The Count of Monte Cristo
by Alexandre Dumas
This was one of the most intense, intricate plots I have ever encountered in the literary world. It is nothing less than spectacular and it is well worth the time commitment it takes to read it.*
Most people know the basic premise of The Count of Monte Cristo. Edmond Dantes, a sailor who is beloved by his father and fiancé and all the men who work with him, is betrayed by a few jealous men and unjustly sent to prison. What follows is an incredible story of hope, survival and above all, revenge. That’s about all I can say without getting into spoiler territory.
“The unhappy young man was no longer called Edmond Dantes – he was now number 34.”
Edmund’s time in jail is so beautifully written. I felt his despair in every bone of my body. The sheer horror of what happened to him chilled my blood. Dantes was jailed for 6 years, considered mad and completely isolated before he heard the voice of someone other than his jailer. Just for one moment try to understand the absolute torture of that kind of solitude. The hope that he got from the mere thought of someone in the cell near him stopped him from committing suicide.
“Seventeen months captivity to a sailor accustomed to the boundless ocean, is a worse punishment than human crime ever merited.”
He spends years wasting away and when he finally meets a fellow inmate; their connection is so deep and profound that it truly renews his spirit and gives him a reason to live. He spends years learning from Abbé Faria only to lose him after he becomes his second father. He manages to control his grief and think on his feet and after 14 years in jail Edmund is able to escape.
Instead of immediately racing to the island to claim the treasure Abbé Faria told him about, he spends time working on a ship. He gains the respect and love of those he works with and bides his time. When he finally gets his fortune he proves that once again he’s in no hurry. Throughout the whole book Dantes’ patience is mind-boggling. He does his homework, learning all the history that unfolded during his 14 years in prison. He then focuses on rewarding those who were loyal to him. Although his father died of starvation and his fiancée married another man, there are still a few people who he wants to anonymously thank.
Dantes old boss Morrel is one of my favorite characters in the book. He is such a good man. He understands the true meaning of loyalty and Dantes remembers him and spends much of his time out of prison repaying that debt. Morrel fought hard to get him released from prison and when all his attempts fail he tries to care for Dantes’ father. He not only paid the funeral expenses when Dantes’ father dies, he did it with the full knowledge that Dantes was considered a Bonapartist and he would be judged harshly for it. In turn Dantes saves Morrel and his entire family in their moment of need. Just when Morrel is in the direst of situations, Dante swoops in and saves them, but he keeps his identity a secret.
“Be happy, noble heart, be blessed for all the good thou hast done and wilt do hereafter, and let my gratitude remain in obscurity like your good deeds.”
When he began his schemes for revenge things got a bit confusing. It was the one part of the novel that was a bit of a struggle for me. He takes on multiple aliases and secret identities, but at first we don’t know the new character is still Dantes. We’re also introduced to many new characters with little fan fare and it was hard to figure out who was who for awhile, but if you hang in there it all makes sense pretty quickly.
I can’t even explain to you how satisfying it is when Dantes starts revealing his true plan and we see his long-awaited revenge finally come to fruition. He slowly inserts himself into the lives of his betrayers, earning their trust as an unknown stranger. The cyclical nature of the book is delightful. For each character there is a fitting end and it’s so satisfying! Both those who are good and evil get their just desserts.
I loved how Mercedes and Albert found out the truth about Dantes situation and how the rest of their story concluded. The scene between Mercedes and Edmond just took my breath away. After his time in prison he had become so hard and calloused, yet with only a few words she still had the power to make him melt. Some corner of his heart never stopped loving her and the same was true for her. Their love story was a tragic one, but there was beauty in it too.
Dantes calculated the perfect revenge for each of his betrayers. Fernand stole his love and the family he would have hard, so his punishment was the loss of his family. Danglars’ motivation for betrayal was greed and jealousy and so he lost his entire fortune and was forced to learn what hunger truly was like. He was the worst of the villains, goading the others into their acts of treachery, and his fate was equal to his crime. Villefort acted out of a loyalty to his father, but also out of a desire to protect his own reputation and future. You could almost understand it if it was only out of love for his father, but in the end it was really a selfish decision. So it was only fitting that Villefort's doom come from within the household he tried to protect. He lost his family and the respect of his entire community.
In the midst of this tale of revenge there are a few beautiful stories of love and redemption as well. Maximilien Morrel’s love of Valentine de Villefort, Valentine’s devotion to her disabled grandfather and Haidée’s love of Dante are all powerful pictures of devotion in their own ways. It’s incredible that in addition to creating such a thrilling adventure story, Dumas also gave the book wonderful characters with depth that will stay with readers forever.
BOTTOM LINE: Read it! It’s a long haul, but unlike some long novels, the majority of the book flies by and it keeps you interested throughout. Many older classics that take time to get into and adjust to the language, but this one starts off at a run and doesn't let go. Besides one small section in the middle that dragged for me, I couldn't put it down. Curl up with this brick of a book and you won’t be sorry.
“In politics, my dear fellow, you know, as well as I do, there are no men, but ideas – no feelings, but interests; in politics we do not kill a man, we only remove an obstacle, that is all.”
“There are, indeed, some things which appear so impossible that the mind does not dwell on them for an instant.”
“The overflow of my brain would probably, in a state of freedom, have evaporated in a thousand follies; misfortune is needed to bring to light the treasures of the human intellect. Compression is needed to explode gunpowder.”
“There is neither happiness nor misery in the world; there is only the comparison of one state with another, nothing more. He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness. We must have felt what it is to die, Morrel, that we may appreciate the enjoyments of living.”
Check out Fanda’s post here to learn a bit more about Dumas.
*One thing I would HIGHLY recommend is confirming that you have an unabridged copy of the book before you begin. I had an 800 page copy and assumed it was the full thing, and then my friend, who had just finished the same edition, realized it was an abridged copy. She decided to reread an unabridged copy of the book and she told me dozens of important scenes were cut to “simplify” the story. If you read the abridged version you’ll be missing out on some of the most interesting twists. The complete book should be about 1,250 pages.
**I found this flow chart of the relationships in the book really helpful. But make sure you don’t use it until you’re near the end, because it definitely includes some major spoilers.