I recently went to an old fortress off the coast of Marseille called Chateau d’If. I’ve been wanting to go for eons because it features heavily in the book, Count of Monte Cristo (it’s where Edmond Danté was falsely imprisoned). I wanted to put myself in Dantès’ shoes, although I confess that I still haven’t read it; it’s 15 million pages long and in French, it’s proving a little difficult to get through (and I can’t give up and read the damn thing in English!). But then it occurred to me that the French Riviera, where I live, is full of literary settings and references.
Published in the 1840s, The Count of Monte Cristo was a storming success when it was first published. Based on a real-life case, it tells the story of said Frenchman, Edmond Dantès who’s set to marry the love of this life and live happily ever after. But he’s betrayed by two other men and imprisoned on the grisly fortress. Incarcerated for 14 years, he eventually escapes, finds some treasure he’s heard about, and decides to wreak revenge on the men who set him up.
But really, it’s a story about how life can change for the worse at a moment’s notice:
‘On what slender threads do life and fortune hang’
People seem to love it still because it covers the age old themes of betrayal, love and revenge and shows how plans can also impact the innocent, not just the guilty. If I ever get to finish it, I might find out!
Fitzgerald was a huge francophile, living in Paris at the same time as Ernest Hemingway – they became firm friends – and he made regular visits to the region with his wife, Zelda.
Fitzgerald (author of The Great Gatsby) is widely regarded as one of the best American writers of the 20th century, born in the 1890s and coming of age in the period during the First World War, speaking for the “so-called” lost generation of the time.
Tender is the Night, was his last completed book, and was seen as a follow-up to Gatsby. It is an almost auto-biographical account of his relationship with Zelda, telling a story of a couple beset with alcoholism and mental issues (much like their real life).
A couple, Dick and Nicole Diver arrive on the French Riviera, surround themselves with a glittering lifestyle and a large array of friends and begin a relationship with an actress, Rosemarie.
The book uses the backdrop of the Riviera to chart Dick’s eventual demise, notably using Nice’s magnificent Hotel du Cap as the inspiration of the Hotel des Etrangers in the book.
Although it wasn’t highly regarded upon its release, it has since been regarded as the 28th best novel of the 20th century by the Modern Library. I absolutely loved it. As someone else in the Goodreads reviews put it, “I’ve never read so many wonderful ways that someone can just hang out and smoke cigarettes”.
It’s a dream of mine to go to the hotel and stay; it still exists. Above the lobby is an inscription from Fitzgerald, who claims it was the best place that he ever stayed. Here here!