Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexander Dumas

I can't believe it's been so long since I've posted anything. So much for good intentions. It's certainly not that I haven't read anything since then! ;-) So, here's my latest read:

Our book club read The Count of Monte Cristo during December/January. I chose the unabridged version (1200+ pages), but it was worth it! This version (published by Penguin) was recently translated, so the language wasn't stilted or awkward. It was quite easy to read.

For those of you who aren't familiar with this book, it takes place in the early 1800's in France. The hero is Edmond Dantes, who is a dashing young sailor when we first meet him. However, he has an enemy who is jealous of his good fortune, and this enemy puts into motion the steps that will find poor Edmond falsely accused of treason and sentenced to life in prison in a dungeon. While imprisoned, Edmond connects with a fellow prisoner, who is tunneling out for an escape. This other prisoner is a learned Abbe, and educates Edmond in literature, science, language, psychology, philosophy, etc. The Abbe becomes so attached to Edmond that he tells him of a secret cache of uncountable riches. Edmond manages to escape (in a most daring and spine-tingling manner), and finds this treasure - on the island of Monte Cristo. With his riches, Edmond plans to reward those who were kind to him and his family during this ordeal, and to punish those who imprisoned him. Of course, no one knows who he is, as he now calls himself 'The Count of Monte Cristo'.

The book is essentially in three parts: the first part where Edmond is in prison, the second part where he rewards those who were kind to him, and the last part where he gets his revenge. This last part was the most entertaining for me - Edmond doesn't just want revenge, he wants to make them suffer for a long, long time. It's very interesting to see him set up these elaborate situations that basically enable each of enemy to be undone by his own foibles - greed, money, power. When each man falls, it's pretty impressive.

I also learned a lot about French society at the time, as well as some Napoleonic history. I was surprised at the amount of sex in the book, given when it was written. While the sex is not explicit, there's a lot of it happening, and not between married couples! There's even a lesbian character. Somehow I thought that books of that era were pretty G-rated. But, maybe not in France!

If you do read it, I suggest you find some way to track the characters and their relationships with one another. Silly me, while I was reading it I didn't think to look online for such an aid, so I mapped out my own diagram. Now I've found a very good diagram here.

I also read some commentaries about the novel, and about its style. Dantes is a perfect example of a Romantic hero: dashing, talented and possessing skills above the norm. And the novel is an example of a Romantic novel, where the hero overcomes all, and everything gets wrapped up into a happy ending.

Definitely a good read - all 1200+ pages!!