Characters

  1. Kinglet: King of a small toy kingdom
  2. Prince of Monaco: The prince who profits through monopoly.
  3. King of Italy: The government that agreed on lending the toy kingdom a machine to cut off the criminal’s head for 12000 francs including travelling expense.
  4. French Government: The government that agreed on lending the toy kingdom a machine to cut off the criminal’s head for 16000 francs.
  5. The minister: The minsters of the Kinglet’s court.
  6. The guard: The guard that kept a watch on the criminal.
  7. Minister of Justice: The minister that decides what to do with the criminal.
  8. The prisoner: the main character of the story

Introduction

“Too Dear!” is a story written by Leo Tolstoy, a famous Russian writer, master of realistic fiction, and is widely considered one of the world’s greatest novelists. The story “Too Dear!” is a parody of one of the modern systems of governance. It ridicules the ways of punishing criminals and dispensing justice in modern states. The story is narrated in a matter-of fact-tone but with an undercurrent of sarcasm. Leo Tolstoy satirizes the thirst for power, exercised by men of the upper class, and how it affects society. In addition, it also raises a serious question on capital punishment.

Summary

The king puts taxes on ‘drinking’ and ‘smoking’

The story is a parody of one of the modern systems of governance. It ridicules ways of bringing criminals to book and dispensing justice in modern states. The story is narrated in a tone of sarcasm which begins with the description of a palace, its people, and its system of governance. The kingdom is so small that if all the land in the kingdom were divided among its inhabitants, there would not be even an acre of land for each inhabitant. But this toy kingdom has a real kinglet and like any other real king, he lives in a palace with courtiers, ministers, a bishop, generals, and an army of only sixty men in all.

The king lives by collecting taxes from the people. There are taxes on tobacco, wine, and spirits and a poll tax too. However, the number of people living in his kingdom being very small, the taxes the people pay for their ‘drinking’ and ‘smoking’ are not adequate to feed the king’s courtiers, and officials and to keep himself. Therefore, the king had hit upon a new source of revenue. It came from a gaming house, where people play roulette. The keeper of the gaming house got a percentage of the turnover irrespective of whether people lost or won. Out of his profits, the gaming housekeeper paid a large sum to the kinglet.

The Prince of Monaco Started to gain a lot of profit

Incidentally, it is the only gaming house that is left untouched by the rulers in Europe, and hence the gambling housekeeper pays so much money to the prince. There were many such gaming houses run by German sovereigns but some years ago they were forbidden to do so. The rulers stopped such gaming houses because they did a great deal of harm to the people. Many a time, it so happened that a man would come and try his luck, then he would risk all he had and lose it. He would finally drown or shoot himself. However, there was no one to stop the Prince of Monaco, and he remained with a monopoly of the business. So now, whoever wants to gamble goes to Monaco and the prince gains a lot of money this way. The Prince of Monaco knows that earning revenue this way is a dirty business but he feels helpless because he has to live.

Though the kinglet knows that collecting taxes on people’s ‘drinks’ and ‘tobacco’ is bad yet he is collecting taxes. In the same way, the prince is living on the revenue he gets from the gaming house. He lives, reigns, rakes in the money, and holds his court with all the ceremony of a real king. He has his coronation and his leeves. He rewards, sentences, and pardons. He also has his reviews, councils, laws, and courts of justice just like other kings, but only on a smaller scale.

A murder was committed in the territory that created a conflict 

In the next part of the story, we see the moral conflict faced by the prince and his people. A murder was committed in the Prince of Monaco’s domains. The people of Monaco were peaceable and such a thing had not happened before. Like in other countries there was a legal system in place in Monaco also. The criminal was tried according to the procedures of law. The lawyers argued and the judges finally decreed that the criminal be executed as directed by the law. The prince read out the sentence, confirmed it, and ordered the execution of the criminal.

The story now takes a serious and interesting turn. There arose a problem in the execution of the king’s order. Monaco was a toy kingdom and it did not have either a guillotine for cutting heads off or an executioner, the man designated to carry out the execution. The ministers sent a letter of inquiry to the French Government, asking whether they could lend them a machine and an expert to cut off the criminal’s head and also inform the cost involved in it. They received a reply a week later informing them that the French Government would lend them a machine and an expert as well, and it would cost sixteen thousand francs. The king felt that sixteen thousand francs was a lot of money and it was utterly a waste of money to spend so much on beheading a wretched criminal.

King called a council to take suggestions

The king felt that the people would not accept his decision and if he forced them there might be a riot Therefore, the king called a council and asked them their suggestion. It was decided to send a similar inquiry to the King of Italy. They wrote to the king of Italy and they received a prompt reply. The Italian government informed them that they would supply both a machine and an expert for twelve thousand francs including traveling expenses. Though the price quoted by the king of Italy was cheaper than that of the French government, still the price was too much for a toy kingdom like theirs. Therefore, the ministers called another council and discussed the matter. The council asked the General of the army to find a soldier who would be ready to cut off a man’s head. The members of the council believed that the soldiers have been trained for such a job. The general discussed the matter with his soldiers to see whether one of them would agree to do that job. But the soldiers did not agree to do it because they had not been taught how to behead a criminal.

The king and the ministers met again and discussed the matter thoroughly. Finally, they concluded that the best thing to do was to alter the death sentence to one of imprisonment for life. This way it would enable the prince to show his mercy and it would also be cheaper. The prince agreed to this and so the matter was arranged accordingly. Though there was no suitable prison for a man sentenced to life, they managed to find a place that would serve as a prison and put the criminal in it. They also placed a guard over him. The guard had to watch the criminal and had also fetched his food from the palace kitchen. This way, they kept the prisoner imprisoned for more than a year. The whole arrangement of keeping a guard to watch over the criminal and feeding the criminal cost more than 600 francs a year.

The kinglet tries to reduce the expenditure

One day, while the kinglet was examining the account of his income and expenditure, the new item of expenditure caught his eye. He got worried and so he summoned his ministers and urged them to find some cheaper way of dealing with the criminal. The ministers again met and discussed ways of reducing the expenditure. Finally, they all concluded that the guard could be dispensed with so that the expenditure on his salary could be saved. They went to the extent of saying “let the prisoner run away and be hanged”. The ministers conveyed their decision to the kinglet and the kinglet gave his consent to it.

Accordingly, the guard was dismissed; but they all waited to see how the prisoner would react. At dinner time the criminal came out, and not finding his guard, he went to the prince’s kitchen to fetch his dinner. After collecting his dinner, he returned to the prison, shut the door on himself, and stayed inside. He did not show any signs of running away and this got the ministers worried. The criminal was brought before the Minister of Justice. He suggested to the prisoner to run away. He even told him that if he ran away, the prince would not mind it the prisoner told the minister that he had nowhere to go and accused them of ruining his character by sentencing him to death.

Secondly, he told them that having been confined to the prison, he had given up his habit of working. He resented their action in not executing him. He finally told them that he would not like to agree to their proposal that he should run away and escape. The minister felt helpless.

The prisoner put forward his conditions to make him leave

Once more the council was summoned and the criminal’s issue was discussed again. They concluded that the only way they could get rid of him was by offering him a pension. The ministers decided to pay the prisoner a fixed sum of 600 francs as a pension. On receiving the news, the prisoner told them that he would go away on that condition but they must undertake to pay it regularly.

Finally, the prisoner received one-third of his annuity in advance and left the king’s dominions. He emigrated to another country just across the frontier. He bought a bit of land, started market gardening, and lived there comfortably.

The narrator comments jovially that it is a good thing that the prisoner did not commit his crime in a country where they do not grudge expense to cut a man’s head off, or to keep him in prison for life. The author seems to question the very conviction of the rulers about the system of law and governance instituted by the rulers of big nations. The author seems to appreciate the courage and open-mindedness of Monaco in acknowledging their limitations and letting free the prisoner on humanitarian grounds. It is worth noting that the writer puns on the words ‘Too Dear!’. It means either ‘too expensive’ or ‘of great value’. The author leaves it to the reader to decide whether ‘Too Dear!’ refers to executing a criminal or saving a criminal’s life.

Conclusion

The story “Too Dear!” is based on an absurd situation in which a small state finds it much too expensive to either hang a criminal or to keep in prison for long. Finally, the criminal has to be rewarded with a pension to save the kingdom some money. The author seems to question the very conviction of the rulers and about the system of law and governance instituted by them. The author seems to appreciate the courage and open-mindedness of Monaco and acknowledging their limitations and letting the prisoner free on humanitarian grounds. It is worth noting that the writer puns on the title “Too Dear!” which means either too expensive or of great value. The author leaves it to the reader to decide whether “Too Dear!” refers to executing the criminal or saving the criminal’s life.