It’s, again, only March when I am writing my first blog post about reading for the year, does that mean I’ve been doing a bad job? Surprisingly, no!
The Count of Monte Cristo (1844-1846) by Alexandre Dumas
While I have only read one book so far, it is The Count of Monte Cristo, which, coming in at just over 1000 pages is easily as long as 3-4 regular books. Given the length, I will discuss the book in a bit more detail than normal.
The Count of Monte Cristo was originally published in French and in serialised form from 1844 to 1846. Since I do not know French, I got an English version which appears to be the anonymous 1846 translation. While I can not comment on the French writing (A French colleague of mine tells me that it’s good.), I can say that I really liked the way that this translation is written. You can tell that it’s an older style but, apart from a few sentences, it’s still really easy to read.
As a slight digression, I couldn’t help noticing I’ve read many great books which were originally written in French, but not so many from other languages. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence.
To very briefly set the scene (and since it’s been out for over 150 years, I think we’re beyond worrying about spoilers), The Count of Monte Cristo tells the story of Edmond Dantes, who is betrayed by his friends and imprisoned on false charges. While in prison he meets the Abbe Faria, whom everyone thinks is mad, but who educates Edmond and tells him of a secret treasure, hidden by a now-dead line of Italian nobility, on the island of Monte Cristo. When the Abbe dies, Edmond takes the place of his body and escapes the prison. At that point, it is fourteen years since he was imprisoned. When he returns home, he finds that the friends who betrayed him are rich and successful, his fiance has married his rival and his father died of starvation. Edmond retrieves the treasure and embarks on a quest for revenge.
Much like with Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, I wanted to read The Count of Monte Cristo because of the musical adaptation of the same name by Frank Wildhorn. And I actually found the musical through a series of My Little Pony animatics by Ink Potts. The adaptation takes liberties with the plot and characters which can be confusing. For example, if you read the comments on the animatics, everyone talks about Mondego. The character’s name is Fernand Mondego but, in the book, he is almost never referred to as Mondego; in the first part of the book he is known as Fernand and, later on, he goes by the title of Count de Morcerf.
Below I will share one of Ink Potts’ animatics where, at a party, Edmond’s former fiance, Mercedes (Fluttershy), recognises him as the Count of Monte Cristo. It’s mid-way through the animatic series and marks a point where Ink Potts’ skills noticeably increased. While Mercedes recognises Edmond in the novel as well, she does not reveal that until later. I quote that text below because it also illustrates the naming issue I mentioned before.
The stranger cast one look around her, to be certain that they were quite alone; then bending as if she would have knelt, and joining her hands, she said with an accent of despair:
“Edmond, you will not kill my son?”
The count retreated a step, uttered a slight exclamation, and let fall the pistol he held.
“What name did you pronounce then, Madame de Morcerf?” said he.
“Yours!” cried she, throwing back her veil. “Yours, which I alone, perhaps, have not forgotten. Edmond, it is not Madame de Morcerf who is come to you, it is Mercedes.”
“Mercedes is dead, madame,” said Monte Cristo; “I know no one now of that name.”
“Mercedes lives, sir, and she remembers, for she alone recognized you when she saw you, and even before she saw you, by your voice, Edmond—by the simple sound of your voice; and from that moment she has followed your steps, watched you, feared you, and she needs not to inquire what hand has dealt the blow which now strikes M. de Morcerf.”
“Fernand, do you mean?” replied Monte Cristo, with bitter irony; “since we are recalling names, let us remember them all.” Monte Cristo had pronounced the name of Fernand with such an expression of hatred that Mercedes felt a thrill of horror run through every vein.
“You see, Edmond, I am not mistaken, and have cause to say, ‘Spare my son!’”
Edmond himself is a very interesting character, mostly because it’s unclear how much of what he says and does aligns with his own beliefs and character and how much is done in service of his revenge. In the early chapters of the book, even as he suffers through his prison time, Edmond remains likable and relatable. One of the first things Edmond does after recovering the treasure from Monte Cristo is to, secretly, go back to those who were kind to him and help erase their debts and give them money to achieve their dreams. But after that is done…
“And now,” said the unknown, “farewell kindness, humanity, and gratitude! Farewell to all the feelings that expand the heart! I have been Heaven’s substitute to recompense the good—now the god of vengeance yields to me his power to punish the wicked!”
As Monte Cristo, Edmond is no longer relatable and his motivations and thoughts are usually obscure to the reader. There are times when the old Edmond peeks through but, for the most part, Edmond has so completely assumed the mask of Monte Cristo that it’s impossible to know his true feelings.
The other characters in the book are no less developed; one of my favourite was Villefort’s father, Noirtier. When he was originally introduced he appeared to be a villainous Bonapartist but he developed into so much more. When we see him again in Paris, many years later, his body is paralysed and he is only able to communicate through eye movements. Despite this, Noirtier’s mind is no less sharp than before and he still wields great influence over Villefort and the rest of his family. I was quite glad that, when Noirtier was caught up in Edmond’s revenge, that Edmond took the time to explain to Noirtier what was going on.
The Count of Monte Cristo is not perfect. There were a few sections which I found tedious, though they were very much in the minority. The bigger problem for me was the deus ex machina treasure and infallibility of Edmond himself. He gets this convenient and inexhaustible wealth which he can use to solve basically any problem just by throwing money at it. He also is shown to be exceptional at masking his true feelings, knowledgeable of almost every subject, a master of disguises and to shoot a pistol with near-perfect accuracy. It’s still enjoyable but, at times, it felt like he was playing a game with the cheat codes on. He will no doubt say it is because he is merely an agent fulfilling the will of providence.
Despite its length and complexity, The Count of Monte Cristo is extremely engaging and absolutely deserves its status as a classic. I can, very, very highly, recommend reading it.