Finding… the real Count of Monte Cristo

24 Mar

I made a promise that I would publish something after finishing Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. Many days have passed, as well as many thoughts and conversations… If you would like to see what I thought while I was reading the book, click here.

I am here to keep that promise.

For those who have never read The Count of Monte Cristo, the book tells the story of Edmond Dantès, a 19 year old sailor, at the beginning of the book, who goes to prison out of the treachery of his friends, accused of being in league with the Bonapartist party.

(The author’s father, who died while Alexandre was 4, prided himself as one of Napoleon’s brilliant generals. It is obvious which side the author leaned to, at least ideally. After the death of her husband, Dumas’ widow encountered herself in precarious financial circumstances, but struggled to pay for her son’s private schooling.)

Now, Dantès, after the discovery of his friends’ treachery is sworn to revenge. The book revolves around the planning and the execution of the same, with a neat surprise at the end of the book.

(I think that it is no danger to summarise the plot in these words, as Dumas’ penmanship is to be seen to be believed.)

Now, back to my promise. It is amazing how the life of the author is reflected in the book, in the life of Dantès. Dumas had to flee from creditors once his theatre nearly went bankrupt, while Dantès in the book is constantly hiding his identity as the legendary Count of Monte Cristo. Dantès had an island in the Mediterraneancalled Monte Cristo, while Dumas had a lavish residence called Le Chateau de Monte Cristo. In the book, Dantès is a rich tourist, while in life, Dumas was a rich writer and playwright. Both, at different points in their lives, have experienced poverty.

The similarity is striking.

The only difference is as regards women. Dumas, in the words of his biographer André Maurois “swept women away in his arms”. One of those women, Ada Menken, a young American actress dubbed him “the king of romance”. Dantès plays the part of the perfect lover, who is taken away to prison on the eve of his wedding. He sees his beloved decades later, of course married with another man. (It is so hard no to spill the beans!) Dantès’ stoicism here is quite curious: did he really love his betrothed? Perhaps his “mistake” is atoned for his generosity to the couple at the end of the book.

The book is passionate, and masterly written. Perhaps the best insight is from the author himself who, at 25, after attending a British performance of Hamlet, said, “For the first time in the theater I was seeing true passions motivating men and women of flesh and blood… From this time on, but only then, did I have an idea of what the theatre could be.”

Indeed, he met and worked with Francois-Joseph Talma, the great French tragedian and “for forty years, he filled the newspaper with his prose, the stage with his drama, and the world with his clamor. Never did he know a moment of doubt or an instant of despair. He turned his own existence into the finest of his novels”, so says his biographer André Maurois.

I think I agree with him on this one.

How about you?


4 Responses to “Finding… the real Count of Monte Cristo”

  1. doradelhoyo March 24, 2012 at 7:02 pm #

    Hi Mary,
    I watched the movie based on this book when I was in High school, I think. I don’t remember many details but I remeber thinking it was a great movie so I think the book might even be better. About the similarity of author and his writings, it is an interesting and fairly common incidence. I imagine it’s hard to separate the two because in writing, the author shares a part of him/ herself. Take Stephen King for instance- though not all his books are worth it- almost all have a writer, which he is, there is usually a character with a drinking problem- which he had/ still has,etc.
    Thanks for sharing and way to go!

    • mary March 25, 2012 at 5:29 pm #

      Thanks Cathy. I have not watched the movie, but a friend of mine has, and she tells me that the plot is very different… I highly recommend the book.
      Once again, thanks for stopping by.


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