Alexandre Dumas: The Count of Monte Cristo (review)

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‘Wait and hope!’

So one of the major things you learn if you read The Three Musketeers is, that whenever a musketeer is in trouble, there will be fencing. Lots of duels and all fought with rapiers. So I sort of thought I knew what would be happening in this one. People would fence their hearts out and it would be swashbuckling madness. But The Count of Monte Cristo is a very different book than that. And definitely not in a bad way.

Where the morale of The Musketeers is about friendship and loyalty and is shown mostly through the positive behavior of these musketeers, The Count of Monte Cristo is in some ways a more sinister book with a focus on how man shall be careful with playing God although still with an emphasis on being truthful and loyal. It’s a novel filled with smugglers, murders, poisoners, illegitimate children, young lovers and cruel fates – and revenge.

Edmond Dantès is a happy young man. Much beloved by his old father, his betrothed as well as his master, he is on the brink of making it. He has been promised the position as Captain on the ship he sails on and he is about to marry Mercedes, the love of his life. However, jealousy abounds around him and he is betrayed by three men he views as friends and is arrested at his own wedding party. When he is brought in front of the magistrate, however, he is sure to be freed because the magistrate seems so kind to him and, of course, because he is innocent.

However, this takes place in France at the time when Napoleon Bonaparte and the royal family is battling over who is to rule France and Edmond Dantès is not only caught in this but also get caught up in the magistrate’s own ambitions and family secrets.

So instead of being freed, he is thrown into a prison at Chateau d’If without chance of parole and is left there to die or go mad. But Dantès is lucky and not only survives but manages to escape and become a rich man because of a strange friendship he formed in prison even though he was put in isolation.

And this enables him to seek revenge on the four men who has ruined his life and turned him into a hard and bitter man; a man willing to wait and plot for years to achieve his goals: to give back to the people who treated him kindly and tried to help him – and to destroy the ones who ruined him.

It’s a book which roughly said is split into three parts. The first part is where we are introduced to Edmond Dantès and his family, friends and foes and where he is wrongly sentenced and put in prison. The second part is where he is setting the stage, networking and preparing for the third part which is his revenge on everyone who ever wronged him. I felt that the second part was a bit slower than the other two. I wouldn’t say it dragged but it was less of a thrilling read. Whether this was actually caused by the novel or because I started a new job at this point and only read about 10-20 pages maybe every other day, I’m not sure. Suffice to say that whether the one or the other was the case, I still really enjoyed this novel and am a bit surprised by myself that I haven’t read it earlier.

My edition, Everyman’s Library, has a preface by an Italian translator and I found it so strange that an French book translated into English should be prefaced by the person who had translated the novel into Italian – but it was engaging and interesting so I kept reading. And I must admit I blushed a bit when I reached the end of the preface and read the name of the translator. Umberto Eco. Okay, I guess then it was fair enough to have him write the preface…!

Despite it’s many many pages (1188 to be exact) and despite the fact that it took me 33 days to read it, this is not a difficult read. It’s engaging with a fascinating main character who one initially gains an incredible amount of sympathy for – but who still is very flawed. Dumas manages to create an enigmatic protagonist whom you start out with nothing but positive feelings for but then his actions and his complete focus on getting his revenge even though innocents get caught in the middle, makes him a character whose actions you really have to question. Man is not supposed to play God!

  • Title: The Count of Monte Christo
  • Author: Alexandre Dumas
  • Publisher: Everyman’s Library #320 – Alfred A. Knopf
  • Year: 2009 (original 1844)
  • Pages: 1188 pages
  • Source: Own collection
  • Stars: 5 stars out of 5

Related posts (other books read for The Classics Club):

17 thoughts on “Alexandre Dumas: The Count of Monte Cristo (review)

  1. Interesting, I’m currently trying (and failing) to get into The Count of Monte Cristo so it’s good to hear that it’s worth sticking with! My main problem is that it’s so huge I can’t carry it around without developing a lean and I don’t actually read all that much at home. You’re right though it’s not too hard to read once you get down to it, it’s just very intimidating!

    • It’s especially intimidating when you don’t have much time to read it. When the days just go by and you’re getting nowhere, this is a scary book! It needs time!

  2. I read this years ago and couldn’t really get into it. I think I was either a) too young, or b) just not in the right mood. I’m looking forward to rereading it for the Classics Club.

    Great review.

  3. This is one of those books I’ve known about for decades but never got around to reading. I’m not really sure why not. Based on your review it sounds like I’ve been missing a good one.

    • Oh you have. This is one of those books that really deserves to be called a classic and which definitely doesn’t give any support to the thought that classics are supposed to be boring.

  4. If you enjoyed this, you might be interested to read Tom Reiss’ Black Count, which is an incredible, compelling account of the life of General Alex Dumas, the father of the novelist and who was his great inspiration.

    Check out my review, I read it last year and it has since won a Pulitzer prize. I just convinced my book club to read it for September, especially as we are all living here in France.

  5. Beyond excited to stumble onto a blog that reviewed this book. One of the most under-read classics, in my opinion. Have you watched the movie? It changes some details, and it’s arguably better than the book (which is rare, in my opinion). It’s also a great option for anyone who thinks this doorstopper is way too long. Condenses 1100+ pages EXTREMELY well.

    • I’ve never watched the movie. I’m still surprised that I’ve never watched or read this one when I’ve both watched and read The Three Musketeers many times. It’s a great book and I would like to watch the movie.

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