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07 November 2015

Classics Club + TBR Pile Challenge | The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas


★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas | 1844-1846, serialized (this edition May 2003) | Penguin Classics | Paperback $16.00

I have to confess, I was terribly nervous about this one. I kept putting it off, even though several people told me it was worth reading, because let's face it ... 1,270 pages of translated French from the 19th century is intimidating.

So, yes, I was pleasantly surprised. This book is not at all a chore to get through, nor is it a challenge to read (which I have come to expect and worry about with these older classics). This can no doubt be attributed partially to the skills of this edition's translator, Robin Buss.

I had to stop and tweet about it at one point:






This story is so well known that I don't think it is necessary to offer a summary, but if you need one: hit up Goodreads. (But if you want to avoid spoilers, don't read the reviews. Not even this one.)

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Highlights


Here are a few of my favorite bits (SPOILERS, obv) ....

  1. The grand escape from the prison. Even though I knew the basic storyline before reading -- in fact, I'm pretty sure I've seen at least one movie, even if I don't remember it/them at all -- I was still surprised by the sheer thrill of Edmond's daring escape plan and his unexpected plunge into the stormy ocean. (Although... didn't the abbé tell Edmond to give him 12 drops of the potion after his 3rd seizure to attempt to revive him, yet the dumbass only gave him 10? Or was that a translation error in this edition? Because, uh, that's not a minor detail.)
  2. One entire chapter was devoted just to a dude getting high on hashish and having some kind of epic wet dream.
  3. Albert just generally being a sweet summer child. He wants so badly to have a fling while travelling in Italy but can't even manage it -- until he falls head over heels for a notorious bandit's lover and allows himself to be tricked into getting kidnapped. Then he somehow manages to fall asleep while being held for ransom with the promise of execution if it can't be paid. All this after he declared that he didn't even believe in bandits! And he loves his mamma so dang much. The precious boy will do anything to keep her happy, and in the end he has to sacrifice quite a lot in order to do so. Such a beautiful cinnamon roll.
  4. Everyone faints all the time. Every single named character faints or nearly faints at least once. Except for the butch lesbian.
  5. Speaking of the butch lesbian, yes, this novel involves lesbians. One of them dresses as a dude and somehow gets away with it... until she's caught in bed with her lady lover/piano teacher... by her 2nd ex-fiancé, a con artist on the run from the law. Anyway, these ladies are 2 of only 6 characters to actually get a happy ending, if you don't count the aforementioned slight embarrassment. 
  6. Do I even need to tell you how satisfying the Count's revenge was? Multiple counts of revenge, and happily guilty of every single one. Well, no, he wasn't 100 % happy with certain events, and frankly this wishy-washy, "Does God approve of my avenging angel plans or nah???" nonsense got a bit tiresome. But for the most part the whole revenge thing was extremely satisfying.
  7. Don't forget about all the funny little bits that make this more than just an overly long adventure novel. The book is a pleasure to read because Dumas makes the reader feel like you're in on the plot and you know all the inside jokes. I don't think he ever went so far as to have the characters flat-out break the fourth wall, but some passages are written in such a way that I could practically hear the author having a good chuckle about the whole thing.
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Quotes

Just to give you a little of the flavor that I found so amusing ....

He did not perceive that his friend was in the slightest concerned. On the contrary, he was paying the meal the compliment that one would expect from a man who has been condemned for four or five months to suffer Italian cooking (which is among the worst in the world).

The Turks -- so picturesque in the old days with their long, brightly coloured robes -- are now hideous in their blue buttoned frock-coats and those Greek hats which make them look line wine bottles with red tops. Don't you agree?

As the steward had said, the notary was waiting in the antechamber -- a respectable-looking Parisian assistant solicitor elevated to the insurmountable dignity of a pettifogging suburban lawyer.

This was accepted in society, where it was attributed to the amount and gravity of the lawyer's business -- when it was, in reality, a deliberate arrogance, an extreme example of aristocratic contempt, in short, the application of the maxim: 'Admire yourself and others will admire you', a hundred times more useful in our days than the Greek one: 'Know thyself', which has now been replaced by the less demanding and more profitable art of knowing others.

Mlle Danglars was still the same: that is to say, beautiful, cold, and contemptuous. Not a single glance or sigh from Andrea escaped her, but they appeared to be deflected by the breastplate of Minerva, which philosophers sometimes say in fact covered the breast of Sappho.

Beauchamp was in an office which was dark and dusty, as newspaper offices are from the day they open for business.

'Well, while we were sleeping, from twelve to one...'
'Convicts taking a siesta! Poor creatures!' said the abbé.
'Dammit,' said Caderousse. 'No one can work all the time. We are not dogs.'
'Fortunately for the dogs,' said Monte Cristo.

'All men are scoundrels and I am happy to be able to do more than hate them: now I despise them.'

Danglars thought for a moment. 'I don't understand,' he said.
'Possibly.'
'Did the leader tell you to treat me this way?'
'Yes.'
'Why?'
'I don't know.'
'But my money will run out.'
'Probably.'

And let's not forget the most delightful chapter title:

How to Rescue a Gardener From Dormice Who Are Eating His Peaches

- - -

Uh, except for this bullshit


There was only one thing that I somewhat disliked about The Count of Monte Cristo, though I'm inclined to partially forgive it as a mere reflection of the values of the time the book was written in. I'm talking about the supposedly loving or merciful way that the Count treats 2 particular women, which is clearly meant to make him seem kind and fair and righteous, but which -- for me -- only highlighted an outdated double standard made possible by the sort of infantilization/objectification of adult women that was a normal part of European culture at the time.

Mercédès, Edmond's fiancée prior to his imprisonment, assumed he was dead or lost forever and she ended up marrying one of his enemies, whom she thought was a friend. The poor woman

  • lost the man she loved,
  • married a presumed friend only because society expected it of her, 
  • lived a dull life with this man for many years and provided for him a son/heir like any good wife should, 
  • discovered far too late that the man she loved had survived and blamed her for infidelity
  • watched this man help ruin her husband's admittedly ill-got fortune and her stability along with it, 
  • had to beg her long lost lover not to kill her son
  • and was ultimately driven back to near poverty in the town where she grew up, 
  • with her son running off joining the military to atone for his father's sins, 
  • where she survived only by the mercy of a small amount of money provided by the count that was originally meant to have been a gift to her on their ruined wedding day, 
  • while she prays to God to forgive her for being unfaithful

And this is all seen as her just desserts because she didn't pine away and die of sorrow while Edmond was in prison. That ain't right. I stopped feeling sorry for the Count well before the end of the book, but I never stopped feeling sorry for Mercédès.

The other woman that I think gets the short end of the stick in this story is Haydée, the Count's slave girl. That's right, he has a slave girl. Who used to be a princess! In fact, the Count bought her as a child and practically raised her like a daughter... except for the whole "slave" thing. But wait, it gets even grosser, because:

The count felt his breast swell and his heart fill. He opened his arms and Haydée threw herself into them with a cry. 'Oh, yes! Oh, yes I love you!' she said. 'I love you as one loves a father, a brother, a husband! I love you as one loves life, and loves God, for you are to me the most beautiful, the best and greatest of created beings!'

That's right, this girl that has up until now thought of her owner as a father figure or older brother is now supposed to see him as a lover. Um, how about NO. That is not how the human brain works. That is gross. That is not allowed. Je refuse.

- - -

TL;DR


Anyway, other than the weird slut shaming of a super not-slutty character and the yucky pseudo-incest... I really liked this book! So much ridiculous melodrama!

I don't have any other Dumas on my Classics Club reading list, so I'm trying to decide whether I want to go ahead and read some other stuff by this author anyway or if I ought to wait a while and stick some other Dumas titles on my next Classics Club list (if I ever do another one).

Have you read The Count of Monte Cristo -- and if you have, did you like it as much as I did? What about other works by Alexandre Dumas?

Publication information: Dumas, Alexandre. The Count of Monte Cristo. New York: Penguin, 2003. Print.
Source: Owned, original source unknown.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

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