The Count of Monte Cristo

I spent the entire month of September reading one book – just one very long, very good book that left me literally exhausted in the end – emotionally exhausted, a bit frustrated, and definitely sleep deprived. Obviously, from the title of the post, the book is Alexandre DumasThe Count of Monte Cristo.

Almost every night of September, I would read till the wee hours of the morning and was very tempted to continue reading, if not for my job, which sadly, I had to go to.  I was quite surprised that I would get so involved in the story that is not unfamiliar to me or anyone, probably, thanks to the countless movie/television adaptations.

For the sake of a summary, the story begins in Marseilles, France, in 1815, with the arrival of the merchant ship, the Pharaon, captained by the first mate, 19-year-old Edmond Dantes, because of the recent death of the ship’s original captain.  Young, innocent, and naive Edmond Dantes returns home after months at sea to be with his father and to marry his beloved Mercedes.  Edmond’s honest, friendly, and noble character endears him to the owner of the Pharaon, who promised to make him its next captain. With a promising career and a beautiful fiancee, Edmond seemed to have quite a bit of luck.  His good fortunes were envied by some around him who he considers friends or at least harmless acquaintances, such as monsieur Danglars, a crew member aboard the Pharaon who deems Dantes undeserving of being its new captain, and Fernand, who covets the beautiful Catalan Mercedes.  In an act of pure selfishness, Danglars and Fernand join forces to get rid of Dantes, who stood in the way of their hearts’ desires.  They accuse Dantes of being a Bonapartist, which Dantes easily explains to the magistrate, Monsieur Villfort, as a misunderstanding.  M. Villefort, believing that Dantes is innocent of the accused crime, tells him that he’s free to go. However, Villefort soon learns of his deep involvement in the unusual situation.  Instead of setting Dantes free as promised, Villefort sends him to the dreaded island prison, Chateau d’If, to be imprisoned for life.

In the blink of an eye, Dantes’ good fortunes are destroyed by others’ envy, ambition, and self-interest. Unaware of his crime and the reason of his incarceration, Dantes slowly loses hope, which is replaced by anger and vengeance against those involved in his slow demise.  After days, months, possibly years, in his cell, Dantes’ solitude is broken by the discovery of a strange sound emanating from somewhere beyond his cell wall. It is the sound of a prisoner making a tunnel underground in hopes of escaping.  Unfortunately, instead of escaping to the outer wall of the dungeon, the prisoner succeeds only in burrowing through Dantes’ cell.  The industrious prisoner is Abbe Faria, a learned religious man incarcerated for his treasonous beliefs and ideas.  To quell their mutual loneliness, Faria and Dantes strike up a friendship and decide to work together to plan their escape.  Being a learned man, Dantes tells Faria his story, hoping that the Abbe could shed some light on the puzzle. The Abbe explains to Dantes the possible causes of his unfortunate predicament,  including the culprits behind his imprisonment. This knowledge strengthens Dantes’ vow of vengeance.  Dantes entreats the Abbe to educate him, and the Abbe teaches him everything he knows, from the sciences to philosophy, history, logic, mathematics, and languages.  In the course of their friendship, Dantes’ knowledge about the world and mankind increases. Their escape was also within their grasp had it not been for the Abbe’s sudden attack of illness.   Owing to the Abbe’s sudden onset of illness, after testing and finding Dantes worthy, he shares with Dantes his final secret – that of unlimited treasures buried in the Island of Monte Cristo.  With the Abbe’s death, Dantes is presented with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to escape from prison and regain his life.

Back in the real world after 14 years in Chateau d’If, Dantes seeks Abbe Faria’s buried treasure. Saddened by the news that his poor father died of starvation and Mercedes married only 18 months after his incarceration, Dantes sets in motion his complex and elaborate plan to destroy those who had a hand in destroying his bright future. It is not known what exactly Edmond Dantes does between the time he acquires his treasure and his reintroduction to readers as the Count of Monte Cristo nine years later, except that he probably gained more knowledge, refined his plans, and put his chess pieces in place in preparation for his entry into Parisian Society and into the lives of the now wealthy Danglars, Villefort, and Mecredes and Fernand Mondego, who are now Countess and Count de Morcerf. It goes without saying that those who destroyed Edmond Dantes suffered much at the hands of the Count of Monte Cristo, for his memory is long and his anger deep.

Upon its first release, The Count of Monte Cristo was a serial, published from 1844 to 1846.  With its compelling story line, which is part drama, part adventure, part romance, highlighting human nature that everyone regardless of class or generation can relate easily to, I can imagine how readers anticipated each new chapter.  It’s no wonder Monte Cristo was one of the most famous novels of its time and possibly Dumas’ most well-received work. Through the years, The Count of Monte Cristo has been criticized for its shallow characterization and historical inaccuracies, but despite its flaws, errors, and inconsistencies, it is a very compelling and highly readable story that captured the hearts and imagination of its readers. It’s hard not to grieve for young, naive, Dantes who is imprisoned for a crime he had no idea of, and it’s hard not to empathize with his hate and anger toward those who had wronged him.  When Dantes finally appears as the mysterious and unbelievably wealthy Count of Monte Cristo, it’s hard not to be seduced by his quiet but menacing confidence.  What endears him to readers is, despite his promise to avenge himself using his unlimited wealth, he remains affected and moved by emotions and entreaties despite the changes he had undergone to prepare for his revenge. Deep down, behind the untouchable exterior he had created for himself, he is still the same gentle and noble Edmond Dantes, who at times questions his vow and raison d’etre.

Despite its weight, The Count of Monte Cristo is quite hard to put down.  It’s a massive novel – my copy is 1,055 pages long. Aside from the main plot of Edmond Dantes’ revenge, there are many side stories that help give depth to the story and complicate the plot.  Each of the stories are interesting in their own right, though sometimes annoying because it veers away from the main plot.  Though very long, with numerous side stories, the plot and style of writing are straightforward.  My only frustration with it is that after the appearance of the Count of Monte Cristo, the story focuses less on him and his thoughts and more on those who he plans to destroy.

Although it took me about a month to finish this novel, I really didn’t want it to end.  Even now, days after finishing it, I’m still a bit sad thinking about it, and if I’m honest with myself, frustrated by its ending, especially with Edmond Dantes’ bittersweet love story.  I can’t stress enough what an enjoyable read this is, and those who dismiss this novel because they already saw the most recent movie (which is total crap, by the way) or already know what it’s about are making a serious mistake. By now, we all may have some idea what this novel is about, but it’s so much more than a revenge story. It’s a story about overcoming adversity without being jaded or defeated. It’s about surviving insurmountable obstacles without losing hope and faith not only in a higher being but also in humanity. Although written nearly two centuries ago, this novel still reflects human emotions and sentiments that people can still very much relate to today.

***

The Count of Monte Cristo (1844) – Alexandre Dumas

Canterbury Classics; 1,055 pages; Paperback

Personal rating:  5/5

6 thoughts on “The Count of Monte Cristo

  1. I enjoyed your review very much. It really captures the essence of the story, one that I know so well, having read the novel probably no fewer than three or four times over the years. (The English version I own was a school prize but I also have it in French!) Interesting that you noticed the style change from the introspective Dantes POV in the first third to the more general narrator of the remainder. But I think on reflection that Dumas did the right thing. Maybe he overdid it a bit, having so many characters sharing the narrative but Albert, Maximilan and Valentine certainly are essential to the build up of suspense and needed a voice.
    https://bookheathen.wordpress.com/2013/09/05/confession-time/

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