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Castle Eppstein (thoughts)

April 30, 2010

I’m today’s stop on the Classics Circuit‘s Alexandre Dumas tour…isn’t that a lovely button? For the tour, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to read…I’d already read his two most famous works, and while I enjoyed The Three Muskateers for its humour and silliness, I loathed Count of Monte Cristo. So, I decided that this, my third Dumas, would be a testing ground for whether or not I should read more of him. I finally decided to go for an obscure (and shorter!) title, and the plot summary of Castle Eppstein included ghosts and the description ‘gothic.’ If anything would make me love Dumas, this would do it.

And you know what? Dumas is not for me. I’ve decided that he was the Dan Brown of his day…the plot is the most important part of his books, and the characters, writing, and settings are simply tools in service of the plot. I don’t think that this is a bad thing at all, and I don’t want to imply that somehow prioritising the plot is less legitimate than other ways of writing books. But my personal reading tastes, which you might have gathered by now if you’re a regular reader, skew heavily towards the character and writing style bit of books. As for plot, I can take it or leave it, and that’s why I don’t think Dumas and I will ever become close.

So! Castle Eppstein! It’s over-the-top Gothic…I would almost say a parody of the genre (but not in the sense that Northanger Abbey is sometimes called that), but I don’t know enough about Dumas to say for certain. Anyway, it’s set in Germany and it has that familiar nineteenth century set-up of a story within a story. I happen to love nested frameworks, so I was quite happy for the first couple of chapters. Unfortunately, the writing and characters turned out to be so silly that I could barely focus for all of the eye rolling I kept doing.

There’s an evil count, an innocent young virgins, exiled sons, imagined adultery, real murder, avenging ghosts, love crossing social boundaries, children left to grow half-feral, and pretty much any other gothic trope you care to name. Which would be quite fun if the characters breathed, for even a moment. But instead, they’re stuck as cardboard cutouts living out the plot that Dumas has imagined for them.

So you can get a sample of the writing, here’s a representative portion of the dialogue:

“Therefore depart. Go into France and serve to the best of your ability King Louis XVI. My best wishes will follow you. You have asked me if I scorned you, and I answer you by justifying myself. When your nurse brought you to me, Conrad, I took you into my arms, and raising you above my head, I offered you first to God, next to the Emperor, next to the nobles of Germany, and then finally in service to each of our illustrious ancestors. Today, since I am still on earth, it is to the ancestors, to the nobles, to the Emperor that I am obliged now to give an account of you, and I disown you. Tomorrow, from above this earth, I shall perhaps glory in you before the Lord God Almighty.”


“Father,” cried Conrad, “I worship and adore you. You are a great man, a terrible and good man, and as you crush me with your death sentence, you make me proud of you. My lord, I will be worthy of you. I owe this expiation to our family, and I will acquit myself as an Eppstein. Farewell forever.”

To be fair to Dumas, the plot is nicely done and comes together well at the end. But the whole time I was reading, I couldn’t help but cast longing glances at the two unread Wilkie Collins novels I have on my shelves. ;)

I suppose sometimes classics fall into obscurity for good reason. Dumas doesn’t do gothic nearly as well as he does swashbuckling. I still am interested in a couple of Dumas’ works; mainly the other novels featuring the musketeers and Georges. But I’m lacking an urgent desire to pick them up, and I doubt Dumas will ever become one of my favourite authors.

P.S.: I’m sorry I’ve been so absent from the blogosphere this week! The weather’s been shifting dramatically, which always irritates my fibro, so I just haven’t been up for much. Hoepfully, I can get back into the swing of things soon!

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42 Comments leave one →
  1. April 30, 2010 3:26 pm

    It sounds like Dumas is a good antidote to the mistaken impression that classics are very serious or devoid of silliness! But I hear what you’re saying – super plot-heavy novels aren’t usually my favorite, either, especially when unsupported by inspiring style or character development. Ah well – good to know, at least.

  2. Kathleen permalink
    April 30, 2010 4:14 pm

    Sorry to hear you aren’t feeling well Eva. I hope you will begin to feel better soon. I’ve only read Count of Monte Cristo and I liked it but I think the fact that I was reading it with a boyfriend that I was very enamored with at the time probably influenced me!

  3. April 30, 2010 5:00 pm

    Trivial tidbit – I first read Dumas in elementary school and from that moment on I’ve wished my last name was Dumas. It sounds soooOoooo prestigious!

  4. April 30, 2010 9:59 pm

    I always find it amusing that old authors are revered as “classic” authors regardless of the quality of their writing. It’s entirely likely that Dumas was the Dan Brown of the day. I wonder if he will be on the Classics Circuit in one hundred years. :)

  5. ana permalink
    May 1, 2010 1:10 am

    Like your comparison with Dan Brown. Most apt. Sorry to hear that you’ve been battling fibro and that you will soon have better weather and health.

  6. May 1, 2010 3:01 am

    I think it funny how I think of you as a kindred spirit when it comes to reading, yet we have such strong opposing opinions on books. The Count of Monte Cristo is my favorite novel EVER. I’d be interested to hear why you loathed The Count of Monte Cristo.

  7. May 1, 2010 10:39 am

    Ouch! As a big Dumas fan I almost feel insulted! (Dan Brown, ew!) This one actually sounds like loads of fun – I read a more positive review for it, ah, crap, who’s blog was it? Anyway, you haven’t put me off reading it!

    Hope you feel better soon :)

  8. May 1, 2010 11:43 am

    I hope you feel better soon!

    I have a Dumas copy on my shelves, I’m hoping for it to be the Three Musketeers now, but I’m afraid it’s the Count of Monte Cristo. I have to see for myself whether I enjoy this work. This book doesn’t sound like my kind of thing though.

  9. May 1, 2010 12:43 pm

    Out of curiosity, which translation of Three Musketeers did you read? I loved the Pevear translation. I thought it made a big difference in how I connected with the book. I also *liked* the abridged Count of Monte Cristo more than the unabridged. I just wasn’t feeling The Count of Monte Cristo as much as I’d hoped.

  10. May 2, 2010 6:35 am

    I mostly love The Three Musketeers, and haven’t been nearly as crazy about any of Dumas’s other works. So I can sympathize. Also, I hope you’re feeling better soon!

  11. May 2, 2010 7:48 am

    I need to read something by Dumas at some point! He doesn’t sound great, but still!

  12. novelinsights permalink
    May 2, 2010 10:24 am

    I’m glad you read this so I don’t have to :)

    I’ve never read Dumas and for some reason I’ve never been inspired to. I would probably enjoy the Three Muskateers but I think I prefer to see swashbuckling on screen!

  13. May 2, 2010 12:08 pm

    I´ve never read any Dumas, somehow the description of the plot didn´t appeal that much to me, and if that´s the best thing about it.
    Hope you feel better soon!

  14. May 2, 2010 5:45 pm

    haha. I loved your review. Sometimes I think that negative reviews are the best ones!

  15. May 3, 2010 6:45 am

    I read Dumas once. And never again – I can’t get away with his writing style and I hope never to encounter his works again. Which is a shame, since he’s held in high esteem. Ho-hum.

  16. May 3, 2010 7:08 am

    I understand the eye-rolling! Sounds like Three Musketeers (which I didn’t find THAT bad) will be my last Dumas! And I too keep hoping to find time for more Wilkie Collins some day soon. He’s so good!

  17. May 3, 2010 10:43 am

    “He was the Dan Brown of his day.” I love that.

  18. May 3, 2010 9:12 pm

    Is it weird that it took me a LONG time to figure out that button was three swords and not weird spotlight things?

    I love Count of Monte Cristo, but I read it at a young and impressionable age and am now terrified to re-read it and have my impression changed!

  19. May 5, 2010 11:15 pm

    I love Dumas’ books, but you do make some good points about characterisation etc. I once read that his contemporary Balzac thought that Dumas’ books would not last, but somehow they have.

  20. May 6, 2010 7:27 am

    I remember reading all five (I think) volumes of the musketeers series when I was a student and was totally obsessed with them (but I was really into French history at the time), although by the end it made me feel a little melancholic. I’ve never heard of Castle Eppstein though and didn’t really think he did gothic. Not sure if I’ll read this, but I agree with you that Dumas is heavier on plot rather than character.

  21. May 6, 2010 10:17 am

    I guess the more obscure works of famous authors are obscure for a reason!

    The Count of Monte Cristo will be my BIG read this summer. I’ve hear great things about it, so I was curious about why you didn’t like it and went back to your old review. I think I’ll take some extra books just in case I’m not as persistent as you are and give up without finishing it.

    Hope all is well with you!

  22. winstonsdad permalink
    May 6, 2010 11:19 am

    hope your well ,feel better soon eva ,your missed ,stu

  23. May 7, 2010 6:52 pm

    Bummer! Better to know than not. I have yet to attempt any of Dumas’ stuff, so I can’t weigh in with my own opinion. The size of his works generally scares the crap out of me.

  24. May 8, 2010 2:49 pm

    I lean much more towards character-driven books as well, and I usually find your taste to be spot on. But I very much hope you’re wrong about The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s one of my absolute favorite movies, and I’ve been saving the book for a rainy day.. or week, rather.

  25. May 8, 2010 3:32 pm

    Eva,
    I’ve been suffering from fibromyalgia since 1978. (They didn’t know what it was back then.) And I know how it can turn your life upside down.

    Just rest and breathe and read if you can.

    Judith

  26. May 11, 2010 11:48 am

    Hope you’re feeling better. No need to apologize: it’s got to be a good site when Sherman Alexie is up next to Jane Austen!

  27. May 13, 2010 7:40 am

    Dumas is plot heavy–which is, I think, why a lot of men that claim not to like “classics” will read and enjoy Dumas’ works. My guys have all enjoyed him but, just as they do with movies, they lean more to books that move right along.

  28. stacybuckeye permalink
    May 14, 2010 7:21 am

    I’ve not read Dumas yet, but hope to read one of the first two you read someday. An occasional Dan Brown is something I look forward too :)

  29. May 16, 2010 12:20 am

    I never heard of Dumas until my French teacher recently introduced him to us as a ‘classic’. We read le compte de monte cristo in french, which was fun, but not such an easy way to find out if he’s a good author or not. I’m not sure I’d pick it up in english, but I thought I might try the three musketeers. Now you’ve introduced another to me. Thanks for your honest review.

  30. May 18, 2010 4:52 am

    I enjoyed the review and I really hope you feel better soon.

    I have never been tempted by Dumas and your review makes me feel good about my choice. I realize you did like The Three Musketeers, but there are plenty of other classic authors I have yet to read that have more promise. I really appreciate your honest review, not least because I too can take or leave plot which reminds me why I love you blog. I have been involved in a conversation about negative reviews and yours reaffirms my opinion that negative reviews are valuable if done well. This review was done very well and very fairly.

    Great job.

  31. May 18, 2010 11:41 am

    Eva, I miss you! Hope you feel better soon.

  32. May 19, 2010 1:33 am

    I just thought would pop you a message to see how you are and say I hope you are better soon, we all miss you lots. (I didn’t nkow if should leave message or not and so have been hovering for a while and then thought ‘oooh go on’!)

  33. ana permalink
    May 19, 2010 4:38 am

    Thinking of you and hoping that you will soon be feeling better and sharing your reading adventures with us again. Take all the time you need!!!

  34. May 19, 2010 4:39 am

    I am also sending on my well wishes. Take care and take all the time you need. xo

  35. May 20, 2010 5:07 am

    We miss you. Hope you are resting and get well soon!

  36. May 22, 2010 1:36 pm

    I miss reading your posts. I hope you’re feeling okay and that you’re taking this time to rest & feel better. Like Ana said, take all the time you need.

  37. moshi mooch permalink
    May 26, 2010 6:02 am

    Hi Eva! How are you feeling? Just a note hoping that you are ok.

    Miss reading your posts! Take care. Hugs.

  38. May 26, 2010 10:09 am

    Hi Eva,

    I’ve been missing your posts and hope you are resting and will feel better soon!

  39. Cindy S permalink
    May 27, 2010 4:35 pm

    hang in there Eva. sending positive thoughts your way.

  40. August 2, 2010 3:53 pm

    I so wanted to love Dumas’s novels. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every film I’ve seen that was adapted from his work, and I enjoyed what I read of “The Three Musketeers” well enough. (I was obliged to return that book to the library and never had a chance to pick it up again, unfortunately!) But… gah. His writing is so often frustrating. “Castle Eppstein” proved to be the last straw for me – its silliness was unprecedented, even for the Gothic genre, almost to the point of parody. But can be it be called a parody, in all honesty? I personally thought that it read like too honest an effort for parody.

    But I go on at length because I’m so excited to find another person who has read “Eppstein”! I curtsy before your fortitude – I couldn’t finish the novel, no matter how hard I pushed myself.

    I’ve just discovered your blog and am in awe – you’ve read many books I’ve either read or been interested in reading, and I can’t wait to start reading your reviews!

  41. Rebekka permalink
    September 9, 2011 2:48 am

    For anybody who is near Castle Eppstein this weekend:

    We are going to perform a few scenes from the book “Castle Eppstein” on Sunday at 11 am and 3 pm. One of the scenes will be the one mentioned above: Conrad is sent to France after he brought huge disgrace over his family.

    Stop by and enjoy!

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Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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