My friend Laura Hivala recommended The Count of Monte Cristo to me many years ago. I bought it upon her recommendation and it sat neglected on my shelf until this year when I finally picked it up for The Classics Challenge. Laura told me that this was her favorite book for many reasons, but the main one was how she loved how the Count of Monte Cristo slowly and methodically plots and enacts his revenge. I enjoyed the same aspect of the novel, and was also surprised at how this “classic” is a real page turner. Sadly Laura passed away earlier this year at the age of 32. It would have been great to discuss this book with her as we discussed so many books in the past.
Edmund Dantes is living a blessed life. After the unfortunate death of his captain, Edmund takes over control of his ship the Pharaon and sails it back successfully to his homeport of Marseilles. Awaiting Edmund is his beautiful fiancée Mercedes and his beloved father. The owner of the ship, Monsieur Morrel, respects Edmund and his hard work and promotes him to captain. Upon his promotion, Edmund is finally able to marry Mercedes and they have a betrothal breakfast to celebrate the upcoming marriage.
Jealousy eats away at Fernand Mondego, Danglars, and Gaspard Caderhousse. Fernand is Mercedes’ cousin and is in love with her. It tears him apart to see her so happy with Dantes. Danglars is the supercargo of the Pharaon and would like to be the captain rather than Dantes. Caderhousse is Dante’s father’s creditor. Although he has been paid back, he is rather a mean-spirited man. The three plot together the evening before the betrothal breakfast and their plotting leads to the arrest of Edmund during his betrothal feast.
Edmund is brought before Monsieur de Villefort on charges that he is assisting Napoleon on his return from Elba. De Villefort is about to release Edmund when he discovers that the letter that Dantes was unsuspectingly carrying, was meant for de Villefort’s father, Noirtier, a known adherent of Napoleon. In order to preserve his own family name and status, de Villefort has Dantes thrown into the notorious prison, the Chateau d’If.
Dantes endures a terrible imprisonment, but after a few years, a priest named Faria accidently digs his way into Edmund’s cell. The two become friends and the priest educates Dantes. They hatch an escape plan together and Faria tells Edmund about the location of an immense treasure. After Faria’s death, Edmund has to brave the escape alone. He finds the treasure and reinvents himself as the Count of Monte Cristo.
After 14-years of being unjustly imprisoned, the Count of Monte Cristo researches to find out why exactly he was imprisoned. Once he rewards the man who tried to help him, his old boss M. Morrel, the Count begins upon a plan that will take many years to punish those responsible for his imprisonment. He centers his revenge upon Fernand, Danglars, and de Villefort, all who have gone on to lead very successful lives.
As I stated above, I found The Count of Monte Cristo to be a real page-turner. The first part of the novel which centered upon the imprisonment, escape, and finding of treasure was a fantastic adventure story. The rest of the novel was gripping in a different way as one tried to determine exactly how the Count of Monte Cristo expected to exact his revenge. There were also stories of love and other adventures that centered on the next generation that was born to the villains and heroes during the course of the story. I loved the many characters and was often unable to stop reading in order to find out what was going to happen next in the story.
Although this novel was a book of revenge, the Count of Monte Cristo was also shown at many times to be capable of being able to forgive. I liked this and that he was a really well rounded character. He often took a back-seat to the other characters and their stories during the second half of the novel, but he was the one that was driving the plot.
The one part of the novel that troubled me was that the Count of Monte Cristo owned a slave, Haydee, who is also a part of the plan of revenge. We are first introduced to her when the Count makes some off-color jokes that he does not need a mistress as he has his own slave. Later on though, it is discovered that Haydee is treated like a daughter and that she loves the Count like a father. Still later on it is discovered that Haydee loves the Count more than as a daughter and wants to spend her life with him although she is young enough to be his daughter. I didn’t like the fact that the Count owned a slave and his relationship with her had a certain “ick” factor. I would have rather had him rekindle his romance with Mercedes once the path was cleared.
Overall, it is easy to see why this book has remained a classic through the years. The Count of Monte Cristo is an exciting adventure story, a romance, and a tale of revenge and forgiveness that will keep you up through the night.
Alexandre Dumas himself was an interesting man. Dumas was the son of a general, who himself was the son of a Frenchman and an African woman from the Caribbean. I think it is rather astonishing that I didn’t learn that Dumas was part African until the last few years. To be such a successful writer in France during a time when Africans were enslaved in America is a great story. Dumas actually didn’t do all of his writing himself and employed a stable of writers to help him out as his works were in such high demand. He most likely did write The Count of Monte Cristo. He led a rather extravagant life and built himself his own Chateau de Monte Cristo and eventually had to fell to Belgium to escape his creditors. He died in debt, but his stories have lived on through generations.
I have enjoyed The Man in the Iron Mask by Dumas as well, but I have yet to read his seminal work, The Three Musketeers. Is The Three Musketeers as good as The Count of Monte Cristo? Any opinions?
Book Source: I purchased this book either at Borders or Barnes and Noble many years ago.