Friday, October 10, 2008
The Count of Monte Cristo
Dumas, Alexandre. 1844/1846*. The Count of Monte Cristo.
On the 24th of February, 1815, the look-out at Notre-Dame de la Garde signalled the three-master, the Pharaon from Smyrna, Trieste, and Naples.
To say that The Count of Monte Cristo is complex would be an understatement. It is a novel worth reading for the most part. But it is one novel that doesn't suffer much in abridgment. [It hurts a little to admit that. To admit that this unabridged classic almost proved too much for me. But it's true.] In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is much improved by the abridgment.
Why did I choose to read The Count of Monte Cristo? I read and loved the book in college. (Read that loved.) It was not assigned reading. It was just something I picked up at my college bookstore and devoured. Several years later, I came across the novel again. In two volumes. I realized then that the book that I loved so very much had been abridged. Since I *loved* it so much, I thought the unabridged would give me more to love. More couldn't be a bad thing, right? So I bought both volumes. I tried soon after to read the book. But I only finished the first volume of the unabridged version. I blamed the start of a new semester for my inability to complete this one. So it sat. And sat. And sat. Until this past September.
Last spring, I created the Alexandre Dumas mini-challenge after reading a newer translation of The Three Musketeers. Another Alexandre Dumas book that I loved from my college days. [Perhaps if Richard Pevear had tackled this one as well, the book would have been better. Maybe it is the translation???] So I needed to read The Count of Monte Cristo by November 15, 2008, to finish the mini-challenge.
I loved the main story lines in The Count of Monte Cristo. I loved or loved to hate most of the characters in the novel. But the unabridged novel drags--almost comes to a complete stop in fact--for several hundred pages at least in the middle. And it was this lack of action, lack of adventure, lack of plot advancement, lack of entertainment made this one needlessly dull.
What is The Count of Monte Cristo about? It is about humanity. Humanity at its best and worst. The frailty and strength of the human mind, body, and soul. It is about life and death, love and loss, jealousy and revenge, hope and forgiveness, redemption and despair. It is about greed, anger, and hatred. It is about justice and injustice.
The star of the book is a man we first meet as the young Edmond Dantes. A man falsely accused and convicted of a crime. A man imprisoned for fourteen years. A man who isn't released from prison, but a man who escapes--narrowly escapes at that--from his cell and seeks to reclaim life. A man who through the help of his deceased friend is able to start again, to start completely from scratch, a man who is able to rewrite his history, his life, give himself a new name--or in this case several new names--(Sinbad the Sailor, Lord Wilmore, Abbe Busoni, etc.) But his primary identity is as the Count of Monte Cristo (or "the count"). But though extraordinarily wealthy--filthy rich at that--money can't buy happiness. Money can, however, help pave the way for the most complex and complete and as the count would say "providential" revenge or vengeance. Here is one man who is very angry and bitter still over those fourteen years, over the lost opportunities, over the death of his father (starvation) and the loss of his betrothed (she married another man). He thinks revenge is the only way to give his life meaning.
The Count of Monte Cristo is a multi-generational novel. Which is just one of the reasons the book is so complex. We're introduced to one set of characters in the first section of the novel, and then hundreds and hundreds of pages later, we're introduced to a second generation--the children (though mostly fully grown by this point) of those characters. We see how the Count uses the children to weave his way into the parents' society. We see the delicate and subtle traps being laid. We see glimpses here and there of what might be on the horizon. But we don't really begin to see the big picture until the last hundred (or two hundred) pages or so.
It starts well. Has a very very very dull middle. But then it begins to pick up. And by the beginning of the end, it's exciting. Very exciting. Unputdownable. It becomes great. And you begin to see why it's such a beloved book. You see why people recommend it. So the story? Definitely worth reading. But go with abridged.
Wikipedia help for the novel.
Spark Notes help for the novel.
*I believe the first English translation was in 1846. It was, of course, originally published in French in 1844. (At least according to wikipedia.)
© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews