Jean-Dominique Bauby : "How I became a character of Le Comte de Monte-Cristo" Vous êtes ici : Accueil > English > Dumas's life > Dumas as described...
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Jean-Dominique Bauby (1952-1997) was a journalist. A dreadful vascular accident left him a locked-in syndrome's prisoner : unable to move or express himself, except by flicking his eyelids. That was the method he used to dictate, one letter at a time, his book, in which he makes a parallel between his and Noirtier de Villefort's fate, in Le Comte de Monte-Cristo.

If Alexandre Dumas's readers were asked which of his characters they would like to be reincarnated as, they would choose D'Artagnan or Edmond Dantès, and none of them would have the idea to mention Noirtier de Villefort, a rather appalling figure from Le Comte de Monte-Cristo. Dumas describes him as a sharp-stared corpse, a man almost totally shaped for the tomb ; this deeply handicapped person doesn't make you dream but rather shiver. A helpless and mute guardian of the most terrible secrets, he spends his life prostrated on a wheelchair and only communicates by blinking : one wink for yes, two winks for no. Actually, « bon papa Noirtier », as his grand-daughter has tenderly nicknamed him, is the first locked-in syndrome, and to this day the only one appearing in literature. Since I came out of the thick fog in which my accident had wrapped me up, I have been thinking a lot of "bon papa Noirtier". I had just re-read Le Comte de Monte-Cristo and here I was, at the heart of the novel, in the most unfortunate position. My reading the book was not a matter of chance. I intended, and that was undoubtedly iconoclastic of me, to write a modern transposition of the novel : revenge still was the plot's mover of course, but the story took place nowadays and Monte-Cristo was a woman. I haven't been allowed to commit this crime of lèse-majesté. For my punishment, I would have preferred being transformed into baron Danglars, Frantz d'Epinay, abbé Faria, or, all in all, having to copy ten thousand times : Masterpieces are not to be treated lightly. The gods of literature and of neurology have ordained otherwise. At certain nights I get a feeling that « bon papa Noirtier » comes and patrols our corridors, with his long white hair and his century-old wheelchair that needs some oil. In order to turn the decrees of Providence round I now have in mind a great saga in which the key witness is a runner rather than a paralytic One never knows. It may work.

Jean-Dominique Bauby
Le Scaphandre et le papillon

Editions Robert Laffont
© Société des Amis d'Alexandre Dumas
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