Castle Eppstein (thoughts)
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!