Friday, August 13, 2010

Review: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

The Count of Monte Cristo (Signet Classics)
The Count of Monte Cristo is responsible only to the Count of Monte Cristo. I do as I please, and believe me, what I do is always well done.

So says the Count of Monte Cristo, formerly known as Edmond Dantes, now unrecognizable from the handsome, vivacious, carefree young man the world knew him as. Wrongly accused of a crime by two men jealous of his position in life and kept imprisoned by another man desperate to hide his family's own crimes, Dantes spends 14 years in prison, emerging after a daring escape to claim a hidden treasure, and then spends another 10 exacting his vengeance on those who robbed him of his life.

I'm determined to add more classic literature to my diet and this book frequently pops up on many "best of" and "favorite" lists. This was my first time reading The Count of Monte Cristo, and I chose the Signet Classics edition. I've been told I probably missed a lot of the story by reading the abridged edition, but I had a hard enough time getting through 500 pages, so there's no way I could read 1000. Yes, I am admitting that this beloved classic did not send me.

Dumas excels at painting vivid scenery for his story: from a sleepy seaside fishing village to the Isle of Monte Cristo to the Carnival of Rome to the mansions of Paris. He injects such passion and feeling into his narrative, yet I did not find the same conviction in his depiction of the Count. Dumas spends much more time examining the thoughts and feelings of the Count's enemies rather than those of the Count himself, and I felt isolated from him and could not develop a real connection with him.

Another area in which Dumas excels is in narrowing down profound ideas into beautifully explained little nuggets of wisdom throughout. A couple of my favorite examples:

To the happy and prosperous man, prayer is but a meaningless jumble of words until grief comes to explain to the unfortunate wretch the sublime language which is our means of communication with God.

Everything appears possible to the condemned man, to whom a miracle becomes an everyday occurrence when it is a question of saving his life.

And this one, just because I liked it:

Morrel was thirty-one years of age and was urged on by love; Barrois was sixty and parched with heat. On arriving at the house, Morrel was not even out of breath, for love lends wings; but Barrois had not been in love for many long years and was bathed in perspiration.

The Count spends a very long time setting up his enemies for revenge in very round-about methods, focusing more on his enemies' children to bring about heartache and suffering for them, but in the process he comes to realize that exacting vengeance on the innocent causes him more pain than pleasure and he comes to experience true regret and a desire to form a new outlook on life.

Ultimately, and despite its literary merits, it was a chore for me to make it to the end of this one. The story features a multitude of characters, so many that at times I was confused and had a hard time keeping track of who the story was following, I wasn't able to fall in love with the hero, and the plot was way too melodramatic and convoluted for my taste. So all of that adds up to:

Rating:  2.5 Stars out of 5
"It was just OK"

*This review will also be posted on Royal Reviews.

1 comment:

  1. I think this was originally published in a newspaper - serial form. That would be much easier to read such a huge book, don't you think? I read this years ago with a group online that met each day (just posted thoughts about the same section for a particular day). The discussion made it easier to remember all the names, places, events, etc. Don't think I would've read it on my own.


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