"And now, farewell to kindness, humanity and gratitude. I have substituted myself for Providence in rewarding the good; may the God of vengeance now yield me His place to punish the wicked."
-Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo
My Alternate Title for this Book:
Nemesis--God’s Justice Executed by a Wronged Man and a Fabulous Fortune
Evil is done every day—plain, outright evil. Sometimes it seems that there is no redress, that criminals are constantly getting off scot-free while the innocent are ruined. The Count of Monte Cristo is the kind of book that satisfies a certain streak of justice in us. It’s straightforward: good guys win, bad guys get their comeuppance. It’s very refreshing.
Yet, at the same time, this is an incredibly complex novel about much more than revenge. We see strains of theological inquiry, patriotic dilemma, the true nature of love and how it changes. It isn’t an adventure novel, a gothic thriller, a romance, a mystery, or a political commentary. It’s all of that rolled into one, with a little something extra.
Edmond Dantès is a successful young sailor in Marseilles, France about the time leading up to the Hundred Days of Napoleon (1815). He is engaged to be married to the lovely Mercédès, who is desperately in love with him, and all seems to be going swimmingly.
But where there are successful people, there will always be those mean-minded others who envy and prickle and become consumed with greed. Three such men have Dantès arrested on false charges. Another man, to save his own reputation, aids and abets them. Under a new political regime it seems that Edmond’s fate is sealed. He is imprisoned for fifteen long years.
But he meets an old abbé in prison, and is told the location of a treasure greater than his wildest imaginations. After a daring escape, Dantès finds the treasure, and embarks on a campaign of vengeance against his enemies, under the new persona of the Count of Monte Cristo.
Throughout the story there are sprinkled comments like “There is a sweet little cherub who watches out for good men.” It is assumed by most characters that justice is always done, but the innocent, much-maligned Count thinks differently. He believes that the hand of justice must be helped along by avenging angels, of which he is one.
The Count decides to wreak vengeance in a slow, crafty, disciplined way. Not content to merely kill them, he seeks to ruin those who ruined him—destroying their families, fortunes, reputations, and sanity.
But Dantès is a complex character, and his motivations are necessarily complex. His fiancée Mercédès has married another man, yet Edmond still has some love, or at least affection, for her. We see that Dantès still wants love and happiness for himself, though he has no hope of ever attaining it. Edmond wants to ruin his enemies, but he does it more out of a sense of duty, as God’s instrument, than out of personal hatred. Spoiler: There is a poignant speech by Monte Cristo when he is speaking to an enemy he has ruined, “I am the one whom you sold, betrayed and dishonored. I am the one whose fiancée you prostituted. I am the one on whom you trampled in order to attain a fortune. I am the one whose father you condemned to starvation, and the one who condemned you to starvation, but who none the less forgives you, because he himself needs forgiveness.” End of spoiler.
We sympathize with Dantès, a poor man with big dreams and a passionate love, who is snatched away from everything and locked up while the best years of his life are wasted. We feel some pity for Mercédès, the weak woman who could not wait for him. They are painted for empathy, we see inside the torture of their minds, we feel their pain and loss through every word and look. The enemies (Caderousse, Danglars, Villefort, Fernon) we thoroughly hate and despise. There’s a certain thrill when they meet their doom.
The Writing Itself:
- The book is a chronicle with emphasis on the psychological: minds, emotions, motivations.
- The narrator is omniscient, poking into cracks and crevices, unfolding the story to the reader as a meticulous narrative of many lives and how they intertwine.
- The style is detailed, full of dialog, and apt to run off in rabbit trails, but the scenes are rarely too long and so fascinating that one gets lost in the story.
- Dumas was living in and right after a time of political upheaval, in a place where the ideals of royalists and bonapartists clashed. This is not a political novel, but the conflicts and circumstances are heavily influenced by time and setting.
I truly enjoyed listening to this great work of literature. The (2002) film version (though drastically different than the book) is also wonderful, and I highly recommend watching it. If you’ve ever read the book or watched the movie, please share your comments below!