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 The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

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PostSubject: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas   Tue Dec 20, 2011 9:10 pm

The Count of Monte Cristo has been the subject of several retellings, and countless movies. The only movie version I have seen has been the Kevin Reynolds version with James Caviezel and Guy Pierce. That was probably my first introduction to the story. The next was The Stars Tennis Balls’ by Stephen Fry; which was pretty much the same story but set in modern day Oxford University. There is also an anime series and also a US mini-series based on the plot. You might think that this would dilute the original source in much the same way as the countless Sherlock Holmes stories may have done, or the countless versions and retellings of A Christmas Carol or Dracula. But all these versions of Monte Cristo have merely reinforced the power of this wonderful story of love, betrayal and vengeance. It shows it as being just as durable and enchanting today as it was in 1845 when it was first published.

The idea of such a large novel in which its protagonist is very much in control of the events interested me, but had me a little daunted also. But Dumas has a certain talent for telling a complex story in a very simplified manner. Although he can be wordy, and often he goes into detailed accounts involving characters who have very little to do with the plot (The Luigi Vampa origin story for one thing) it still becomes quite easy to follow and although many plot elements don’t quite connect together in your head at the time of reading them, by the time they appear, we the reader trust Dumas and simply go with it, knowing full well that this author is taking us somewhere. I guess you could say it is Labyrinthine, but a labyrinth with an excellent guide and one we trust.

The novel begins just a few days short of Napoleon’s escape from Elba and his retaking of France. A young sailor, Edmund Dantes, returns to Marseilles for the first time in six months with news that the captain of his ship has died. The ship’s owner soon promotes Dantes to the position of Captain; Danglar, the ships accountant is less than pleased with Dantes’ good fortune and begins to plot against him. It seems that Dantes, while honouring the last wishes of his captain, landed at Elba and soon unwittingly came into possession of a letter that details Napoleon’s plan to escape from Elba and return to power. Dantes plans on finally marrying the love of his life, Mercedes and informs his father of his promotion. However Caderousse, Dantes’ neighbour also becomes jealous of Dantes and both he and Danglar use Mercedes’ cousin Fernand, who is also in love with Mercedes, to set him up as a Bonapartist and ruin Dantes’ career and reputation. The plan goes a little too well when the prosecutor in the case Gerard de Villefort, discovers that the letter Dantes is in possession of is in fact meant for Villefort’s father. Terrified of the impact this will have on his career, Villefort has Dantes locked up without trial in the Chateau D’if.

Dantes spends several years alone, not understand why any of this has happened to him. After several years of despair, he finally attempts suicide by starving to death. However, he is then distracted by a noise from the walls. As it turns out, it is the sound of a fellow prisoner, one Abbe Faria. Faria has been digging in the wrong direction and instead finds himself in Dantes’ cell. The two make the most of this otherwise gloomy scenario and become good friends and eventually spiritual father and son. Dantes learns many things from the Abbe and is eventually informed of treasure hidden many years ago from Pope Alexander VI, the second of three Borgia popes and possibly the most corrupt. After fourteen years in prison, Dantes escapes and finds the treasure on the island of Monte Cristo. It is from here that the novel becomes less direct. Dantes first uses his new found wealth to help those who helped him and then pledges to use the rest for revenge. Dantes vanishes for a further ten years and in this time he reinvents himself as the Count of Monte Cristo. He befriends two young Parisian aristocrats, Albert de Morcerf and Franz d’Epinay. This becomes the first play in the Count’s game of revenge. His style of revenge is not a simple one where he merely runs up to his enemies and stabs them. The count in fact doesn’t kill anyone, at least not directly. The Count styles himself as an agent of providence and is quite comfortable with people noting that he is like god himself. The count acts more like an accelerant on the flames of which his enemies play with. Danglar is greedy and has become a very wealthy banker, Fernand has now become a war hero and a wealthy one at that; the source of his wealth is a mystery. And as for Villefort, he is now the King’s attorney and a highly influential and respected member of Parisian society.

The count’s treatment of the fourth conspirator, Caderousse is an ambiguous one; he appears to forgive the tailor and offers him a ring worth 50,000 francs. However Caderousse screws the whole thing up and ends up in the gallows. Whether the Count knew this is would happen is uncertain. The count’s plans for his enemies are not made clear until the end and even then things never go according to plan, so what his original plans were is left unknown. There are circumstances that Monte Cristo simply couldn’t have put into his plan. Villefort’s father Noirtier being so strong willed and clever for instance; Danglar’s daughter’s sexuality being another. But they all helped in shaping the events that Monte Cristo so desired.

Unlike many of the film versions, the novel does not end the way you might imagine. Innocent people are harmed in the cross fire and the count has a happy ending, but not the one you would expect. Which was a great surprise. As I have said, the count merely uses his wealth to accelerate events. Danglar’s greed was bound to be his undoing. Fernand’s past was sure to catch up with him and the career of Villefort was always going to be fragile.

The novel is roughly 1000 pages long (I’m unsure of the exact number since I read it on my Kindle) and Dumas uses every page to create a world full of characters that you can not only believe in, but identify with. The Parisian society is far from my front door, but even I can see the people I know in some of the characters. The characters were so well crafted and designed that I was actually quite sorry to leave them behind upon finishing the novel.

I have always enjoyed stories about people who improve themselves and use knowledge gained to achieve what they could not before. The novel is the epitome of that type of story. A man educated enough to navigate through life as a mere sea-man reinvents himself and improves on his knowledge of the world and its sciences. He adopts many philosophies and even has many of his very own. There are many religious nods throughout the work, none more so than Buddhism; the idea of self-improvement, Karmic justice, and even rebirth. The work could almost be an ancient text of spiritual significance.

Dumas was inspired by a story of a man named Pierre Picaud, a shoe-maker who was about to marry the love of his life when four friends accused him of being a spy for the English. Picaud was arrested and imprisoned. He eventually befriended a priest named Torri who, much like Abbe Faria, educated him and informed him of a treasure hidden in Milan. Picaud was eventually released from prison and found the treasure. Just like Dantes, he used the treasure to reinvent himself and then exact revenge on the conspirators. However unlike Dantes, Picaud’s revenge was far less sophisticated and much crueller. He seduced his conspirator’s daughter and had her sell herself into prostitution, framed the son of another conspirator for the theft of gold and stabbed another conspirator to death. The fourth conspirator, a man named Allut, discovered the true identity of this man and killed him. It was from Allut’s death bed confession that most of the details are known. Whether any of this is true or not is somehow irrelevant; however, yet again, it reinforces the power of this story. It is a story that seems to have always been there and has a place in the past as well as the present and most definitely the future.





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PostSubject: Re: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas   Tue Dec 20, 2011 11:36 pm

Great review, Ben. Thank you. Smile

It interested me as well that as hell-bent the Count of Monte Cristo seemed to be on revenge, he found much that was actually good in the poisonous lives he looked to bring down. As you stated, innocent people ended up in the crossfire, and the count feels remorse. What he does for Maximilian and Valentine at the end seems to be his final redemption of himself.

Now I'm looking forward to The Three Musketeers!

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PostSubject: Re: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas   Thu Dec 22, 2011 12:30 am

Paul wrote:
Now I'm looking forward to The Three Musketeers!

The Three Musketeers! I'm there with ya Paul. I've been flirting with the idea. I'd have to read the complete d'Artagnan Romances though. If just to read the section on the Man in the Iron Mask! The story seems a bit convoluted though scratch so I may hold it off for a while... but not for too long Razz
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