Penguin| Revised edition 2003| 1313 pages| 4*
I have had a paperback copy of The Count of Monte Cristo for many years. This year I joined in Karen’s Back to the Classics 2021 Reading Challenge, which gave me the incentive to read it now, as it meets the criteria for category five: a classic by a non-white author. It’s also a book on my Classics Club list. Dumas was born in 1802. His father was the illegitimate son of the Marquis de La Pailleterie and Marie Cessette Dumas, a black slave from Haiti. He was a prolific writer, producing 41 novels, 23 plays, 7 historical works and 6 travel books.
The Count of Monte Cristo was first serialised in a French newspaper in 18 parts in 1844 and later translated into English. There have been several translations, editions and abridged versions since then. I really had very little idea of the plot and had not watched any of the film or TV adaptations. As I found it hard to read my paperback version I read an e-book version, so much easier to see!
It begins in 1815 when Edmond Dantès, a sailor, having returned to Marseilles, and celebrating his betrothal to Mercedes is wrongly accused of being a Bonapartist and imprisoned in the Chateau d’If on the Isle of Monte Cristo, for fourteen years. His accusers were Fernand, who was also in love with Mercedes, assisted by Danglars, one of Dantès’ shipmates and Caderousse, a drunkard who went along with the others’ plot to get rid of him. The King’s Attorney, Villefort has his own reasons for condemning Dantès to conceal his father’s involvement with the Bonapartists.
I was quickly drawn into the story with the account of how Dantès survived his imprisonment after meeting the Abbé Faria, who tells him of a great hoard of treasure and offers to share it with him. He educates Dantès in languages, culture, mathematics, chemistry, medicine, and science and together they plan to escape. But the Abbé dies and Dantès ingeniously uses his death to make his own miraculous escape. Whilst in prison Dantès had vowed to get his revenge on the four men responsible for his imprisonment and the rest of the books tells how he went about it. It’s a complicated and elaborate plan that he carries out remorselessly, one that takes him several years to achieve.
It’s a great story, action-packed, and full of high drama and emotion. It’s a love story, a story of revenge and retribution, about justice, intrigue and betrayal. There’s imprisonment and a daring escape, bandits, murder, madness, and suicide. In addition there’s a female poisoner, a scene of torture, an execution, drug-induced sexual fantasies and above all a conflict between good and evil.
But it is very long (Dumas was paid by the line) and a difficult book to review as there is so much in it.There’s a wealth of characters, but the absolute star of the book is the Count of Monte Cristo himself, in his several guises. It’s a theatrical drama, melodramatic in parts, a book I found difficult to put down and it had me turning page after page as I just had to find out what would happen next. There are episodes that really beggar belief, and it has its slow moments where I just wanted Dumas to get on with the story and for Monte Cristo to get his revenge, but it all wove together to make a spectacular whole.
I loved it!