Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Listening to Abbe Faria

I first read The Count of Monte Cristo in middle school. I was book-hungry, hunting around my house for something new, and came across a yellowed, worn copy of it. After reading the back, I thought, “Cool. I love Batman, this will be perfect.” I just wanted something breezy to get swept up in, something to take me to a completely different world. I was not expecting it to have any depths beyond the typical jaded hero story. Then Abbe Faria broke into Dante’s miserable, hopeless cell.
“You’re my son!’ cried the old man. ‘You’re the child of my captivity. My profession condemned me to celibacy, but God sent you to console both the man who could not be a father and the prisoner who could not be free,” (Dumas 72).
Creative Commons License 2.0/Dusty Dean
Suddenly, the oath of vengeance Dantes made, his horrible dark circumstances, all took a back seat to this moment: this tender expression of love and its identifying power. I was 13 and belonging—to someone, to myself, to a situation—was something I desperately wished for. The book became real to me.

As I continued to read, these brief moments of love and identification reached out to me. After his escape and transformation, Dantes tries so hard to distance himself from everyone. He takes on various facades: a priest, a sailor, an Englishman, a Count. He brags,
“I am a cosmopolite. I accept all customs and I speak all languages….Since I am from no country, since I ask no government for protection and since I regard no man as my brother, I am not deterred by any of the scruples or obstacles that paralyze the weak” (Dumas 211-212).
I had grown used to this new cold and superior toned Count and was shocked by the first recognition of his old identity. Shortly after his escape he had secretly helped his previous employer escape economic ruin and suicide, and then left again to establish his Count persona. Once he returned to France as the Count, he listened to the Morrel family’s miraculous story of their savior who was “one of (God’s) Angels” (Dumas 218), and then was told that Mr. Morrel firmly believed that it was “Edmond Dantes” (220). Being identified shook his composure for the first time in years. This occurs again with Mercedes (his ex-fiancĂ©) later on in the book, and it creates a similar reaction him: softening him and causing him to slightly alter his plan of vengeance. He cries, 
“How stupid I was… Not to have torn out my heart the day I swore to avenge myself” ( Dumas 379).
Though his elaborate plots were entertaining, for me it was these moments of identification that made me pause and hold my breath. Would Dantes stop his furious campaign? Would he accept the love and connect again to those who reached out to him? At this point in my life, I was just tentatively developing the personal belief that God really exists and is my Heavenly Father. Mercedes, Mr. Morrel, and Abbe Faria’s identification of Dantes directly related to their expression of their belief in God and His care and plan in their lives; it echoed in me. It made me hope that I would feel as confident as they did. It made me brave enough to wonder if God sent me here for any specific reason beyond just to “gain experience”.
Creative Commons License 2.0/Clint Sharp
The last chapter of the book still intrigues me. After achieving his dream of ruining the lives of the three major figures in his demise, he continues to control fate by timing and creating the situation for two lovers to be reunited. He asks for the girl to take care of Haydee, an ex-slave, ex-princess that he previously bought, saved, and used as evidence for the condemnation of one of his betrayers. And this prompts Haydee to explicitly declare her love for Dantes once more, and this time, he hears it and accepts it. He views her as a possible answer from God.
“I wanted to punish myself, but God wishes to forgive me….through you I can attach myself to life again; through you I can suffer; through you I can be happy….Have I glimpsed the truth oh God? No matter; whether it be a reward or a punishment I accept my destiny” (Dumas 529).
When I first read the book, I just felt so happy that Dantes had a chance, even if it was flimsy, to be happy and have peace again. I desperately hoped that he would be able to accept his past and live a new life. But secretly, privately, I felt unconvinced. What made Dantes accept love now? Was it because he felt his purpose of living was gone now that he had achieved his goal of vengeance? Did he actually love Haydee this whole time? Is it really not too late for him to attain peace, especially since he deliberately chose to continue in his path of hatred? Can destroying people’s lives, even if it was deserved, be forgotten that easily? The book opens with a boat bringing news of death, and not a painless death, but “brain fever” (Dumas 2). It closes with the parallel image of a boat and a letter from Edmond Dantes undergoing similar form of mental distress, condemning himself for the first time as:
“a man who, like Satan, believed himself for an instant to be equal to God, but who realized in all humility that supreme power and wisdom are in the hands of God” (Dumas 530).
Did he ever become humbled? He never quit trying to play God, even though at the end he did it for a positive rather than negative effect. He claims that the “sum of all human wisdom” is to “wait and hope” (Dumas 531), and maybe that is what I experience with this book. I am left waiting and hoping that Dantes does get redeemed, perhaps because I am waiting and hoping that it is not too late for me to be redeemed, for me to be recognized as of God, for me to belong somewhere.
Creative Commons License 2.0/ Ky
Though the text remains the same, the book, and what it means for me, constantly changes. For me, this is the power of literature. It reaches out to you and connects—constantly empathizing and challenging your perspective and experience.
“Here I am, obstinately and mercilessly pursuing you,’ said Faria with a benevolent smile, ‘You though you could escape from my generosity but you can’t. Listen to me” (Dumas 65).

1 comment:

  1. This is beautiful, Annalee. It's wonderful to see the way you connected personally to this book. Your point about how literature constantly changes for you really speaks to me. I'm excited to see how you use this story in your paper.