Review: The Count of Monte Cristo

The Count of Monte CristoAlexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo (trans. Robin Buss)

This classic novel tells the story of Edmond Dantès, a naïve young sailor who seems to be on the verge of getting everything he’s ever wanted: The owner of his ship wants to promote him to captain, and he’s about to marry his true love. But Edmond has jealous rivals, both professionally and romantically, who would like nothing more than to get rid of him and take his place. These men concoct a plan to accuse Edmond of being a Bonapartist — a deadly serious crime in a time when Napoleon has just been exiled to Elba and the French monarchy is still unstable. Although Edmond is innocent, he possesses a highly incriminating letter that seals his doom, and he is sent to France’s most notorious prison. With nothing to do but brood over the cruelty of his fate, Edmond becomes consumed by thoughts of vengeance. When he finally escapes from prison, he creates a new identity as the Count of Monte Cristo and sets out to destroy the men who ruined his life.

First of all, this novel is HUGE — the edition I read was over 1200 pages long — so I was surprised to discover how much of a page-turner it was! Although the plot is very slow-moving, Dumas cleverly builds suspense throughout the novel as Edmond’s plan of vengeance slowly reveals itself. The main thing that surprised me about this novel was how little time (comparatively speaking) it spends inside Edmond’s head. About the first quarter of the book is from his point of view, describing his feelings when he is arrested and imprisoned. But when he escapes and returns as the Count of Monte Cristo, the book barely ever relates his thoughts or feelings. Rather, the most developed characters turn out to be Edmond’s enemies (and a few friends), which makes Edmond’s actions more morally ambiguous. All in all, I’m very glad I finally took time to read this novel, whose status as a classic is well-deserved. I’ve been planning to read The Three Musketeers this year as well, and now I’m really looking forward to it!

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2 thoughts on “Review: The Count of Monte Cristo

  1. cherylmahoney says:

    I have a couple of friends who absolutely swear by this book. Since I tackled Les Mis this year, maybe I’ll take this one on next year…it is encouraging to hear that it’s a page-turner. With 1200 pages, I would hope it would be!

    I’m not surprised it doesn’t delve into his head all that much. It seems like classic novels (with notable exceptions, of course) focused less on the characters thoughts as a rule. Modern books are more likely to explore the characters’ thoughts as a matter of course. The classic ones are often more external (with exceptions–like Les Mis, in fact).

    • Christina says:

      My surprise at this book wasn’t so much that it didn’t get inside Edmond’s head, but that it DID often get inside the heads of his adversaries! I think Dumas did it deliberately so that readers would question whether Edmond is really justified in the actions he takes throughout the novel.

      Congrats on getting through Les Mis, by the way! I’ve only ever read an abridged version, and I’m not super eager to tackle the complete version!

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