Tuesday, August 24, 2021

"The Count of Monte Cristo" by Alexandre Dumas

I haven't read the full text of this book since I was eleven.  Thirty years ago, I fell in love with Edmond Dantes, and this book has been in my top 3 ever since.  When I was a teen, I bought my own copy.  I reread it.  And I was a little confused because I remembered things about the story that seemed to be missing.  Like all this stuff about a baby in a box.  I finally decided I'd just confused The Count of Monte Cristo with some other book, and shrugged it off. 

It wasn't until a few years ago that I learned that many, many English translations significantly abridge this book.  And never bother to call themselves "abridged."  They cut out certain plotlines that the translators find distasteful or think modern audiences won't like... such as all that stuff about the baby in the box.  Well, once I learned that, I set out to find a good, reliable translation.  What I learned is that the Penguin edition pictured here, with a translation by Robin Buss, is considered the most accurate modern translation, so that's the version I've got now, and the one I read this summer.

I'm really not sure how they'd make a bunch of this work without the baby in the box, as that's kind of central to a big part of the plot, and I'm not surprised that I wondered where it went when I read that other version.  If you're scratching your head and saying, "I read this book, and there was no baby in a box," then you probably read a sneakily abridged version too.  I'm just sayin'.

Anyway, I read the real thing this time.  And I adored it all over again.  Yes, this book is 1200 pages.  It's a brick.  A chunkster.  A tome.  And I gobbled it right down.  For the last few hundred pages, I was so excited and happy I would put the book down and just bounce up and down with joy from how beautifully everything was slotting together.  My goodness, what a breathless ride.  

Quick summary of the plot in case you don't know it: Edmond Dantes is thrown into prison after being wrongly accused by a couple of men who are jealous of him.  He eventually escapes, becomes fabulously wealthy and sophisticated, and returns to France to wreck the men who wrecked his life, stole his fiancĂ©e, and starved his father.

I think two things set this apart from ordinary stories of revenge. First, I love how Dantes, as the Count of Monte Cristo, uses his enemies' own past crimes, as well as their pet sins, to ruin them.  He doesn't steal their fortunes or slander their names or steal their wives and sweethearts.  He just patiently brings their own long-buried secrets to light and lets them suffer the consequences of their own wrongdoing.  That's brilliant.

The other is that Dantes learns, eventually, that revenge can get away from the avenger and cause more harm than intended.  He discovers that, though he considers himself a tool of God for striking down wrongdoers, he is NOT God, and his strikes can cut too wide a path.  He also learns that revenge hollows you out, while helping others fills you up, and turns from one to the other at the end.

(Mine from my Instagram)

Particularly Good Bits:

"Happiness is like one of those palaces on an enchanted island, its gates guarded by dragons.  One must fight to gain it" (p. 42).

"Hatred is blind and anger deaf: the one who pours himself a cup of vengeance is likely to drink a bitter draught" (p. 385).

"There are two medicines for all ills: time and silence" (p. 523).

"I like everybody in the way that God ordered us to love our neighbours, that is, in Christian charity.  I only bestow true hatred on certain people" (p. 747).

"I do not think this is the moment to give way to sterile misery: that may be enough for those who want to suffer at their ease and have time to drink their own tears" (p. 786).

"He's a wonderful person for raising one's spirits, because he never asks questions: in my opinion, people who don't ask too many questions give the best consolation" (p. 938).

Moral wounds have the peculiarity that they are invisible, but do not close: always painful, always ready to bleed when touched, they remain tender and open in the heart (p. 952).

People were hanging on his every word, as is always the case with those who say little and never waste words (p. 1048).

So, do live and be happy, children dear to my heart, and never forget that, until the day when God deigns to unveil the future to mankind, all human wisdom is contained in these two words: 'wait' and 'hope'! (p. 1243)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for suggestive dialog, drug use (including a pretty racy drug-induced dream), some mild profanity, violence, and poisonings.

This has been my 26th book read and reviewed for my third Classics Club list.


  1. Hmm, I read this when I was about eleven and I don't remember a baby in a box. But then, I don't remember much about it. This is the second review of it I have read recently and both are so positive that I am going to have to find myself an unabridged copy and reread it. Does it count as rereading if you have very little memory of the first time through it?

    1. Jennifer, oh, have fun reading this, then! I think if you don't really remember what happens, it's like reading a whole new book. Which is super fun :-D

  2. Ahhh,so glad you enjoyed your reread!!! This is my favorite classic!! I just reread this version a fee months back. Totally agree with your regarding how Dante gets his revenge. The end got to me, I love the ending, although, still unsure of what I think of Haydee. I tried watching the 2002 movie version and was sorely disappointed with it. Do you have a favorite movie version?

    1. Anna/Pages -- this is such a great pick for a favorite classic! How cool that you also just reread it. Mmmmmmmmm, it's so good. I love Haydee, and I hope she and Edmond can be happy together. I like to imagine them just sailing around the world for the rest of their lives, touching land whenever it suits them and exploring wherever life takes them.

      I do like the 2002 version, even though I refused to see it for many years because I was upset with the idea that Abbe Faria would teach fencing. But I thought they made it work well, and I very much liked Jim Caviezel in the role. HOWEVER, my favorite movie version is the 1975 TV movie version starring Richard Chamberlain, which I reviewed here.

  3. tHeRe'S a bAbY iN a bOx?

    (sorry, I couldn't resist ... but I'm also genuinely curious, WHY IS BABY IN BOX?)

    1. Katie, YeS, there is a bAbY iN a bOx :-o

      What happened was, one of the villains of the piece fathered an illegitimate child, told the mother the baby was stillborn, stuck it in a box, and buried it alive in the backyard. Happily, a Sicilian bent on revenge against this villain was hiding in the bushes to ambush him. He watched the box get buried, stabbed the villain (but didn't kill him), then dug up the box to see what was in it, rescued the baby, and raised it up to be... well, actually, the baby turned out to be a nasty piece of work. But at least he didn't die buried alive as a baby.

  4. Nice review of a great book. I think I saw the 1975 movie on television before I read the book. I believe I read an abridged as a kid because I did not remember the baby in the box which appeared in the version I read a few years ago.
    This was my favorite quote:
    "The friends that we have lost do not repose in the bosom of the earth, but are buried in our hearts, and it has been thus ordained that we may always be accompanied by them." (p. 510 in my version)

    1. Thanks, Stanley!

      I LOVE the 1975 version. I've seen it six or seven times, to the point that I pretty much had Richard Chamberlain's voice in my head for the whole book. Which was delicious.

      I really wonder why everyone cuts out the baby in the box! The baby doesn't even die! Weird.

      That is a really good line :-) This book has many!


What do you think?

Comments on old posts are always welcome!

(Rudeness and vulgar language will not be tolerated.)