Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Count of Monte Cristo, Reader's Fantasy

My latest audiobook has been The Count of Monte Cristo, which thus far I am enjoying quite a bit. Of course, this is perhaps not surprising as it occured to me the other day that in addition to being a rolicking adventure, the book is something of a wish fulfillment story for avid readers. I was particularly struck by this exchange between Edmond and his mentor in prison, the Abbe Faria:

"I had nearly five thousand volumes in my library at Rome; but after reading them over many times, I found out that with one hundred and fifty well-chosen books a man possesses, if not a complete summary of all human knowledge, at least all that a man need really know. I devoted three years of my life to reading and studying these one hundred and fifty volumes, till I knew them nearly by heart; so that since I have been in prison, a very slight effort of memory has enabled me to recall their contents as readily as though the pages were open before me. I could recite you the whole of Thucydides, Xenophon, Plutarch, Titus Livius, Tacitus, Strada, Jornandes, Dante, Montaigne, Shakespeare, Spinoza, Machiavelli, and Bossuet. I name only the most important."

"You are, doubtless, acquainted with a variety of languages, so as to have been able to read all these?"

"Yes, I speak five of the modern tongues—that is to say, German, French, Italian, English, and Spanish; by the aid of ancient Greek I learned modern Greek—I don't speak it so well as I could wish, but I am still trying to improve myself."
from Chapter 16

Is there any more tantalizing idea than to have figure out what the 150 most essential books are and to have studied them all in depth? The Abbe, however unrealistically, seems a sort of dream come true for the autodidact.


entropy said...

Wanted: Mentor who is intelligent, kind and imprisoned, so as to induce sufficient patience in dealing with me.

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

Ah, you've quoted one of my favorite passages in that book! I first read this book in high school, and as an autodidactic nerd it was gratifying that Edmund, the Abbe's pupil, becomes so competent, rich, and powerful.

Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP said...

'Until recent years, I read only "fundamental" books, that is, key books on key subjects, such as War and Peace, the novel of novels; A Study of History, the solution of the problem of time; Schroedinger's What Is Life?, Einstein's The Universe as I See It, and such. During those years I stood outside the universe and sought to understand it. [...] The greatest success of this enterprise, which I call my vertical search, came one night when I sat in a hotel room in Birmingham and read a book called The Chemistry of Life. When I finished it, it seemed to me that the main goals of my search were reached or were in principle reachable, whereupon I went out and saw a movie called It Happened One Night which was itself very good. A memorable night. The only difficulty was that though the universe had been disposed of, I myself was left over.'
--Percy, Walker. The Moviegoer