bakewell Cherry Tarts or whatever you have out. Best not to invite him at all.
Dec. 22nd, 2016 04:38 pm (UTC)
But I do have too many mince pies ...
Dec. 21st, 2016 05:05 pm (UTC)
It's not as if Dantes is poisoning people, though. He's just sort of encouraging convenient poisoning in others! (Revenge, it's so complicated, why do your enemies have to have nice people in their families? :loL:)

After reading that paragraph, I have to say that my feelings towards Lawrence Durrell are unmixed. (Will never be reading any of his stuff, if only because my head is still spinning from trying to make any of those sentences make sense. Throw in the rape she no doubt enjoyed and we're done before we started, I think.)

Count of Monte Cristo, though! ;-)
Dec. 22nd, 2016 03:02 am (UTC)
I don't tend to show Durrell at his best because the compulsion to make fun of him is too strong. He does have some very good moments and I like the "plan" of the Alexandria Quartet; jury's still out on what I'm going to think of it when I finish Clea. But yeah, that's fair.

DANTES DANTES DANTES. I don't think he even knows what he wants anymore. He's so upset! that conveniently encouraging a Villefort family poisoning spree has UNEXPECTEDLY hurt a member of the virtuous Morrel family! dantes it appears you have some lessons yet to learn (says the ghost of Abbe Faria) (in my head, at least).
Dec. 22nd, 2016 05:34 am (UTC)
Dec. 22nd, 2016 07:55 am (UTC)
You know, I was always surprised Lord Peter Wimsey clearly hasn't read Monte Christo, despite being so well read. I guessed the murderer way Before him in one of the books just because *I* had. :D
Dec. 22nd, 2016 01:03 pm (UTC)
No one can read everything all the time! I shudder to think how narrowly I've escaped never reading Monte Cristo at all.

Probably he did read it at some point, but because he can't or WON'T heed the advice of Sherlock Holmes and keep his mental attic clear of extraneous information, the relevant parts just got lost somewhere among the garbage and the Gilbert and Sullivan.

If we're thinking of the same mystery, it remains one of the only times I've correctly guessed the murderer (on page ten!) simply because of the way information was introduced.

Edited at 2016-12-22 02:57 pm (UTC)
Dec. 23rd, 2016 09:10 pm (UTC)
I 100% agree with you on who the heroes of the book are (well, those two and Faria). The scene where Mercedes confronts Dantes literally made me cry, and Noirtier is the best!
Dec. 24th, 2016 09:06 am (UTC)
I just went back a few posts and saw you wrote very positive things about that scene as well. Of course. I didn't actually like The Count of Monte Cristo that much on the whole, which, for a Dumas fan feel almost like a sin (I've been meaning to re-read it to see if I enjoy it more this time around, but sadly I've missed the boat on participating on the anonmeme readalong), but I adored that scene.
Dec. 24th, 2016 10:46 pm (UTC)
It's simply the best! But then, I've loved this book pretty much all the way through, so my bias is strong.

There's no sin in not liking things! Not even the most ridiculous book of all time, or whatever you want to call this, can be all things to all people.

I missed the boat on anonmeme, too - I just kept forgetting to check back for updates and then RL intervened. But the wonderful thing about the invention of writing is it's never too late to read things! Maybe you will dislike it just as much or more, but one or two chapters can't hurt. . .
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )


blase ev

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