Sunday, 28 February 2010

How to Make Pens and Ink in Prison. By the Count of Monte Cristo

The ingenuity, the ingenuity. Pens made from whiting head bones? Ink of soot and wine? Not to mention the ol' blood. In Alexandre Dumas père, Count de Monte Cristo, Abbé Faria details to an astounded Edmond Dantès, incarcerated as well in Château d'If for being a Bonapartiste traitor, how he makes his writing instruments and ink.

 Château d'If where Edmond Dantès, 
the future Count Monte Cristo was imprisoned 
in Alexandre Dumas père novel.
Photo ChrisO

"But if they did not give you a pen, with what did you manage to write this huge treatise?"

"I made very good pens, which would be found superior to ordinary ones if the substance was known, out of the soft bones from the heads of those big whiting that they sometimes serve us on fast days. In this way, I always looked forward to Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, because they offered me at least a hope of increasing my stock of pens." (...)

"But ink?", Dantès asked. "How did you make ink?"

"There used to be a chimney in my dungeon," Faria said. "This chimney was doubtless blocked up some time before my arrival, previously, fires had been built there many years, so the whole of the inside was coated with soot. I dissolve the soot in part of the wine that they give me every Sunday, and it makes excellent ink. For particular notes which must stand out from the text, I prick my fingers and write with my blood."

 Abbé Faria by Paul Gavarni


  1. Writing in blood reminds me of Helene Cixous theory of l'ecriture feminine, specifically of feminine writing and blood: “our blood flows and we extend ourselves without ever reaching an end; we never hold back our thoughts, our signs, our writing” ("The Laugh of Medusa").

    Of course, writing in blood is also related to the Faustian bargain and deal-making with the devil.

    Once again, great stuff!

  2. Yes.
    Also: I'm no philosopher but writing in blood evokes for me Sartre's words about instrumentality: "We can insert ourselves into the field of instrumentality only by being ourselves an instrument... We do not use this instrument, for we are it." Blood is the ultimate instrument.