It’s a classic tale. Even if you think you’ve never heard of it, the story of The Count of Monte Cristo is referred to so often in life. Parodied by The Simpsons, The Count of Monte Cristo is ultimately a tale of revenge. It tells the story of Edmond Dantes, a young 19 year old man who serves happily aboard the Pharaon; a cargo ship in Marseilles. He proves himself a worthy sailor and due to the untimely death of the captain, Dantes finds himself as a captain of the ship, and in command of many men. Dantes has also fallen in love with a young Catalan girl; Mercedes and will soon become her husband. In all respects, Edmond Dantes was a very happy man. On the eve of his wedding, a court official arrives and demands Dantes’ arrest, on account of his alleged Bonapartism. (Alexadre Dumas was writing about the period in which Bonaparte was banished to the isle of Corsica, and siding with him was considered treason of the highest order.) The novel proceeds to describe Dantes’ life sentence to the Château d’If; a stone tower in the middle of the Mediterranean. Dantes knows he has committed no crime, and when he talks with fellow cell mate: the Abbe Faria, he slowly starts piecing together the conspiracy against him. He is the victim of jealousy, two men-one jealous of his position, and one of his bride. Jealously is a recurring, and one of the most important themes in the novel. Through the Abbe Faria, Dantes learns of a wonderful treasure hidden on the Isle of Monte Cristo and the two plan to escape. However, the unfortunate death the Abbe means that Dantes claims the treasure alone and claims for himself the title of The Count of Monte Cristo. These events take place in the opening 100 pages. Throughout the rest of the novel, the reader follows the Count’s plan for revenge and each subplot all come together neatly for the “Grand Finale”.
The first thing you may have noticed from that no-so-brief synopsis, is that it’s, well, not so brief. And that reflects the book. In total, the book amasses to a massive 1080 pages, rich with dense and difficult language. Dumas describes in great depth each and every character’s lives, each individual subplot, and it is with incredible eloquence and intelligence that he intertwines each character’s problems and lives so the reader feels that despite the books great length, each and every word is vitally important to the overall novel, and indeed they are. Very often in novels, the author follows the lives of several characters, and more often than not, the reader finds themselves bored with the narration of certain characters, and willing themselves to reach the chapter or scene in which their preferred character appears. In The Count of Monte Cristo however, this is not so. As soon as Dantes makes an oath in prison, vowing to get revenge on all those who caused him 14 years of pain and imprisonment, the reader is anxious to understand every character, and how they relate to the Count of Monte Cristo, and how they feature in his plans.
When reading the book, there was something that struck me about the way that Dumas writes. In the former parts of the book, Dumas always referred to the protagonist as Dantes, or Edmond. However, after Dantes found the treasure, the narrator changes his name to The Count, and never refers to him as Dantes again until the book reaches its conclusion. I really enjoyed that feature of the book, as it made me almost forget that the two names refer to the same person and it was a pleasant realisation at the end of the novel when I realised that though his appearance changed, though he became incredibly wealthy, and though he adopted a completely new persona, his character always remained the same inside which I think is a very insightful view on the human personality; that no matter what happens or what material events take place, the human personality has deep foundations, and that it is near on impossible to change.
In many excellent books, the reader gets to the end and thinks: “Oh. That was…rubbish.” The ending can be so often anticlimactic and disappointing to the reader which has stuck through and been interested in the character since the very beginning. Yet in The Count of Monte Cristo this is not at all the case. In fact, without giving away any spoilers, this was one of the most satisfying and well crafted endings that I have ever read. The reader feels that everything has reached its correct and proper end; no plotline is left unfinished and the reader has no questions or queries about what happens next. This is a rare and valuable virtue to have in a book.
Overall, I loved the book. Every element of it enhanced the overall effect; the deep descriptions, the intricate subplots and the structure of the book. It gave me a real historical insight into what life would have been like during and after Napoleons reign, and the feelings and anxieties of civilians living during that time. It gave me an impression of what being part of the French aristocracy might have been like, and the social pressures that would have come with that. Dumas has written The Three Musketeers among others and The Count of Monte Cristo has been a great advert to read more of his work.