monte cristo jim

The Italian islet Montecristo as seen from Giglio
This is the islet Montecristo, where Edmond Dantès found the treasure enabling him to become The Count of Monte Cristo (Dumas 1844-1846) [legally for free ↓at Project Gutenberg] and to take bitter revenge. The photo shows Montecristo as seen from Giglio Island—I took it when I was there in 2007. With all the media coverage of the Costa Concordia disaster I’m astounded that it nowhere crept up that Montecristo was that close (at least I didn’t read it anywhere). The story of the captain (who faces preliminary charges of multiple manslaughter, failure to assist passengers in need, and abandonment of ship) that he by accident fell into the lifeboat, where the First and Second Mate already were, reminded me of another story. With all the speculations around, about Captain Schettino’s failing, his motives and whatyouhave, it is the perfect time to read or reread Joseph Conrad‘s Lord Jim‘. (1900) [legally for free ↓at Project Gutenberg]. Here’s a part of Wikipedia’s synopsis:

Jim (his surname is never disclosed), a young British seaman, becomes first mate on the Patna, a ship full of pilgrims travelling to Mecca for the hajj. Jim joins his captain and other crew members in abandoning the ship and its passengers. A few days later, they are picked up by a British ship. However, the Patna and its passengers are later also saved, and the reprehensible actions of the crew are exposed. The other participants evade the judicial court of inquiry, leaving Jim to the court alone. The court strips him of his navigation command certificate for his dereliction of duty. Jim is angry with himself, both for his moment of weakness, and for missing an opportunity to be a ‘hero’.

And here’s an excerpt, the beginning of chapter four:

A month or so afterwards, when Jim, in answer to pointed questions, tried to tell honestly the truth of this experience, he said, speaking of the ship: ‘She went over whatever it was as easy as a snake crawling over a stick.’ The illustration was good: the questions were aiming at facts, and the official Inquiry was being held in the police court of an Eastern port. He stood elevated in the witness-box, with burning cheeks in a cool lofty room: the big framework of punkahs moved gently to and fro high above his head, and from below many eyes were looking at him out of dark faces, out of white faces, out of red faces, out of faces attentive, spellbound, as if all these people sitting in orderly rows upon narrow benches had been enslaved by the fascination of his voice. It was very loud, it rang startling in his own ears, it was the only sound audible in the world, for the terribly distinct questions that extorted his answers seemed to shape themselves in anguish and pain within his breast,—came to him poignant and silent like the terrible questioning of one’s conscience. Outside the court the sun blazed—within was the wind of great punkahs that made you shiver, the shame that made you burn, the attentive eyes whose glance stabbed. The face of the presiding magistrate, clean shaved and impassible, looked at him deadly pale between the red faces of the two nautical assessors. The light of a broad window under the ceiling fell from above on the heads and shoulders of the three men, and they were fiercely distinct in the half-light of the big court-room where the audience seemed composed of staring shadows. They wanted facts. Facts! They demanded facts from him, as if facts could explain anything!
    ‘After you had concluded you had collided with something floating awash, say a water-logged wreck, you were ordered by your captain to go forward and ascertain if there was any damage done. Did you think it likely from the force of the blow?’ asked the assessor sitting to the left. He had a thin horseshoe beard, salient cheek-bones, and with both elbows on the desk clasped his rugged hands before his face, looking at Jim with thoughtful blue eyes; the other, a heavy, scornful man, thrown back in his seat, his left arm extended full length, drummed delicately with his finger-tips on a blotting-pad: in the middle the magistrate upright in the roomy arm-chair, his head inclined slightly on the shoulder, had his arms crossed on his breast and a few flowers in a glass vase by the side of his inkstand.
    ‘I did not,’ said Jim. ‘I was told to call no one and to make no noise for fear of creating a panic. I thought the precaution reasonable. I took one of the lamps that were hung under the awnings and went forward. After opening the forepeak hatch I heard splashing in there. I lowered then the lamp the whole drift of its lanyard, and saw that the forepeak was more than half full of water already. I knew then there must be a big hole below the water-line.’ He paused.
    ‘Yes,’ said the big assessor, with a dreamy smile at the blotting-pad; his fingers played incessantly, touching the paper without noise.
    ‘I did not think of danger just then. I might have been a little startled: all this happened in such a quiet way and so very suddenly. I knew there was no other bulkhead in the ship but the collision bulkhead separating the forepeak from the forehold. I went back to tell the captain. I came upon the second engineer getting up at the foot of the bridge-ladder: he seemed dazed, and told me he thought his left arm was broken; he had slipped on the top step when getting down while I was forward. He exclaimed, “My God! That rotten bulkhead’ll give way in a minute, and the damned thing will go down under us like a lump of lead.” He pushed me away with his right arm and ran before me up the ladder, shouting as he climbed. His left arm hung by his side. I followed up in time to see the captain rush at him and knock him down flat on his back. He did not strike him again: he stood bending over him and speaking angrily but quite low. I fancy he was asking him why the devil he didn’t go and stop the engines, instead of making a row about it on deck. I heard him say, “Get up! Run! fly!” He swore also. The engineer slid down the starboard ladder and bolted round the skylight to the engine-room companion which was on the port side. He moaned as he ran. . . .’ (Conrad 1900: chpt. 4)

CONRAD, JOSEPH [aka KORZENIOWSKI, JÓZEF TEODOR KONRAD]. 1900. Lord Jim. London: Blackwood.
DUMAS, ALEXANDRE. 1844-1846. Le Comte de Monte-Cristo. Journal de débats 28 August to 26 November 1844 and 20 June 1845 to 15 January 1846.
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