This new category is a tricky one – because it takes us away from Coleridge, and in general, from poetry. Still, I thought it would be fun:
As “Literary Snapshots”, I will present you some of my favorite pieces of prosa narration – there will be a natural emphasis on the 19th century, simply because that’s my personal taste, though, so a minimal connection to the great Mr C and his life and times will remain even in those. …Just in case you wonder. Real off-topic will REMAIN off-topic.
But now, let’s start with one of my favorite moments in French literature, ever:
Chateau-Renaud was at his post; apprised by Beauchamp of the circumstances, he required no explanation from Albert. The conduct of the son in seeking to avenge his father was so natural that Chateau-Renaud did not seek to dissuade him, and was content with renewing his assurances of devotion. Debray was not yet come, but Albert knew that he seldom lost a scene at the opera. Albert wandered about the theatre until the curtain was drawn up. He hoped to meet with M. de Monte Cristo either in the lobby or on the stairs. The bell summoned him to his seat, and he entered the orchestra with Chateau-Renaud and Beauchamp. But his eyes scarcely quitted the box between the columns, which remained obstinately closed during the whole of the first act. At last, as Albert was looking at his watch for about the hundredth time, at the beginning of the second act the door opened, and Monte Cristo entered, dressed in black, and, leaning over the front of the box, looked around the pit. Morrel followed him, and looked also for his sister and brother in-law; he soon discovered them in another box, and kissed his hand to them.
The count, in his survey of the pit, encountered a pale face and threatening eyes, which evidently sought to gain his attention. He recognized Albert, but thought it better not to notice him, as he looked so angry and discomposed. Without communicating his thoughts to his companion, he sat down, drew out his opera-glass, and looked another way. Although apparently not noticing Albert, he did not, however, lose sight of him, and when the curtain fell at the end of the second act, he saw him leave the orchestra with his two friends. Then his head was seen passing at the back of the boxes, and the count knew that the approaching storm was intended to fall on him. He was at the moment conversing cheerfully with Morrel, but he was well prepared for what might happen. The door opened, and Monte Cristo, turning round, saw Albert, pale and trembling, followed by Beauchamp and Chateau-Renaud.
“Well,” cried he, with that benevolent politeness which distinguished his salutation from the common civilities of the world, “my cavalier has attained his object. Good-evening, M. de Morcerf.” The countenance of this man, who possessed such extraordinary control over his feelings, expressed the most perfect cordiality. Morrel only then recollected the letter he had received from the viscount, in which, without assigning any reason, he begged him to go to the opera, but he understood that something terrible was brooding.
“We are not come here, sir, to exchange hypocritical expressions of politeness, or false professions of friendship,” said Albert, “but to demand an explanation.” The young man’s trembling voice was scarcely audible. “An explanation at the opera?” said the count, with that calm tone and penetrating eye which characterize the man who knows his cause is good. “Little acquainted as I am with the habits of Parisians, I should not have thought this the place for such a demand.”
“Still, if people will shut themselves up,” said Albert, “and cannot be seen because they are bathing, dining, or asleep, we must avail ourselves of the opportunity whenever they are to be seen.”
“I am not difficult of access, sir; for yesterday, if my memory does not deceive me, you were at my house.”
“Yesterday I was at your house, sir,” said the young man; “because then I knew not who you were.” In pronouncing these words Albert had raised his voice so as to be heard by those in the adjoining boxes and in the lobby. Thus the attention of many was attracted by this altercation. “Where are you come from, sir? You do not appear to be in the possession of your senses.”
“Provided I understand your perfidy, sir, and succeed in making you understand that I will be revenged, I shall be reasonable enough,” said Albert furiously.
“I do not understand you, sir,” replied Monte Cristo; “and if I did, your tone is too high. I am at home here, and I alone have a right to raise my voice above another’s. Leave the box, sir!” Monte Cristo pointed towards the door with the most commanding dignity. “Ah, I shall know how to make you leave your home!” replied Albert, clasping in his convulsed grasp the glove, which Monte Cristo did not lose sight of.
“Well, well,” said Monte Cristo quietly, “I see you wish to quarrel with me; but I would give you one piece of advice, which you will do well to keep in mind. It is in poor taste to make a display of a challenge. Display is not becoming to every one, M. de Morcerf.”
At this name a murmur of astonishment passed around the group of spectators of this scene. They had talked of no one but Morcerf the whole day. Albert understood the allusion in a moment, and was about to throw his glove at the count, when Morrel seized his hand, while Beauchamp and Chateau-Renaud, fearing the scene would surpass the limits of a challenge, held him back. But Monte Cristo, without rising, and leaning forward in his chair, merely stretched out his arm and, taking the damp, crushed glove from the clinched hand of the young man, “Sir,” said he in a solemn tone, “I consider your glove thrown, and will return it to you wrapped around a bullet. Now leave me or I will summon my servants to throw you out at the door.”
Wild, almost unconscious, and with eyes inflamed, Albert stepped back, and Morrel closed the door. Monte Cristo took up his glass again as if nothing had happened; his face was like marble, and his heart was like bronze. Morrel whispered, “What have you done to him?”
“I? Nothing—at least personally,” said Monte Cristo.
“But there must be some cause for this strange scene.”
“The Count of Morcerf’s adventure exasperates the young man.”
“Have you anything to do with it?”
“It was through Haidee that the Chamber was informed of his father’s treason.”
“Indeed?” said Morrel. “I had been told, but would not credit it, that the Grecian slave I have seen with you here in this very box was the daughter of Ali Pasha.”
“It is true, nevertheless.”
“Then,” said Morrel, “I understand it all, and this scene was premeditated.”
“Yes. Albert wrote to request me to come to the opera, doubtless that I might be a witness to the insult he meant to offer you.”
“Probably,” said Monte Cristo with his imperturbable tranquillity.
“But what shall you do with him?”
“What shall I do with Albert? As certainly, Maximilian, as I now press your hand, I shall kill him before ten o’clock to-morrow morning.” Morrel, in his turn, took Monte Cristo’s hand in both of his, and he shuddered to feel how cold and steady it was.
“Ah, Count,” said he, “his father loves him so much!”
“Do not speak to me of that,” said Monte Cristo, with the first movement of anger he had betrayed; “I will make him suffer.”
Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo, Chapter 88: The Insult. Unknown translator.
Illustration by Mead Schaeffer.