I was only vaguely aware of the title of The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas until…I saw the Wishbone version on PBS years ago. (Don’t laugh — I benefited from a lot of culture on children’s programming. 🙂 ) But that put the intriguing story on my mental list of books I wanted to read some day. I have been working my way through some of the classics over the last few years and have just finished reading the Count.
In the past I had read The Three Musketeers and The Man In the Iron Mask by Dumas, and I have to say I was disappointed in them, in the darkness of the latter especially. The ending differs from any film version of it I have seen. So I approached the Count with a little bit of trepidation, but it is my favorite of these three Dumas books.
Originally published in the 1840s, the story is that of Edmund Dantes, a young sailor on the verge of being promoted to captain of his ship and of marrying his longtime sweetheart. Mercedes, in France during the era just before Napoleon’s Hundred Days. Edmund has enemies he is not wary enough of, a jealous shipmate and another who loves Mercedes, and these two plot together to implicate him as a Bonapartist traitor. The main piece of evidence comes into the hands of one prosecutor who could potentially be harmed by its contents, so to protect himself he destroys the evidence and lets Edmund go to prison.
Edmund, of course, despairs, tries to see the governor of the prison to plead his cause, and is rewarded with bring thrown further into the dungeon. He decides to starve himself until he hears the faint sounds of digging, and the possibility of interacting with another human being other than his jailer revives his desire to live. He and the other prisoner, Abbe Faria, do make contact, and the Abbe becomes something of a mentor to Edmund, teaching him all he knows both of education and society. Thus his fourteen years in prison actually serve to make him the man he later becomes.
When the Abbe dies, Edmund sees his chance to escape by placing the Abbe’s body in his cell and hiding himself in the Abbe’s burial shroud. The Abbe had told him of and bequeathed to him a treasure buried on the island of Monte Cristo, which Edmund finds and the uses to perfect his new persona as the Count of Monte Cristo. He then sets himself to reward those who were loyal to him and stood by him and to exact vengeance on the three men who were instrumental in imprisoning him.
The story is quite intriguing as the reader understands the Count’s ultimate purpose but wonders exactly what he is up to as events unfold. Some characters who appear at first to be a distraction to the main plot are found actually to be integral to it. Though at first his designs fall into place perfectly, the Count eventually finds many unintended consequences of his actions and has to wrestle with his conscience before God to determine the best way to ultimately do the right thing by the various people affected by his actions.
Wikipedia describes this as an adventure novel, and it certainly is that, but it is full of intrigue as well. Those I would not call it a Christian book, there are many Christian principles throughout. Modern readers would find it a bit melodramatic in places — at least six times various people threaten to kill themselves due to shame or loss. I don’t know if that was a popular mode of dealing with problems at the time or popular literary plot device. Though it does drag a bit in places overall the book is very well crafted.
The 1998 Tom Doherty associates version that I read says that it is complete and unabridged, which is what I wanted, but I was disappointed to find that it was not complete: in reading over the Wikipedia summary, I found several strands on the plot that were not in this book. Some of the situations now make more sense to me. I wouldn’t look at the Wikipedia listing, though, until after you have read the book as it does detail most of the plot and you’ll lose the fun of discovery if you read it.
I’ve seen reference to several film versions, and if you have read the book and seen any of the films I’d love to know which film version you think is best.