Numbered rightly among the timeless classics of which almost everyone has heard, ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ is revered as an adventure yarn par excellence. While others of his works may perhaps be even more famous, ‘The Three Musketeers’ in particular having benefited from numerous film interpretations, this is the work for which Dumas deserves to be remembered. The original is a huge book, It is a huge book, crammed with plots and sub-plots, replete with classical references, and strung together by the fantastic coincidence, unbelievable derring-do, and highly romantic styling that typified French literature at the time. There are many translations or adaptions of the original. After a ...view middle of the document...
Aside from his personal gifts he has a doting father whose paternal affection extends so far that he is be willing to starve himself to avoid inconveniencing him. Best of all he has a beautiful fiance, Mercedes: ‘a lovely young girl with jet black hair and the velvet eyes of a gazelle’ (could there be conceived a more eloqu
ent way than that of expressing the concept ‘big, soft, and brown’?), her arms ‘modelled on those of the Venus of Arles’ (I’m afraid I’m too much of a philistine to get that allusion, but I expect they’re very nice), and legs ‘shapely, bold and proud’. Such an abundance of blessings could hardly do other than invite misfortune, and in a short space of time Edmond is betrayed and brought low by various parties, each motivated by their own blend of spite, envy, and ambition.
So Edmond is consigned to the Chateau D’If, a terrible prison on an island off the coast, a ‘prison shrouded with deep terror’, which ‘for three centuries… nourished Marseille with its gloomy legends’. There he meets the Abbe Faria, an extraordinary gentleman who, over ten years or so of incarceration educates Edmond to the height of human accomplishment, and more importantly, illuminates him as to the identity of his persecutors, namely the wicked Danglars, the jealous, passionate Fernand, and the selfish, ambitious Villefort. The Abbe Faria’s last gift is most important of all, being the location of a vast fortune, with which Endond Dantes, having escaped from the Chateau D’If, soon sets about planning and executing his merciless revenge.
It would be easy to get lost in retelling the story, simply because it is so good. It is, I should say, wildly improbable in places (although, one could argue that the level of coincidence in meetings and actions is a sign that Edmond’s mission for revenge is truly divine and what appears as chance is actually God granted serendipity). But to go further may be to deny someone the pleasure of discovering it, and besides, how could anyone fit a thousand plus pages of adventure into a review? But I will talk a bit about what makes the book more than just a great boy’s own adventure story.
First of all, as a writer, Dumas is i
nventive, clever, and fun. I used a lot of his words in my plot synopsis above, because they are far better than my own could be. When it comes to realising his characters and their surroundings Dumas is both lively and imaginative. One gets the impression that he approached his writing with gusto, keen to outdo himself with his own eloquence, not afraid to skip along the fine line between cleverness and bathos.
As an example, in transforming himself from Edmond Dantes, wretched escaped convict cursed by fate, to the Count of Monte Cristo, mighty bearer of God’s justice on the human plane, Edmond travels extensively in the orient, and brings an extremis of exoticism back with him. His boudoir, within his secret cave dwelling on the isle of Monte Cristo, is described thus ‘The...