The Count of Monte Cristo

  By Dawn, 5 April 2007; Revised 6 April 2007
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The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

When I was first asked to review the book, I thought, "no problem, I’ve read it many times". Then, after some thought, it also occurred to me that it has been reviewed and analyzed many times as well.  So, what can I, a mere reader of books, say about such a classic of literature?  Heck, I can’t even read the original, but must make due with a translation. All that being said, I have no intentions of debating its merits as a literary work that is beyond my limited ability. Rather, I think to stick to an overview of the plot and how it reflects the time it was written and the author that wrote it.

The Author

Alexander Dumas was born in 1802. He was the son of an Innkeeper's daughter and an out-of- favour French general from Noble French and Black slave stock. The fact that he was of mixed racial stock would affect him all his life. He even wrote a short novel, Georges, addressing some of the issues. Alexander was raised in poverty with a limited education.He was a prolific writer boasting of some 1200 manuscripts, although many were written in collaboration with what some have called a “Fiction Factory”. During his career he wrote not only the historical novels that he is so famous for, but plays, magazine articles, travel books and memoirs. He made much money, but spent more.  His entire life was subject to his financial ups and downs. Like so many of the budding romantics of his time, he was heavily influenced by Shakespeare.  He died in December of 1870 at the age of 68. Finally, in 2002, Alexander Dumas gained his rightful place alongside other French luminaries in the Pantheon of Paris.

The Book

The Count of Monte Cristo is a classic tale of love, betrayal and revenge set in Napoleonic France and after the Hundred Days. Our hero, Edmond Dantes, seems to have the perfect life, everything is going well, a beautiful fiance, soon to be captain of his own ship... his life is good. Too good for some jealous persons, the so-called friends.

Danglars, the treasurer of Dantes ship, envies Dantes’ early career success; Mondego wants Dantes fiance and his neighbor, Caderousse, is simply jealous of the fact that Dantes is so much luckier in life than he is. Together, these three create the circumstances for Edmond's downfall. Forging a letter, they set him up as a traitor. Although the prosecutor sees through the set up, he proceeds in having Dantes convicted for his own reasons. Edmund spends 14 years in the French equivalent of Alcatraz, the Chateau d'If, escaping a changed man bent on revenge against all who have wronged him. And revenge he gets, sometimes eloquent and other times coarse, but always fitting for the crimes committed against him. The author leads us through a full gammet of emotions, from despair to ecstasy, again and again as each character meets his destiny.

For me, to question the accuracy of historical events that Dumas describes in his book is somewhat foolish as he was there and I was not, even if his descriptions are colored by his inherent biases. Every author has them. Perhaps, a better way to look at this aspect is to examine how the political realities of the time could have challenged his perceptions. The theme of societal justice or injustice, as the case may be, that runs through the story could easily have been a reflection of Dumas’ own family -  the falling out of his father with the Napoleonic regime, and his encounters with racism on account of his mixed heritage. One can easily see how this situation could be reflected in Edmond Dantes' struggles. Politics plays a significant role in the novel, particularly in branding certain characters good or bad, and it is definitely the politics of the times. Another point of interest is found in Dumas' romantic style of writing.  Like his fellows of that time period, he shows the particular trait of exoticism by the varied locals and characters in his story - depicting nineteenth-century Romantics' obsession with the exotic.

Overall, if you read for the sheer adventure or for the deeper meaning, this one has it both, and, like most classics, it is worth the read.