Joyce and Dumas: The Count of Monte Cristo and "The Sisters"

By Owens, Cóilín | European Joyce Studies, January 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

Joyce and Dumas: The Count of Monte Cristo and "The Sisters"


Owens, Cóilín, European Joyce Studies


First Encounter

James Joyce first encountered the novels of Alexandre Dumas as he approached his tenth birthday (1891-92). During the fifteen-month interlude between his withdrawal from Clongowes Wood and his admission to Belvedere College, and as the Parnell crisis raged above his head, he read The Three Musketeers, The Man in the Iron Mask, and a "ragged translation" of The Count of Monte Cristo (P 64). l Thus the first discernible extra-curricular influence on the young Joyce's literary tastes came from the romances of Dumas p?re: in the derring-do of d'Artagnan and his companions and the grim convolutions of Edmond Dant?s 's pursuit of vengeance.

The immediate effect of these forays into French literature may have been akin to Stephen Dedalus's joining "a gang of adventurers" in which he played the remote but numinous part of Napoleon (P 65). The more significant outcome was the writing (in collaboration with a fellow imaginary adventurer, a boy named Aubrey Raynold (the Aubrey Mills of A Portrait)) of his first novel, which is now lost (JJII 34-35).

The young Joyce's fervent personal and literary response to The Count may have been affected by the loss of his earliest romantic crush, Eileen Vance.2 This aspect of the Dumas novel Joyce expressly and ironically cites in A Portrait, where Stephen identifies with Dant?s's infatuation with and loss of Mercedes. From chocolate wrappings he made a model of the Chateau d'lf (P 65) while imagining Mercedes living in "a small whitewashed house" surrounded by rose bushes as his pursuit of her love reached its sad end (P 65). Joyce's own account, bent to the services of his portrait of the young Stephen Dedalus, exalts the images of the prison of the Chateau d'lf, Mercedes's residence in Marseilles, and the hero's disdain of her overtures (P 65). Besotted with grief and rage and financed by the fabulous treasure, he saw himself as the "dark avenger," embarking on a career as the dispenser of providential punishment. His adventures ended with his dispatch of his enemies, and in his refusal to commune with Mercedes because of her betrayal of his devotion, citing the disdainful touchstone of The Count, "Madam, I never eat muscatel grapes" (P 65). 3

The formative influence of The Count on Joyce's notion of himself as the declaimer of proud refusals and the pursuer of vengeance upon his putative betrayers can be seen in his subsequent endowment of Stephen Dedalus with the determination to fulfill his artistic purposes by Balzac's devious stratagems of "silence, exile, and cunning" (P 269). 4 Thus Joyce's imaginative assimilation at this impressionable age of the stories according to which distinguished men ? Edmond Dant?s and Charles Stewart Parnell-were betrayed by their lesser rivals seems to have contributed to Joyce's own lifelong fear of personal betrayal.

These linear amalgamations of personal, historical, and literary influences are familiar to readers of Joyce's biography. Although the initial impression made by Dumas 's adventures faded as Joyce matured, one can discern many scattered references to The Count in Joyce's oeuvre. For instance, among his "rapid but secure means to opulence," Leopold Bloom imagines that like the wealth of "a learned Italian" (read l'Abb? Faria), he could invest "[a] Spanish prisoner's donation of a distant treasure of valuables lodged with a solvent banking corporation 100 years previously at 5% compound interest of the collective worth of five million pounds sterling" (U 17.1687), a version of the plot of Dant?s's material redemption. Similarly, after his domestic betrayal, and in the spirit of Edmond Dant?s, Bloom momentarily fantasizes that he:

would somehow reappear reborn above delta in the constellation of Cassiopeia and after incalculable eons of peregrination return an estranged avenger, a wreaker of justice on malefactors, a dark crusader, a sleeper awakened, with financial resources (by supposition) surpassing those of Rothschild or the silver king (U 17 '. …

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