The Count of Monte Cristo is an incredible novel composed of 80 cubic inches of gripping writing, a plot of gold, and a story of love and revenge.
Let me begin this book review with a summation of the story. At the risk of losing my readers, I will warn you that – if you plan on reading all 1462 pages of awesomeness objectified – I would recommend that you read that first as I will totally spoil the story otherwise. : )
If you are still reading, awesome! Let’s begin:
The main character – a man by the name of Edmond Dantes – is a successful young sailer of 19 years of age. Upon the unexpected death of his Captian, Edmond is prospected to take his late superior’s place. Everyone is happy for Dantes…except one man: a fellow sailer of the name of Danglars. Jealous of Dantes’ success and desirous of his position, Danglars unites himself with a fellow named Fernand Mondego who is in passionate love with Edmond Dantes’ betrothed – a woman named Mercedes who, lacking all in wealth, more than made up for it in beauty.
Together, Danglars and Mondego send in a false report regarding Dantes’ political allegiance as a Bonapartist. Edmond, in possession of a Bonapartist letter from his late Captian, was arrested on the eve of his wedding to Mercedes.
Edmond was later shown to an upwards aspiring, Royalist judge who – as chance would have it – was the son of the recipient of the Bonapartist letter. Fearing that exposure of the relation between his Bonapartist father and himself would smear his sterling reputation, Gerard Villefort destroys the letter, denies Dantes a fair trial, and – yet knowing Dantes innocent – sentences him to prison.
Knowing Dantes to be innocent, Dantes’ former employer, M. Morrel, fights to gain Dantes’ release, but to no avail. When Napoleon Bonaparte usurped King Louis XVI thus becoming Emperor of France, M. Morrel again returns to Villefort to plead for Dantes’ release, thinking that – since the charge against Dantes was allegiance to the Usurper, Napoleon should be more than happy to allow Dantes’ release. Expecting that perhaps Napoleon would lose his political footing, Villefort helps M. Morrel to draft a letter to Napoleon exaggerating beyond measure the influence Dantes had in placing Napoleon in power.
Villefort did not send in the letter, and as he had expected, Napoleon lost his power. It was at this point that Villefort submitted the letter and – to use the Colloquialism – put the proverbial nail in the coffin, thus sealing Dantes in prison effectively for life, where he posed no harm to Villefort’s reputation or career.
For about 6 years, Dantes remained in solitary confinement, wasting away. Dantes eventually loses all hope. While attempting to commit suicide through starvation, Dantes hears strange noises in the cell wall. Driven by curiosity, Dantes allows himself to eat again. Regaining mental clarity, Dantes breaks a pitcher and uses its shards to carve out the rocks of the cell wall until he was able to communicate with the prisoner on the other side of the wall. The other prisoner removes the last of the barrier between them. Thus, Dantes found a companion.
From this other prisoner, Dantes not only gained companionship but a great amount of knowledge. The prisoner was highly educated and for several years he taught Dantes several languages, math, history, and other matters of intellectual study.
Prior to this man’s imprisonment, he had claimed to be in possession of the whereabouts of an immense fortune of around 100 million francs (in 1800s money). Thinking the man mad, they imprisoned him until he died, Dantes by his side.
When the guards found the prisoner dead, they wrapped him in a bag and left him for a few hours before returning to dispose of the body. Before their return, Dantes removed the dead prisoner to Dantes’ quarters, inserted himself in the bag, and thus made his escape to freedom, his heart burning revengefully.
Dantes spent the following 6 or so years preparing himself for his vengeful return. Becoming an expert as both a swordsman and a marksman, Dantes became a formidable enemy.
14 years in prison, his acquired knowledge, and his wealth added age, wisdom, and glamour to his former boyish face rendering it unrecognizable to all but Mercedes (who never revealed Dantes’ true identity until the end of the book, and then, only to her son).
Dantes begins thinking of himself as an agent of God. With this mentality, he begins his “revenge” by repaying those who did good to him. He gifts his former employer enough money to get him back on his feet financially and also gifts an impoverished former acquaintance (who considered himself Dantes’ friend) a precious jewel.
Through a series of events, Dantes returned to Paris as a companion and guest of Mercedes’ son and re-made the acquaintance of his former companions and the other members of Paris’ highest society.
Buying a home in Paris, Dantes silently manipulates the lives and “happenings” of those who did evil against him and essentially causes their lives to self-destruct.
Interestingly, Dantes specifically targets and destroys the things that his enemies had destroyed him to gain. For example, Danglars – who desired to have Dantes’ position and income – gained position and wealth; Dantes brought about Danglars’ financial ruin. Fernand – who desired Dantes’ betrothed – married Mercedes; Dantes’ influence caused Fernand’s wife and son to reject him as husband and son and left Fernand to resort to suicide. Villefort – who destroyed Dantes to protect his position and reputation – gained both position and reputation; Dantes destroyed Villefort’s family, driving Villefort to mental insanity which caused him to lose both position and reputation.
At the conclusion of the story, Dantes realizes that he reciprocates feelings of love with Haydee – a young woman (technically his slave, treated more like a daughter) whom he had reared since her childhood.
Thus, Dantes’ journey ends. Rendering “eye-for-eye, tooth-for-tooth,” Dantes’ rewarded the righteous and violently punished the wicked.
I will be analyzing the book through the following 5-point lens.
1. Sovereignty (Who’s in charge here?)
2. Authority (Below the sovereign, to whom do we/they report?)
3. Law (What are the rules here?)
4. Sanctions/Consequences (What happens if we/they obey? What happens if we/they disobey?)
The numbers in the parenthesis below are referencing the numbered points above.
First, Dantes clearly acknowledges God as sovereign (#1). However, he never says what God’s law is (#3). This is interesting because – although Dantes believed himself to be an agent of God (#2), repaying those who did good and evil (#4) – he destroyed people based on some measure allegedly related to God.
The fact that there’s no law recorded by which Dantes judged is a huge problem. If one is not given a law by which to live by, how can one be expected to abide by it? And then, if one can not be expected to live by a law, how can one be judged according to it?
If he was judging on God’s Law (that which is found in the first 5 books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), I don’t have much to disagree with. That being said, I would probably not have done what he did because the Bible says “‘Revenge is mine,’ sayeth the Lord,” and the consequences – though repaying at least equally what was done to him – were not word-for-word what was required in the Law of Moses.
As far as #2 goes, Dantes doesn’t acknowledge anyone below himself. It seems to be a hierarchy with God on top and Dantes above men, the rest of mankind being on an equal playing field.
In considering #5, I realized that there’s really no continuation or repeat following the story. Dantes leaves the lives of those to whom he rendered justice, presumably never to return. Dantes simply arrives, adjusts the course of history, and leaves.
I highly recommend the book. I’ll admit that it is a bit long, but there’s no reason that a person can’t read it over a period of time.