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.
|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
Penguin Classics edition, 2003
Translated by Robin Buss
Soure: own it