I had read the first chapter of The Count of Monte Cristo once without much interest, but it was rekindled by a review I read for a Monte Cristo spin-off by Jules Verne. I had read and enjoyed Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days and 20,000 leagues Under the Sea. (I need to re-read that one this year.) I still haven’t read Mathias Sandorf, but I hope to get around to it sometime before much longer.
Edmund Dantes is a rising merchant sailor on the verge of promotion and about to marry Mercedes. On the occasion of his engagement he is arrested, after accusal of being Bonapartist by two envious men. The official, Monsieur de Villefort, who he is taken to, is sympathetic, until he discovers the letter on which the accusation is founded is addressed to his father, who is also a Bonapartist. Afraid for his future, Villefort gives Dantes a prison sentence for life without trial.
Dantes is sent to a fortress called the Chateau d’If. After six years in solitary confinement, he is attempting wholeheartedly to die when he hears a noise in the walls of rock and earth of his dungeon cell. It is another prisoner, Abbe Faria. Despite his disappointment upon finding that his tunnel has not led him to an outer wall, the priest and Dantes strike up friendship. Together they plot a double escape, but just when they are ready the Abbe falls ill. He yields the secret of a great treasure he was trying to find at the time of his arrest, disclosing the location to Edmund before he dies. The treasure is hidden in a cave on the of Monte Cristo. The tunnel is no longer viable for escape, but by cunning Edmund devises an alternative–which nearly proves fatal.
Free and in the possession of great wealth, Dantes, now under his alias The Count of Monte Cristo, (the name taken from the hiding place of the treasure, an island) moves to Paris with Haydee, his Greek ward. Viewing himself as the hand of Providence, he sets out to destroy the lives and reputation of the men who were responsible for his wrongful 14-year sentence, and to help those who tried to come to his aid.
In retrospect, I did not love it. The beginning was the best part, I felt, and I realize now that my enjoyment dwindled as the revenge grew deeper and darker. I read it through to do it justice. While it was an exciting, intriguing, well-written story, I would not recommend it unreservedly, especially to those younger than myself. The atmosphere is darker and more tainted, if you will, than the average Dickens.
There is a lot of questionable material in The Count an affair spoken of, an implied case of Lesbianism, multiple murders, poisonings, and graphic execution. There are some lewd Opium dreams, but I was forewarned of therm and was able to skip them over. Interestingly, I recall encountering very little language.
The Count has eight aliases in all, yet I feel as though I never encountered a few; perhaps I combined some of them mentally. My favorite characters were Valentine and her grandfather Monsieur de Nortier, Maximilian, and the portrait of the Morrel family. They were a bright happy light shining in on the darkness of the story. Something happened to Maximilian’s character at the end, however. The discouragement he feels dampened my liking of him, I suppose, for I liked the hopeful, exuberant man who loved Valentine, not the suicidal mope.
Count de Morcerf ‘s rise to success and riches puzzled me a little. Not that a man could not rise to his prominence by military feats; it was the polar opposite persona which I did not understand. There was no Ferdinand in his character.
I have been much more interested in the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte ever since I read it. The Hundred Days and the events leading up to it play a big role in the beginning of the story. The most interesting (and perhaps my favorite) part, was Edmund’s time in the Chateau and his escape.
The Count uses the past sins of his enemies to bring them down. While he does this effectively and the reader feels that all of them deserved it, I came away from the book with the distinct impression that a person should never view themselves as the hand of God. It’s disastrous, and it did not bring happiness to Edmund Dantes. Even he observes that towards the close, when he sees the destruction and heartache that he has caused. God is the Avenger of man.
Note: as to translations, I read the Penguin version pictured above.