Don't you just hate spoilers? I do, too. That's why I always try to include warnings. However, I sometimes ramble a bit too much here or there and maybe a few (or many) key plot points slip without me giving proper notice. So I'd like to include a blanket spoiler warning for the weary internet travelers of the world: Here There Be Spoilers. You've been warned.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (Translation by Robin Buss)

To date, I think that The Count of Monte Cristo could be the greatest book I've ever read. I've read some pretty awesome books in my time, but not many epics. Stephen King's The Dark Tower series certainly counts and so do It and The Stand (Uncut), but that would have been it for my list of insanely long books and stories read in my life until I decided to try this one out. I certainly haven't read anywhere near close to the amount of classics as I should have by now. I had read Bram Stoker's Dracula, but nothing else pre-1950 until this. I'm not really proud of that. It goes to show my knowledge of older works is incredibly limited.

A lot of people (yeah, that's right, I'm talking to you, too) tend to avoid classics because there is some effort involved in reading them. These books were written a hundred or two hundred years ago and that's obviously back before people had a lot of other things to do for entertainment like watch internet porn or grow pretend farms on Farmville.

The longer the stories were the better because there really wasn't shit else to do back then. Your neighbor probably had a bad case of cholera and your wife or husband was probably out having an affair with someone else that might have cholera, but you had done your work duties for the day so the only thing you could do was sit down and have someone read to you while you possibly contemplated challenging your wife's lover to a duel or some sort of murder-suicide. Ah, the good old days.

And if The Count of Monte Cristo was being read to you then so much the better. You could close your eyes and pretend that the Count was fighting for you on your behalf.

Stories like The Count of Monte Cristo spoke (and still speaks) to people because it's about a guy that gets terribly wronged by a small group of people that just had it out for him because he was a stand-up guy and they were jealous dicks. A lot of us feel that this happens to us in life. We are wronged by people for no damn good reason and we want revenge or at least acknowledgment of the wrong. Most people don't want to go out and get revenge because the wrongs we face almost everyday aren't really that big of a deal, but in the world of fiction it's a bit different. Getting cut off in traffic is not a reason to create a fake identity and ruin the life of the man that cut you off, but having your honor ruined? Bring out the swords!

The Count of Monte Cristo provides the perfect storm of elements and really sells the idea that one man can come back and singlehandedly topple three corrupt and wealthy families. Nowadays just about anyone can do that with a phone and a YouTube account, but back then a guy had to work for it using disguises, multiple identities, and a vast amount of wealth.

So yes, The Count of Monte Cristo is wordy and a bit bloated, but it is a product of its time. It sounds like it is trying hard to be accepted by the very people it centered its story around (extravagantly rich Parisians) and that does hinder it some if you compare to modern day thrillers, but this book is a classic for a reason. Originally published as a serial, The Count of Monte Cristo is one of the most well known titles in the history of the written word.

It's not just an adventure novel, though. There's so much more to it. In a lot of adventure novels there is one true and shining good guy. This isn't really the case here.

It is Edmond Dantes that is wrongfully imprisoned in Chateau d'If for fourteen years and it is Edmond Dantes that finds the fortune promised to him by Abbe Faria. You root for Dantes. He's the hero. You want him to find the treasure and then kick ass. Yet after he makes amends with the one soul that stood up for him during his imprisonment, Dantes changes completely into the Count of Monte Cristo. He becomes cold, callous, and distant. Driven by vengeance, Monte Cristo wants to use his wealth to topple the families of Danglars, Morcerf, and Villefort.

Revenge is the ultimate goal for Monte Cristo. Sometimes he seems like he is acting to maintain the guise of Monte Cristo as Dantes, but at others he seems legitimately lost in his vengeance and seems to really be Monte Cristo. Towards the end he even has a chance to become a villain in a very real sense. His actions cause death, madness, and destruction, but at one point he has the chance to get blood on his hands by much more direct methods.

The ultimate question becomes, "Is the heart of Edmond Dantes still alive somewhere inside of Monte Cristo?"

The anime changed the conclusion of the novel into a much darker one and I think I like that one more, but the conclusion of the novel is satisfying in its own right. Everyone gets what they deserve, for the most part.

Unfortunately, Monte Cristo's plans for revenge do cause harm to those who didn't even harm him. So it is tough to call Monte Cristo a good guy. Dantes was a good guy, but Monte Cristo seems more of an antihero.

The ingenious of Dumas is that he makes it seem like everything is happening because of Monte Cristo at several points to the reading audience even if that isn't the case in the actual story. There seems to be a constant addition to the spectacle of Monte Cristo. Is this newest character yet another disguise of Monte Cristo? Are these two people meeting because of Monte Cristo? Sometimes the answer is yes and sometimes it's just a case of coincidence, but Monte Cristo is built up into such a mythical creature that you can never really be certain.

The truth is that the wheel Monte Cristo sets in motion becomes almost uncontrollable and for the longest time it is tough to tell just how much mastery over his plan Monte Cristo really has. He seems to know everything while also being blissfully unaware of everything at the same time. It's a great acting performance and one of the reasons he was able to become so deeply involved in the matters of the families he was haunting.

But he's human.

His friendship with Albert de Morcerf is definitely a strong point of this novel. In the anime Albert was featured so much that he was practically the main character, but in this he's a much more minor one. Still, it seems that Albert genuinely likes the Count and the same goes for the Count. But it's tough to trust this friendship because the Count never seems to do anything that doesn't forward his cause for vengeance.

That's why the Count of Monte Cristo really just comes off like a dick sometimes. He views people as tools and nothing more. In some ways he seems much more cold than the people he is trying to defeat. Which made me think about the saying of fighting fire with fire. Monte Cristo is definitely a fire to be reckoned with.

Yet some of his friendships do seem genuine and it seems like he's hurting himself in order to hurt others.

When I did finish the novel I did feel a bit letdown. The wrongdoers had been punished and at a high cost to Monte Cristo himself, but I just couldn't help but feel that this story should not have had such a happy conclusion. As good as it was, it could have been just a bit better. Then again, I just have a personal preference for bleak stuff.

And for a small nitpick:

One thing I also noticed while reading was that there were frequent "as we have said" interjections thrown in. It gets kind of annoying because it almost frequently references something we just read less than a paragraph or two ago and comes after a paragraph or so of rambling about scenery of something else.

This is something I just made up, but it is kind of a decent representative:

Valentine walked in her father's room in her best dress, looked around.... blah, blah, blah, as we have said she was in her best dress... blah blah blah, as we have said she was in her father's room...

A drinking game could be made out of how many times to come across the phrase "as we have said" during reading sessions.

However, for all of its faults, The Count of Monte Cristo is still excellent. It is a classic and deserves to be read by more people. Just stay away from the abridged crap.

As I have said, this is an excellent novel. Read it.

P.S. - Get ready for a ton of characters because you'll be spending plenty of time with them.


  1. You deserve a pat on the back for tackling this one. I've never read it. One huge classic that I have on my shelf that I have been meaning to tackle for many years is Don Quixote. One of these days.

    Anyway, I'm impressed by your accomplishment.

    1. Thanks. After I finished reading it I raised my hands to the sky like a referee signaling for a touchdown. I was stoked just to be done with it. I might read something else by Dumas again, but probably not any time soon. I need a slight recharge. I felt like I was married to this novel. It's time to be single again.

      Now if I can just work my courage up to tackle War and Peace.

      Don Quixote is on my list, too. In the same "one of these days" file as yours.

    2. Great review Jacob. You might be interested in the below paper by Elena Raicu which talks a lot about the themes you mentioned and also the importance of the character Haydee.

    3. Hello there. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. Also thanks for the compliment. That article looks interesting and I'll certainly check it out. :)