The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

I did it! I finally read The Count of Monte Cristo. Initially, I felt like I was preparing for a  monumental event, like running a marathon. And much like preparing for a long race, I created a pacing chart to help me make it through the book. I wanted to read it at a steady pace to avoid burn out (too much too fast) or slack off (which leads to backtracking, then trying to remember whose who, and finally throwing in the towel). I committed to reading 50-100 pages a day. At this pace I knew I’d finish the book within the month. In fact, it took me 22 days to read every word on all 1,243 pages.

And I loved every moment.

One of the reasons I put off reading this book is not only the fact that its a chunkster on the higher end of that term of endearment, but I was afraid I wouldn’t like it. Isn’t that silly? To not read a classic because you’re afraid you won’t like it? But that’s the truth. After hearing about the book for years and growing up watching old movie versions of Dumas story-lines on TV, I was hesitant. But I knew if I didn’t start the year off with this book, it would be lurking in the back of my mind as I read other, shorter novels. And upon my death bed it would be one of the novels that flash before my eyes, unread, leaving me in an eternity of regret.

Do you know the story? Edmund Dantes is a happy young sailor, in love with life, his father, and his fiance. The other sailors on the ship respect him and when the captain dies he’s promoted to the position. Dantes’s star is on the rise. Unfortunately, he has a few haters, men who are envious and greedy. They set him up and Dantes gets thrown in prison, where he stews for 14 years. Eventually he escapes and rewards those who supported him, then sets out to destroy the three men who ruined his life.

Dantes gets his revenge through careful planning, patience, and by everyone acting exactly as he

The perfect winter read

assumed they would. Along the way there are ship voyages, fast horses, gang rape, a brutal public execution, murder, poisonings, infidelity, and infanticide. There is also love, friendship, and loyalty.

Oh, and a runaway lesbian/transsexual daughter, which was quite the pleasant surprise. If you don’t remember Eugenie Danglars (a “real Amazon”) and her “inseparable companion” Louise d’Armilly and the wonderful abduction scene between them, its probably because you read a translation that edited away this escape to freedom by two young women in love. Excuse me for this spoiler, but, in the end nothing bad happens to them, which was quite refreshing.

Even knowing the basics of the story, I greatly enjoyed reading the details. Upon finishing the novel I read the introduction by translator extrordinaire Robin Buss and learned that Dumas actually based his novel, in part, on a true crime story. He also had a collaborator and research assistant, Auguste Maquet. Dumas published so many novels, stories, and plays that one critic referred to him as “Alexandre Dumas and Co., novel factory.” This brings to mind the contemporary novel factory of James Patterson’s empire, which people seem to either love or loath.

While reading the introduction I nodded in agreement with Buss as he explores why so many people consider The Count of Monte Cristo a children’s story. It has much do to with movie adaptations that strip the story down to its main plot and also heavily edited Victorian translations that take out the racier bits. Buss speculates that many novels that maintain their popularity over generations get relegated to children’s literature.

http://wildmoobooks.blogspot.com/p/the-classics-club.html
This novel is on my Classics Club list

Do people forget what they’ve read? Do they not read with their hearts open? I’ve come across this phenomenon with Willa Cather’s novels, particularly her two most popular novels, O Pioneers! and  My Antonia. These novels contain suicide, murder, infidelity, and even a premeditated (failed) rape scene. Not something most people want their children to read, yet people think her novels are wholesome reading that harken back to “simpler times.”

The Count of Monte Cristo is a fun read (although with some heart-wrenching scenes of violence) and it is its length that gives it such a rich flavor. There is a great amount of detail, but rather than making me feel bogged down, I felt as if I were right there with the characters, seeing and feeling along with them. Yes, some characters are a bit one dimensional, but others are so alive its as if you can see them striding across the stage in front of you.

If you haven’t read this classic yet or are considering a re-read, I highly recommend Robin Buss’s translation.

The Count of Monte Cristo
Serialized 1844-5
Alexandre Dumas
Penguin Classics edition, 2003
Translated by Robin Buss
Soure: own it

Author: Chris Wolak

I'm cohost of the podcast Book Cougars: Two Middle-Aged Women on the Hunt for a Good Read and write about books and libraries on my blog, WildmooBooks.

13 thoughts

  1. OMG! I don't know why I waited so long to read this one. I think I was in the same boat as you … worried it was going to be a disappointments and intimidated by the chunkiness. BUT, I think it is one of my favorite classic novels! So good!

    I don't think I had ever heard that it was a great children's book. Maybe it was those same people thinking the original Grimm's fairy tales were for children too?!? 🙂

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  2. The Count of Monte Cristo is one of my favorite books! I loved your review; I've only read the abridged version so far, and am now really wanting to try the unabridged out. I never knew that Dumas wrote it based on a Crime story! I've done a little research on it, and found that his father played a large part in shaping his story, but haven't dug up anything about that before. Do you have any more detail on that? I am not very familiar with Robin Buss, but would you know of any place I could look into what he's written about Count of Monte Cristo more?

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  3. Thanks, Annalee! I just gave away my copy of the book a couple weeks ago, so unfortunately I can't look at the sources that Robin Buss cited. I'd try and get your hands on copy of the Penguin Classics edition and check out his intro. If your local library doesn't have a copy, perhaps they can inter-library loan a copy for you. Your librarian might even be able to get a photo copy of the intro for you. Sorry, I'm not much more help. Hope you read the unabridged version soon–I'd love to know what you think!

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  4. “The Count of Monte Cristo” is hands down my favorite book! I haven't had this much fun since I was a child! My only regret is that it has taken so long for me to read anything by Dumas; however, I inherited an entire collection of Dumas writings from my uncle (the books are currently in storage, but I'm going to drag them out), and if the rest of the collection is even half as good as “The Count of Monte Cristo,” I plan to enjoy his books the rest of my life.

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  5. I just finished reading/reviewing this one for the Classics Club, too. I had the same fear as you — the dang thing is a doorstopper AND a translation from 19th-century French, which is freaking intimidating! But now it is one of my all time favs. I'm so glad you liked it, too. 🙂

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  6. I'm glad you enjoyed it, too! Sorry for the slooow response…your comment got stuck in comment moderation hell. I'm hoping to read another doorstopper or two in 2016. I kind of avoided them this year.

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