Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

The Count of Monte Cristo (Penguin Classics)…

The Count of Monte Cristo (Penguin Classics) (original 1844; edition 2003)

by Alexandre Dumas père, Robin Buss (Introduction)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
14,470260138 (4.35)4 / 938
Title:The Count of Monte Cristo (Penguin Classics)
Authors:Alexandre Dumas père
Other authors:Robin Buss (Introduction)
Info:Penguin Classics (2003), Edition: Reissue, Paperback, 1276 pages
Tags:Completed 2013-02-20

Work details

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas père (1844)

  1. 180
    The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas (caflores)
  2. 100
    The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester (rareflorida)
    rareflorida: An old SciFi classic based upon The Count of Monte Cristo. Be patient because the begining of the story may be frustrating but you will eventually see the intelligence.
  3. 80
    The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska, Baroness Orczy (SandSing7)
  4. 91
    The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas (2below)
    2below: These stories share some key themes and plot elements. It's not nearly as epic as The Count of Monte Cristo but makes for an interesting comparison.
  5. 103
    Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (VictoriaPL)
  6. 61
    Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand (VictoriaPL)
  7. 40
    Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini (MarcusBrutus)
  8. 40
    The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox (citygirl)
    citygirl: Another detailed, intricately plotted revenge tale.
  9. 40
    The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas (keeneam)
  10. 30
    Ivanhoe by Walter Scott (SandSing7)
  11. 20
    Selected Short Stories (Penguin Classics) by Guy de Maupassant (bokai)
    bokai: While Maupassant's power is in his slice of life short stories told in an objective narrative voice and Dumas is the master of the thousand page epic told (see more) in highly sympathetic narration, both authors evoke images of the same France and are unequaled in their skill at bringing character and conflict to life. A short by Maupassant is a great way to break up the lengthy prose of Dumas, and Dumas, in turn, expands and elaborates the world that Maupassant provides only glimpses of.… (more)
  12. 31
    D'artagnan Romances, The (5 Volume Set: The Three Guardsman; Vicomte De Bragelonne; Ten Years Later; Louise de la Vallie by Alexandre Dumas (MarcusBrutus)
  13. 53
    The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (TomWaitsTables)
    TomWaitsTables: The story of a man consumed by his obsession, but instead of revenge, Gatsby is chasing the American dream.
  14. 20
    Moonfleet by J. Meade Falkner (elizabeth.a.coates)
    elizabeth.a.coates: Both are adventure stories that take place over a number of years and deal with riches, revenge, and romance
  15. 21
    The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy (joririchardson)
  16. 10
    Gil Blas by Alain René Le Sage (roby72)
  17. 21
    The Queen of the South by Arturo Pérez-Reverte (lilisin)
    lilisin: "Queen of the South" is a modern retake on "The Count". Not my favorite read but you can definitely see the parallels.
  18. 21
    The Stars' Tennis Balls by Stephen Fry (Pixelinchen, lizzybeans11)
    Pixelinchen: The Count of Monte Cristo in the British dotcom world of the 20th Century
  19. 00
    Shogun: A Novel of Japan by James Clavell (ShaneTierney)
  20. 29
    The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King (keremix)

(see all 20 recommendations)


Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

English (241)  Spanish (6)  Italian (3)  Dutch (2)  French (2)  Finnish (2)  Danish (1)  Swedish (1)  German (1)  Turkish (1)  All languages (260)
Showing 1-5 of 241 (next | show all)
Monte-Criston kreivi on klassikkojen aatelia. Tarina sijoittuu Ranskaan 1800 -luvun alkuun ja kertoo Edmond Dantèsista, merimiehestä joka palaa kotiin tapaamaan morsiantaan Mercedestä, mutta kavalan juonittelun vuoksi joutuu vangituksi Ifin pahamaineiseen linnaan. Seikkailuja, kadonneita aarteita, vääriä henkilöllisyyksiä ja taustalla poltteleva kosto. Klassikon ainekset ovat kasassa. Saako Dantès rakkaansa takaisin, saako hän kostonsa ja oikeutensa?
  Heps | Nov 30, 2015 |
Alexandre Dumas, père

The Count of Monte Cristo

Wordsworth Classics, Paperback, [2002].

8vo. xxiii+894 pp. Edited with an Introduction [vii-xix], a Historical Note [xxi-xxii] and Notes [877-94] by Keith Wren, 2002.

First published in French as Le Comte de Monte-Cristo, 1844-45 [18 vols.!].
Anonymous English translation first published by Chapman and Hall, 1846.
First published by Wordsworth Editions, 1997.
New Introduction and Notes, 2002.
19th printing per number line, undated.


I. Marseilles – the Arrival
II. Father and Son
III. The Catalans
IV. Conspiracy
V. The Marriage Feast
VI. The Deputy Procureur du Roi
VII. The Examination
VIII. The Château d’If
IX. The Evening of the Betrothal
X. The King’s Closet at the Tuileries
XI. The Corsican Ogre
XII. Father and Son
XIII. The Hundred Days
XIV. The Two Prisoners
XV. Number 34 and Number 27
XVI. A Learned Italian
XVII. The Abbé’s Chamber
XVIII. The Treasure
XIX. The Third Attack
XX. The Cemetery of the Château d’If
XXI. The Island of Tiboulen
XXII. The Smugglers
XXIII. The Island of Monte Cristo
XXIV. The Secret Cave
XXV. The Unknown.
XXVI. The Pont du Gard Inn
XXVII. The Story
XXVIII. The Prison Register
XXIX. The House of Morrel & Son
XXX. The Fifth of September
XXXI. Italy: Sinbad the Sailor
XXXII. The Waking
XXXIII. Roman Bandits
XXXIV. The Colosseum
XXXV. La Mazzolata
XXXVI. The Carnival of Rome
XXXVII. The Catacombs of St Sebastian
XXXVIII. The Compact
XXXIX. The Guest
XL. The Breakfast
XLI. The Presentation
XLII. Monsieur Bertuccio
XLIII. The House of Auteuil
XLIV. The Vendetta
XLV. The Rain of Blood
XLVI. Unlimited Credit
XLVII. The Dappled Greys
XLVIII. Ideology
XLIX. Haidée
L. The Morrel Family
LI. Pyramus and Thisbe
LII. Toxicology
LIII. Robert le Diable
LIV. A Flurry of Stocks
LV. Major Cavalcanti
LVI. Andrea Cavalcanti
LVII. In the Lucerne Patch
LVIII. M. Noirtier de Villefort
LIX. The Will
LX. The Telegraph
LXI. How a Gardener May Get Rid of the Dormice that Eats his Peaches
LXII. Ghosts
LXIII. The Dinner
LXIV. The Beggar
LXV. A Conjugal Scene
LXVI. Matrimonial Projects
LXVII. At the Office of the King’s Attorney
LXVIII. A Summer Ball
LXIX. The Inquiry
LXX. The Ball
LXXI. Bread and Salt
LXXII. Madame de Saint-Méran
LXXIII. The Promise
LXXIV. The Villefort Family Vault
LXXV. A Signed Statement
LXXVI. Progress of Cavalcanti the Younger
LXXVII. Haidée
LXXVIII. We Hear from Yanina
LXXIX. The Lemonade
LXXX. The Accusation
LXXXI. The Room of the Retired Baker
LXXXII. The Burglary
LXXXIII. The Hand of God
LXXXIV. Beauchamp
LXXXV. The Journey
LXXXVI. The Trial
LXXXVII. The Challenge
LXXXVIII. The Insult
LXXXIX. A Nocturnal Interview
XC. The Meeting
XCI. Mother and Son
XCII. The Suicide
XCIII. Valentine
XCIV. Maximilian’s Avowal
XCV. Father and Daughter
XCVI. The Contract
XCVII. The Departure for Belgium
XCVIII. The Bell and Bottle Tavern
XCIX. The Law
C. The Apparition
CI. Locusta
CII. Valentine
CIII. Maximilian
CIV. Danglars’s Signature
CV. The Cemetery of Père-la-Chaise
CVI. Dividing the Proceeds
CVII. The Lion’s Den
CVIII. The Judge
CIX. The Assizes
CX. The Indictment
CXI. The Expiation
CXII. The Departure
CXIII. The Past
CXIV. Pepino
CXV. Luigi Vampa’s Bill of Fare
CXVI. The Pardon
CXVII. The Fifth of October


Heywood: The Count of Monte Crisco...
Floyd: That’s “Cristo” you dumb shit.
Heywood: ...by Alexandree Dumb-ass. Dumb-ass.
Andy Dufresne: Dumb-ass? “Dumas”. You know what it’s about? You’ll like it, it’s about a prison break.
Red: We oughta file that under “Educational” too, oughten we?

This lovely quote comes, of course, from the scene in The Shawshank Redemption (1994) where the prisoners catalogue the local library, and it was one of director and screenwriter Frank Darabont’s finest original touches (it is not in Stephen King’s original novella). This tremendous movie is one of the best modern “versions” of Dumas’ immortal novel, and a telling proof of the still strong influence it has.

Spoilers ahead!

The Count of Monte Cristo is the ultimate adventure novel. It wipes off the competition with a vengeance. Falsely accused person, ghastly time in prison, daring escape, fabulous treasure, sophisticated revenge, political conspiracies and personal tribulations on a grand scale – what more do you need? The astonishing thing is that Dumas keeps the gigantic story and the complex net of characters firmly on the move. Right from the Pharaon’s entering the port of Marseilles and the rather touching scene aboard between Dantès and Morrel, the tension is firmly established, and it hardly slackens until the end. Neither does the pace, for that matter. This is an incredible feat of storytelling. You have to read the whole thing from cover to cover – for, in truth, far too many people have heard of the Count of Monte Cristo without having read even an abridged version – to really appreciate the achievement. To be sure, there is a certain amount of long-winded episodes (e.g. Faria’s treasure tale), irrelevant digressions (e.g. Vampa’s early history) and other forms of pure, affectionate padding, but very little for a novel of such scope.

Part of Dumas’ secret is hidden in the structure of his book. In this edition, it consists of 117 chapters spread on 875 pages, which means a little more than seven pages per chapter. This keeps you on the edge and compels you to read further. “Just one more and then I’m going to bed”, you keep saying to yourself – and you keep burning the midnight oil. The rest of Dumas’ secret is more elusive. Part of it, no doubt, is the fact that his characters are very talkative. I would not go as far as to claim, as I did about The Picture of Dorian Gray, that this novel is a play in disguise, but I do claim that dialogue is very important for it. This is to be expected. Dumas was a popular dramatist in his day. Indeed, he became primarily a novelist only in his early forties! Revelation of character and plot tension in The Count of Monte Cristo would not have been the same without the fluent and highly dramatic dialogue. See the scene between Monte Cristo and Danglars about the unlimited credit (Chapter XLVI) as a perfect example of this. The major characters, with a few exceptions when they explain themselves too much, always speak in character. This is no mean achievement, either. It is entirely in character that Monte Cristo, having just saved the Morrel family from tragic ruin, should speak in this grandiloquent manner:

“And now […] farewell kindness, humanity, and gratitude! Farewell to all the feelings that expand the heart! I have been heaven’s substitute to recompense the good – now the god of vengeance yields to me his power to punish the wicked!”

Of course, the plot and the characters have holes as big as the Pacific: it is foolish to search for any great consistency or complexity there. This is an adventure novel, remember? It contains a great deal of almost operatic silliness. You have to make generous allowances.[1] That said, the story is gripping as no other, and the characters, at least the major ones, fantastic though they are, have a lifelike quality that makes you live with them while reading. What more can you ask of fiction? In fact, you do have a right to ask for more, and here you will get it. Some of the Dumas’ characters have ambiguous complexity that few of their colleagues in the genre can boast. Below the bustling and often melodramatic surface, dark currents run and violent storms rage. Above all, the title character is surely one of the greatest creatures that human fancy has ever devised.

The Count of Monte Cristo is one of those larger-than-life characters, like Captain Ahab and Wolf Larsen, who dominate a novel to the nearly complete extinction of everybody else. I guess Dumas surpassed not just himself, but quite a few writers with far greater pretensions. Character development is difficult enough. Character transformation is almost impossible. Yet Dumas did it convincingly. A naïve and uneducated sailor, fond of his father and his fiancée, obviously has nothing in common with a wise and wealthy man of the world consumed by revenge and defying God Himself. Yet the transformation is smooth and perfectly believable. It is well-prepared from the beginning. Edmond may be honest, ingenuous and strait-lased to a fault, but he is also highly intelligent and very capable in his work. The shattering experience at the Chateau d’If, extending from futile hopes to utter desperation and including a thorough education by Abbé Faria, is the most important part of the transformation, but it is not the only one. There is a period of about nine years, between 1829 and 1838, for which we are told very little but that the Count lived in the East. We can surmise he had a wide variety of experiences that completed the “petrifying of his heart”:

Perhaps what I am about to say may seem strange to you, who believe in social order, and vaunt humanity and your duty to your neighbour, but I never seek to protect society who does not protect me, and whom I will even say, in general, occupies itself about me only to injure me; and thus giving them a low place in my esteem, and preserving a neutrality toward them, it is society and my neighbour who are indebted to me.

As one minor character aptly puts it, Monte Cristo is “the first man I ever met sufficiently courageous to preach egotism”. He is a lot more than that. He is the supreme egotist, yet even that hardly describes one facet of his personality, and certainly not the most important one.

It is a common mistake to take the Count of Monte Cristo as a man obsessed with vengeance. This is not even close to his essence. The vengeance is merely a by-product, or a minor bonus if you like. An equally foolish reaction, classical sour grapes indeed, is “Everybody with that much money can do it!” No, not even close. The wealth is a necessary condition, but by no means is it sufficient. Nor is it true to say that he is nothing but a bitter misanthrope. Quotes like “man is but an ugly caterpillar for him who studies him through a solar microscope” are violently out of context. By the way, some of Monte Cristo’s “misanthropic” remarks are rather thought-provoking:

Yet man will never be perfect until he learns to create and destroy: he does know how to destroy, and that is half-way on the road.

Terrifying superhuman creature limited only by time, distance and death, Monte Cristo is – or at least considers himself, which is the same – the Hand of Providence. He has the godlike ability to procure information, direct events and mould destinies. He is a practical joker par excellence. In the tremendous conversation with Villefort in Chapter XLVIII, aptly titled “Ideology”, Monte Cristo describes himself as “a cosmopolite” and “impenetrable”, meaning that he knows the laws and customs of all nations well enough to escape their judicial systems, and he gives a telling description of the Faustian deal he has made:

I too, as happens to every man once in his life, have been taken by Satan unto the highest mountain in the earth, and when there he showed me all the kingdoms of the world, and as he said before, so said he to me, “Child of earth, what wouldst thou have to make thee adore me?” I reflected long, for a gnawing ambition had long preyed upon me, and then I replied, “Listen, – I have always heard of Providence, and yet I have never seen him, or anything that resembles him, or which can make me believe that he exists. I wish to be Providence myself, for I feel that the most beautiful, noblest, most sublime thing in the world, is to recompense and punish.” Satan bowed his head, and groaned. “You mistake,” he said; “Providence does exist, only you have never seen him, because the child of God is as invisible as the parent. You have seen nothing that resembles him, because he works by secret springs, and moves by hidden ways. All I can do for you is to make you one of the agents of that Providence.” The bargain was concluded. I may sacrifice my soul, but what matters it?

What is the soul indeed? Unnecessary fiction with unfortunate religious connotations. Monte Cristo often mentions God and Providence, but there is no real evidence in his actions that he really believes in this concept, either. He simply uses Him to attach some divine justification to what is simply a personal revenge. Since the Christian God is a remarkably vengeful God, He suits Monte Cristo’s purposes to perfection. The oddly moving scene with the death of Caderousse (the aptly titled Chapter LXXXIII) is revealing in this respect. Monte Cristo appears disguised as Abbé Busoni and talks all sorts of nonsense about God’s “obvious” existence. “There is no God; there is no Providence – all comes by chance”, says the dying man. Monte Cristo’s response to this is that God and Providence exist because he is happy and safe while Caderousse is wretched and dying. Brilliant argument, indeed! In the beautifully titled Chapter LXXXIX, Monte Cristo even quotes the Good Book in order to justify his intention of killing Albert. “It is written in the Good Book”, he quotes sententiously, “that the sins of the fathers shall fall upon their children to the third and fourth generation.” Translated into simple English, this means “I’m just as cruel as God and that makes it all right”.

The whole concept of the providential God crashes down when we come to look a bit deeper into the Valentine-Maximilian romance. Mr Wren is right that “vapid and verbose just about sums it up” and “the less said about [the star-crossed lovers] the better.” Nevertheless, much as they dilute the plot, I think their semi-tragic, Romeo-and-Juliet-like but not quite[2], story is significant. We all agree – do we not? – that these young things deserve to be happy. If the good God Monte Cristo preaches about existed, he would have taken care of them. Well, He didn’t. It was the Count who did. This was not part of his plot. He learned about the whole thing only in the last moment and only by pure chance, because the desperate Maximilian had no choice but to confide in him. The obvious conclusion is that either Monte Cristo is God, or at any rate deludes himself that he is, or God simply doesn’t exist. I don’t know if Dumas consciously intended the Valentine-Maximilian to be read that way, but that’s how I see it. Perhaps the great writer’s creative subconscious took the better of him on this occasion.

One of the very few original additions in the 1998 TV series worth mentioning is the scene when Abbé Busoni (Gérard Depardieu) crashes through the door of a lonesome church somewhere in the country. Another priest comes by, sees the shattered door and stops to see what has happened. He meets his colleague going out of the church and says: “I am surprised that a man who rides such a fine horse has come to seek God in this small country church.” Monte Cristo’s reply is chilling: “I have not come to seek God. I have come to tell him that I am going to take his place.” The face of the other priest at that moment is quite a sight. This scene states clearly what the novel constantly leads to but never really makes clear. Posturing as God is the essence of the Count of Monte Cristo. It is, also, an intoxicating game with dangerous consequences.

Theology is not the only relatively weighty issue on these pages. Another one is the conception of justice. When Villefort observes that Monte Cristo had long lived in “Oriental countries” and is not aware how “human justice, so expeditious in barbarous countries, takes with us a prudent and well-suited course”, the Count’s reply is unequivocal (XLVIII):

Oh, yes – yes, I do, sir; it is the pede claudo of the ancients. I know all that, for it is with the justice of all countries especially that I have occupied myself – it is with the criminal procedure of all nations that I have compared natural justice, and I must say, sir, that it is the law of primitive nations, that is, the law of retaliation, that I have most frequently found to be according to the law of God.

Is the Count of Monte Cristo just or unjust? Is his revenge justified? These are not easy questions. On the one hand, Monte Cristo’s elaborate revenge is fully justified by the wickedness of his victims. It is just, you feel, that one should be dead and another mad; one might even think that Danglars gets away rather too lightly. It is significant that Monte Cristo is not satisfied merely to ruin because of his own suffering. He exposes other crimes as well, past in the cases of Villefort and Morcerf, present in the case of Danglars. Keeping in mind how easily corrupted law courts are and how endlessly some cases last, it is difficult to disagree with Monte Cristo that “natural justice” is simply the best.

On the other hand, Monte Cristo is a cautionary tale about revenge as a form of potentially disastrous personal obsession. He could find no real satisfaction in it and, even worse, endangers the lives of innocent people (Albert, Valentine) simply because they are related to his victims. One shudders to think what kind of world that would be in which “natural justice” is allowed a free reign.

One of the title character’s most endearing qualities is that he realises he is going too far and is tormented by that. This is first evident in Chapter LXXXIX when he grants Mercedes’ request. “What a fool I was”, he says in the end, “not to tear my heart out on the day when I resolved to avenge myself!” In Chapter CXI, as terrifying piece of fiction as there ever was one, Monte Cristo is stupefied by the calamity he has caused, “for the first time doubting whether he had the right to do as he had done.” He even tries to revive Edward, but, for once, fails. “No,” he replies when he is asked if he has nothing more to do in Paris, “God grant I may not have done too much already.” He even realises that he is not God, after all. When Julie and Emmanuel liken him to an angel, his sobering reply is “I am but a man, and your admiration is as unmerited as your words are sacrilegious.” (CXII). This kind of humility is something entirely new and hitherto unknown to Monte Cristo. So is this kind of disillusionment: “Having reached the summit of his vengeance by a long and tortuous path, he saw an abyss of doubt yawning before him.” (CXIII). During all this Dumas does not, of course, avoid excessive sentimentality, particularly towards the end, but he at least shuns a reunion with Mercedes or a reverse transformation to Edmond-like simplicity and charm. This would have been too much.

Then there are the villains. In order of decreasing nastiness, and decreasing interest, they are Villefort, Danglars and Fernand.

Gerard de Villefort is a fine character study of ambition, a social climber par excellence, yet not without conscience. He sympathises to Edmond’s predicament, but hesitates not when he has to sacrifice him on the altar of his career. He abhors his father’s Bonapartist passions, but never does it pass his mind to hand him over to the police when he is persecuted. This combination of ruthlessness and sensitivity is plausibly conveyed and totally compelling. Except for Monte Cristo, Villefort’s rise to power is the only convincing one. He does have a bit of luck with Edmond’s false accusation, but he also has the courage and determination to make the best of it. The personal price he has to pay for achieving his professional goals is a steep one. Some twenty-three years later, he has become a man “hated by many, but warmly protected by others, without being really liked by anybody”; in other words, a man frigidly indifferent to everybody, utterly incapable of any human feeling, imprisoned in the tower of his lofty occupation as “procureur du roi”. Dumas’ description in Chapter XLVIII really cannot be bettered:

Ordinarily M. de Villefort made and returned very few visits. His wife visited for him, and this was the received thing in the world, where the heavy and multifarious occupations of the magistrate were accepted as an excuse for what was really only calculated pride, a manifestation of professed superiority – in fact, the application of the axiom, ‘Pretend to think well of yourself, and the world will think well of you,’ an axiom a hundred times more useful in society nowadays than that of the Greeks, ‘Know thyself,’ a knowledge for which, in our days, we have substituted the less difficult and more advantageous science of knowing others.

For his friends M. de Villefort was a powerful protector; for his enemies, he was a silent, but bitter opponent; for those who were neither the one nor the other, he was a statue of the law-made man. He had a haughty bearing, a look either steady and impenetrable or insolently piercing and inquisitorial. Four successive revolutions had built and cemented the pedestal on which his fortune was based. M. de Villefort had the reputation of being the least curious and the least wearisome man in France. He gave a ball every year, at which he appeared for a quarter of an hour only – that is to say, five-and-forty minutes less than the king is visible at his balls. He was never seen at the theatres, at concerts, or in any place of public resort. Occasionally, but seldom, he played at whist, and then care was taken to select partners worthy of him – sometimes they were ambassadors, sometimes archbishops, or sometimes a prince, or a president, or some dowager duchess.

After Monte Cristo, Gerard de Vilelfort is the most complex and fascinating character in the novel. The moving scenes with Hermine Danglars that recall their past affair (LVII, XCIX) and the dramatic one with his father (XII) are pure genius. Both add a whole new dimension to the character of the Chief Prosecutor and both are integral to the plot, not to mention that they also make Madame Danglars and Noirtier de Villefort much more interesting characters than they would otherwise have been; the contrast between the audacious middle-age Noirtier and his paralysed older self is especially effective. These are grand examples of Dumas, the indefatigable scholar of human nature, at his best. It boggles the imagination to picture Villefort as a passionate lover or an affectionate son, but this is actually achieved here, through suggestion in the first case and through direct example in the second. The ideas about these episodes may have come from his collaborators, but their unique character, just like the wealth of human touches to be discussed later, must have come from Dumas himself.

Villefort, like Kent in King Lear, is doomed to repeat the personal odyssey of the title character on a lower level. Much like Monte Cristo, with the passing years Villefort’s heart is petrified and his estrangement from the herd becomes more and more acute. Again like Monte Cristo, Villefort becomes obsessed with his work beyond the boundaries of justice. “I am on the earth to punish” (CVIII), he states with a fine imitation of Monte Cristo’s godlike grandiloquence. But this is only one side of the coin. The other is very different: “Every criminal I condemn seems to me living evidence that I am not a hideous exception to the rest”, he cries passionately in one of those scenes (XCIX) with Madame Danglars, just about the only person to whom he could open his soul. The difference with Monte Cristo is that Villefort recognises the trap he has fallen into much too late to be able to do something about it. The difference with Kent is that Villefort comes to a sadder end than death. In the final run, I find it impossible not to feel certain compassion, not for the “King’s Attorney”, but for the human being behind it: his suffering is greater than his crimes. Dumas seems to agree (CXI):

There is something so awe-inspiring in great afflictions that even in the worst times the first emotion of a crowd has generally been to sympathise with the sufferer in a great catastrophe. Many people have been assassinated in a tumult, but even criminals have rarely been insulted during trial. Thus Villefort passed through the mass of spectators and officers of the Palais, and withdrew. Though he has acknowledged his guilt, he was protected by his grief. There are some situations which men understand by instinct, by which reason is powerless to explain; in such cases the greatest poet is he who gives utterance to the most natural and vehement outburst of sorrow. Those who hear the bitter cry are as much impressed as if they listened to an entire poem, and when the sufferer is sincere they are right in regarding his outburst as sublime.

Danglars and Fernand are much less interesting and, though vitally important for the plot, not really major characters at all. Danglars is such a master of oily duplicity that in the course of less than two decades he makes the quantum leap from supercargo to wealthy banker and baron. Unlike Villefort, Danglars has no conscience. He is a completely unmoral man. The difference with the immoral or amoral man, who clearly distinguishes between right and wrong but is for some reason compelled to stick to the latter, is that the unmoral person has no conception of right and wrong whatsoever. Dumas describes him beautifully in exactly two sentences (IX):

Danglars was one of those men born with a pen behind the ear, and an inkstand in place of a heart. Everything with him was multiplication or subtraction. The life of a man was to him of far less value than a numeral, especially when, by taking it away, he could increase the sum total of his own desires.

Fernand is a rather dim creature, not much more interesting as Count de Morcerf. He is a soldier of fortune in the literal sense of the phrase. He joins the army and miraculously raises himself from a Catalan fisherman to the top of French nobility. Compared to this, Danglars’ rise to fame and fortune is perfectly plausible. Fernand is a poor villain, too. Rather a pawn in the conspiracy against Dantes, he would have done nothing without Danglars’ prompting. Dumas seems to have sensed that the character suffered from insufficient villainy. I have a notion that he introduced the whole story with Ali Pacha and Haidée just to make the Count de Morcerf more despicable. He certainly succeeded, and the subplot is admirably integrated into the whole.

The minor characters are mostly simple creatures, but few of them are forgettable. The most important if not the most memorable is, of course, Abbé Faria. Apart from being the midwife of the Count of Monte Cristo, he is an exceedingly interesting character himself. Perhaps he is a little too good to be true, a little too convinced that human nature is essentially good but has been corrupted by society and civilisation (a common Romantic delusion), but one must admire his self-candour. He is perfectly aware that, had he not been imprisoned, he never would have completed his book about the Italian monarchy. Very few people are able to look inside themselves and confess what they see there. When Edmond, overwhelmed by Faria’s intellect and ingenuity, wonders what he might have achieved had he been free, the Abbé’s reply is devastatingly honest:

‘Possibly nothing at all; the overflow of my brain would probably, in a state of freedom, have evaporated in a thousand follies; misfortune is needed to bring to light the treasures of the human intellect. Compression is needed to explode gunpowder. Captivity has brought my mental faculties to a focus…’

Gaspard Caderousse is a very minor but extremely fascinating character. He first becomes a passive villain, and then an active one. He knows the truth of the false accusation against Edmond, but gets scared for his skin and says nothing. Years later, his rapacious cupidity gets the better of him. It is Monte Cristo, of course, who stands behind all this. One of the many open questions left for the curious reader to contemplate is whether the Count deliberately sets Caderousse up by placing before him a temptation he cannot resist, or whether he is genuinely magnanimous by giving him an opportunity to start a new life as a wealthy man. For my part, the former explanation is the true one, but you are welcome to disagree.

From the second generation, I like most Albert and Franz. Albert, Viscount de Morcerf, is a vain and snobbish youth, full of senseless bravado and ready to do the stupidest things for the worst reasons, but he is also highly intelligent, perceptive and really quite charming. When he calls off the duel with Monte Cristo and publicly apologises to him (XC), he does an incredibly brave thing. It is not surprising that his friends, blinded by the foolish conventions of their time, could not understand how much more courage is needed to admit you are wrong than to fight a duel. Albert, in short, is ahead of his times. He realises, if only subconsciously, that all this stuff about honour and duels is frightful nonsense. He is a modern man. Franz d’Epinay appears mostly in the “Roman” chapters, but he is beautifully drawn as a sensitive and sensible young man, one of the very few who dimly suspects the dark dimensions of Monte Cristo from the beginning.

Dumas’ women, all of whom are minor characters, are less successful. But what they lack in complexity, they make up for in vividness. Mercedes almost reaches the dimensions of a tragic heroine. Towards the end (CXII), she poignantly reflects that the actions of others “were influenced by hatred, by avarice, by self-love; but I was base, and for want of courage acted against my judgement.” Hermine Danglars is another lady who, foolish and weak though she may be, is elevated to something more than the usual melodramatic stage convention. She is aware of her failures, too: “my life has been passed in frivolity; I wish to forget it myself.” (LXVII). The scene when she goes with high hopes to Lucien Debray, her lover and financial adviser, but he coldly gives her her share of their joint fortune (CVI) is almost heart-rending. Eugenie, her daughter, is a charming example of refreshing candour and lesbian inclinations. The latter are consistently hinted through oblique mythological references (e.g. Hercules and Omphale) until she is caught in bed with another woman. Hilariously enough, the scene is so full of action that nobody notices this detail. By the way, Eugenie is also the author of the best description of life – “an eternal shipwreck of our hopes” (XCV) – I have ever heard.

Dumas is a Grand Master of the human touch. He doesn’t say much about the mental states of his characters, but what he does say is seldom without interest. It is these tiny but timely touches, I think, that give the best of his characters their abundant vitality and, above all, their humanity. This precious gift may have been the result of careful craftsmanship, but I believe it was instinctive. Dumas generously bestows it on major and minor characters alike. There are countless examples. Let me point out some of them, for they must not be mistaken with the absurd melodrama that often occupies the surface.

Particular favourites of mine are Edmond’s anxiety about seeing his face after 14 years in the Chateau d’If or his going back to his father’s apartment in Marseilles after all those years and being deeply moved, to the consternation of the present renters, by the memories that assail him. An even better example is Edmond’s sudden lapse into melancholy in the middle of his marriage feast (Chapter V) when he, of all people, should be blissfully happy. But he wisely observes that “joy takes a strange effect at times, it seems to oppress us almost the same as sorrow”, and when questioned by the hypocritical Danglars, explains thus:

‘Why, what ails you?’ asked he of Edmond. ‘Do you fear any approaching evil? I should say that you were the happiest man alive at this instant.’

‘And that is the very thing that alarms me,’ returned Dantès. ‘Man does not appear to me to be intended to enjoy felicity so unmixed; happiness is like the enchanted palaces we read of in our childhood, where fierce, fiery dragons defend the entrance and approach; and monsters of all shapes and kinds, requiring to be overcome ere victory is ours…’

In his Introduction, Mr Wren observes that this “equates somewhat unconvincingly with the situation in which he finds himself.” On the contrary, it is a stroke of genius that is perfectly placed and makes complete sense in the context of the whole novel. The style is perhaps a trifle flowery for a sailor, but that doesn’t matter. The sentiment is true. It brings to mind Romeo’s premonition of his own untimely death, a stroke of genius by a writer obviously greater than Dumas, but not as much as you might think.

A vey touching example of the tiniest detail with the greatest implications occurs in one of those scenes between Villefort and Madame Danglars (LXVII). Trying to establish a possible leak of classified information, he asks her if she talks in her sleep. Before she knows what she is doing, Hermine blurts out: “I sleep soundly, like a child; do you not remember?” Brilliant! This breathlessly added “do you not remember” speaks volumes about their relationship. It was not just another affair, like the one she is now having with the scheming Debray. It was something special. It is a pity that nowadays “to sleep to with someone” is generally understood as “to have sex with someone”. Strangely enough, the two things don’t always go together and, even stranger, the sleeping is the more intimate activity. Gerard and Hermine doubtless had sex, but they also slept together. Then as now, this is more than can be said of many affairs. Theirs must have been a curiously long and intimate one, cut short by tragic circumstances neither of them could possibly have foreseen. No wonder that at her remark “the colour mounted to the baroness’s face, and Villefort turned awfully pale.”

Chapter XLIV provides two fine examples as regards relatively minor characters. When Bertuccio is on the verge of completing his vendetta, he notes that his future victim is going to bury something in the earth and is seized with “curiosity mingled with hatred”. He does execute the assassination, or so he thinks at the time, but not before he has watched fascinated for some time. In the end of the same chapter, Caderousse and La Carconta, his wife, play out a chilling scene. Both simultaneously conceive the idea of asking the jeweller to stay for the night in order to murder him, thus keeping both the money and the diamond they have sold to him. Caderousse is horrified, but his wife scolds him that he is “not a man”. This is positively Shakespearean. It comes straight out of Macbeth. (The bloody outcome in the next chapter is completely different, though.)

Mademoiselle de Saint-Meran, Villefort’s first wife, appears exactly in two early chapters (VI, IX) and is never heard of again. In this brief space, she is beautifully portrayed as a charming and kind, but awfully superficial creature. She implores Villefort (then still her fiancée) to have mercy on the prisoner who interrupts his own marriage feast, but when she learns, just a few hours later, that her beloved must make haste to Paris, her compassion vanishes like a morning mist:

Villefort knew not when he should return, and Renée, far from pleading for Dantès, hated the man whose crime separated her from her lover.

These are relatively minor details. But it takes a good writer to think of them. And it takes a great writer to put them in the right place at the right time.

Quite apart from his unforgettable characters and unmatched story-telling, Dumas is a master of atmosphere and local colour. The gorgeous descriptions of Rome – the Coliseum by moonlight, the sinister yet picturesque Catacombs full of bandits, the Carnival preceded by gruesome public executions – are a case in point. Some of this was no doubt due to his collaborators who, apparently, did a lot of his research. But the final write-up must have been done by Dumas himself. It is beyond me why Mr Wren considers the Roman section of the novel “not entirely successful”. It contains some of Dumas’ most evocative writing, it is totally relevant to the plot, and it is told with spectacular feel for dramatic effect.

So much for the novel. There is nothing really important to be said about it except the usual two-word review: “Read it!” Read it complete. It’s well worth the time and the effort (both probably less than you think). Don’t even think of abridged editions. Sprawling as the story may be, including two generations after Napoleon’s Hundred Days but indirectly going back at least until the Borgias, and roaming all around the Mediterranean, and crowded as the character scene may be, covering the whole gamut from sailors and smugglers to noblemen and kings, all this is handled with consummate mastery that all but defies belief. Those who carp about plot holes, character inconsistencies and melodramatic excess are completely missing the point. Like I said, the venerable Will Shakespeare was guilty of pretty much the same “crimes”, but no one turns a hair – except the same bunch of pathetic carpers.

Note on movie adaptations

Now, by way of conclusion, a few words about the novel’s natural extensions: the movie adaptations. There have been countless of them. I limit myself to brief comments on three of them. If you consider books and films based on them to be oil and water, feel free to skip the rest.

The 1998 mini series with Gérard Depardieu reduces the first two parts of the story, the conspiracy and the Chateau d’If, to mere flashbacks – a fatal dramatic mistake that makes Edmond’s transformation utterly unconvincing. The rest is presented in a haphazard way difficult to follow. Nobody from the cast, the overpraised Depardieu included, is especially memorable. All characters are a good twenty years older than they are in the novel and the whole thing looks like set in something between a retirement home and a lunatic asylum. The movie has its few moments of moving beauty, but its monstrous total length (ca. 400 min) drags much more heavily than the full version of the novel. The 1975 TV movie with Richard Chamberlain is one of the better achievements. It packs a remarkable amount of the novel in only 100 minutes and marvellously avoids the melodramatic end. Chamberlain gives a stellar performance in the title role; his Count is scarily intense. He completely puts Depardieu to shame (to be fair to the Frenchman, he was handicapped by the script in the first place). The 1934 “classic” with the handsome but awfully mediocre Robert Donat is only of historical interest. Why it is highly regarded by many people is beyond me. The least said about it, the better.

My favourite movie version is the one from 2002 with the outstanding Jim Caviezel in the title role. This is the version that has the least to do with the original. This is not, as it should be obvious by now, an indictment on the novel. It merely is a proof that movies are works of art on their own. This one has been harshly criticised by zealous fans on the novel, bookworms who read books like caterpillars devour leaves: without thinking at all. I have said it before and I will say it again. If you want a movie that follows a book exactly, then read the book and made the movie in your head. Screenwriter Jay Wolpert has made a reply to all who accused him of infidelity to Dumas that can’t be bettered: “Thank you. My job was not to stay close to the book.”

The 2002 version cuts at least half of the plot and is none the worse for that. The story becomes tighter and far more dramatic. There are countless changes in the characters, virtually all of them at least as valid as the originals. For example, Fernand is made not just a count’s son from the beginning, but Edmond’s best friend. Danglars isn’t a supercargo but a first mate, fiercely resenting Edmond’s promotion to captain (from second mate, not first as in the novel). Thus their hatred is better explained and easier to believe. Edmond himself is made illiterate and more ingenuous in the beginning, accepting the traitorous letter from Napoleon himself, not as a dying wish of his captain. Villefort’s hiring Fernand to murder his Bonapartist father is entirely original and very effective touch. So is Armand Dorleac, the sinister and sadistic warden of the Chateau d’If. Albert is revealed to be Edmond’s son (this is alluded to in the 1975 version, but no further use is made of it; “I have never understood why Dumas didn't use that”, Jay Wolpert says with a smile). Such changes make the story more exciting yet more plausible. When Dumas asks us to believe that Fernand somehow turned himself from a Catalan fisherman into the heir of one of the oldest families in France, he asks just a little too much even by the lax standards of the adventure novel.

The 2002 version is, in fact, as close to perfection as possible, from the tremendous performance of Jim Caviezel in the title role to the soundtrack of Edward Shearmur, from the lavish sets and costumes to the direction of Kevin Reynolds. The supporting cast could hardly have been bettered. Guy Pearce (Fernand), Luis Guzmán (Jacopo), James Frain (Villefort), Albie Woodington (Danglars), Dagmara Domynczyk (Mercedes), Michael Wincott (Dorleac), Alex Norton (Napoleon) and especially Richard Harris (Abbé Faria) all deliver excellent performances.

Note on the Wordsworth Classics edition

The Introduction by Keith Wren is a wonderful essay, but much of it deals with the characters and really should be read after the novel. Or if you do read it before, take care not to be influenced too much by it. I continue to be an unrepentant supporter of the outrageous idea that readers should first form their opinions and then bother with those of others.

The Notes are largely an extension of the Historical Note in the beginning which explains in sufficient detail the intricate political background. In addition, allusions to a great many works of art, from painting and poetry to opera and drama, are also explained. Dumas was evidently a massive fan of Byron and Donizetti, but he also mentions many less famous names and a good deal of classical mythology. Most fascinatingly, Mr Wren notes several mistranslations. The most careless example is the fateful letter which incriminates Edmond. It is quoted no fewer than three times complete, but the anonymous translator, instead of copying the first text as did Dumas, twice retranslated the passage anew.

The anonymous 1846 translation reprinted here has never, so far as I know, been out of print. I have seen comments praising Robin Buss’ more modern translation (Penguin Classics, 1996) at the expense of this one, but I have never seen a comparison of both translations with the original by somebody with sound knowledge of French language and nineteenth-century French literature. It might be worth keeping in mind that this translation is contemporary with the original and more likely to capture its spirit than any modern alternative. The “classic” translation is also the one reprinted in the Oxford World’s Classics edition (1990) where it was “modestly modernized”. David Coward, the editor, wrote that it was “based at least in part on the serialized, rather than the revised version, it differs in minor ways from the standard French text but is full and thoroughly readable, though fonder perhaps of polysyllables than present taste admits.”[3] This is an accurate description. The writing is indeed wordy, quaint and unduly formal by modern standards, but sufficiently lucid to be eminently readable. Flashes of evocative poetry in prose are frequent. How much of all this is due to Dumas and how much to the translation I haven’t the least idea.

Note that the novel is less than 900 pages long. It is “complete and unabridged” all right. The reduced size comes from the small font. It is barely comfortable for extended reading. It resembles the font usually used for footnotes. Then again, a normal font size makes the novel more than 1000 pages long. For example, the Oxford World’s Classics edition extends to 1082 pages. Another strange thing about this edition that makes reading difficult: many short pieces of dialogue don’t bother to start on a new line.

[1] Then again, you have to do the same with Shakespeare. Some of his best plays are just as dependent on highly improbable coincidences and just as peopled with fantastic creatures as this novel. To claim the opposite is a clear double standard and sheer Bardolatry.
[2] In his introduction, Mr Wren charmingly mentions in a footnote that Dumas did admit Shakespearean inspiration about the stunt with Valentine’s suspended animation. But the author was right to be exasperated at people who made too much of it: “…it did certainly resemble Romeo and Juliet, but where on this earth would you find an idea that did not more or less resemble another one?”
[3] The Count of Monte Cristo, Oxford World’s Classics, ed. David Coward, 2008, rev. edn., p. xxii. ( )
2 vote Waldstein | Oct 23, 2015 |
Alexandre Dumas, père

The Count of Monte Cristo

Oxford University Press, Paperback, [2008].

8vo. xxvii+1108 pp. Edited with an Introduction [ix-xxi] and Notes [1083-1108] by David Coward.

First published in French as Le Comte de Monte-Cristo, 1844-45 [18 vols!].
Anonymous English translation first published by Chapman and Hall, 1846.
First published as World’s Classic paperback, 1990.
Reissued as an Oxford World’s Classics paperback, 1998.
Revised edition, 2008.


Note on the Text
Select Bibliography
A Chronology of Alexandre Dumas

The Count of Monte Cristo

Explanatory Notes


This is not a review of the novel but of this particular edition, mostly in comparison with the Wordsworth Classics volume edited by Keith Wren. Both editions are cheap paperbacks, but considering that the Wordsworth is more than twice cheaper, it is the one to have if money is an issue. If it isn’t, get both.

Both editions reprint revised versions of the classic anonymous translation from 1846 which has become the standard in English. (Robin Buss tried to change this in 1996 with a new translation, presumably fuller and more accurate, for Penguin Classics, but nearly 20 years later he doesn’t seem to have succeeded.) Mr Coward is credited with one “revised translation by” on the title page, while Mr Wren only mentions that the present translation is a “variant” of the classic one and it remains unclear what variations there are and who introduced them. Mr Coward’s brief history of this apparently imperishable translation is worth quoting:

The first English translation was made in 1846 by Emma Hardy for the inexpensive Parlour Novelist series published in Belfast, but it was the anonymous translation published the same year by Chapman and Hall which later took the English-speaking world by storm. Based at least in part on the serialized, rather than the revised version, it differs in minor ways from the standard French text but is full and thoroughly readable, though fonder perhaps of polysyllables than present-day taste admits. Most so-called ‘new’ translations published since have drawn heavily on it and it has again been modesty ‘modernized’ for the present edition.

Routledge of London secured the rights in 1852 and reprinted it at least twenty times before 1900. Thereafter, it was adopted by Nelson, Dent’s Everyman Library, and Collins. It appeared first in the United States in 1846 and was subsequently reissued many times by T. B. Peterson of Philadelphia, Routledge’s New York office, and Little, Brown and Company of Boston. This classic translation which first thrilled readers in the age of Dickens and Washington Irving has been in print more or less continuously for more than a century and a half.

Mr Coward evidently not only “modestly modernized” this translation, but he also corrected it. In his notes, Mr Wren mentioned several amusing cases of poor translation and I was pleased to note that all of them were fixed here. For example, in Chapter 28 our hero, disguised as an English lord, is said to laugh “at the end of his teeth”. Mr Wren called this a “feeble (and literal)” translation of the French “du bout de ses dents”, and suggested “half-heartedly” as a better alternative. Mr Coward silently changed it to “thinly”.

Even brief comparison indicates that the two revisions differ quite a bit from one another. Many chapter headings are different, to begin with. Here are several examples, Mr Coward’s variants being the second:

III. Conspiracy – The Plotters
XIV. The Two Prisoners – In the Dungeons
XIX. The Third Attack – The Death of the Abbé
XXV. The Unknown – At Marseilles Again

I don’t see Mr Coward’s point in changing these titles. Not only are his versions inferior to the other ones, but they seem to differ further from the original. My French is non-existent, but even so “Le troisième accès” seems much closer to “The Third Attack” than to “The Death of the Abbé”.

The chapter situation is further complicated by the fact that, though the total is the same (117) in both editions, the titles don’t always match – and I don’t mean different translations, of course. Several chapters simply are merged or split differently:

Wren, 33-34: “Roman Bandits”, “The Colosseum”
Coward, 33-35: “Roman Bandits”, “Vampa”, “The Colosseum”

Wren, 109-11: “The Assizes”, “The Indictment”, “The Expiation”
Coward, 110-11: “The Assizes”, “Expiation”

Similar, but not identical, discrepancy can be observed between chapters 112 and 114. Here, however, not only one chapter has a completely different name, but its length is changed as well. Mr Wren is quite wrong when he remarks that the Oxford edition “inexplicably […] omits”[1] Chapter 113, “The Past”. It doesn’t. It simply merges it with a large part of the previous chapter and retitles it “The House in the Allées de Meillan”. There is no real omission and the texts are no more different than elsewhere. It is entirely possible that there are other such discrepancies which I have not noticed.

So, if you like to compare chapters, keep in mind that between 34-35 and 110-11 Mr Coward’s edition is one chapter ahead, and that Chapters 112-13 don’t match. Such comparisons might yield interesting results. Consider, for example, the description of Caderousse’s shabby inn in Chapter 26:

This modern place of entertainment stood on the left-hand side of the post road, and backed upon the Rhone. It also boasted of what in Languedoc is styled a garden, consisting of a small plot of ground, on the side opposite to the main entrance reserved for the reception of guests. A few dingy olives and stunted fig-trees struggled hard for existence, but their withered dusty foliage abundantly proved how unequal was the conflict. Between these sickly shrubs grew a scanty supply of garlic, tomatoes, and eschalots; while, lone and solitary, like a forgotten sentinel, a tall pine raised its melancholy head in one of the corners of this unattractive spot, and displayed its flexible stem and fan-shaped summit dried and cracked by the fierce heat of the sub-tropical sun.

This modern place of entertainment stood on the left-hand side of the main road, turning its back upon the Rhone. It also boasted of what in Languedoc is styled a garden, consisting of a small plot of ground, a full sight of which was obtained from a door immediately opposite the grand portal by which travellers were ushered in to partake of the hospitality of mine host of the Pont du Gard. This plaisance or garden, scorched by the ardent sun of a latitude of thirty degrees, permitted nothing to thrive or scarcely live in its arid soil; a few dingy olives and stunted fig-trees struggled hard for existence, but their withered, dusty foliage showed how unequal was the struggle. Between these sickly shrubs, grew a scanty supply of garlic, tomatoes, and eschalots, while, lone and solitary, like a forgotten sentinel, a tall pine raised its melancholy head in one of the corners of this unattractive spot, and displayed its flexible stem and fan-shaped summit dried and cracked by the withering influence of the mistral, that scourge of Provence.

Apart from minor differences in punctuation and wording, Mr Coward’s “revision” is conspicuously longer. The other version is silent about the latitude or the mistral. In his Note on the Text, Mr Coward says nothing more about his editing than what I have already quoted. “Modestly modernized” and that’s that. Which French edition did he use? How? What does “the standard French text” mean? Where does the additional material come from? From the serialized version in Le Journal des Débats where the novel appeared between 28 August 1844 and 15 January 1846? From the (apparently revised) first edition in book form published in 18 vols. (!) by Pétion in 1844-45? We are not told. I don’t require exhaustive treatment of these matters; that would be tedious. But I do expect at least a few sentences of explanation in a series that has established an impressive reputation for accurate yet accessible scholarship.

Mr Coward’s Introduction is mostly concerned with Dumas’ colourful life, the background of the novel and its fate on stage and screen, thus complementing Mr Wren’s essay which is largely occupied with character analysis. He opens with a grand rhetorical flourish that would have pleased the Master himself:

Alexandre Dumas was a force of nature. A robust, roaring man of vast appetites and even vaster energies, he cries out to be measured in cubits rather than the feet and inches which are used for mere mortals. For forty years, sparks from his mighty anvil lit fires which inflamed the world and burn still. D’Artagnan and Edmond Dantes are the stuff of dreams.

Mr Coward also addresses the controversial issue of collaborators. Dumas apparently had quite a few of them. They suggested plot twists and provided information about people and places the author didn’t know. The practice was not considered beyond reproach even in Dumas’ lifetime, but it does help to explain his incredible fertility. Mr Coward is emphatic that, whatever contributions the collaborators might have made, Dumas did the actual writing and was responsible for the timeless quality of the final product:

Dumas’ contemporaries raised an eyebrow at this practice, but his collaborative working habits certainly help to explain just why he was able to publish over 600 plays, novels, travel books, and memoirs: 1,348 volumes, in all, it has been calculated. Of this total, it is likely that one or two titles were never even read by Dumas who on occasions agreed to lend his name to help a struggling writer: the name of Dumas could sell anything. But there can be no doubt that he wrote all his books himself, though with the kind of help enjoyed by modern script-writers. Some of his collaborators would nowadays be called ‘researchers’. Others, providing no more than secretarial assistance, recopied his manuscripts, adding punctuation and correcting inconsistencies. Others still – Maquet in particular – were involved in what would nowadays be called ‘script-conferences’, discussing story-lines, the development of characters, and ways of grafting fictional events onto solid historical stock. But only Dumas had the ‘Dumas touch’, and he alone was ultimately responsible for the final tone, tension, and form of his romances. The writing of Monte Cristo is a case in point.

It was Auguste Maquet (1811–1888), “a failed author of a scholarly disposition”, who suggested the whole first part of the novel. Dumas had started with the Roman chapters, but his collaborator pointed out that the betrayal and the imprisonment are too dramatic and too important to be omitted or reduced to flashbacks; the revenge had to be justified somehow. Dumas readily agreed and wrote the first thirty chapters. In short, collaborators should be given their due credit, as should original sources, but their importance must not be exaggerated. There seems to be no evidence that any part of any of Dumas’ most famous books was written by somebody else, however disparate the origins of the raw material might have been.

The background of the novel could easily make another novel. Dumas used a massive study with the resounding title Mémoires historiques tirés des archives de la Police de Paris (1838, 6 vols.) by Jacques Peuchet (1758–1830), a former police archivist who “had written accounts of a number of intriguing cases in the manner designed to thrill, titillate and horrify.” The original story, titled “Revenge and the Diamond” (“Le Diamant et la vengeance”), was about one François Picaud who was falsely accused as an English spy by his envious friends, spent seven years in the prison of Fenestrelles in Piedmont where he met an Italian cleric who died and put him in the possession of a vast fortune, and finally returned to Paris to execute a sophisticated revenge on his “friends”. The whole thing took place between 1807 and 1815. Obviously it contained quite a bit of the plot of Monte Cristo. But it’s one thing to have a plot. It’s quite another story to turn it into a novel. Dumas changed countless things. He introduced many new characters, developed greatly the ones from the original story, compressed some time spans, expanded others, invented episodes and whole subplots, etc., etc. Much like Shakespeare with the (presumably real) Ur-Hamlet, he took an ordinary revenge tale and turn it into something much greater.

Mr Coward’s discussion of the Monte Cristo movies is a curious cocktail of useless repetition of general opinions and ill-advised expression of personal ones. “Though suitably spectacular”, he says about the 2002 movie with Jim Caviezel, “this heavily truncated version disappointed many readers of the novel.” It didn’t disappoint me. As an independent work of art, trying to capture the spirit if not the plot of the novel, it is superb. The 1934 version with Robert Donat “is still affectionately regarded as one of the best of all the film versions.” Yes, only sentimental affection for the “Old Hollywood” can save this utterly mediocre (and hardly less truncated) version. The best I can say about Robert Donat is that he is very handsome. Predictably praising Gérard Depardieu in the 1998 TV series, Mr Coward goes as far as this:

With a few exceptions, notably that of Donat, actors are more convincing either as Dantès, the action hero of the first part of the book, or as Monte Cristo, the sophisticated avenger. Depardieu, the most versatile French actor of his generation, succeeds in both roles and, like the lavish and generously proportioned eight-hour adaptation which he dominates, is by far the most satisfying of all the screen Counts.

This is nonsense. The greatest flaw of this version, apart from its monstrous length[2] that drags far more heavily than the 1000 pages of the novel, is the fact that it reduces the whole first part of the novel, up to and including the Chateau d’If, to a few brief flashbacks. This is an unforgivable dramatic mistake. We see almost nothing of Depardieu as Edmond Dantès; indeed, he plays the father in one of the flashbacks, while his own son in the real life plays the hapless sailor. How, then, can you say that he is just as good as Edmond as he is as Monte Cristo? The greatest thing about the novel is the transformation – not the development! – of the ingenuous, uneducated and good-natured sailor into the worldly, sophisticated and brutal Count of Monte Cristo. This is why the 1998 series completely misses the point. Depardieu is a fine actor, and he does his best with the material, but he is let down by an adaptation which, though preserving much of the novel, nevertheless makes countless changes that dilute the original. This Monte Cristo is too mild and too much coming out of nowhere to stand comparison with the tremendous (anti)hero created by the wild imagination of Alexandre Dumas.

Mr Coward’s Notes are entirely concerned with the historical and artistic background of the densely allusive text. He does not deal with mistranslations at all. As a general rule, his notes are fewer and longer, but not necessarily more helpful, than Mr Wren’s. Sometimes the two editors are clearly at odds with each other. For example, when we are told that a character “crossed the Garigliano, like Manfred”, Mr Coward tells us that this is Byron’s hero, but Mr Wren argues in favour of the illegitimate son of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II who crossed the river Garigliano in 1266 only to be killed in the Battle of Benevento. The context seems to fit better the latter hypothesis.

Last but not least, the Oxford World’s Classics edition has the advantage of larger font, but it is also more than 200 pages longer. Somewhat surprisingly, it is pretty much same size as the Wordsworth edition. Not the easiest thing to handle in paperback either way. The binding of both editions is sturdy and durable.

[1] The Count of Monte Cristo, Wordsworth Classics, 2001, ed. Keith Wren, p. xi. Mr Wren’s complete footnote is as follows: “Inexplicably, the Oxford World’s Classics translation of the novel omits this vitally important chapter.”
[2] By the way, I don’t know how Mr Coward decided that this is an “eight-hour adaptation”. The longest version ever released is 400 minutes long. Unless my arithmetic is woefully wrong, this makes for 6 hours and 40 minutes. ( )
1 vote Waldstein | Oct 18, 2015 |
The count of Monte Cristo is a story of love, friendship, betrayal, recompense and revenge.
Fernand and Dantes are friends, until Fernand becomes jealous and has Dantes thrown in a prison far, far away. Fernand, once Dantes is out of the picture, woos Mercedes who is the light of his life. Sadly Mercedes is tricked into believing Dantes has kicked the bucket, and she in turn runs to the arms of the bad guy, who she doesn't realize is the bad guy bearing bestie who..

An old dying cellie of Dante's discloses the location of a hidden treasure on the Island of Monte Cristo, and Dantes is able to seek revenge with his vast fortune. Which of course, he does, because at this point he is really pretty mad at his old friend.

Slow forward fourteen years

In the end, Dantes is given a second chance and becomes the Count, seeking revenge. It doesn't end well for the betrayer. He should have known better than to let Dantes live in the first place- but then our story would end with "Bad guy wins- the end" and that would not make for a very good story at all. ( )
  SalemDjembe | Sep 7, 2015 |
The archetypal story of betrayal, revenge, and redemption from one of the 19th century's greatest writers. In this translation, Dumas' masterpiece is readable and compelling.

For the full, revised review: https://bibliomaneblog.wordpress.com/2015/10/02/the-count-of-monte-cristo-by-alexandre-dumas-a-review/ ( )
  Bill_Bibliomane | Aug 23, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 241 (next | show all)
Edmond Dantes je plemenit, lep, mladi mornar zaljubljen u predivnu Mercedes. Danglers koji želi da se dočepa njegovog zlata, Kaderus, lupež koji želi ličnu osvetu i zli general Mondego koji želi Mercedes za ženu, optužuju Edmunda za pljačku upravo na dan njegov venčanja i on biva zatvoren u zloglasni zatvor Sato D'if. Bežeci iz zatvora, na zabačenom ostrvu pronalazi ogromno blago. U Pariz se vraća kao bogati i misteriozni grof Monte Kristo. Kako bih isterao pravdu i sprao ljagu sa svog imena - uz pomoć tri nova i urnebesna prijatelja!
added by Sensei-CRS | editknjigainfo.com

» Add other authors (79 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Dumas père, Alexandreprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bair, LowellTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Binni, LanfrancoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Botto, MargheritaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Buss, RobinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Clapham, MarcusAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Coward, DavidIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Coward, DavidRevised translationsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Franceschini, EmilioTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Homewood, BillNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lee, JohnNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Maurois, AndréIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schaeffer, MeadIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

Is contained in


Has the adaptation

Is abridged in


Has as a reference guide/companion

Has as a student's study guide

You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
First words
On February 24, 1815, the watchtower at Marseilles signaled the arrival of the three-master Pharaon, coming from Smyrna, Trieste and Naples.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
These should be the unabridged editions of The Count of Monte Cristo
Worldcat lists this work as "The Man in the Iron Mask," based on the ISBN, whereas Amazon lists it as "The Count of Monte Cristo," so not sure what to do with it.
Publisher's editors
Publisher series
Original language
Information from the French Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (3)

Book description
blurb: This enduringly popular tale of live and vengeance in the post Napoleonic era follows Edmond Dantes as he prepares to captain his own ship and marry his beloved Mercedes. But on his wedding day, he is betrayed by spiteful enemies and arrested on trumped up charges. Condemned to lifelong imprisonment, he befriends Abbe Faria, a priest and fellow inmate with an escape plan. When Abbe Faria dies, Edmond escapes alone. Free at last, and incredibly wealthy, Edmond enters society posing as the brooding and mysterious count of Monte Cristo to reclaim his lost love and exact a terrible vengeance from his accusers.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140449264, Paperback)

Translated with an Introduction by Robin Buss.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:34 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Edmund Dantes, unjustly convicted of aiding the exiled Napoleon, escapes after fourteen years of imprisonment and seeks revenge in Paris.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 36 descriptions

Quick Links

Popular covers


Average: (4.35)
0.5 1
1 13
1.5 4
2 78
2.5 22
3 407
3.5 84
4 1078
4.5 206
5 1904


22 editions of this book were published by Audible.com.

See editions

Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

» Publisher information page

Tantor Media

2 editions of this book were published by Tantor Media.

Editions: 1400102103, 1400108624

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.


Help/FAQs | About | Privacy/Terms | Blog | Store | Contact | LibraryThing.com | APIs | WikiThing | Common Knowledge | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | 100,956,229 books! | Top bar: Always visible