The Count of Monte Cristo
By Alexandre Dumas (Père)
Original French Title: Le Comte de Monte-Cristo
Originally Published in Parts from 1844-1846
Penguin Classics publication of new translation: 1996
Translated by Robin Buss
Cover Art: Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg
Review © 2009 by Stephen Roof
Genre: Classic, Historical Fiction, Adventure, Literature
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas is one of the most popular books ever published. For pure entertainment value, this novel is hard to beat, especially in the more recent unabridged translation by Robin Buss. If you’ve only read one of the abridged versions (less than 600 pages) or you’ve only seen one of the many film versions, you haven’t really experienced this novel. What’s really amazing is that with a length of over 1200 pages this novel is a serious page turner. It’s full of action, adventure, intrigue, thrills, and heavy drama that won’t let you put the book down. Before you know it, you’ll reach the end of the book and you’ll be sad that there’s no more to read.
When you think about a story of revenge, The Count of Monte Cristo is the first novel that comes to mind. The story has been told in so many forms from children’s versions to comic books to movies that parts of it have become embedded in modern culture. The general plot has been borrowed from and imitated countless times precisely because it is so powerful and moving. The most recent Holleywood movie version from 2002 was one of the better film versions but there is obviously no way to condense a 1200 page book into a 2 hour film without leaving a whole lot out. The ending, in particular, is much more satisfying in the novel.
For those of you from another planet, this paragraph describes the plot with minor spoilers. The basic plot is that an innocent man, Edmond Dantes, is sent to prison where he is left to suffer for years without any contact with the outside world. While in prison, he meets a wise old man who becomes his mentor, gives Edmond a broad education, and provides directions to a fabulous treasure should he ever escape. After finally escaping, Edmond recovers the treasure giving him almost unlimited means to exact revenge on those responsible for his unjust incarceration. After years of preparation, Edmond returns to France as the Count of Monte Cristo with a single minded purpose of fulfilling his mission.
The Count of Monte Cristo is one of my favorite books of all time. I think everyone can relate to the feeling of being wronged and the subsequent desire for revenge, and this explains much of the universal appeal of this story. Dumas makes the crimes in this story so heinous that there is no question the villains deserve punishment and the Count is determined to make the punishments fit the crime. Of course, once events are set in motion, there are bound to be a few bystanders caught in the crossfire.
I think another French writer and friend of Dumas, Victor Hugo best summed up the ability of Dumas as a writer when he wrote, “He creates a thirst for reading.” This is especially true in The Count of Monte Cristo where Dumas does an incredible job of maintaining tension and a fast pace throughout. The only slow section in this novel is the section from page 300 to 436 where a host of new characters and background information is introduced. The rest of the novel keeps you on the edge of your seat as you experience high adventure, intrigue, romance, tragedy, and triumph.
The Count of Monte Cristo is highly recommended to everyone aged teen and up. The unabridged edition does contain descriptions of recreational drug use, a lesbian affair, and some violent scenes but there is no graphic sex. Be sure to look for the recent Robin Buss translation which is infinitely better than the previous heavily abridged translations that utilize archaic Victorian style English. If you haven’t read this newer version, you need to add it to the stack of books by your bed.