I keep adding and removing this section from the novel I’m writing. The problem is that I love it, but it never really seems to fit. But I love it. I’m hoping that posting it here exorcizes it for me, but I doubt it.
He turned to the girl across from him in the university cafe, a classmate who knew him just well enough not to refuse a seat at her table in the crowded room, but someone who had been assigned the same book, who could perhaps be expected to understand what he had just read. “Have you got to the scene at the scaffold?” he asked. “The scene where the Count talks about dying alone?”
He held The Count of Monte Cristo, his finger marking the place where Franz witnesses the executions in the Piazza di Popolo, where he sees one of the condemned receive a pardon at the very foot of the scaffold, and where he hears the other prisoner cry out, “Why for him and not for me? We ought to die together. I was promised that he should die with me. You have no right to put me to death alone. I will not die alone — I will not!”
And that’s true, he had thought, when he read it. We wouldn’t be so afraid to die if only we didn’t have to die alone. He had seen himself there in the university cafe, dying slowly, one breath at a time, and he had known that everyone else there was dying too, though they believed their lives were just beginning, and he saw also that they were all dying alone, that their deaths were only one more thing that they couldn’t share with one another.
This, he had decided, this passage at the foot of the scaffold, where Dumas shows us what we are, this is revelation. We should all be made to read it — every one of us — we should all be made to study it like sacred scripture, not just Dumas, but all of literature, everything, because there’s revelation in it, whether we like it not, the revelation of what we could not otherwise imagine — the revelation of ourselves to ourselves.
“They didn’t talk about that scene in the notes I read,” the girl said, using a highlighter to keep her place in the textbook she was reading.
“But did you read that part of the book? Where the criminal is going to the…”
“I don’t really have time to read the books,” she said. “I get better marks if I just study the notes. They’re less confusing,” and she was poised there, prepared to resume her labour the moment her attention was dispensed with him, she and her highlighter equally uninterested in what he might have to say, however profound, so long as it was not directly productive of better marks on papers and better grades in classes.
“All literature is revelation,” he said, unable to keep from telling her, though he knew that it would do nothing except keep the highlighter waiting a few moments longer.